“The Ebony Tower” (Post 4/5)

Ebony Tower 04

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1/5

Post 2/5

Post 3/5

Post 5/5

“Poor Koko”

3 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

An author is robbed while staying in an out-of-the-way cabin.

There’s something of Cloud Atlas‘s (review) Timothy Cavendish in this narrator.

[94] Translate:

Byth dorn re ver dhe’n tavas re hyr,

Mes den hep tavas a-gollas y dyr

(p.127, title page)

At the end of the story, our narrator translates this for us:

My incomprehensible epigraph shall have the last word, and serve as judgement on both father and son. It comes with a sad prescience from an extinct language of these islands, Old Cornish.

Too long a tongue, too short a hand;

But tongueless man has lost his land.


The only place I can find either phrase is in The History of Great Britain: From the First Invasion of It By the Romans Under Julius Caesar, Volume 2 (1823):

The kind of verse in which it is imagined the Druids delivered their doctrines to their scholars, was that which is called by the Welsh grammarians Englyn Milur, of which the following lines are a short specimen:

An lavar koth yu lavar guir

Bedh durn re ver, dhan tavaz rehir

Mez den heb davaz a gallaz i dir.


What’s said of old will always stand:

Too long a tongue, too short hand;

But he that had no tongue lost his land.


He had been rather humorlessly upset by my cynical declaration that the more abhorrent a news item the more comforting it was to the recipient, since the fact that it had happened elsewhere proved that it had not happened here.


[96] Reference:

The latterday Pangloss in all of us who regard tragedy as a privilege of other people.



noun – a person who is optimistic regardless of the circumstances.

Pangloss is a fictional character in the 1759 novel Candide by Voltaire. (See The Magus, note [117]).

[97] Vocabulary:

The damning labels of “bookworm” and “swot.”



verb – (British, informal) – study assiduously.

noun – (British, informal) – a person who studies hard, especially one regarded as spending too much time studying.

[98] Vocabulary:

The kind of gossip that redounds to another writer’s discredit.




verb – (formal) – contribute greatly to (a person’s credit or honor).

            (archaic) – come back upon; rebound on.


Very regrettably I have always found my own faults more interesting than other people’s virtues.


[100] Reference:

A definitive biography and critical account of Thomas Love Peacock.



Thomas Love Peacock (1785 – 1866) was an English novelist, poet, and official of the East India Company. He was a close friend of Percy Bysshe Shelley and they influenced each other’s work. Peacock wrote satirical novels, each with the same basic setting: characters at a table discussing and criticizing the philosophical opinions of the day.

There’s a nice parallel between Peacock’s “basic setting” and the plot of “Poor Koko.”

[101] Reference:

My Maida Vale flat.



Maida Vale is an affluent residential district comprising the northern part of Paddington in west London, west of St. John’s Wood and south of Kilburn. The name derives from the Hero of Maida inn which used to be on Edgware Road near the Regent’s Canal.

[102] Reference:

Thomas Hardy has never been my cup of tea.



Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) was an English novelist and poet. A Victorian realist in the tradition of George Eliot, he was influenced both in his novels and in his poetry by Romanticism, especially William Wordsworth. He was highly critical of much in Victorian society, especially on the declining status of rural people in Britain, such as those from his native South West England. He gained fame as the author of such novels as Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), Tess of the d’Ubervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895).

[103] Reference:

My humble temporary version of the Sabine farm.



The Sabines were an Italic tribe which lived in the central Apennines of ancient Italy, also inhabiting Latium north of the Anio before the founding of Rome.

The poet Horace (65 BC – 8 BC) wrote about his Sabine farm (also known as Horace’s Villa).

Horace showed up all over The Magus (Post 6, note [241] and Post 8, note [380], which directly referenced his farm).


When everyone knew everyone else, crime was either difficult or desperate.



I think I was more frightened of my own terror than of its cause.



“Who are you? What are you doing here?”

The questions were respectively stupid and nugatory, of course, and received the answer, or lack of it, they deserved.


