Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juli 2006

5.6. Border Zones: Travel, Fantasy and Representation

Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Ludmilla Kostova (University of Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Practicing Magic from the Margins: Rearticulations of Prospero’s Magic in John Fowles’s The Magus, Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, the Sea, and John Banville’s Ghosts

Elena Andonova-Kalapsazova (South Western University, Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria)


Shakespeare’s play The Tempest is arguably one of the most intriguing instances of that scandal-mongering, decorum-defying practice of mixing genres in Renaissance literature and theatre which saw the integration of pastoral, with its fairly static spatiality, into the dynamic pattern of romance (Colie 1974; Young 1972: 16-21). The emerging convention turned the pastoral locus into that liminal space, on the margins of the sophisticated world of the court, in which a character/group of characters of noble origin, sojourn after they have been banished from society. The term "liminal" is not employed here simply as a synonym of "marginal" for it denotes more than the socially and spatially peripheral position of the pastoral world, its transitional location in a journey that involves a departure from and a return to the court. It points rather to that aspect of the pastoral locus which identifies it as the site of an experience of initiation into self-knowledge that characters go through. Both the victims of extrusion and those that have extruded them become subject to this experience, which is brought about by the spiritually restorative powers of the pastoral setting, in which they have their identities dissolved to be purified of their presumably grosser ingredients and then reintegrated again. It is on this that the restoration of order upon the characters’ return home depends. What imparted to the pastoral world this potential for conditioning such powerful changes was that perfection, attributed to it by Renaissance authors: it combined the best of both worlds - that of the civilized court and the world of the shepherds.

The playful manner in which some of Shakespeare’s plays have been seen to engage with the convention has elaborated the ways in which the pastoral locus can be perceived as liminal. Apart from its already mentioned peripheral position, and its designation as the site of where the sojourners’ identities went through a temporary state of flux, the pastoral space itself acquired an identity of in-betweenness as the process of laying bare of its artificiality revealed the juxtaposition of the real, lived-in space of nature and the mentally projected space of pastoral convention. Rather than regard this juxtaposition as indicative of an anti-pastoralist tendency, which of necessity stems from a view of pastoral as a fixed convention, I regard it as marking a dynamic point of transition from naïve to a more sophisticated, complex concept of pastoral.

The projection of the pastoral world onto a remote island in The Tempest has given a unique turn to the notion of liminality. Here the "essence" of pastoral has become even more volatile - for the island is the space where pastoral has been made to meet utopia, where the mythical monumental past has been projected onto the future, where the Mediterranean has blended with the "still-vexed Bermoothes" (Act I, Sc.2, l.230). The place seems to vibrate with potentialities and it is the characters granted moral superiority, that is, Prospero and Gonzalo, who are seen as the only ones capable of perceiving these. What Prospero, however, also comes to realize is that these potentialities are countered and resisted by the indigenous characteristics of the island space and its native inhabitants, characteristics that in fact undermine the perception of the island as an empty space waiting to be structured and filled with meanings.

The laying bare of the ideological underpinnings of Prospero’s strategy of reading the pastoral into the island and the demystification of his magic have been part of the critical practices from the second half of the twentieth century which undertook it to return the play to its historical context and explore the extent to which it was implicated in the dominant ideology of it own times. This same attitude to the play has also informed a considerable number of fictional rewrites of the play from the same period - ones that have incorporated a critique of The Tempest from postcolonial, feminist and new historicist premises.

There have been, however, other re-articulations of the play in which a different attitude and approach have been adopted. The three novels to be discussed in this paper - John Fowles’s The Magus, Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, the Sea and John Banville’s Ghosts - are representative of this other approach which, while it demonstrates an awareness of the demystification of pastoral romance, has nevertheless not discarded it altogether but has searched for ways to rearticulate it. In the novels this has resulted in the restoration and redeeming of Prospero’s magic, albeit of a different kind from the one he has yielded in the play. This has been done convincingly, by associating this new non-assertive magic with characters who, unlike Shakespeare’s Prospero, do not claim for it Nature’s and Providence’s sanction and in this way avoid blame for trying to impose through it some supposedly ultimate order. Significantly, these magicians have been assigned socially marginal, ambiguous identities as opposed to their prototype whose privileged position as a ruler, even though banished, and a possessor of knowledge that gives him power over nature’s elements, has granted his magic the power to affect all the levels of creation. It is these ambiguous, evasive new Prospero-figures that have been entrusted with the initiation of other characters into the new magic, as is the case with Conchis in The Magus and James Arrowby in The Sea, the Sea, or that have embarked upon the course of learning this magic on their own, as it has been with Freddie Montgomery in Ghosts.

