British Writer John Fowles Dies

British author John Fowles, whose works include The French Lieutenant's Woman and The Magus, has died. He was 79.

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Author John Fowles has died at the age of 79. He passed away at his longtime home in the English village of Lyme Regis. That town was made famous in his best-known novel, "The French Lieutenant's Woman." NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

NEDA ULABY reporting:

In the movie "The French Lieutenant's Woman," Jeremy Irons plays a biologist engaged to be married before meeting Meryl Streep as `the woman.'

(Soundbite of "The French Lieutenant's Woman")

Mr. JEREMY IRONS: May I introduce myself?

Ms. MERYL STREEP: I know who you are.

Ms. IRONS: Ah. Then...

Ms. STREEP: Kindly allow me to go on my way alone.

ULABY: The 1969 book upon which the film is based helped popularize the literary form known as postmodernism. Mark Axelrod directs the John Fowles Center for Creative Writing at Chapman University in California. He says that form plays with the boundaries of what's real and what's not. Although "The French Lieutenant's Woman" is written as a Victorian romance, the very first chapter features a 20th-century sculpture.

Mr. MARK AXELROD (Director, John Fowles Center for Creative Writing, Chapman University): By the time you get to Chapter 13, Fowles actually writes a whole chapter about how he doesn't really know of where these characters are going any more than the reader does. And later on in the novel, he actually appears as a character.

ULABY: That sort of literary daring made Fowles a hugely important and beloved writer. But John Fowles was not to the inkstand born. Mark Axelrod said the elder Fowles seemed to value their son's abilities as a cricket player more than a writer.

Mr. AXELROD: I'm not sure his parents ever really understood him.

ULABY: Axelrod said the writer described his upbringing as somewhat stifling, so it should not really be a shock...

Mr. AXELROD: ...when you discover that most of the protagonists in his books are all orphans.

ULABY: That's true of "The Collector," the author's first novel. It's about a mad butterfly collector who captures an orphaned girl in the manner of the insects he nets. John Fowles said the story was prompted by both his love of nature and his distaste for conformity.

(Soundbite of previous interview)

Mr. JOHN FOWLES (Author): Its success came as a shock to me, because I'm always pessimistic about my own books.

ULABY: Fowles' reputation exceeds the handful of books he actually produced. Fowles suffered a stroke in 1988 and suffered from heart problems, but was for years a cheerful correspondent with his fans. He once said, `We all write poems; it is simply that poets are the ones who write in words.' Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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