“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-”


[290] A passage I quite like. Nicholas and Conchis’s personalities can be summed up in this brief exchange:

“[To what extent] is your dislike of me a part of your part?”

He was undisconcerted. “Liking is not important. Between men.”

I felt the ouzo in me. “Even so, you don’t like me.”

His dark eyes turned {to} [on] mine. “I am to answer?” I nodded. “[Then] no. But I like very few people. And {no longer any} [even fewer] of your {sex and age} [age and sex]. Liking other people is an illusion we have to cherish in ourselves if we are to live in society. It is one I have long banished [at least] from my life [here]. You wish to be liked. I wish simply to be.”

(p.374 / r.p.409)

[291] Vocabulary:

“All good science is art. And all good art is science.”

With this fine-sounding but hollow apophthegm he put down his glass and moved towards the table.



Alternate spelling: apothegm

noun – a concise saying or maxim; an aphorism.


“Men love war because it allows them to look serious. Because [they imagine] it is the one thing that stops women laughing at them. In it they can reduce women to the status of objects. That is the great distinction between the sexes. Men see objects, women see the relationship between objects. Whether the objects need each other, love each other, match each other. It is an extra dimension of feeling {that} we men are without and one that makes war abhorrent to all real women – and absurd.”

(p.375 / r.p.413)

[293] Translation (this single word opens chapter 53): 


(p.376 / r.p.414)


Greek: freedom

[294] References:

“A Tyrolean carol. Then a kalamatiano. It was very strange. In the end they were all singing each other’s songs.”

(p.379 / r.p.416)


Tyrol is a federal state in western Austria.

Kalamatiano is a type of Greek folk music associated with a dance sharing its name. Its most recognizable feature is its 7/8 time signature. Here’s a great example.

[295] Reference:

“In November of that year the Gorgopotamos exploit created a new strain.”

(p.379 / r.p.417)


Operation Harling was a World War II mission by the British Special Operations Executive, in cooperation with the Greek Resistance groups ELAS and EDES, which destroyed the heavily guarded Gorgopotamos viaduct in Central Greece on November 26, 1942.

[296] Reference:

“One of the great fallacies of our time is that the Nazis rose to power because they imposed order on chaos. Precisely the opposite is true – they were successful because they imposed chaos on order. They tore up the commandments, they denied the superego, what you will. They said, You may persecute the minority, you may kill, you may torture, you may couple and breed without love. They offered humanity all its great temptations. Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”

(p.391 / r.p.428)


The maxim “Nothing is an absolute reality, all is permitted,” is from Alamut, a novel by Vladimir Bartol. It was first published in 1938 in Slovenia. Other works have referenced the quote, including Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs and the video game series Assassin’s Creed.

[297] References:

“There is a large house with huge Attic acroteria facing the harbor.”

(p.391 / r.p.429)


Attic refers to Attica, a historical region that encompasses the city of Athens. The historical region is centered on the Attic peninsula, which projects into the Aegean Sea.

An acroterion or acroterium is an architectural ornament placed on a flat base called the acroter or plinth, and mounted at the apex of the pediment of a building in the classical style.

Probably easier to look at pictures than sort out that definition.


“Gradually they fell absolutely quiet, a wall of expectant faces. Up in the sky I saw swallows and martins. Like children playing in a house where some tragedy is taking place among the adults.”

(p.392 / r.p.429)

[299] Translation:

I saw a thin stitched sheaf of paper. A title-page: Bericht uber die von deutschen Besetzsungstruppen unmenschilche Grausamkeiten.

(p.400 / r.p.438)

Besetzsungstruppen” is a typo (both versions incorrectly spell it this way). The second “e” should be an “a”, making it “Besatzungstruppen”, which means “occupation troops.”

German: Report about the inhuman atrocities of German Occupation troops

(The next line in the book gives the translation but doesn’t make it clear that it is defining the title page that Nicholas was looking at.)

[300] Reference:

I suddenly remembered Blake – what was it, “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.”

(p.400 / r.p.438)


From William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, composed between 1790 and 1793.


“You are someone who does not understand what freedom is. And above all that the better you understand it, the less you possess of it.”



The gibbous moon hung over the [planet] earth, a dead thing over a dying thing.