The new magic and the marginality of the magicians who wield it in the novels, has had significant repercussions on the make up of the pastoral locus which for Prospero seem to be identical with the island and thus the perfect location for his "natural" magic. The three novels have also made use of the island, or an island-like location but they have sounded a deeper tension, already hinted at in the play, within the mentioned identification of the island as a pastoral world. At the same time, it can be claimed that in rearticulating The Tempest as a pastoral romance, the novels have redefined the balance between those two characteristics, which have alternately and by different literary critics, been seen as the defining for pastoral - the natural setting of the shepherds’ life and the kind of relationships seen as typical of the inhabitants of the pastoral world. The shift of emphasis that the novels can be seen to have brought about has entailed subtracting some of the significance attributed to location as a defining characteristic of pastoral and then conferring it upon the kind of relationships seen as typical of the inhabitants of the pastoral world. This shift of the dominant has brought the novels closer to Paul Alpers’ notion of pastoral (1982) which privileges relations associated with the pastoral world over location.

The task of the analysis following from this point will be to discuss the different ways in which all these aspects of the play’s transpositions - the re-articulation of Prospero’s magic, the designation of a socially ambiguous identity to the novelistic Prosperos and their circumscription to socially peripheral spaces, and the consequent modification of the notion of the play as a pastoral romance - have been shaped and come to exist in a state of interdependence.

Prior to this, however, since the argument rests on the presumption that the three novels’ relation to the play is that of, more or less, consistent rewrites, it is necessary to sufficiently substantiate this claim too. The various critical analyses of the three novels have, to varying degrees, registered their relation to The Tempest, most often identifying it in terms of the intertextual presence of parts of the play-text in the novels as well as in terms of the novels’ incorporation and further elaboration of motifs and ideas central to the play. Critical studies of the novels as rewrites of the play, a label that I prefer to substitute by "hypertextual transpositions," Gerard Genette’s concept for works that invite consideration as reworkings of other texts, which Genette calls hypotexts, include, among other, Chantal Zabus’s Tempests After Shakespeare (2002), a wide-scope survey of the play’s rewrites in the second half of the 20 th century, which treats The Magus and The Sea, the Sea as postmodern self-reflexive rewrites; Elizabeth Tucker’s article "Released From Bands: Iris Murdoch’s Two Prosperos in The Sea, the Sea" (1986). As regards Ghosts, it is Joseph McMinn’s introductory study of Banville’s novelistic output (1999) that dwells briefly on the play’s significance as providing the protagonist with a "mythology" (117) with which to inform his narrative. However, my own appreciation of the novels as hypertextual transpositions of the play departs from some of the interpretations offered by the above mentioned works or further develops others. The argument I advance, that each of the three novels rearticulates the figure of Prospero and his magic in a way that makes possible very positive appreciation of this character in a postmodern context, is inconsonant and inconsistent with Zabus’s view of The Magus and The Sea, the Sea as exclusively engaged in "the championing of a Magus-like Prospero who, however debilitating, continues to stage events and is in need of more and more props" (221); with Tucker’s interpretation of James as a failed magician; with McMinn who sees Freddie as an embodiment of Caliban only, ignoring the fact that Freddie’s self-identification as "a little god" (191) and a stage manager of the pastoral romance enacted by the castaways within the limits of his fictional narrative, make of him another latter day version of Prospero.


Prospero’s New Magic

In order to trace the path along which the magic exercised by Prospero in the play is transformed into a different kind of magic, I will start with two of the interpretations of the Prospero’s relation to magic and magic’s relation to nature in the play. Commenting on the play in the chapter on pastoral in "Shakespeare’s Living Art," Rosalie Colie has pointed out the uniqueness of the fact that in this play the restorative powers of pastoral nature have had to be aided by Prospero’s magical art. Part of the explanation for the centrality granted to Prospero and his magical powers she has found in the play’s observance of the classical unities, more particularly the unity of time necessitating the entrance of magic if all the miraculous changes were to happen within the length of a few hours.

Catherine Belsey (1991), on the other hand, has come up with a different interpretation that sees Prospero as an articulation in early modernity of the newly emergent notion of the individual subject, "unified, knowing and autonomous" (8), occupying a central position with respect to the world he observes, knows and acts upon.

