If asked to identify John Fowles, the best-selling novelist who wrote the story beginning on page 84 of this issue, few of our readers would be likely to answer "ecologist." Yet not many of those who read The French Lieutenant's Woman could fail to detect Fowles' love of the outdoors in his descriptions of the land and sea around Lyme Regis in Dorset (where he now lives), and few of those who read The Collector could miss Fowles' resentment of busybodies who do not share that love in the outcry of his trapped heroine Miranda. "I hate scientists," she says to her captor, the lepidopterist who has imprisoned her. "I hate people who classify things and give them names and then forget all about them."
Fowles' attitude toward the wonders of nature is not that of a scientist or a politician or an economist or a do-gooder. It is the attitude, primarily, of a good novelist: one who looks and marvels at the exquisite detail and variety of things as they are and responds more with wonder than with reason.
Fowles was driven into nature by the violence of man when his family, to escape Hitler's bombs, was evacuated from suburban London to a little Devonshire village on the outskirts of Dartmoor, a vast, wild area in the southwest of England. "For the first time in my life," says Fowles, who was then a boy of 14, "I had a rich and direct experience with nature. I led a kind of Huck Finn existence. I had a gun, fishing rod and snares. I was a great killer in those days."
Some years later he returned to Dartmoor as a Marine lieutenant assigned to train commandos at the tag end of the war, and he loved the assignment "because I did as much birdwatching and shooting as I did training."
December 21, 1970
After the war Fowles went back to civilian life as a student at Oxford, where he played cricket for his college and found even richer communion with nature in the pages of such passionate writers on the subject as Richard Jefferies, W. H. Hudson, the poet John Clare and Henry Thoreau. "That's the way I got into literature," he says now, "through nature."
Although a successful novelist, John Fowles has no affinity for the literary teas and smoky salons that are the special habitat of many of his ilk. He is far more likely to be found in the crotch of some scabrous, vine-covered old tree like that at left in which he corrected the galleys of The French Lieutenant's Woman. Fowles' garden is in fact less a garden than a private nature preserve. All in all, it covers about two acres, from the small top lawn down to a row of dying beeches which in cold December look like pencil sketches in the landscape. It is a rough, overgrown garden with a few dramatic trees: a majestic Scots pine with a thrush in it, yews, a mulberry, apple trees, a chusan palm and thickets of bamboo. The lawn is thickly woven with clover. "It's full of birds in the summer," says Fowles, "and there is always something they can get off it."
And that, as you will see when you read John Fowles' story, is the whole point of a garden—and the point of all conservation as well.
This is our last issue in 1970. Our first issue of 1971 (dated Jan. 4) will reach you just before New Year's Day. And a most happy Christmas to all.