“The Collector” (Post 1/4)

Collector 01[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2

Post 3

Post 4


John Fowles’ first published novel, released in 1963 (but written after The Magus). I read my 1997 Back Bay Books paperback edition.

5 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 4

Seen the Movie: No (and I don’t think I want to…)  

The Plot:

Working-class Frederick Clegg, suddenly wealthy, buys a secluded house and kidnaps a college student, naively expecting love to follow. She resists her captivity and captor.

The Collector is marketed as “the first modern psychological thriller” and I initially read it expecting a proto-Silence of the Lambs. Instead, I found a deeply moving, disturbing literary work that turned me into a Fowles fan.

Fowles shows us the same events twice – first from Clegg’s perspective, then from Miranda’s journal. We see the fears, hopes, and justifications of each side but always, always, Clegg is the villain. Despite this, The Collector is notorious for being a favorite of serial killers.

These murderers must have ignored everything after the first forty pages because the greatest strength of The Collector is in humanizing the victim. I love Miranda. She is not saintly or exceptional – she is a young person trying to do her best. Fowles successfully conveys the mindset of a twenty-year-old female college student, nailing so many insecurities, emotions, and questions of that age. The tragedy of Miranda is seeing someone with so much potential and desire to grow be snuffed out. She knows she has much to learn and wants to learn it.

If what someone gets out of The Collector is, “I want to build a torture room and kidnap a girl,” then they’ve totally missed the point. Clegg is one of the vilest figures in literature. This book deserves to be more than a footnote to real-life horrors.


[1] Translate:

que fors aus ne le sot riens nee

(pre-title page)

A quote from La Chatelaine de Vergi, a medieval French romance. It translates roughly to “And no one knew but them.” This blog post of Phantom Project details similarities between The Collector and the French work.


Part 1

First-person narrative from Clegg’s point of view.

 

[2] Reference:

[Her hair] was very pale, silky, like Burnet cocoons.

(p.3)

 

The six-spot burnet is a day-flying moth of the family Zygaenidea. It is common species throughout Europe.

[3] Reference:

Seeing her always made me feel like I was catching a rarity, going up to it very careful, heart-in-mouth as they say. A Pale Clouded Yellow, for instance.

(p.3)

 

Colias hyale, the pale clouded yellow, is a butterfly of the family Pieridae, that is, the yellows and whites, which is found in most of Europe and large parts of Asia.

[4] Class struggle is a main theme of The Collector. It was a favorite topic of English writers in the fifties and sixties but the flavor specific to England at that time is a little lost on me. The indicators of class, the way each is expected to act toward the other – Fowles assumes the reader understands these things but some of it doesn’t translate for an American. Some of the larger symbolism Fowles is using – Clegg representing “new money,” Miranda “old money” – I have to fill in myself. I get a feeling that a lot of this book is allegory but I’m missing some clues.

The year she was still at school I didn’t know who she was, only how her father was Doctor Grey and some talk I overheard once at a Bug Section meeting about how her mother drank. I heard her mother speak once in a shop, she had a la-di-da voice and you could see she was the type to drink, too much make-up, etcetera.

(p.4)

 

We could see straight away at the hotel that of course they were respectful on the surface, but that was all, they really despised us for having all that money and not knowing what to do with it. They still treated me behind the scenes for what I was – a clerk. It was no good throwing money around. As soon as we spoke or did something we gave the game away. You could see them saying, don’t kid us, we know what you are, why don’t you go back where you came from.

(p.8)

 

She often went on about how she hated class distinction, but she never took me in. It’s the way people speak that gives them away, not what they say. You only had to see her dainty ways to see how she was brought up. She wasn’t la-di-da, like many, but it was there all the same. You could see it when she got sarcastic and impatient with me because I couldn’t explain myself or I did things wrong. Stop thinking about class, she’d say. Like a rich man telling a poor man to stop thinking about money. (…)

There was always class between us.

(p.39)

[5] Clegg’s fantasy of what he wants from Miranda tells us what we need to know about his ideas of love:

She drew pictures and I looked after my collection (in my dreams). It was always she loving me and my collection, drawing and colouring them; working together in a beautiful modern house in a big room with one of those huge glass windows; meetings there of the Bug Section, where instead of saying almost nothing in case I made mistakes we were the popular host and hostess. She all pretty with her pale blonde hair and grey eyes and of course the other men all green round the gills.