Prospero’s decision at the end of the play to divest himself not only of magical but of all kinds of power and withdraw into a life of contemplation, Belsey has seen as a step back on the part of the magician, an act of renouncing epistemological knowledge, by which she denotes knowledge of the world which the human subject masters through scientific enquiry, and a return to the paradigm of discursive knowledge within which man can only know God, "and fully to know God was not to differentiate oneself from the objects of knowledge but, on the contrary, to become absorbed in total presence, to be transformed and ultimately dissolved" (Belsey 1994: 5). Prospero’s language in the epilogue with its reference to prayer, sin, pardon, works to reinforce such an interpretation.

There is, however, another significant aspect to the epilogue which begs attention, especially since it provides a link with the three novelistic rewrites of the play discussed here with respect to the way in which experiences, spaces and characters are redefined in terms of centrality and liminality. It is the fact that in this last speech in which the actor as the playwright turns to the audience to ask for their approval-granting applause, he is still speaking in the voice of Prospero, too. Part of this identity in which the actor in transition between different impersonations retains something of the identity of Prospero even as he is trying to adopt the stance of the playwright, the magician too seems to be asking for the audience’s confirmation - not just that he has managed to entertain them but that his ethical project of making the castaways repent their wrongdoings and make an effort to become good, has not been a complete failure. This need for acknowledgement from his fellow human beings, together with the willingness, several times expressed by Prospero, to devote time to giving an account of his life on the island, suggest that Prospero might not be that ready to sever his ties with the world and withdraw into solitude. The reaching out towards the Other, the need for the Other’s reassuring approval, which can be read in these words and gestures allows us to link the play to those of its later rewrites in which it is projected onto the smaller-scale plane of the individual person’s life and his relations to the other. One cannot also help noticing that together with the religious idiom, the articulation of ideas in the epilogue, also employs the idiom of magic, for here, in his appeal to the audience, the actor/playwright/Prospero transfers the powers of magic and the whole responsibility this entails onto the audience - it is their hands that can undo the spell and release him from bands - the bands of both story and stage. At this point magic is redefined: from a power that can be used to bring about changes in people and the world, magic in Prospero’s final words becomes identical with the power to acknowledge and confer value on the Other. And as Prospero is also performing in the epilogue an act of acknowledgment of the powers of the audience as Other, this necessity for reciprocity on both sides can be seen as relocating magic in the interpersonal space between one and Other, the space in which magical powers are not mastered but acquired only if granted by the other. With this the play can be said to have prefigured and provided the starting point for some of its later re-articulations, instances of which are the three novels that are of interest in this paper. Each of them elaborates, in a way unique to itself, this other vision of magic, the glimmerings of which already appear in Shakespeare’s play.

The development of this vision in the novels can be seen as the fictional counterpart of what Zygmunt Baumann has defined as the return of the non-rational into human relationships, as the re-enchantment of the world, characteristic of the postmodern times (Baumann 1994: 33). The enchantment in the space between One and Other, sustained by the mutual acknowledgement on both sides of the powers of the other to confer value, collapses hierarchical relations and makes the issue of ‘centrality - marginality’ a supernumerary one. Discussing Levinas’ moral philosophy in Postmodern Ethics, Baumann finds his ideas of goodness as dependent on recognizing and acknowledging the impossibility to fully comprehend the Other as harmonized to his own notions of postmodern ethics. The reaching out towards the Other is the alternative which Prospero intuits he has to the comforts offered by a return to discursive knowledge. This opening of the self to the Other marks the space of the new magic engendered by one’s acceptance and respect for the irreducible ambiguity of the Other.

In what follows, I will argue that in each of the three novels characters are sensitized to the moral implications of this new form of magic. They are made, with different degrees of success, to accept it and substitute with it the other magic that entitles the magician to a position of centrality and superiority - social, ethical, aesthetic - in relation to the object on whom magic is exercised.

This is the point at which it has to be stated that the juxtaposition of the three novels in this analysis does not imply a disregard for the differences between the fictional worlds that they come to shape and the characters populating them. Suffice it to say, that with respect to their engaging with Shakespeare’s play, the novels may be said to communicate visions of the possible re-articulations of the latter, which are to a great extent consonant with each other.


Liminal Identities and Liminal Spaces

As stated earlier another significant concern of the paper will be to argue that the advancing of this new magic in the three novels has been done in such a way as to avoid the charge of having substituted one magic with another, whose claim to truth value is as insistent as the former one’s has been, and so, to be treated with as much suspicion as the one it has been made to replace. This has meant that the characters’ relations to positions and states of centrality and liminality have been so redefined that the new notion of magic has been articulated not just from within the boundaries of a space that is liminal but also through the magic of a Prospero figure who is of liminal identity himself.