(p.402 / r.p.440)

[303] Vocabulary:

It was as if he had planted a bandillera in my shoulder, or a succubus on my back.



noun – (in bullfighting) a metal tipped spike that is impaled in the bull’s neck to weaken it.

[304] References:

As something too small to mourn; the very word {“mourn”} was archaic and superstitious of the age of Browne, or Hervey; yet Donne was right, her death detracted, would for ever detract, from my [own] life. Each death laid a dreadful charge or complicity on the living (…); a bracelet of bright hair about the bone.

(p.402 / r.p.441)

I’m taking guesses with the first two:

Thomas Browne (1605 – 1682) was an English author whose works include diverse fields, including science and medicine, religion and the esoteric. Browne’s writings display a deep curiosity towards the natural world.

John Hervey (1695 – 1743) was an English courtier and political writing and memoirist.

John Donne (1572 – 1631) was an English poet and cleric. (He was referenced twice in Silence of the Lambs, see note [7] of that post.) “A bracelet of bright hair about the bone” is a line from his poem, The Relic.


I did not pray for her, because prayer has no efficacy; I did not cry for her, [or for myself] because only extroverts cry twice; [but] I sat in the silence of that night, that infinite hostility to man, to permanence, to love, remembering her, remembering her.

(p.402 / r.p.441)

[306] Reference:

{A bright wind}, [It was] a Dufy day.

(p.402 / r.p.442)


Raoul Dufy (1877 – 1953) was a French painter. (His brother Jean was also a painter but I think Fowles is referring to Raoul.) Noted for scenes of open-air social events.

[307] Translation:

Catherine, une malheur nous est arrivee. Quelquechose de tout a fait inattendu.”



French: Catherine, a misfortune has come to us. Of something quite unexpected.

[308] Conchis and Nicholas’s last direct conversation has a completely different tone between the versions.

The original:

“For purposes I will not go into now I told you only yesterday that I did not like you. This was merely to authenticate what will not now take place today. So permit me to say, at this unexpected last moment, that I have grown to like you very much. Will you believe me?”

I said, “Of course.”

“Whatever may happen to you in your life, I beg you never to stop believing that of me.”

I bowed.


There is some respect here between them. In the original, I believe that Conchis ultimately does like Nicholas, at least a little (which I find more satisfying as a reader). None of that exists in the revision:

He opened his hands, unsmiling, almost taunting: I had better believe him now.

I said, “You haven’t heard the last of me.”

“I should not be foolish. Money goes a long way in this country.”

“And sadism, apparently.”

He examined me one last time. “Hermes will return to lock up in a minute.” I said nothing. “You had your chance. I suggest you reflect on what it is in you that caused you to miss it.”

“Go to hell.”


[309] Vocabulary:

I was still left with the mystery of how two such ravishing girls accepted the absence of admirers, kept themselves so in purdah for Conchis.



noun – the practice among women in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of living in a separate room or behind a curtain, or of dressing in all-enveloping clothes, in order to stay out of the sight of men or strangers.

a curtain used for screening off women.

a state of seclusion or secrecy.

[310] Translation:

Sans rancune j’espere, monsieur.” Her accent was heavily Greek. I frogged a small grimace, and took her hand. “Eh bein. Bonne chance.”



French: No hard feeling I hope, sir (…) Well. Good luck.

[311] Vocabulary:

Two wire hawsers ran down from the lid, some counterbalance system.




noun – a thick rope or cable for mooring or towing a ship.

[312] Vocabulary:

“Let me see your place first.”

“It’s horrid. Like a tomb.”

“Just one quick dekko.”



noun – (British informal) – a quick look or glance.

[313] Vocabulary:

There was a fusty staleness in the air, as if silence had a smell.



adjective – smelling stale, damp, or stuffy.

old-fashioned in attitude or style.

[314] Vocabulary:

{So I sat} [I stood] at the foot of the ladder and seethed, trying to {plumb Conchis’s} [comprehend the sadistic old man’s] duplicities: to read his palimpsest.

(p.419 / r.p.458)


A manuscript page, either from a scroll or a book, from which the text has been scraped or washed off so that the page can be reused for another document.

[315] Reference:

Perhaps he saw himself as a professor in an impossible faculty of ambiguity, a sort of Empson of the event.

(p.419 / r.p.458)


William Empson (1906 – 1984) was an English literary critic and poet, widely influential for his practice of closely reading literary works. His best-known work is his first, Seven Types of Ambiguity, published in 1930.