(p.4)

[6] Vocabulary:

He felt the same way I did about a new imago.

(p.6)

 

noun – (biology) – the last stage an insect attains during its metamorphosis. It is also called the imaginal stage, the stage in which the insect attains maturity.

[7] Reference:

I won a hobby prize for a case of Fritillaries.

(p.6)

 

The Gulf fritillary or passion butterfly is a bright orange butterfly of the family Nympalidae. The species has long, rather narrow wings.

[8] Reference:

I held the pools cheque in my hands.

(p.6)

 

In the United Kingdom, the football pools, often referred to as “the pools,” is a betting pool based on predicting the outcome of top-level association football matches taking place in the coming week. The pools are typically cheap to enter, with the potential to win a very large sum of money.

[9] Reference:

“Fred’s looking tired – he’s been having a dirty week-end with a Cabbage White.”

(p.6)

 

Pieris rapae, the small white, is a small- to medium-sized butterfly species of the whites-and-yellows family Pieridae. It is also known as the small cabbage white and in New Zealand, simply as white butterfly. The names “cabbage butterfly” and “cabbage white” can also refer to the small white. The butterfly can be distinguished by the white color with small black dots on its wings. The caterpillar of this species is seen as a pest for commercial agriculture.

[10] Reference:

Uncle Dick used to go to the pub on the q.t. sometimes.

(p.8)

According to phrases.org.uk , “on the q.t.” means “on the quiet.” It appears to be of 19th century British origin.

[11] Reference:

I got a bit drunk once or twice when I was in the Pay Corps.

(p.8)

 

The Royal Army Pay Corps (RAPC) was the corps of the British Army responsible for administering all financial matters. It was amalgamated into the Adjutant General’s Corps in 1992. During the Second World War, members of the Auxiliary Territorial Service and men of a “lower medical category” were often conscripted into the corps.

[12] Clegg’s unwavering faith in himself, his inability to see humanity in anyone else, is disgusting. His conviction that he loves Miranda and cannot live without her is proven to be absolute bullshit again and again. This is where the horror lies:

Some of the girls in the Annexe, it was really disgusting, the looks they’d give [Crutchley]. It’s some crude animal thing I was born without. (And I’m glad I was, if more people were like me, in my opinion, the world would be better.)

(p.8)

 

I could see [Aunt Annie] was really scared I might marry some girl and they’d lose all the money they were so ashamed of, anyway. I don’t blame her, it was natural, especially with a daughter who’s a cripple. I think people like Mabel should be put out painlessly, but that’s beside the point.

(p.11)

I will say it again: anyone who sees Clegg as a hero is reading this wrong. Clegg knows what he’s done is wrong but he continues to defend himself and justify his actions by blaming others:

What I’m trying to say is that having [Miranda] as my guest happened suddenly, it wasn’t something I planned the moment the money came.

(p.11)

If he truly believed he was entitled to Miranda, that he did nothing wrong, that she owed him respect and love, he wouldn’t mind us thinking he’d planned it from the start. Also, the balls on him to call her his “guest”…

In my opinion a lot of people who may seem happy now would do what I did or similar things if they had the money and the time. I mean, to give way to what they pretend now they shouldn’t. Power corrupts, a teacher I had always said. And Money is Power.

(p.20)

 

“Look, this is mad. If you love me in any real sense of the word love you can’t want to keep me here. You can see I’m miserable. The air, I can’t breathe at nights, I’ve woken up with a headache. I should die if you kept me here long.” She looked really concerned.

It won’t be very long. I promise.

(p.36-37)

 

I’m sorry I’m so suspicious, I said. It’s just that you’re all I’ve got that makes life worth living. It was the wrong moment to say a thing like that, I know, but having her standing there like that, it was too much.

I said, if you went, I think I’d do myself in.

“You need a doctor.”

(p.51)

 

Even when she did things considered ugly, like yawning or stretching, she made it seem pretty. The truth was she couldn’t do ugly things. She was too beautiful.

(p.66)

 

I saw some rings and that gave me the plan I could ask her to marry me and if she said no then it would mean I had to keep her. It would be a way out. I knew she wouldn’t say yes.

(p.83)

 

I don’t want much.

“I know you don’t. Only the things that I have to give anyway. The way I look and speak and move. But I’m other things. I have other things to give. And I can’t give them to you, because I don’t love you.”