In The Sea, the Sea and The Magus these Prospero characters are James Arrowby and Conchis, respectively. A comparison of the two on the grounds of character traits and personal history is more likely to emphasize the differences between them: the first being a very taciturn unimposing figure, a spiritual being with strong Buddhist leanings, the latter - a mesmerizing manipulator and conjuror of spectacles. Still there is an essential similarity between them and it is here that liminality comes as the very instrumental concept which helps identify what the reader experiences as that common thing Conchis and James share. The unfixed identity of these figures, whether manifested in terms of character, plot or setting, is what makes them the practitioners of magic that is emphatically not propelled by grand schemes and visions. It is a magic that works on a small scale, the beneficiary being one - Charles Arrowby in The Sea, the Sea and Nicholas Urfe in The Magus.

The latter two characters relate to James and Conchis contrapuntally too, for they also make claims to possessing magical powers. Charles - a retired theatre director, famous for his charismatic but ruthless personality likes to cast himself as Prospero, a magus who has managed to charm into obedience and compliant adoration not only the actors he has been directing but also the people that have surrounded him in real life.

Nicholas Urfe is a character who takes pride in his expertise in the art of charming women into falling in love with him. This he describes in terms of versatility in staging shows, and the performing of conjuring tricks.

For these two characters recognition of the morally preferable kind of magic intimated to them by Conchis and James entails the necessity to renounce practices of magic-as-a-form-of-power, similar to the kind exercised by Prospero, the magic which has enabled them to control and direct people and events along a course predetermined by them, towards making real their visions of a superior sublime order.

In each case this magic wielded from the centre is revealed to be a function of the solipsist isolation, the island-identity that each of the protagonists has devised for himself. This identity makes the characters unable to relate to those around them. For Charles this inability is one to which he is initially, absolutely blind, and which, he gradually realizes, has made him populate his isolated world with the fictitious images churned up by his own imagination.

In The Magus, on the other hand, the protagonist demonstrates an awareness of his inability to relate to people, but, rather than see it as the direct result of his own egotism, prefers to clothe it in the trendy discourse of existentialism and to present it with a flourish as his existential predicament - an inevitability that can only be accepted with resignation.

In Ghosts instead of a pair of magicians, the reader encounters the single figure of a magician-in-the-making. This fact has been the reason for not discussing it alongside the other two novels so far. The protagonist Freddie Montgomery who is mastering a kind of benevolent magic even as he exploring its morally restorative resources for his own self, can be seen as going all the way between the two poles occupied in the other novels by the two kinds of magicians. Compared to Charles and Nicholas, Freddie experiences quite poignantly his awareness of being imprisoned in his own solipsist self, which he is even incapable of experiencing as human and integrated. The narrative that he weaves in the novel is his attempt to reach out of himself and connect with humanity. In Ghosts liminality and centrality define the different positions simultaneously occupied by Freddie. He keeps his marginal position of non-interference with the lives of the people, a group of holiday makers who accidentally find themselves on the island, even as he takes up the central position of author/director in fictionalizing their day-length experience on the island.

In the remaining part of this paper I will attempt an outline of the specifics of in-betweeness of the different spaces occupied by Conchis, James Arrowby and Freddie Montgomery and their identities.

It was mentioned earlier that with respect to the novels’ re-articulation of The Tempest, liminality is identified as a prominent and meaningful structuring device on the planes of character, setting and plot, to which I would here like to add the plane of the narrative act which focuses attention on the issues of focalization on which the construction of space depends, the questions of who speaks and who sees, the whole procedure of selection and rejection that goes towards shaping a narrative.

The central position on this plane, which is missing in drama, except in instances when a dramatic character undertakes to relate a narrative, is, significantly, occupied by Charles, Nicholas and Freddie, the characters that undergo the profoundest of changes. Theirs being the centres of consciousness and perception allows the reader to follow minutely the process in which the three of them are brought to an awareness of the magic that saturates the interpersonal space between two. Apart from those moments when the characters share thoughts that point explicitly to the changes in outlook and personality they are experiencing, there is this more subtle side to narration where it is modulations in the narrative strategies, the foregrounding or moving to the background of other characters and circumstantial details that indicate changes in the axiological underpinnings of the narratives.

In all three novels narrative is subjected to interrogation and even as its specifics as a mode of ordering and making sense of experience is acknowledged, the dangerous potential for aggression inherent in it and unleashed when narrative is employed as a powerful mechanism for enforcing totalizing meaning is also foregrounded.