[316] References:

Or FrazerThe Golden Bough? I tried to remember. What was it? Hanging dolls in sacred woods.

(p.420 / r.p.460)


The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion is a wide-ranging, comparative study of mythology and religion, written by the Scottish anthropologist James Frazer (1854 – 1941). It was first published in 1890.

From the passage, “Bringing in Summer”:

In the preceding ceremonies the return of Spring, Summer, or Life, as a sequel to the expulsion of Death, is only implied at or at most announced. In the following ceremonies it is plainly enacted. Thus in some parts of Bohemia the effigy of Death is drowned by being thrown into the water at sunset; then the girls go out into the wood and cut down a young tree with a green crown, hang a doll dressed as a woman on it, deck the whole with green, red, and white ribbons, and march in procession with their Lito (Summer) into the village.


The profoundest distances are never geographical.

(p.420 / r.p.460)

[318] Reference:

[There was also] a text of the Palatine Anthology.

(p.422 / r.p.462)


The collection of Greek poems and epigrams discovered in 1606 in the Palatine Library in Heidelberg. It is based on the lost collection of Constantine Cephalas of the 10th century.

[319] Vocabulary:

I had worked about one-third of the way through the pile of foolscap.

(p.423 / r.p.465)


noun – a size of paper, now standardized at about 13 x 8 (or 13 x 15.75 inches).

[320] Reference:

There was a gray Palmeresque light over the landscape.

(p.425 / r.p.467)


Samuel Palmer (1805 – 1881) was a British landscape painter, etcher and printmaker. He produced visionary pastoral paintings.

[321] Vocabulary:

Occasionally thalassophobic parents used that route.

(p.426 / r.p.469)


Thalassophobia is an intense and persistent fear of the sea.

[322] Reference:

Pale gray walls in need of painting, a photo of King Paul, an oleograph ikon over the bed.



noun – a lithographic print textured to resemble an oil painting.

[323] New identity for Rose/June: psychology student, working with psychiatry professor Conchis. (Revision, page 476. This additional deception wasn’t in original.)

[324] In the original, the description of The Magus tarot card comes before the narrative begins (see Post 1, note [1]). In the revision, Fowles removes this introductory definition to explain the card later, perhaps trying to clear up some of the ambiguity his readers and critics complained about with the original version.

“All that Lily and Rose nonsense.”

“The names are kind of a joke. There’s a card in the Tarot pack called the magus. The magician… conjuror. Two of his traditional symbols are the lily and the rose.”


[325] Vocabulary:

June blew a light kiss, a benison, down at me from the top of the stairs, then disappeared.



noun – (literary) – a blessing.

[326] Reference:

A slim white shape, Botticelli’s Primavera.



Also known as Allegory of Spring, a tempera panel painting by Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli. Painted circa 1482. The painting depicts a group of mythological figures in a garden, Venus being central.

[327] Reference:

“Who am I?”

It was a pose; a sexual guessing game.

“The slave?”




From the legend “The King and the Beggar-maid,” which tells the story of King Cophetua and his love for the beggar Penelophon. The legend is mentioned in several Shakespeare works. The origin is obscure.

[328] Lily/Julie says one thing to Nicholas in the revision (after they’ve slept together) that sums up Nicholas’s failings. She’s not just speaking of sex, but of love and his conduct in general.

“Nicholas, will you always remember something about tonight?”

I grinned. “What?”

“That it’s also how, not why.”


[329] Nicholas and Lily/Julie’s last direct, private interaction is also very different between versions (see note [308]). In the original, Lily/Julie leaves before they’ve slept together:

“Do you want me?”

“I’m dying for you.”

Then very quickly she slipped off the bed; ran to the door. I sat up.


I saw her pale figure against the faint rectangle; watching me for a moment. Her right hand reached sideways.

She spoke. The strangest voice; as hard as glass.

“There is no Julie.”


In the revision, Nicholas and Lily/Julie have sex and then she gets up to leave:

“Where are you going?”

She didn’t answer for a moment, then turned, tying the kimono sash, and looked down at me. I think there was still a trace of a smile on her face.

“To the trial.”

“The what?”

It all happened so impossibly fast. She was already moving away before I had fully registered the change in her voice, its now patent lack of innocence.


She turned at the door; left the tiny pause of the actress before her exit line.

