John Fowles died 5 November 2005, a bit over a year and a half ago. John had lived here, at Belmont House in the small coastal town of Lyme Regis on the south-west coast of England, for around four decades. He would have seen the light on those cliffs in the distance on many evenings as he sat in his upstairs study and wrote.
Last Wednesday afternoon I arrived in Lyme, the first time I’d been there since John’s death. I was visiting Sarah Fowles. As we walked down the hill to look at the recently built ‘John Fowles Path’, a memorial to John’s life here, the high and fading sound of English sea gulls and the gentle wash of the sea below came freshly to my ears.
I have spent a lot of time over the last few years studying John’s writings, and reading his personal journals. Many of John’s ideas about nature and his attitudes towards the natural world have had a considerable influence on me. Seeing Sarah again and returning to John’s home was an important experience.
John studied French at New College, Oxford, during the late 1940s. Charles Drazin, editor of John’s journals, wrote an obituary in the New College journal, seen above, for the man. Yes, that also happens to be the Oxford college I ended up in last weekend. A friend of mine is taking up a job teaching French at this same college next year. The lightning bolt of hazard strikes twice in a row.
This is the front of Belmont House in Lyme Regis. It has been given to the Landmark Trust and it was strange to see the pink dolphins frozen in stone and the light pink facade, and know that John and Sarah no longer reside within.
I walked around the back of the house the next morning. The three acre garden is still there, with the area of lawn at the top. And then I saw what you see above: yellow flowers growing over the stone sculpture of Ceres, the Roman goddess of growing plants. The profusion of yellow blooms touched me, it was as though life continued over the still figure of John’s stone goddess in a vidication of his faith in nature. The man is gone, but the beauty of nature, embodied by the plants that John loved, return anew this year, immortal in the present.