[107] References:

“Only a clown could have missed the Paul de Lamerie salver. The first period Worcester teapot. The John Sell Cotman. Right?”



Paul de Lamerie (1688 – 1751) was a London-based silversmith. The Victoria and Albert Museum describes him as the “greatest silversmith working in England in the 18th century.”

According to Antiques Trade GazetteWorcester First Period is the most widely collected of 18th century English porcelain factories. The site has photo examples of first period Worcester teapots.

John Sell Cotman (1782 – 1842) was an English marine and landscape painter, etcher, illustrator, author and a leading member of the Norwich school (Post 3, note [82]) of artists.

[108] Reference:

Like discussing the metaphysics of Duns Scotus with a music-hall comedian.



John Duns, commonly called Duns Scotus (~1266 – 1308), is generally considered to be one of the three most important philosopher-theologians of the High Middle Ages. Scotus has had considerable influence on both Catholic and secular thought. The doctrines for which he is best known are the “univocity of being,” that existence is the most abstract concept we have, applicable to everything that exists.

[109] Reference:

I am what I am may be all very well in its most famous context, but it is not a basis for rational conversation.



I am that I am is the common English translation of the response that God used in the Hebrew Bible when Moses asked for his name. It is one of the most famous verses in the Torah.

[110] Reference:

His pseudo-Marcusian – if that is not a tautology – naiveties.



Herbert Marcuse (1898 – 1979) was a German-American philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist, associated with the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. In his written works, he criticized capitalism, modern technology, historical materialism and entertainment culture, arguing that they represent new forms of social control.

[111] Reference:

The new-style Raffles downstairs.



E.W. Hornung (1866 – 1921) wrote a series of 26 short stories, 2 plays, and a novel about the adventures of Arthur J. Raffles, cricketer and gentleman thief, and his chronicler, Harry “Bunny” Manders, in London, between 1898 and 1909. Raffles is an antihero. Although a thief, he (according to Richard Bleiler) “never steals from his hosts, he helps old friends in trouble (…) [the] recognition of the problems of the distribution of wealth is [a] recurrent subtext.”

[112] Reference:

The preservation of the plane trees in Fitzjohn’s Avenue.



Platanus is a genus consisting of a small number of tree species native to the Northern Hemisphere. They are often known in English as planes or plane trees. Some North American species are called sycamores, although the term sycamore can refer to other trees.

[113] Vocabulary:

“I’ll be back to say tara.”

He picked up a large grip from beneath the window on the lane.



According to Lingomash: Pronounced “churar,” [tara] is another word for cheerio or goodbye.



noun – a traveling bag.

[114] References:

He even noticed that my copy of Van Doren’s Life was broken-spined.


None of the Van Dorens I found are credited as author of a work titled Life.

The closest I found was Philip Van Doren Stern (1900 – 1984), who authored Soldier Life in the Union and Confederate Armies (1961) and The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln.


The world was insane, I no longer wished to have anything to do with it. I would devote the rest of my life to revenge.


[116] Idiom:

In the end I saw Jane look at Maurice, and knew that four had been reached.


If this is an idiom, I can’t track down the origin or meaning. From context, it sounds like it means “an agreement/consensus had been reached.”


There comes next an enigma; the fact this unforgivable act was preceded by a surprisingly mild, almost kind, course of behavior.


An interesting choice of words; the next story’s title is in fact, “The Enigma.”

[118] Vocabulary:

It may be dangerous to see more in it than a mere psittacism – a mindless parroting.



Psittacism is a speech or writing that appears mechanical or repetitive in the manner of a parrot. More generally it is a pejorative description of the use of words which appear to have been used without regard to their meaning. The word is derived from the Latin term for parrtos, psittaci.

[119] Translate:

Hopeless parole in search of lost langue.




French: speech


French: language

[120] If you were wondering why the story is titled “Poor Koko”:

I have quite deliberately given this account an obscure title and an incomprehensible epigraph.