Thus, in The Magus Nicholas’s "quest" narrative, driven as it is by the urge to integrate every bit of his experience into a narrative totality, with all the rough and blurry edges smooth-polished, is challenged by the self-subverting narrative Conchis offers of his life. The centrality of Nicholas on the level of narration is undermined by the centrality of Conchis in the performance he stage-manages on the level of plot. And it is not only in terms of different levels that Conchis’ and Nicholas’ centralities are differentiated, for while Nicholas’ centrality as narrator is one that asserts him as the meaning-conferring authority, the moral responsibility of which Nicholas totally ignores, Conchis’ centrality is more like that of the ventriloquist dummy, the empty avatar from which stories issue, each radically discontinuous with the preceding one, communicating Conchis’ irreverent attitude to totalizing narratives.

In The Sea, the Sea Charles is also given a warning, albeit in much more discreet a manner, of the heavy responsibility entailed by the writing of a narrative that tries to also be a serious analysis of one’s life. Tucker (1986: 17) has seen this warning, very tacit at first, as implied in James’ response, "Anecdotes about actresses," to Charles’ shared ambition to write his autobiography.

Freddie Montgomery, the narrator-protagonist of Ghosts, is from the very beginning of his narrative, which offers the fictionalized rendering of the day the group of castaways spend on the island, fully conscious of the morally detrimental effect his fiction weaving might have on the group, were he to try to relate to them through the images he has invented for each one. His central position as a narrator he counterbalances by adopting a liminal one on the level of plot, setting and his own identity.

To say that each of the three protagonists attains to an equally clear perception of the ethical responsibility and risks entailed by narrative would be to run the risk of the same fictionalizing that has been discussed so far. It would however be plausible to claim that toward their ends, Nicholas’ Charles’ and Freddie’s narratives give indication of a somewhat altered perception. All three characters, demonstrating different degrees of moral sensitivity, gradually become less inclined to issue definitive statements on those around them and demonstrate a willingness to lend an ear to what those other have to say or have been saying.

On the level of the characters’ identities liminality is immediately recognizable as characterizing their social (non)belonging. In fact all five characters can be seen as having socially uprooted themselves, as regarding themselves as social drifters. On his return to England, in the long period of waiting for Alice to turn up, Nicholas refers to himself in exactly these terms, as a drifter, and Freddie too, speaks of himself as floating in space. What has made them such in the first place have been their uneasy or troubled relationships with their parents, in some cases openly admitted, in other, just hinted at. These have led them to reject the social codes and values associated with their background. There is, however, a very significant difference in the way characters have chosen to deal with this rootlessness. Charles, Nicholas and Freddie have sought to reconstruct for themselves stable new identities by substituting the discarded value systems with ones they have come to regard as belonging to a higher order. For the three of them this higher order is identical with art, more particularly, literature, the theatre, and painting.

Art for them has become the measuring rod for everything else in life since they have come to regard it as a monolithic coherent whole that exists in some extra-spatio-temporal dimension and in which one can find enshrined transcendent values. Freddie, the protagonist of Ghosts, is the most extreme, one could in all justice say, the most aberrant of examples, as regards the characters’ likeliness to act coercively, even aggressively, towards other people for the sake of art. For Freddie Montgomery, one particular art - painting, has acquired a vividness and reality greater than that of life itself. His infatuation with the portrait of a woman, for whom he is capable of imagining a coherent identity and a life story, turns him, first into a thief and then, when a real flesh-and-blood woman accidentally comes in his way, into a cold-blooded murderer.

Conchis and James on the other hand, as well as Freddie, at a later point in his narrative, can be seen as having abandoned the quest for an alternative value system, that of another class or intellectual elite, on the basis of which to forge new identities. The sequence of stories adding up to form Conchis’ narrative of his life show him to have temporarily adopted a number of different identities, ranging from that of the staunch rationalist to mystical hypnotist, discarding each one in turn to finally take up the blurry-edged, many-faced identity that he presents to Nicholas Urfe.

This impression is confirmed in the conversations Nicholas has with Lily de Seitas, who states in a more explicit manner the choice made by Conchis as well as by her and her two daughters to live disregarding "received ideas and received manners" but also without trying to put into place other, presumably better ideas. The masque directed by Conchis on the island of Phraxos is revealed to have been not just the "colossal performance just to tell one miserable moral bankrupt what he is," that Nicholas takes it to have been. Both Conchis and Lily de Seitas make it clear that the experience has been as significant for them, too, for the impact it was going to make on their own lives, and the voyage they were charting. These revelations show Conchis’s identity to be constantly in a state of becoming rather than being, a state that allows questing, interrogating, and experimenting.

