“The Magus” (Post 9/9)

Magus 09

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

“The Magus” Month – Introduction


“I happened – stupidly, I grant you – to fall in love with one of them.”

“As an unscrupulous collector falls in love with a painting he wants. And will do anything to get.”

(p.552 / r.p.601)

Fowles’s first published book (but written after The Magus) was The Collector. It has a similar theme to Nicholas’s “love” story with Lily/Julie: a man falls in love with a woman based on her looks. He assumes he understands her personality and emotions and believes she will also love him. In The Collector, the man goes so far as to kidnap the woman. When she doesn’t act exactly as he imagined (and doesn’t magically fall in love with him), he grows to resent her, yet won’t release her because, ultimately, she is still nothing more than a possession to him.

[398] Reference:

“A girl with as much morality as a worn-out whore from the Place Pigalle.”

(p.551 / r.p.601)


The Place Pigalle is a public square in Paris. The place takes its name from the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle. The square and the surrounding streets were, at the end of the 19th century, a neighborhood of painters’ studios and literary cafes.


“If Maurice were here he would tell you that sex is perhaps a greater, but in no way a different, pleasure from any other. He would tell you that it is only one part – and not the essential part – in {a} [the] relationship we call love. He would tell you that the essential part is truth, the trust two people build between their minds. Their souls. What you will. That the real infidelity is the one that hides the sexual infidelity. Because the one thing that must never come between two people who have offered each other love is a lie.”

(p.553 / r.p.603)

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“The Magus” (Post 8/9)

Magus 08

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

“The Magus” Month – Introduction

[339] Reference:

“The subject also conforms to the Adlerian descriptions of siblingless personality traits.”

(p.459 / r.p.509)

Alfred W. Adler (1870 – 1937) was an Austrian medical doctor, psychotherapist, and founder of the school of individual psychology. He emphasized one’s birth order as having an influence on the style of life and the strengths and weaknesses in one’s psychological make up. Alder never produced any scientific support for his interpretations on birth order roles, nor did he feel the need to. He claimed younger and only children may be pampered and spoiled, affecting their later personalities.

[340] From the “psychiatrist’s” report on Nicholas (along with notes [341] and [342]):

“The subject has preyed sexually and emotionally on a number of young women. His method, according to Dr. Maxwell, is to stress and exhibit his loneliness and unhappiness – in short, to play the little boy in search of the lost mother. He thereby arouses repressed maternal instincts in his victims which he then proceeds to exploit with the semi-incestuous ruthlessness of this type.

“In the usual way the subject identifies God with the father figure, aggressively rejecting any belief in him.”

(p.459 / r.p.509)

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“The Magus” (Post 7/9)

Magus 07

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

“The Magus” Month – Introduction


[287] Reference:

Now they bred a kind of Watteau-like melancholy in me – the forevergoneness of pictures like L’Embarcation pour Cythere.



Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721) was a French painter whose brief career spurred the revival of interest in color and movement.

The Embarkation for Cythera was submitted by Watteau to the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1717. The painting portrays a celebration by the aristocracy of France during the Regence after the death of Louis XIV. In the ancient world, Cythera, one of the Greek islands, was thought to be the birthplace of Venus, goddess of love.

[288] Reference:

“I lost some money dabbling in the theatre, but I made much more dabbling on the Bourse.”



The French stock market.

[289] Another example of improved Conchis dialogue in the revision (see Post 6, note [284]).

The original:

“It took me only five years to discover what some rich people never discover – that we all have a certain capacity for happiness and unhappiness. And that the economic hazards of life do not seriously affect it.”


The revised version changes the first line slightly and well:

“In the end I did discover what some rich people never discover-”


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“The Magus” (Post 6/9)

Magus 06

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

“The Magus” Month – Introduction

[240] The interesting thing about reading the original after the revised version is how little mystery there really is. After Nicholas convinces himself that he knows what is going on (Conchis is the liar; Lily/Julie is truly falling in love with him), he stays with it no matter what is said to him. The whole thing becomes a self-constructed psychological game.

