“The Ebony Tower” (Post 3/5)

Ebony Tower 03

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/5

Post 2/5

Post 4/5

Post 5/5


“The Ebony Tower” (continued)

[57] David continues to be quite the ass. I can’t say I like either man in this story.

Once again, the ghost of infidelity stalked through David’s mind – not any consideration of its actuality, but if he hadn’t been married, if Beth… that is to say, if Beth didn’t sometimes have certain faults, an occasional brisk lack of understanding of him, an overmundane practicality, which this attractively cool and honest young mistress of a situation would be too intelligent (…) to show or at any rate to abuse.

(p.52 – 53)

Of course it’s Beth’s faults that make Diana attractive. And of course David understands every aspect of this young woman, despite only having known her for an afternoon.

He had a knowledge of a brutality totally alien to his nature: how men could rape. Something both tender and provocative in that defenselessness stirred him deeply.



He thought of Beth, probably in bed by now in Blackheath, in another world, asleep; of his absolute certainty that there could not be another man beside her. His real fear was of losing that certainty. Childish: if he was unfaithful, then she could be. No logic.

(p.84 – 85)

Nope. No logic at all. But a sentiment echoed in seventies literature (see Joseph Heller’s Something Happened, note [53]).


He could read the title of the Freak’s book: The Magus. He guessed at astrology, she would be into all that nonsense.


I think Fowles understood his main failings and knew to poke fun at them. There is a wry humor in the best of Fowles – rare, but peering out just when I’m ready to give up hope. David immediately writes the Freak (Anne) off and even when she offers herself at the end, he professes no interest in her. Fowles is winking here by suggesting that the Freak would be a fan of his, which I assume means that believes she’s intelligent, though David refuses to see it.


“Chance, I suppose. You know. It brought one here in the first place. And somehow it’s got to take one away.”


[60] Reference:

“You know that famous Lautrec poster of Yvette Guilbert? A parody of that.”



Yvette Guilbert (1865 – 1944) was a French cabaret singer and actress of the Belle Epoque (“Beautiful Era,” considered to run from 1871 to 1914). Lautrec made several works with Guilbert as subject (some which are on hoocher.com).

[61] Translate:

“I had to drag him out before the flics were called in.”



French: cops


“He knows we’ve got to have something to laugh at. To hate in him, really.”

“To forgive in him.”



Now was acutely itself; yesterday and tomorrow became the myths.


[64] Idiom?

Salt on the sparrow’s tail.”


The only reference to this saying (outside of “The Ebony Tower”) that I can find is in “The Life of John Randolph of Roanoke” in a letter from John Randolph to Francis Scott Key, dated December 15, 1813:

Put a little fresh salt on the sparrow’s tail, and you will infallibly catch him.

[65] References:

“Hanged man. Not the Verona thing. Fox [sic]. I think. Can’t remember now.”

He was talking about a detail in the back of the Pisanello St. George and the Princess. (…)

“Fox escapes me.”

Book of Martyrs. Woodcuts. Old copy at home. Terrified me.”



John Foxe (~1516 – 1587) was an English historian and martyrologist, the author of Actes and Monuments (1563, popularly known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs), an account of Christian martyrs throughout Western history but emphasizing the sufferings of English Protestants and proto-Protestants from the fourteenth century through the reign of Mary I.

Saint George and the Princess is a fresco by Pisanello, located in the Pellegrini Chapel of the church of Sant’Anastasia, Verona, northern Italy. It is one of the most notable works of the International Gothic painting. There are two men near the buildings in the back of the painting.

Breasley says, “Not the Verona thing” but Pisanello’s work is at Verona, so I don’t know what he means.

[66] References:

Fumisterie. All the way.” (…)


“Good gravestone.”




French: humbug

Guernica is a mural-sized oil painting on canvas by Pablo Picasso completed in June 1937. The painting, which uses a palette of gray, black, and white, is regarded by many art critics as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings in history. The painting was created in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain, by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italian warplanes at the request of the Spanish Nationalists.

[67] Reference:

A technique of mass education, an “activity” you fitted in between English and maths. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, and a billion tins of poster paint.



Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, and originally titled The Brothel of Avignon) is a large oil painting created in 1907 by Picasso. The work portrays five nude female prostitutes from a brothel on Carrer d’Avinyo in Barcelona.

[68] Reference:

A black Kate Greenaway dress sprigged with little pink and green flowers.



Catherine “Kate” Greenaway (1846 – 1901) was an English children’s book illustrator and writer. Her drawings gave rise to a fashion in young children’s clothing in the 1880s and 1890s.


Its cottage simplicity somehow suited her better; or better what David had begun to like in her.


[70] Reference/Translate:

Something too painstaking and voulu.