In the case of James Arrowby, access to the character and to his life story is far less direct, mediated as it is by Charles’ narrative, which betrays the latter’s uneasiness concerning his cousin. The tentative, evasive way in which Charles broaches the subject of his relationship with James is part of the strategy adopted by him to keep his cousin, whom he has ever since childhood regarded as a rival, as much out of his life as possible. Added to this is James’s apparent unwillingness, whenever he does speak, to offer revealing accounts of his life. The reader is thus allowed to form only a very vague idea of James’ life based on the scanty details Charles offers in the brief sketch and the random references he makes to his cousin, and even these are to be taken guardedly. The son of wealthy parents, remembered by Charles as the dazzling fairy-tale couple whose presence added magic to his own childhood, James, it is stressed, is nothing like them. The reader is told that James has preferred the life of a soldier instead of the much more flashy and promising career of a diplomat that once lay before him; and that at one point he has taken, what Charles regards as, a curious interest in Buddhism.

It also becomes clear, from those moments when James enters the narrative in person, that he has a strong affinity for Shakespeare, particularly to The Tempest - a fact which invites a comparison between James and Charles along this line. An interesting detail that can be further pursued by analysis is the fact that while Charles is very fond of referring to Shakespeare and of emphasizing his likeness to Prospero it is actually James whose language at points seems to pick bits from Prospero’s most significant speeches and translate them into an idiom more germane to a 20 th century context.

Criticism of The Sea, the Sea has made much of the link of James to Buddhism, seeing the character as mouthpiece for Iris Murdoch’s strong interest in Eastern philosophy and religion. But even in this respect James cannot be wholly fixed with any definite identity for even in those moments when he discusses Buddhism with Charles he doesn’t completely identify with the notions and ideas he is explaining but prefers rather to speak of them as what "some Buddhists believe," or what "some Tibetans [...] believe," etc. Towards the end of the novel, when James dies, Charles is told that James has himself decided it to be so, much as a Buddhist is likely to do in an attempt to achieve the ultimate enlightenment, Nirvana. The circumstances of James’ death, however, are never further clarified, a fact which makes the offered explanation just one possible interpretation, and which lets the sense of mystery veiling James’s life to extend over his death too.

As regards the protagonist of Ghosts he, too, is a character who has severed all ties that would have made it possible for him to shape a sense of social identity continuous with that of his family. His liminal identity in this novel, the second of the Frames trilogy, is further conditioned by the fact that at the beginning of the chronological sequence of events Freddie appears as the figure of the social limen par excellence - a former convict, just released from prison, occupying a space on the margin of society. His withdrawal to an island is his way of accommodating this identity out of which he is totally scared to venture. This identity and the apprehensive feelings it provokes in Freddie is still not the ground on which he is comparable to Conchis and James. Paired with his solipsist isolation, it marks that stage in the development of this character that makes him akin rather to Nicholas and Charles. Freddie’s life on the island, however, shows him attempting to deal with this painful awareness, which it should be noted marks him as having moved one step further than the other two. He does so by resorting to art - he becomes "a little god," as he calls himself, a director who locates himself at the invisible centre of a drama which he builds on the basis of his observations of the events in the one-day visit of a group of tourists on the island. This centrality and the fixed identity that he acquires through his role as the imaginative narrator of events in the novel Freddie balances with the liminality which defines his position on the borderline between fiction and reality with respect to the other characters. There is this constant shift between ontological levels in the novel which makes it almost impossible to decide which part of it offers a fairly objective rendition of events and which is the result of Freddie’s fevered fictionalizing. What is more important, however, is the fact that Freddie has quite consciously confined his powers of interfering with the lives of the other characters within the boundaries of his narrative. This is what makes Freddie come up as a very significant development of Shakespeare’s magician - for Freddie the narrative he weaves is a means, by creating something beautiful in which one can project one’s image as a benevolent noble being, towards moral edification and even a step towards the expiation of sin. Compared with Charles Arrowby and Nicholas, Freddie can be seen as having seen through to what the other two are quite insensitive - the danger of trying to cast over real people the identities and interpretations one has borrowed from art or any other revered treasury of values. At a later point, Freddie will come to recognize that fictionalizing even within the limits of narrative can blur one’s vision of the other, can obstruct one’s capacity to relate to the other. This moment in the novel has the very strong element of epiphany to it. For it is at the point when Freddie looks at Flora, and sees her for the girl she is, listens to her talk about her childhood, that he feels she has suddenly demonstrated her own potential for magic - a magic that had added colour to the surroundings that up that same point Freddie has been describing in shades of grey, black and white. At this point he also owns to a feeling of having for a moment acquired a sense of his own integrated selfhood.

