“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.

[242] Reference:

“Well, last November they put on Lysistrata.”

(p.311 / r.p.330)


A comedy by Aristophanes, originally performed in classical Athens in 411 BC. It is a comic account of one woman’s mission to end the Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata persuades the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands and lovers as a means of forcing the men to negotiate for peace.

An interesting play for Lily and Rose to claim to have shared the title role.

This is also the point where the third identity is given for Lily/Julie and the second for Rose/June: Actresses.

[243] Reference:

“The story was taken from a demotic Greek novel that’s never been translated. By a writer called Theodorakis – have you ever heard of him? Three Hearts?” I shook my head. “It was written in the nineteen twenties. It’s about two English girls, they’re supposed to be the ambassador’s daughters, who go for a holiday on a Greek island during the First World War and meet a Greek poet there – a dying genius – and they both fall in love with him and he falls in love with them and in the end everyone’s terribly miserable and they all renounce each other.”


There is a Greek songwriter and composer named Michael Theodorakis (b.1925) but I can’t find any evidence of an author with the name Theodorakis or the book Three Hearts. Fowles changed the name of the author in the revised version but I still can’t find any information verifying its existence:

“It was taken from a demotic Greek story by a writer called Theodoritis – have you ever heard of him? Three Hearts?” I shook my head. “Apparently, it’s never been translated. It was written in the early ‘twenties. It’s about two English girls, they’re supposed to be the British ambassador at Athens’s daughters, though not twins in the original, who go on holiday on a Greek island during the First World War and-”

“One doesn’t happen to be called Lily Montgomery, by any chance?”

“No, but wait. This island. They meet a Greek writer there – a poet, he’s got tuberculosis, dying… and he falls in love with each sister in turn, and they fall in love with him and everyone’s terribly miserable and it all ends – you can guess.”


Three Hearts seems at first to be another invention of Conchis’s but Nicholas will later verify its existence (see note [257]), which adds a layer of confusion. Does Three Hearts actually exist in the real world or just in The Magus universe?

[244] Reference:

“It had a sort of Dame aux Camelias charm.”



La Dame aux Camelias (The Lady of the Camellias or just Camille in English) is the best known novel by Alexandre Dumas (son of The Count of Monte Cristo’s Alexandre Dumas), published in 1848.

[245] Translation:

I spoke in Greek. “Xerete kala ta nea ellenika?”

(p.313 / r.p.334)


 ξερετε καλα τα νέα ελληνικά

Greek: Well you know the new Greek?

[246] Reference:

“He took us on a cruise with him. To Rhodes and Crete. On the Arethusa. His yacht.”



Means “the waterer” in Greek. Arethusa was a nymph and daughter of Nereus who fled from her home in Arcadia beneath the sea and came up as a fresh water fountain on the island of Ortygia in Sicily.

[247] Vocabulary:

I squinnied at her.




verb – squint. (First used in Shakespeare’s King Lear.)

[248] Reference:

“A [sort of] fantastic extension of the Stanislavski method.”

(p.316 / r.p.338)


Constantin Stanislavski (1863 – 1938) was a Russian actor, director and theater administrator. He created the Stanislavski method to train actors to create believable characterizations for their performances. From 1911 to 1916, Stanislavski based it on the concept of emotional memory which an actor would focus on internally to portray outwardly. It later evolved to include physical actions.

[249] Translation:

“That first conversation with you. I had terrible trac. Far worse than I’ve ever had on a real stage.”

(p.318 / r.p.340)


French: stage fright

[250] Translation:

Fronti nulla fides.”

“Gloss, please.”



Latin: No reliance can be placed on appearance (literally: “no faith forehead”).

(I don’t understand Nicholas’s response of “Gloss, please.”)

[251] More of Nicholas’s revised version bastardry (See Post 1, note [16] and [39]; Post 3, note [131]; Post 4, note [163]). Here he again lies to Lily/Julie (who he claims is his first true love) about meeting, and sleeping, with Alison in Rome. He betrays both Lily/Julie and Alison with these words. And he never makes up for it. He sees, by the end, that he treated Alison badly and caused her pain, but he never acknowledges his wrongs to Lily/Julie.

“Did you really not meet your friend in Athens?”

“Would you be jealous if I had?”


“Then I didn’t.”

“I bet you did really.”

“Honestly. She couldn’t make it.”

“Then you did want to meet her?”

“Out of some sort of kindness to dumb animals. Only to tell her it was no good. I’d given my soul to a witch.”


