“The Collector by John Fowles”

At the start of the novel “The Collector,” Frederick Clegg has just realized a dream that so many people have – he has won a substantial sum of money. This very sizeable monetary windfall has changed his financial situation so much, that he has decided he no longer wants to work at his current job as a clerk. Frederick has a bland personality, is lonely, and plain in appearance. His main hobby is collecting butterflies, but it is by partaking in the seemingly innocent hobby where he gets a fiendish idea. The idea is to capture and imprison Miranda Grey. She is a London art student at the Slade School of Fine Art, comes from a good home, and has been at the center of Frederick’s fantasies for some time. Frederick no longer needs to reside at the same residence as his aunt Annie and cousin Mabel. He sends his relatives on a trip to visit family in Australia; to his way of thinking, it is better that they are not around to inquire about his well-being or whereabouts. He purchases a residence in the English countryside, and it is there where he begins to meticulously plan for life with Miranda.

Frederick has delusions of grandeur regarding what life will be like, once he and Miranda are living together. He envisions that she will come to love and cherish him, and he is under the inane assumption, that she will one day thank him for all that he has done for her. Fantasies aside, Frederick bides his time, as he watches and waits for the perfect opportunity to abduct Miranda. In the interim, he has purchased a van to transport her once he works out the details of her kidnapping. Furthermore, he is never without a rag and a bottle of chloroform to soak it with, in order to make sure he can subdue her without a struggle.

The novel is divided into sections. The first offers the reader first-person narrative from Frederick. We get to experience the diseased thoughts of his mind, and more importantly, the rigidity with which he feels that, on a moral level, what he is doing is fine, because he is not having a physical relationship with his captive. One of the only quasi- redeeming aspects of Frederick, is that unlike certain others of his ilk, that exist in real life, he is fully cognizant that Miranda is a person who has wants and needs. He is willing to entertain those wants and needs, with the obvious exception of her biggest desire – to be freed from her imprisonment. He does, however, purchase for her, amongst other items, any type of food she wants to eat, books she would like to read, and art supplies to work with. In the end, however, as much as he takes care of her, he didn’t illicit my sympathy for his prior life of loneliness. I couldn’t feel pity for a character that was holding someone against their will, no matter how well they treated the person, it’s still forced imprisonment; the only crime Miranda committed was to be young and to be found attractive by a disturbed individual. When all is said is done, Frederick views Miranda as one of his precious butterflies, someone to keep under lock and key, to be observed whenever he wants to be in her company. In his mind, she is the ultimate collectible – a living collectible – that will interact with him, and save him from living a life of loneliness.

The other significant part of the novel is told from Miranda’s point-of-view. Her thoughts and feelings are conveyed to the reader through a series of diary entries. She not only comments on her current situation, but also delves into her past where she speaks about school, her friends and family, and devotes significant entries to a man named G.P. He is a painter, a much older man, and someone that she has not only fallen in love with, but whose way of living has had a tremendous influence on how she attempts to live her own life.

What will happen to Miranda? Can she escape? Does she play on Frederick’s sympathies, in an attempt to persuade him to let her go? Is there a possibility that Frederick can win her over? Will Frederick be able to fulfill his fantasies of the two of them sharing a harmonious life together?

“The collector” was the debut novel of best-selling, English author, John Fowles. Parts horror and thriller, it was published by Dell in May 1963. The novel was turned into a feature film that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1965. The film was directed by three time Oscar winner William Wyler (Ben Hur). The novel was adapted for the screen by Oscar nominee John Kohn (Theater of Blood), and Oscar nominee Stanley Mann (Eye of the Needle). In addition, BAFTA nominee Terry Southern (Easy Rider) worked on the adaptation, but was uncredited for his work. The film starred Golden Globe winner Terence Stamp (Billy Budd) as Frederick, and Samantha Egger won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Miranda.

While some readers might consider the novel tame by today’s standards, it is nonetheless, when one stops to think about it, just as horrific, because it’s not some wonderful fantastic world the likes of which J.K. Rowling created in Harry Potter, but instead, was sobering in its reality. No less than two serial killers, Leonard Lake, who captured, tortured, and killed up to an estimated twenty-five women, and Robert Berdella, who imprisoned and murdered at least six men between 1984 and 1987 in Kansas City, Missouri, have credited the work as an inspiration for their crimes. I don’t for one second think that John Fowles was attempting to inspire the fevered dreams of mentally unbalanced individuals by writing the novel. I believe that he was instead offering up a cautionary tale, stressing that no matter how meek and unassuming an individual might be, it doesn’t pay to make an assumption about them. Better to get to know someone first before letting your guard down,  because if you do, they might be, in actuality, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, waiting for their moment to strike.

 

 

About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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