Before moving on to outline the specifics of the liminal spaces occupied by the magus figures of Conchis, James and Freddie, one further way in which the definition evading identity of these characters is manifested in the novels can be pointed out - this is achieved through their physical descriptions. All three characters strike one as having extremely elusive and hard to pin down appearances. Nicholas is constantly puzzled by the changing look of Conchis’s face - saurian, monkey-like, skull-like, god-like, charlatan. Conchis has been identified with the ever-changing figure of the trickster. This trickster projection of Shakespeare’s magician is a significant move away from the centre-occupying figure of the play that Richard Hilmann defined in terms of opposition to the trickster spirit that he is more inclined to see as embodied in Ariel. (Hillman 1992).

James’s is an impenetrable appearance too, partly explained by Charles’s own bafflement regarding the personality of his cousin, whom he can only describe in the vaguest of term, but also very significantly by what becomes evident as the lack of self-assertiveness in James’s behaviour, the abstractedness and detachment that at moments make him almost invisible.

Of the three, Freddie is perhaps the one of the most blurry appearance. His attempts to come up with a clear description of himself are constantly frustrated - an ogre, a formless, bulging entity that floats on the world, a huge weak-willed creature that cannot control the furry beast he feels lurks in his own depths, the commedia dell’arte Pierrot - this is how he experiences himself. As a narrator he is most of the time invisible to the castaways group too.

The creation in the novels of characters that lack any socially recognizable identity hides another risk - that of having these characters challenged on the grounds that in being socially extricated, they might be seen as figures through whom ideas and values are advanced for which the claim to transcendental truth may be made. The way this is handled - the characters are made to self-consciously employ the discourses of art but in a way that subverts the other Prospero characters’ view of it as a monolithic unity shot through with a finite set of constant values. Theirs is also a magic that has its resources in art, but in art seen as just another discourse among many, though also one of the most enticingly beautiful. The vision of art which these magicians seem to endorse is one that projects art as that space - Foucault calls it heterotopian - that provides a defamiliarizing, critical point of view on life, or rather a multiplicity of heterotopian points of view (Foucault: 1986).

And having come to the Foucaultian notion of art as a heterotopian space this is also the point at which the characters’ relation to social and the mentally projected space of art are to be taken into consideration, especially with regard to how these have changed since their initial articulation in Shakespeare’s pastoral romance play.

According to Henri Lefebvre (1996), the production of space starts from the human body. The social human being is produced in and produces social space. It should come as no surprise then that the liminal identities of the above mentioned characters, of necessity imply the liminality of the space which each of them has chosen to occupy. Apart form implying disengagement with authority, the social ambiguity of these spaces has facilitated the act of turning them into borderline zones between art and reality. From within these what is expressly contested is the facile imposition of the template of naïve pastoralism on the real spaces of the island localities in The Magus and Ghosts and the fairly isolated country village of Narrowdean in The Sea, the Sea. A significant consequence of this is that magic, that of the space between too, acquires independence and is no more circumscribed within the limits of a pastoral location.

In Fowles’s novel this is achieved by Conchis’s further retreat on the island to the Bourani villa - a place remote from the village, whose foregrounded artificial pastoralism stands in marked contrast to the simple life of the village people. At the centre of the sumptuous pastoral space of Bourani stands Conchis who constructs it only to subvert and deconstruct it in the course of the masque he directs, dismantling his own image as a benevolent Prospero whose magic is directed at bringing Nicholas and Lily together and sanctioning their love.

In The Sea, the Sea this deconstruction of idealized pastoral is conducted from a point peripheral to the space constructed by Charles and presided over by him. Here James, a figure difficult to locate within the boundaries of a particular space, seems to hover on the periphery - asking questions, making suggestions that in a very unimposing manner make Charles reconsider his own actions and ideas. Not being fixed with a location James seems to be the character who magically appears, wherever his presence is needed, any time Charles seems to be on the verge of crisis: first, in the Wallace collection museum, later, twice at Shruff End, helping Charles get out of an impasse. Apart from the remote space of Tibet, where James is said to have lived and to which he appears to have remained connected, the other space which he inhabits in between his journeys to remote and unspecified places, is that of an apartment in London. Its description, however, marks it out as quite foreign to the city, cluttered as it is with numerous Buddha figurines, pagodas and other pieces of Chinese art - more of a museum than an inhabited space. Both James’s apartment and Conchis’s villa are like islands that hover on the margins of social space, places that seem to be only incidentally lived in, places of art and artificiality.