Koko (…) is a Japanese word and means correct filial behavior, the proper attitude of son to father.


“The Enigma”

4 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

When John Marcus Fielding, respected member of the upper class, disappears, a young police sergeant can find no clues or motives.

A future Fowles book, The Maggot, builds from a similar premise (an inexplicable disappearance). Fowles is in love with the ultimate unanswered mystery. He doesn’t want everything explained (see note [144]: “Nothing lasts like a mystery”).

“The Enigma” is the best story in The Ebony Tower, showcasing Fowles at his best. His quirks and (sometimes bad) habits are here, along with his clear narrative voice and favorite obsession (lovers brought together by “hazard”). There’s real chemistry between Sergeant Jennings and Isobel: two intelligent, attractive people being intelligent and attractive. This is what I love in Fowles.

[121] Reference:

She was precisely the sort of wife who had been most shaken by the Lambton-Jellicoe scandal of earlier that year.



Antony Lambton (1922 – 2006) was a Conservative Member of Parliament. He resigned from Parliament and ministerial office in 1973 after a scandal in which his liaisons with prostitutes were revealed in the tabloid The News of the World.

George Jellicoe (1918 – 2007) was a British politician and statesman, diplomat and businessman. In May 1973 Jellicoe admitted “some casual affairs” with call girls in the wake of an accidental confusion with Lord Lambton’s prostitution scandal. The name Jellicoe seems to have emerged as a result of a connection between Lambton, the madame Norma Levy, and a tenement house or community hall in Somers Town in the London district of St. Pancras called Jellicoe Hall or House. The word Jellicoe was seen in Levy’s notebook, and connection was assumed to the Minister rather than the building.

[122] Reference:

He could hardly have been a target for the Black September movement.



The Black September Organization (BSO) was a Palestinian terrorist organization founded in 1970. It was responsible for the assassination of the Jordanian prime minister Wasfi Al-Tal, kidnapping and murder of eleven Israeli athletes and officials, and the fatal shooting of a West German policeman, during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. The group’s name is derived from the Black September conflict which began on September 16, 1970, when King Hussein of Jordan declared military rule in response to fedayeen (military groups) attempting to seize his kingdom.


Like all good Conservatives, she distinguished very sharply between private immorality and public scandal. What one did was never quite so reprehensible as letting it be generally known.


[124] Reference:

He had (…) contracted kala-azar and been invalided home.



Visceral leishmaniasis (VL), also known as kala-azar, black fever, and Dumdum fever, is the most severe form of leishmaniasis and, without proper diagnosis and treatment, is associated with high fatality. This disease is the second-largest parasitic killer in the world (after malaria), responsible for an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 infections each year worldwide. Signs and symptoms include fever, weight loss, fatigue, anemia, and substantial swelling of the liver and spleen.


No news story can survive an absence of fresh developments.


[126] Reference:

Religious crisis. Mild C of E for the show of it.



The Church of England (C of E) is the state church of England.

[127] Reference:

His view of the Lonrho affair, the other Tory scandal of that year, had been identical to that of his prime minister’s.



Roland “Tiny” Rowland (1917 – 1998) was a controversial high-profile British businessman, corporate raider and Chief Executive of the Lonrho conglomerate from 1962 to 1994. During 1973, Rowland’s position was the subject of a High Court case in which eight Lonrho directors sought Rowland’s dismissal, due to both his temperament and to claims he had concealed financial information from the board. Rowland failed in his legal attempt to block the move but was subsequently backed by shareholders and retained his position.

[128] What do you visualize with this sentence?

[Peter] had something of his father’s tall good looks, and the same apparent difficulty in smiling.


I imagine a grimacing man trying to smile but awkwardly failing. This is not what Fowles wishes to convey. Earlier, he told us:

So many of the photographs suggested an intensity (strange how few of them showed Fielding with a smile) that gave also a hint of repressed sexuality.