(p.89)

Clegg wouldn’t be able to accept those other things even if Miranda tried; he doesn’t want all of her, just what he sees.

About what I did, undressing her [while drugged], when I thought after, I saw it wasn’t so bad; not many would have kept control of themselves, just taken photos, it was almost a point in my favour.

(p.92)

 

What she never understood was that with me it was having. Having her was enough. Nothing needed doing. I just wanted to have her, and safe at last.

(p.101)

 

It was almost like she was stupid, plain stupid. Of course she wasn’t really, it was just that she didn’t see how to love me in the right way. There were a lot of ways she could have pleased me.

She was like all women, she had a one-track mind.

I never respected her again. It left me angry for days.

Because I could do it.

The photographs (the day I gave her the pad), I used to look at them sometimes. I could take my time with them. They didn’t talk back at me.

That was what she never knew.

(p.109)

 

I want some photos of you what [sic?] you would be ashamed to let anyone else see.

“You mean I’m to pose for obscene photographs so that if I escape I shan’t dare tell the police about you?”

That’s the idea, I said. Not obscene. Just photos you wouldn’t want to be published. Art photographs. (…)

“You disgusting filthy mean-minded bastard.”

Go on, I said. That’s just your language.

“You’re breaking every decent human law, every decent human relationship, every decent thing that’s ever happened between your sex and mine.”

Hark at the pot calling the kettle black, I said. You took your clothes off, you asked for it. Now you got it.

(p.113-114)

God, this can make me cry. Clegg’s a monster but not so unfamiliar a monster in these moments. Blackmailing a woman with her own body, despising Miranda for exposing her body when that’s what he wanted all along. He just wanted it exactly on his terms. She must be the perfect, polite, virginal young woman, behaving as he expects.

What I am trying to say is that it all came unexpected. I know what I did next day was a mistake, but up to that day I thought I was acting for the best and within my rights.

(p.120)

Later we will see what this “love” looks like from Miranda’s point of view (Post 2, note [44]).

[13] Reference:

The main idea was to take [photos of] butterflies living like the famous Mr. S. Beaufoy.

(p.10)

It is difficult to find information on S. Beaufoy, other than the fact that he authored books on butterflies (Butterfly Lives, 1947; Butterflies of the Wood, 1953 ). I can’t even find his first name.

[14] References:

There were a lot of species I wanted – the Swallowtail for instance, the Black Hairstreak and the Large Blue, rare Fritillaries like the Heath and the Glanville.

(p.11)

 

Swallowtail butterflies are large, colorful butterflies in the family Papilionidae, and include over 550 species. The family includes the largest butterflies in the world.

The black hairstreak is a butterfly in the family Lycaenidae. It is rare in Great Britian and the largest breeding colony is in Buckinghamshire.

The large blue is a species of butterfly in the family Lycaenidae. The species was first discovered in Britain in 1795. In 1979 the species became extinct in Britain but has been successfully reintroduced. It can be distinguished by its unique speckled black dots on its wings with a blue background.

[15] Reference:

I paid as quick as possible and went back to the van and the Cremorne and my room.

(p.13)

 

I stayed on and on at the Cremorne.

(p.14)

 

At last I went back up to London to the Cremorne Hotel.

(p.21)

 

Cremorne Gardens are popular pleasure gardens by the side of the River Thames in Chelsea, London. They flourished between 1845 and 1877; today only a vestige survives, on the river at the southern edge of Cheyne walk. Cremorne is also a ward of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

I don’t know if in the 50s/60s there was a hotel with this name in London or if Fowles invented the name based on the area.

[16] Clegg sees most of the world as distasteful and holds Miranda on a pedestal. Based on her appearance, he has created his own version of her but has no idea who she really is. It doesn’t matter. To Clegg, Miranda exists for his use alone; to serve him, to compliment (and complement) him. This kind of desire is terrifying.

That was the day I first gave myself the dream that came true. It began where she was being attacked by a man and I ran up and rescued her. Then somehow I was the man that attacked her, only I didn’t hurt her; I captured her and drove her off in the van to a remote house and there I kept her captive in a nice way. Gradually she came to know me and like me and the dream grew into the one about our living in a nice modern house, married, with kids and everything.

(p.14)

 

I thought, I can’t ever get to know her in the ordinary way, but if she’s with me, she’ll see my good points, she’ll understand. There was always the idea she would understand.

(p.14)


Post 2

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