French: desired

[71] Reference:

A pencil drawing (…) Gwen John.



Gwen John (1876 – 1939) was a Welsh artist who worked in France for most of her career. Her paintings, mainly portraits of anonymous female sitters, are rendered in a range of closely related tones.

[72] Reference:

“The Braque’s going to the Maeght when he dies.”



The Maeght Foundation or Fondation Maeght is a museum of modern art on the Colline des Gardettes, a hill overlooking Saint-Paul de Vence in the southeast of France about 16 miles from nice. The collection includes works by artists including Bonnard, Braque, and Chagall.


“You’re not going to paint any better by forcing yourself to be abnormal.”


[74] Vocabulary:

He felt he had traveled much farther than he expected, into the haunted and unpredicted; and yet in some strange way it seemed always immanent.


I thought this was a typo of “imminent,” but immanent is its own word:

adjective – existing or operating within; inherent.

            (of God) permanently pervading and sustaining the universe.


“Do you wish you had?”

“It’s too late for wishing.”


[76] Reference:

“I’ve taken to walking in the garden. Like Maud. Before I go to sleep.”



A reference to Alfred Tennyson’s (1809 – 1892) “Maud (Part I)” which begins: “Come into the Garden, Maud.” (The full text at poetryfoundation.org)

[77] Reference:

The implacably resentful stare of the sacrificial and to-be-saved princess of Trebizond.


Referring again to Pisanello’s Saint George and the Princess (note [65]). The princess in the fresco is the Princess of Trebizond (Trabzon) and she does have an interesting (tired? bored?) expression for a princess about to be “saved”.

The Empire of Trebizond of the Trapezutine Empire was a monarchy that flourished during the 13th through 16th centuries, consisting of the far northeastern corner of Anatolia and the southern Crimea. Donald Nicol is quoted as saying: “the beauty of the ladies of Trebizond was as legendary as the wealth of their dowries.”

[78] Reference:

There was a second Parthian shot.



The Parthian shot is a light horse military tactic made famous in the West by the Parthians, an ancient Iranian people. While in real or feigned retreat their horse archers would turn their bodies back in full gallop to shoot at the pursuing enemy.


It was a weasel. One of his wheels must have run straight over it. It was dead, crushed. Only the head had escaped. A tiny malevolent eye still stared up, and a trickle of blood, like a red flower, had spilt from the gaping mouth.


This echoes a scene in the upcoming “Eliduc”:

She began to cry, in sympathy for Guilliadun. But as she sat by the deathbed with tears in her eyes a weasel darts out from beneath the altar. The servant struck at it with a stick to stop it running over the corpse. He killed it, then threw the small body into the middle of the chancel floor. It had not been there long when its mate appeared and saw where it lay. The living animal ran around the dead one’s head and touched it several times with a foot. But when this failed, it seemed distressed. Suddenly it ran out of the chapel into the forest grass. There it picked a deep red flower with its teeth, then carried it quickly back and placed it in the mouth of the weasel the servant had killed. Instantly the animal came back to life.


I don’t see many parallels between “The Ebony Tower” and “Eliduc,” despite what Fowles says. Is David supposed to be the stand-in for Eliduc? Or is it Henry? Either way, the connections between the two aren’t as clear as Fowles hoped for.

[80] David lamenting his failure to have sex with Diana (Beth is his wife):

[David] knew the agony of never seeing [Diana] again. It seemed almost immediately like a punishment. Her disappearance that morning proved it: he had the blame. His crime had been realizing too late; at the orchard gate, when she had broken away; and he had let her, fatal indecision. (…) He had failed both in the contemporary and the medieval sense; as someone who wanted sex, as someone who renounced it.

His mind slid away to imaginary scenarios. Beth’s plane would crash. He had never married. He had, but Diana had been Beth. She married Henry, who promptly died. She appeared in London, she could not live without him, he left Beth. In all these fantasies they ended at Coet, in a total harmony of work and love and moonlit orchard. (…)

It defined so well what [David] lacked. His inadequacy was that he did not believe in sin. Henry knew sin was a challenge to life; not an unreason, but an act of courage and imagination. He sinned out of need and instinct; David did not, out of fear.

(p.93 – 94)

I hate when characters turn cheating on their partners into an existential crisis or statement. It’s sex. It’s just sex. David wanted to sleep with a gorgeous twenty-something. He tried his best and she ended up rejecting him. He should feel shitty about that, if he and his wife have an exclusive relationship. Not because he didn’t prove his mettle, but because he proved his potential to be unfaithful.

[81] Vocabulary:

How shabby it now looked, how insipid and anodyne, how safe.



adjective – not likely to provoke dissent or offense; inoffensive, often deliberately so.

noun – a painkilling drug or medicine.