Lily-Julie said, “We have to keep to a kind of script. And we’re being watched.”



“You realize that Maurice’s aim is to destroy reality? To make trust between us impossible?”


[241] References:

I looked at the title page: Quintus Horatius Flaccus, Parisiis.

(p.309 / r.p.327)


Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65 – 8 BC) known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.

Parisiis, as well as referring to Celtic Iron Age people, appears to have been a publisher. This site has a listing for an 1800 publication of “Quintus Horatius Flaccus. Editio sterotypa” published by Didot, Parisiis.

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“The Magus” (Post 5/9)

Magus 05

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

“The Magus” Month – Introduction

[180] Vocabulary:

Demetriades (…) began being obscene, dreadful stock Greek facetiae about tomatoes and cucumbers.

(p.231 / r.p.242)


noun – (dated) – pornographic literature.

(archaic) – humorous or witty sayings.

How much time has to pass for the dictionary to move something from “dated” to “archaic”? I’ve never seen both listed in definitions for the same word.

[181] Translation:

He said more or less the same as Conchis. “Il avait toujours l’air un peu triste, il ne s’est jamais habitue a la vie ici.”

(p.231 / r.p.243)


French: He still looked a little sad, he never got used to life here.

[182] Vocabulary:

The saffron dress, the buskins and the silver bow.

(p.232 / r.p.243)


noun – a knee- or calf-length boot made of leather or cloth which laces closed but is open across the toes.

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“The Magus” (Post 4/9)

Magus 04

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

“The Magus” Month – Introduction

[133] First name given for the girl Nicholas falls in love with: Lily Montgomery. First identity: amnesiac. (p.164 / r.p.168)

[134] Reference:

He was playing a kind of Talleyrand role. The gallant old fox.

(p.165 / r.p.169)


Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord (1754 – 1838) was a French bishop, politician and diplomat. Those he served often distrusted Talleyrand but found him extremely useful. The name “Talleyrand” has become a byword for crafty, cynical diplomacy.

[135] Reference:

“To expect people to live reasonably is like asking them to live on paregoric.”

(p.168 / r.p.171)


Camphorated tincture of opium; a medication. The word “paregoric” comes from the Greek word paregoricon which was originally applied or oratory (to speak, talk over, soothe).

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“The Magus” (Post 3/9)

Magus 03

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

“The Magus” Month – Introduction

[81] Translation:

Sas efcharistoume, Maria.” (…)

He poured a drop of ouzo into our glasses. We raised and clinked them.

Eis ’ygeia sas, Nicholas.”


(p.103 / r.p.107)



“Thank you, Maria.”

“In your health, Nicholas.” (In the context: “To your health.”)

It looks like the last line should be “S’ygeia,” which would mean, “Here’s to us/ To ours.”

[82] Reference:

The light flowed downwards, concentrated on the white cloth, and was then reflected up, lighting our faces strangely, Caravaggio fashion, against the surrounding darkness.

(p.103 / r.p.107)


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) was an Italian painter. His paintings combine a realistic observation of the human state, both physical and emotional, with a dramatic use of lighting.

His work is amazing. Especially this one. (Warning: the word Beheading is in the title for a reason).

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“The Magus” (Post 2/9)

Magus 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

“The Magus” Month – Introduction

[40] The first description of Phraxos is fantastic:

Phraxos was beautiful. [There was no other adjective; it was not just pretty, picturesque, charming – it was simply and effortlessly beautiful.] It took my breath away when I first saw it, floating under Venus like a majestic black whale in an amethyst evening sea, and it still takes my breath away when I shut my eyes now and remember it. Its beauty was rare even in the Aegean, because its hills were covered with pine trees, Mediterranean pines as light as greenfinch feathers. Nine-tenths of the island was uninhabited and uncultivated: nothing but pines, coves, silence, sea. Herded into one corner, the north-west, lay a spectacular agglomeration of snow-white houses around a couple of small harbors.

(p.46 / r.p.50)

[41] Some passages burn into my head like melodies from favorite songs. This is one. It’s also an essential key to the end of the first edition.