[252] Vocabulary:

It was the bell from the house, a monotonous regular ringing, but insistent, like a tocsin.



noun – an alarm bell or signal.

[253] In the revision’s forward, Fowles mentions how similarities between The Magus and Great Expectations were brought to his attention after the original release of The Magus. In the revision, he has Rose/June make direct reference to Great Expectations. I’ve never read any Dickens (he’s on my perpetual “classics I need to read” list), so these references were lost on me.

June gave me a little smile. “Then welcome, Pip.” (…)

I smiled. “Miss Havisham rides again?”

“And Estella.”


…and Fowles added a tongue-in-cheek reference to the revision:

It gave me a return of great expectations.


Wikipedia to the rescue. Let’s look for these similarities:

Pip, the main character of Great Expectations, is an orphan (as is our Nicholas).

Miss Havisham is a wealthy spinster who lives in the dilapidated Satis House (Conchis. The name Satis is, probably coincidentally, similar to Lily and Rose’s real last name, de Seitas).

Pip visits Miss Havisham and her adopted daughter Estella (Lily) and falls in love with Estella on first sight. Estella repeatedly warns Pip that Miss Havisham ruined her ability to love, but Pip won’t believe her.

In the end of the book, Pip and Estella (now a widow) reunite. Pip takes Estella’s hand and leaves the ruins of Satis House, seeing “no shadow of another parting from her.” Like the ending of The Magus, this is seen by some as ambiguous (possibly meaning something along the lines of “…at this happy moment, I did not see the shadow of our subsequent parting looming over us,” more than “we were going to be happily together forever.”)

Interestingly, this ending was a revised version which Dickens used after being told his original was too sad. His original version had Pip (still single) briefly see a remarried Estella in London.

[254] Problematic Fowles view that I won’t make apologies or justifications for:

I began to kiss her throat, her shoulder, then reached up to the straps of her costume.

“No. You mustn’t.”

But her voice had that peculiar feminine tone that invites you to go on as much as to stop.


Another problem: the black man working with Conchis is constantly referred to by Nicholas as “The Negro” or “That Negro” and never by his name (Joe). Nicholas calls Conchis’s other workers, Maria and Hermes, by their names, but Joe never gets to be Joe. Nicholas assures us he is not a racist. Fowles probably didn’t think he was, either. But his portrayal of Joe is off-putting and Nicholas’s ignorance to his own actions makes him more unlikable in a way Fowles didn’t plan.

[255] Vocabulary:

The yacht almost ceased to move. Three men were at a davit, getting ready to lower a small boat.



noun – a small crane on board a ship, especially one of a pair for suspending or lowering a lifeboat.

[256] Vocabulary:

I had a quick, abstemious lunch.



adjective – not self-indulgent, especially when eating and drinking.

[257] Reference:

“I asked one of the teachers of demotic about Three Hearts. It seems it is a sort of modern Greek classic.”



adjective – denoting or relating to the kind of language used by ordinary people; popular or colloquial.

noun – ordinary colloquial speech.

This goes back to my question in note [243] about what the reader is supposed to believe regarding the reality of Three Hearts. Unless this teacher is on Conchis’s side, this confirms that the story exists.

In the revised version, Nicholas actually sees and reads from a copy of Three Hearts, cementing the idea that it exists, at least in this universe.

“I got hold of a copy of Three Hearts.”

“Could you read it?”

“Enough to believe that part of it.”


Is this is a real thing, still untranslated from Greek? Is that why I can’t find information on it?


She gave a little downbreath of amusement, but said nothing.


“Downbreath” is not technically a word but it’s immediately understandable. I like it much better than “sigh with amusement” or “let out a breath of amusement.”

[259] This is only in original. In the revised version, Nicholas plays it cool during his conversations with Lily/Julie. He doesn’t explode with emotion, other than wanting her physically.

The more I look between the two versions, the more I’m surprised I liked The Magus so much after starting with the revision.

I whispered, “I love you. I’m mad about you.”

She turned back to me; her hair had fallen loose and she looked strange, struck silent, her eyes so intense; as if she had begun to suspect me all over again. I took her face in my hands and drew her a little towards me, then whispered the words again; begging her to believe.

“I love you.”


[260] Vocabulary:

In spite of all his gnomic cant he was like so many other Europeans, quite unable to understand the emotional depths and subtleties of the English attitude to life.

(p.336 / r.p.372)


adjective – expressed in or of the nature of short, pithy maxims or aphorisms.

enigmatic; ambiguous.

[261] Vocabulary:

He thought the girls and I were green, innocents; but we could outperfidy his perfidy, and precisely because we were English: born with masks and bred to lie.