[82] References:

He had a dreadful vision of being in a dead end, born into a period of art history future ages would dismiss as a desert; as Constable and Turner and the Norwich School had degenerated into the barren academicism of the midcentury and later.



John Constable (1776 – 1837) was an English Romantic painter. Born in Suffolk, he is known principally for his landscape paintings of Dedham Vale, the area surrounding his home. “I should paint my own places best,” he wrote to his friend John Fisher in 1821, “painting is but another word for feeling.” His work was embraced in France, where he sold more works than in his native England and inspired the Barbizon school (Post 1, note [17]).

J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851) was an English Romanticist landscape painter. Turner was considered a controversial figure in his day, but is now regarded as the artist who elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivaling history painting. He is commonly known as “the painter of light.”

The Norwich School of painters, founded in 1803 in Norwich, was the first provincial art movement in Britain. Artists of the school were inspired by the natural beauty of the Norfolk landscape and owed some influence to the work of landscape painters of the Dutch Golden Age such as Hobbema and Ruisdael.

One reason the Norwich School artists are not as well known as other painters of the period, notably Constable and Turner, is because the majority of their canvases were collected by the industrialist J.J. Colman (of Colman’s mustard fame), and have been on permanent display in Norwich Castle Museum since the 1990s. This lack of wider exposure was remedied in 2001, when many of the school’s major works were exhibited outside Norwich for the first time at the Tate Gallery, London.

I don’t know what David/Fowles means by saying these artists/schools “had degenerated into the barren academicism of the midcentury and later.”

[83] Fact check:

That notorious diploma show where the fine arts students had shown nothing but blank canvases.



White canvases (known as a Monochrome paintings) have been displayed by artists throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. This Wikipedia page gives examples of artists who have produced white/minimalist/monochrome pieces, but I didn’t find anything about a fine art school giving a show with blank canvases. It very well may have happened, I just can’t find verification.


One could not live by one’s art, therefore one taught a travesty of its basic principles; pretending that genius, making it, is arrived at by overnight experiment, histrionics, instead of endless years of solitary obstinacy; that the production of the odd instant success, like a white rabbit out of a hat, excuses the vicious misleading of thousands of innocents.


[85] Reference:

Seeking Lebensraum in an arctic sea.



noun – the territory that a state or nation believes is needed for its natural development, especially associated with Nazi Germany.


He was crippled by common sense.


[87] The last page switches to present tense, bringing David back to the now and giving us no clue to the future. It also echoes the shifting tenses in “Eliduc,” which Fowles explains was in the original text, as well.

He raised his hand: a new coat, surprise for him, a little flounce and jiggle to show it off. Gay Paree. Free woman. Look, no children.

She comes with the relentless face of the present tense; with a dry delight, small miracle that he is actually here.



1 out of 5 stars. 

The Plot:

Married knight Eliduc falls madly in love with a king’s daughter. But he can’t have her and his wife.

This isn’t a Fowles original; it’s a translation of a work by Marie de France. By far the shortest story in The Ebony Tower, it doesn’t add much of anything.

[88] Translation:

De un mut ancient lai bretun

Le cunte e tute la reisun

Vus dirai…

(p.101; title page of story)

These are the opening lines from the original work by Marie de France. Fowles translates it as:

I am going to give you the full story of a very old Celtic tale, at least as I’ve been able to understand the truth of it.


Chretien de Troyes: A Study of the Arthurian Romances by L.T. Topsfield translates it as:

Working from a very ancient Breton lay, I will tell you the story in my own words and its whole theme, according to the authentic truth as I, in my mind, believe it to be.

[89] Fowles starts “Eliduc” with “A Personal Note”. I find it odd that he didn’t start the whole collection with this note and story.

The working title of this collection of stories was Variations, by which I meant to suggest variations both on certain themes in various books of mine and in methods of narrative presentation.


We can see this already: “The Ebony Tower” resembled The Magus; “Poor Koko” will echo notes from The Collector; “The Enigma” has some base similarity to Fowles’ later novel A Maggot (showing he already has a preoccupation with sudden, unexplained disappearances).

[90] Translate/Vocabulary:

The distinction between recit and discours.




French: tale


French: speech


The unexplained mystery, as every agnostic and novelist knows, is black proof of an ultimate shirking of creative responsibility.


[92] Vocabulary:

He was torn in two; then mounted his horse, and havered no more.




verb – (Scottish) – talk foolishly; babble.

(British) – act in a vacillating or indecisive manner.

[93] Reference:

They prayed in despair – to God, to St. Nicholas and St. Clement.


There are several Saint Clements, but I think this is most likely referring to Pope Clement I (d.99), also known as Saint Clement of Rome. He is considered to be the first Apostolic Father of the Church.

Post 4



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