He’s saying – somewhat sarcastically – that Peter doesn’t smile at all. But this story does not lean on sarcasm and his description fails. A minor thing, but if I were editing this, I would mark the sentence and suggest Fowles change it.

[129] References:

He despised Wilson. But he didn’t like Heath much better.



Harold Wilson (1916 – 1995) was a British Labour Party politician who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1964 to 1970 and 1974 to 1976.

Edward Heath (1916 – 2005), often known as Ted Heath, was a British politician who served as Prime Minster of the United Kingdom from 1970 to 1974 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1965 to 1975.


He disliked Peter from the start less for political reasons than for all kinds of vague social and games-playing ones… as one hates an opponent paradoxically both for unfairly taken and inefficiently exploited advantages.



“Maybe you don’t know the kind of world I was brought up in. But its leading principle is never, never, never show what you really feel. I think my mother and father were happy together. But I don’t really know.”



“My mother doesn’t have views. Merely appearances to keep up.”



“No doubt he could look after himself. As one does if one has to.”



It was almost as if she actually knew where her husband was, and was protecting him.


[135] Reference:

“You know about Mt. Athos? In Greece? (…) It’s sort of reserved for monasteries.”



Mount Athos is a mountain and peninsula in northeastern Greece and an important center of Eastern Orthodox monasticism. It is governed as an autonomous polity within the Greek Republic under the official name Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain. Mount Athos is home to 20 monasteries. Mount Athos is commonly referred to in Greek as the “Holy Mountain.”

[136] Reference:

They moved up, on a side path, toward Ken Wood.



Kenwood House (also known as the Iveagh Bequest) is a former stately home, in Hampstead, London, on the northern boundary of Hampstead Heath. It served as a seat for the aristocratic Murray and Guinness families and had various tenants before it was left to the nation under the care of English Heritage.


“The marriage seemed okay to you?”


“You hesitated.”



“I think in real relationships people are rude to each other.”


[139] Fowles-ism:

So they talked more like the perfect strangers, hazard-met, that they were.



She was trying to write a novel, it was so slow, you had to destroy so much and start again; so hard to discover whether one was really a writer or just a victim of a literary home environment.


[141] Another Fowles mark: metafiction where people seem aware of their creator.

“Nothing is real. All is fiction (…) Let’s pretend everything to do with the Fieldings, even you and me sitting here now, is in a novel. A detective story. Yes? Somewhere there’s someone writing us, we’re not real.”



“What do you think would strike the writer about his story to date – if he reread it?”

“He ought never to have started it in the first place.”


“Forgot to plant any decent leads.”


[142] Fowles’ characters live in a world where all about personality, temperament, etc, is shown outwardly. Not even in actions, necessarily; a style of hair, clothing, the set of a woman’s eyes, how nice her ass is – every aspect of physicality has been molded from characters’ innermost thoughts and intentions. By the time a male character begins to seduce, he feels he understands every aspect of the woman. He knows her down to her soul. From that point on, no new information can alter his desire:

He felt a little redressment of the imbalance – after all a fault in this girl, a cerebral silliness. It would have irritated him in someone less attractive in other ways; now it simply relieved him. He smiled.



The sergeant felt the abyss between them; people who live by ideas, people who have to live by facts. He felt obscurely humiliated, to have to sit here and listen to all this; and at the same time saw her naked, deliciously naked on his bed. Her bed. Any bed or no bed. The nipples showed through the thin fabric; the hands were so small, the eyes so alive.



“Some writers are like that. A kind of obsessive need to know… that they’ve been known?”



“The one thing people never forget is the unsolved. Nothing lasts like a mystery.”



“It’s not that I’m someone special. In the ordinary world. I was probably just very rare in his.”



The act was done; taking it to bits, discovering how it had been done in detail, was not the point.


[147] Reference:

The London letter-bomb epidemic of later that August.



During the summer of 1974 the IRA launched a string of attacks in England, which included a letter bomb campaign and the bombing of Westminster Hall.

Post 5



4 thoughts on ““The Ebony Tower” (Post 4/5)

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