(p.337 / r.p.372)


noun – (literary) – deceitfulness; untrustworthiness.

[262] Reference:

A second later a Very flare burst open some two hundred yards to the right.

(p.339 / r.p.374)


The most common type of flare gun is a Very (sometimes spelled Verey), which was named after Edward Wilson Very (1847 – 1910), an American navel officer.

[263] Translation:

He simply said quietly, “Was sagen Sie?

“Oh go to hell.”

(p.340 / r.p.376)


German: What do you say?

[264] Reference:

He struck a rather obvious note, for the tune was the most famous of all, “Lili Marlene.”

(p.341 / r.p.376)


A German love song which became popular during World War II. The words were written in 1915 as a poem. It was set to music by Norbert Schultze in 1938 and recorded by Lale Andersen in German in 1939 and English in 1942.

[265] Reference/Vocabulary:

A magnificent Klepht face with a heavy black moustache, an accipitral nose.

(p.343 / r.p.378)


Klepht were highwaymen and warlike mountain-folk who lived in the countryside when Greece was a part of the Ottoman Empire. They were the descendants of Greeks who retreated into the mountains during the 15th century in order to avoid Ottoman rule. The term kleptomania is derived from the same Greek root.


adjective – resembling that of a hawk.

[266] Reference:

I could see him standing in some early-nineteenth-century print, in folk-costume, silver-handled yataghan and pistols in his belt.

(p.343 / r.p.378)


A type of Ottoman knife or short sabre used from the mid-16th to late 19th centuries.

[267] Translation:

The colonel’s rapped command: Nicht schiessen!

(p.344 / r.p.379)


German: Do not shoot!

[268] Translation:

Mon lieutenant, voila pour moi la plus belle musique dans le monde.

(p.344 / r.p.379)


French: Lieutenant, here for me is the most beautiful music in the world.

[269] Translation:

The whole Nazi Weltanschauung would one day be resurrected and realized.

(p.345 / r.p.380)


German: World view

[270] Translation:

Printed in red, between little black swastikas, the words Leipzig dankt euch.

(p.346 / r.p.381)


German: Leipzig thanks you.

[271] Vocabulary:

I made attempt after attempt to speak with them. In English, then in my exiguous German.

(p.346 / r.p.381)


adjective – very small in size or amount. Meager, inadequate.

[272] Vocabulary:

What right had he to issue such an arbitrary ukase?



noun – an edict of the Russian government

an arbitrary command.

[273] Vocabulary:

A brilliant red-and-black jumping spider edged along the puteal towards me.

(p.351 / r.p.386)


A classical head built around a water well’s access opening.

[274] Vocabulary:

Many of the houses had been ruthlessly dilapidated. Some were no more than the carious stumps of walls.

(p.352 / r.p.387)


adjective – (of bones or teeth) decayed.

[275] Vocabulary:

“I am very sorry. Very sorry.”

The old man shrugged; kismet.

(p.355 / r.p.391)


noun – destiny; fate.

[276] Vocabulary:

On one side there were the round cylinders of the church apses.

(p.356 / r.p.392)



noun – a large semicircular or polygonal recess in a church, arched or with a domed roof, typically at the eastern end, and usually containing the alter.

[277] Reference:

I felt like Blondel beneath Richard Coeur de Lion’s window.

(p.357 / r.p.393)


Blondel de Nesle – either Jean I of Nesle (~1155 – 1202) or his son Jean II of Nesle (d.1241) – was a French poet-composer. A legend links him to King Richard of England: after King Richard’s arrest in 1192, Richard was found by the minstrel Blondel, whom he saw from his window. A song was sung between them, allowing each to identify the other, and Blondel helped Richard escape.

[278] This is absolutely amazing:

Two newspaper cuttings were pinned on to the top of the note. I had to read them first.

The first words.

The first words.

The whole thing had happened to me before, the same sensations, the same feeling that it could not be true and was true, of vertiginous shock and superficial calm. Coming out of the Randolph in Oxford with two or three other people, walking up to Carfax, a man under the tower selling the Evening News. Standing there, a silly girl saying, “Look at Nicholas, he’s pretending he can read.” And I looked up with the [news of the Karachi air crash and the] death of my parents in my face and said “My mother and father.” As if I had just for the first time discovered [that] such people existed.

The top cutting was from some [London] local newspaper, from the bottom of a column. It said:


(p.360 / r.p.396)


I looked at the airmail envelope. It had my name outside, in Alison’s handwriting. I tipped the contents out on the desk. A tangle of clumsily pressed flowers: two or three violets, some pinks. Two of the pinks were still woven together.

