Novelist John Fowles on the Tyranny of the Visual

From an interview with British novelist John Fowles, author of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, in the Paris Review. The novel was made into a movie of the same name starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons—it received five Oscar nominations, including best actress and best screenplay based on material from another medium.

I have a kind of love-hate relationship with the cinema. I admire it at its best, as an art, but I am increasingly hostile to the way it has invaded literature. I hate the way some silly people (often those who think themselves intellectuals) suppose we writers can know no greater glory than to have been filmed; almost as if we would never have written in the first place but for the prospect of being translated into the cinema.

A year to two years ago my Chinese translator wrote and asked me if he could ask me a very important literary question, which all his Chinese readers would like answered. I agreed—there then came this very important literary question: What was Meryl Streep really like? I did not, and will not, answer, not because I in the least despised or disliked Meryl in The French Lieutenant’s Woman—she made a very good effort at a very difficult, for an American, part—but because the Chinese were showing themselves just as foolish as the Americans and the British, totally under the tyranny of the fashionable art form, of the visual. Something in the cinema and television wants to usurp the novel totally.

It will fail, I believe; in any case these visual arts will receive no help from me in their encroachment on my own art.

Speak Your Mind