John Fowles's panoptic vision

Patricia G Lantier, Marquette University


The purpose of this study is to question the traditional roles and responsibilities of writer and reader in relation to the novels of John Fowles and to view these roles and responsibilities within a basic architectural framework provided by the nineteenth-century English philosopher and economist Jeremy Bentham--the paradigmatic concept of panopticon. In his novels, John Fowles challenges the traditional, passive role of the reader and, by assuming the powerful, comprehensive physical position and visual perspective of Central Gatekeper of his fictions, observes and charts his own artistic progress while encouraging the reader to do the same. By constantly adjusting her initial perspective in order to accommodate the author's fictive challenges amidst the intricacies of the individual text, the reader can learn to extend her boundaries of readerly ability and eventually assume part of the responsibility of writing the fictional text. In this way, the reader evolves from a passive into an active reader, capable of developing and defining individual theories of reading and writing. The structural concept of the panopticon as visualized by Bentham and creatively utilized, whether consciously or unconsciously, by Fowles in his various fictions can serve as a helpful tool for approaching the author's demanding, complex works. The panoptic paradigm, in fact, provides a unique framework within which to view the novels and can effectively be applied architecturally, rhetorically, narratively, and figuratively to Fowles's fictions. The works specifically considered in this study are The Collector, The Magus, The French Lieutenant's Woman, and A Maggot. Through an ongoing challenge to engage in intense textual interaction, Fowles also encourages the reader to reconsider the traditional conventions of novel-writing and to work toward the creation of a fiction that may more flexibly and accurately accommodate the unknown demands and interests of future historical time.

Recommended Citation

Lantier, Patricia G, "John Fowles's panoptic vision" (1994). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9433780.