Three weeks.

To my horror I began to cry.

(p.362 / r.p.398)

[280] Reference (this is in wildly different sections between the versions; probably the most extreme chronological shifting of a line and it seems like a throwaway nothing):

“I foolishly entered a financing consortium two years ago. Can you imagine Versailles with not one Roi Soleil but five of them?”

(p.367 / r.p.220)


Le Roi Soleil is French for “The Sun King,” which Louis XIV (1638 – 1715) was known as. The Palace of Versailles (formally his father’s hunting lodge) was his.

Is Conchis/Fowles saying “Can you imagine Versailles with five Louis XIV’s”? Or grand palaces? …or something else? I’m not sure.


“I understand that I have more fellow victims than I thought.”


“A victim is someone who has something inflicted on him without being given any real choice.”

He sipped his tea. “That sounds like an excellent definition of man.”


Revised version; a rare improvement in Nicholas’s dialogue:

“I understand I have more fellow victims than I thought.”


“Whatever you call people who are made to suffer without being given the choice.”

“That sounds like an excellent definition of man.”


[282] In this revision conversation, Conchis drops all pretenses and gives Nicholas honesty:

“I thought the girls were going to hear the truth with me.”

“They know it already.” He sat down.

“Including the fact that you forged a letter from me to Julie?”

“It is her letters to you that are the forgeries.”

I noted the plural. He must have guessed she had been writing, but had guessed wrong as to the quantity.


Actually, Nicholas would have been wise to consider the plural: he has received several letters in the past week – all of them lies. One from Julie, one from Alison’s roommate, one from a bank in England verifying Julie’s identity. Conchis is telling Nicholas, straight-out, that he is being toyed with but Nicholas has made his decision about Julie and won’t entertain anything Conchis says.

“And I suppose her name is not Julie Holmes?”

“Her real first name is Lily.”


This is also the truth, which we find out near the end of the book.

[283] References (and also furthering the idea that Conchis’s grand masque can describe the experience of novelist to book; reader to author):

“I conceived a new kind of drama. One in which the conventional {relations between audience and actors were forgotten} [separation between actors and audience was abolished]. In which the conventional scenic geography, the notions of proscenium, stage, auditorium, were completely discarded. In which continuity of performance, either in time or place, was ignored. And in which the action, the narrative was fluid, with only a point of departure and a fixed point of conclusion. [Between those points the participants invent their own drama] (…) You will find that Artaud and Pirandello and Brecht were all thinking, in their different way, among similar lines.”

(p.368 / r.p.404)


Antoinine Artaud (1896 – 1948) was a French dramatist, poet, essayist, actor, and theater director, widely recognized as one of the major figures of twentieth-century theater and the European avant-garde. He developed a form of theater called “The Theatre of Cruelty,” in which artists assault the senses of the audience and allow them to feel the unexpressed emotions of the subconscious.

Luigi Pirandello (1867 – 1936) was an Italian dramatist, novelist, poet and short story writer. He was awarded the 1934 Novel Prize in Literature for “his almost magical power to turn psychological analysis into good theater.”

Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956) was a German poet, playwright and theater director. He developed the combined theory and practice of “epic theatre,” which proposed that the spectator should experience rational self-reflection and a critical view of the action on the stage. He wanted his audience to adopt a critical perspective in order to recognize social injustice and be moved to go forth from the theater and effect change on the world outside.

[284] The greatest, consistent improvement in the revision is in Conchis. His dialogue, reflecting the ability and ideas of a more mature Fowles, fits in with his character.

The original:

“Here we are all actors. None of us are what we really are.”



“We are all actors here, my friend. None of us is what we really are. We all lie some of the time, and some of us all the time.”


[285] Reference:

“When you see her tomorrow to say goodbye, ask her to repeat to you the poem of Catullus that begins Nulli se dicit mulier mea.”



“I’ve just remembered. Some Latin poem Maurice asked me to ask you about.” (…)

“The last line says, ‘What a woman tells a passionate lover should be written in wind and running water.’ ”


See Post 2, note [47] for Catullus.

The poem:

My woman says that she prefers to be married to no one

but me, not even if Jupiter himself should seek her.

She says: but what a woman says to her passionate lover,

she ought to write on the wind and swift-flowing water.

[286] Translation:

I trembled on the brink of telling him I wanted no more deceptions, no more comedy, rose ou noir.


French: pink or black

Post 7/9


8 thoughts on ““The Magus” (Post 6/9)

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