Along with other events of 1969, this year marks the 50th anniversary of John Fowles' "The French Lieutenant's Woman."
Fowles' spicy and atmospheric novel drew international acclaim and controversy to an extent unimaginable for a book today.
Author James Campbell in a recent Times Literary Supplement article looks back at the book's sensational reception in 1969 and Fowles' disdain for literary fame.
I remember the book as one of the first novels I read as an adult, making me feel like a worldly sophisticate. Alas, I have little memory of the book beyond the moody atmosphere of Lyme-Regis, the British seaside town in which it is set.
As Campbell recounts, the book had dual plots, one taking place in Victorian England and the other in the late 20th century. The author of the 1867 romance that makes up one part of the narrative is himself a character in the book. The book blends an erotic love story with refined literary technique, making for the kind of high-class porn that Lenny Bruce satirized.
A film version didn't arrive until 1981, starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons in dual roles from the Victorian and contemporary parts of the narrative. The movie received five Academy Award nominations, including Streep for best actress and Harold Pinter, of all people, for best screenplay. Along with the book, my recollections of the film have been erased by time.
Before "The French Lieutenant's Woman," Fowles wrote the best-seller "The Magus," a supernatural tale that matched the hippie mindset of the 1960s. He also gained success with "The Collector."
As Campbell relates, Fowles shunned the London literary scene. Despite his popular success, he dismissed mass culture, believing in the superiority of an intellectual elite.
After "The French Lieutenant's Woman," Fowles' career plummeted. He published several other novels disregarded by critics and readers. He died in 2003.
Before Campbell's piece, Fowles and "The French Lieutenant's Woman" had faded from cultural memory. Now the book might join the growing list of rediscovered works.