“My name isn’t Julie, Nicholas. And I’m sorry we can’t provide the customary flames.”


[330] Reference:

It did not look like a court of justice; but a court of injustice; a Star Chamber, an inquisitorial committee.

(p.448 / r.p.498)


The Star Chamber was an English court of law which sat at the royal Palace of Westminster, from the late 15th century to the mid-17th century. The Star Chamber was established to ensure the fair enforcement of laws against socially and politically prominent people so powerful that ordinary courts would likely hesitate to convict them of their crimes.

In modern usage, legal or administrative bodies with strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings are sometimes called, metaphorically or poetically, star chambers.

[331] Reference:

A terrifying figure.

Suddenly and silently in the doorway at the far end, Herne the Hunter. A Neolithic god; a spirit of darkness, of northern forest, of a time before kings, as black and chilling as the touch of iron.

(p.449 / r.p.499)


In English folklore, Herne the Hunter is a ghost associated with Windsor Forest and Great Park in the English country of Berkshire. His first literary mention is in Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor.

[332] Vocabulary:

I had noted the black gloves, the black shoes beneath the narrow soutane-like smock he wore.

(p.449 / r.p.499)


noun – a type of cassock worn by Roman Catholic priests.

[333] I wish you were correct, Fowles:

In our century we are too inured by science fiction and too sure of science reality ever to be terrified of the supernatural again.

(p.450 / r.p.500)

[334] The weakest part of the book is Nicholas’s “trial.” Instead of being impressive, the set-up reeks of B-level low-budget horror films. It’s just trying too damn hard. After hundreds of pages anchored almost wholly in reality (with a very small cast), this scene introduces a group of costumed people:

The stag-devil

The crocodile-devil

The vampire

The succubus

The birdwoman

The magician

The coffin-sedan

The goat-devil

The jackal-devil

The Pierrot-skeleton

The corn doll

The Aztec

The witch

(p.449 – 454 / r.p.499 – 503)

Along with these thirteen are two “guards” and twenty “jurors.” Conchis has assembled a cast of nearly thirty.

Nicholas should be terrified for his life. He has been drugged “with no sense of time for five days,” (p.440 / r.p.490) and is now tied up in a strange room with strange people. This is a bizarre, dangerous situation. But he behaves in the same headstrong, sarcastic manner he’s conducted himself with throughout the entire book.

I also can’t believe Conchis has the time and money on his hands to coordinate this for the sake of one person. And doing this to someone like Nicholas is only going to increase his ego and sense of importance, not teach him humility.

This is why I prefer to read The Magus as allegory; I can interpret the trial as a gathering of creations of an author (Nicholas), brought to him through his muse and inspiration (Lily/Julie and Conchis).

For all of the implied symbolism of the costumes, they come to nothing. The masks are removed immediately and the wearers pretend to be professional psychiatrists and professors. So what’s the point of the costumed entrance at all?

[335] Vocabulary:

He raised both hands sacerdotally.

(p.453 / r.p.503)



adjective – relating to priests or the priesthood; priestly.

(Theology) – relating to or denoting a doctrine that ascribes sacrificial functions and spiritual or supernatural powers to ordained priests.

[336] Reference:

The last arrival, the goat-head, was an old man with a clipped white beard, dark gray-blue eyes; a resemblance to Smuts.

(p.453 / r.p.503)


Jan Smuts (1870 – 1950) was a prominent South African and British Commonwealth statesman, military leader and philosopher.

[337] The third name and identity given for Rose/June is slightly difference between versions:

“Moira Maxwell, costume designer.” (p.455)

“Margaret Maxwell, costume designer.” (r.p.505)

And we get the third name and fourth identity for Lily/Julie:

“Doctor Vanessa Maxwell.” (p.456 / r.p.506)

[338] Reference:

Conchis spoke to Lily. “Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo, Aureli patheci et cinaedi Furi?”

Lily: “Precisely.”

(p.457 / r.p.507)


Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo is the first line, sometimes used as a title, of Carmen 16 in the collected poems of Catullus (see Post 2, note [47] and Post 6, note [285] for other Catullus references).

The poem was considered so explicit that a full English translation was not published until the late twentieth century.

Here’s the Wikipedia page if you’re interested in the translation.

Post 8/9


7 thoughts on ““The Magus” (Post 7/9)

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