(From Alison’s first letter to Nicholas after he has left her to go to Phraxos):

I love you, you can’t understand what that means because you’ve never loved anyone yourself. It’s what I’ve been trying to make you see this last week. All I want to say is that one day, when you do fall in love, remember today. Remember I kissed you and walked out of the room. Remember I walked all the way down the street and never once looked back. I knew you were watching. Remember I did all this and I love you. If you forget everything else about me, please remember this. I walked down that street and I never looked back and I love you. I love you.

(p.49 / r.p.53)

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“The Magus” (Post 1/9)

Magus 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

“The Magus” Month – Introduction

[1] The differences begin immediately. In the first edition, there are two pages before Part One opens: a dedication and a description of the Magus card of the tarot.

The dedication reads: To Astarte.

Astarte is the Hellenized (Greek) form of the Middle Eastern goddess Ishtar. She was connected with fertility, sexuality, and war.

The specter of Astarte looms over the second half of The Magus. She is the force Nicholas must come to terms with in order to become a whole person.

In the description of the Magus, Fowles quotes Arthur Edward Waite from The Key to the Tarot):

On the table in front of the Magus are the symbols of the four Tarot suits, signifying the elements of natural life, which lie like counters before the adept, and he adapts them as he wills. Beneath are roses and lilies, the flos campi and lilium convallium, changed into garden flowers, to show the culture of aspiration.


The Magus is Conchis, who will introduce Nicholas to the twins Rose and Lily. This is a bold clue to give so early but a first-time reader will likely forget about it by the time the characters are introduced a hundred pages down the line.

[2] Both versions begin Part One with a quote from the Marquis de Sade’s Les Infortunes de la Vertu (1791). The quote, according to this thread on Goodreads can be translated as: “A professional philanderer is rarely a man to be pitied.” It’s a good introduction to our narrator, Nicholas Urfe.

Each of the three parts in The Magus opens with a quote from Les Infortunes de la Vertu, so let’s give it some context.

The Marquis de Sade (1740 – 1814) was a French aristocrat, revolutionary, politician, philosopher and writer. He is best known for his erotic works, which combined philosophical discourse with pornography, depicting sexual fantasies with an emphasis on violence, criminality, and blasphemy against the Catholic Church. The words sadism and sadist are derived from his name.

In Les Infortunes de la Vertu (The Misfortunes of Virtue, better known in English as Justine) a young woman describes the events leading to her moral downfall. De Sade revised the book multiple times, adding more graphic scenes.

This gives it an interesting unintentional link to The Magus. In the Forward to the revised edition, Fowles tells us: “The erotic element is stronger in two scenes. I regard that as merely the correction of a past failure of nerve.” (r.o.p.7)

[3] Also in the six-page Forward, explaining the revision:

Though this is not, in any major thematic or narrative sense, a fresh version of The Magus, it is rather more than a stylistic revision. A number of scenes have been largely rewritten, and one or two new ones invented.


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“The Magus” Month – Introduction



[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/9

Post 2/9

Post 3/9

Post 4/9

Post 5/9

Post 6/9

Post 7/9

Post 8/9

Post 9/9

Originally published in 1965; the 1977 revised edition is now the default version on the market. Unfortunately. (We’ll get there.)

4.5 out of 5 stars. (original version)

3 out of 5 stars. (revised version) 

The Plot:

Nicholas Urfe is a not-very-good schoolteacher with romantic ideas of himself as a solitary heart and poet. (Really, he’s kind of a womanizing bastard.) He accepts a teaching job on a breathtaking but isolated Greek Island and meets Maurice Conchis, an eccentric, wealthy man who interacts with few outsiders. Conchis tells Nicholas stories of the past, weaving reality and fiction while claiming powers verging on the supernatural. When Conchis reveals a beautiful young woman staying with him – claiming she is a ghost – Nicholas’s infatuation draws him into Conchis’s mysteries and deceits.

John Fowles (1926 – 2005) was an English author, probably best known now for The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Along with novels, he wrote poetry, essays, and translations. Several of his books have been made into films (The Collector and The Magus, along with FLW).

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