The same can be said of the space where one finds Freddie Montgomery in his role as a fabulator - a borderline zone between art and reality. Within it he can engage in the practice of fictionalizing the castaways’ day on the island into a pastoral romance and at the same time remain very much aware of the fact that the space of the island is hardly one that lends itself to an interpretation as pastoral. In the course of his narrative which features several of the characters as trying to evoke from their personal past images of golden pastoral worlds, the pastoral atmosphere is evoked by the island but not before it has been overlaid with the pastoral identity of the landscapes forming the background of Antoine Watteau’s fetes gallantes paintings.

Freddie’s pastoralizing practices are certainly much more guarded and carefully kept within the boundaries of fiction than those of Charles and Nicholas. For him the narrative is just a part of the road he has to go in his attempts to relate to the others. This, as was mentioned earlier, happens when, seeing through the romantic image he has constructed for Flora, to the real girl, Freddie needs the fiction no more.

A possible question that this last part focusing on pastoral romance might provoke is, if what has been said should lead to the conclusion that this mode has been demystified and rendered obsolete in each of the three novels; then one possible answer, that would be negative, is offered by the very structure of these novels, each of which sees the protagonist sojourning in a remote place where he goes through a liminal experience from which he comes out a changed person, ready to go back to life with the others. Another answer, again negative, which will need the length of another paper, but can be articulated here, would start from the premises of those descriptions of pastoral that one finds in the works of William Empson and Paul Alpers. Both of them have shifted the emphasis in pastoral from location to the kind of relations between the characters they have seen as characteristically pastoral. Empson’s formula for pastoral as putting the complex into the simple can be re-employed in the discussion of the three novels in which spaces are no more easily found that can accommodate the pastoral ideal and the same kind of magic that Prospero wields within it in The Tempest. In each of the three novels this formula has been differently rearticulated to give prominence to the new way of relating to the Other in which the ethical subject is engendered. It would be exaggerated to claim that each of the "faulty" Prosperos comes out of his initiation a fully fledged ethical being, but it is true that each of them reaches a point of epiphanic clarity of vision for this different kind of relating in which one yields to a magic that is no more a means to attaining higher ends but an end in itself.

© Elena Andonova-Kalapsazova (South Western University, Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria)


Alpers, Paul, "What is Pastoral?" in Critical Inquiry, vol.8, N 3 (Spring 1982), pp.437-460.

Banville, John, Frames Trilogy, London: Picador, 2001.

Bauman, Zygmunt, Postmodern Ethics, Oxford UK & Cambridge USA: Blackwell, 1994.

Belsey, Catherine, The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama, London and New York: Routledge, 1991.

Colie, Rosalie, Shakespeare’s Living Art, Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1974.

Conradi, Peter J. Iris Murdoch:The Saint and the Artist New York: Saint Martin Press, 1986.

Empson, William, SomeVersions of Pastoral, London: Cato and Windus, 1935.

Felperin, Howard, The Uses of the Canon, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990.

Foucault, Michel, "Of Other Spaces," trans. Jay Miskowiec in Diacritics 16 (Spring, 1986), pp. 22 - 27.

Fowles, John, The Magus, London: Picador, 1988.

Hillman, Richard, Shakespearean Subversions: The Trickster and the Play-text, London: Routledge, 1992.

McMinn, Joseph, The Supreme Fictions of John Banville, Manchester: Manchester UP, 1999.

Lefebvre, Henri, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, Oxford UK & Cambridge USA: Blackwell, 1994.

Murdoch, Iris The Sea, the Sea, London: Penguin,1979.

Onega, Susana, "Self, World and Art in the Fiction of John Fowles," in Twentieth Century Literature vol.42, N 1, 1996, pp. 29-56.

Cooper, Pamela, The Fiction of John Fowles: Power, Creativity, Femininity, Universtity of Ottawa Press, 1991.

Shakespeare, William, The Tempest, Stephen Orgel (ed.), Oxford: Oxford UP, 1994.

Tucker, Lindsey, "Released from Bands: Iris Murdoch’s Two Prosperos in "The Sea, the Sea" in Contemporary Literature, vol. 27, N 3, (Autumn, 1986) pp.378-395.

Young, Robert The Heart’s Forest: A Study of Shakespeare’s Pastoral Plays, New Haven & London: Yale UP, 1972.

Zabus, Chantal, Tempests After Shakespeare, New York: Palgrave, 2002.

5.6. Border Zones: Travel, Fantasy and Representation

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For quotation purposes:
Elena Andonova-Kalapsazova (South Western University, Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria): Practicing Magic from the Margins: Rearticulations of Prospero’s Magic in John Fowles’s The Magus, Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, the Sea, and John Banville’s Ghosts. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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