Some Thoughts on The Collector by John Fowles

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I must start off by saying that this post is not so much a review, but more of a collection of thoughts on this most excellent book. So with that in mind there’s gonna be plenty of spoilers coming up. If you are planning on reading this novel soon, then look away now. My review would be that this novel is great and well worth your time. So buy it and read it.

Phew, review over. Now lets get into the details.

The Collector by John Fowles is a story about kidnapping. Well, on the surface at least. A man named Frederick (I’m going to call him Fred) lusts after a young art student named Miranda. Fred watches Miranda and imagines a life of them being together. The only problem is that Fred feels someone like him could never be with someone like her; they’re from totally different worlds. In Fred’s assumption, she’s all too la-di-da for him. It would never work.

But luck soon strikes for Fred. He wins massively on the pools and is suddenly a very rich man indeed. Perhaps now Miranda will see him in a different light? Another problem is that Fred is quite a socially awkward character and never quite has the courage to speak to Miranda. I mean, he has plenty of opportunities to do so, he watches her daily and fantasises over her, but speaking to her in the street? No, that’s a bit too much for him.

So obviously the only other option is to kidnap her. But Fred doesn’t do this on a whim, oh no. He plans every intricate detail and before long he’s bought an old house in the English countryside, complete with a cellar that’s just perfect for keeping someone prisoner in.

So one rainy night, Fred carries out his plan. Walking home from the cinema, Miranda is chloroformed and bundled into the back of his van, with no one else being any the wiser. But Fred isn’t a monster, in his eyes at least. All he wants is Miranda to love him, and by spending time together, albeit forced time, he’s sure she will grow to love him.

It sounds like quite a floored plan when you put it like this. But Fred is narrating all of this and strangely, his logic seems to make sense. Although his actions are deplorable, you can’t help but hope he succeeds, if only for the story’s sake.

The first part of the book is told through Fred’s eyes while the second part is Miranda’s diary that she keeps while being held prisoner. This worked really well. The only speech marks in Fred’s narration are when Miranda speaks, and the opposite is true in her diary entries. At first I found this confusing, but it gives another dimension to the story-telling that is subtle and brilliant. We all know about the unreliable narrator, and having two of them telling basically the same story is very interesting. The scenes described are kind of the same, but obviously each character emits the details they don’t want to admit to. But more on that soon.

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This is still quite review-y isn’t it? OK, there haven’t been any spoilers yet but there will be soon. This is your final warning.

At first Miranda is desperately frightened of what Fred is planning on doing with her. He tells her that he means her no harm and reassures her by saying that others in his situation would do much worse to her. She eventually understands that he’s not the monster she originally thought he was. But that changes during her incarceration.

They begin to chat. He brings her food which she eats and enjoys (although at first she refuses). Miranda begins to offer kind words to Fred, telling him that she would love to help him in the real world, because the fact that he kidnapped a girl he adores doesn’t really show him as the most psychologically stable guy around. She talks about art, her passion, but Fred doesn’t understand or appreciate where she’s coming from. This frustrates Miranda, she sees Fred as some uncouth ignorant idiot who she’d never get along with on the outside. But seeing as she’s being held captive, she tries to make the best of it.

Of course, she has her explosive moments. She screams at him to let her go, that he’s an evil man who will never find anyone in life. Fred says nothing, he just drops his head and brings her more meals and adoration.

She tries to butter him up, offering to teach him about art and music, and even recommends books to read. But this all falls on deaf ears, of course. She sends him on errands to buy things for her, he is rich after all and money is no object.

When Miranda convinces Fred to let her write a letter to her parents, she thinks she’s getting somewhere. But Fred dictates the letter he wants her to write, and never plans on posting it anyway. And when he discovers that she’s hidden a secret piece of paper in the envelope screaming ‘help’ he certainly isn’t sending it anywhere.

Miranda even attacks him with an axe, after he foolishly leaves it on the side one day. She doesn’t make a good job of this, though. By then she’d talked him into letting her have a bath and walking the grounds of the quiet house that has no neighbours. Obviously she is gagged and bound by her hands when all this is going on, our Fred can’t be too careful can he?

I wondered whether this novel would be going along the old Stockholm Syndrome path around this point. Well, it doesn’t, far from it. Fred’s character is one you couldn’t imagine anyone falling for, which is kind of a shame, but as the book progresses your sympathies, if indeed you had any, waver somewhat.

Fred’s upbringing isn’t the basis for a very stable individual. His father died and his mother left soon after, leaving him to be brought up by his Aunt. Eventually she leaves for Australia. Fred has never been shown any love and boy, does it affect him.

Miranda’s last attempt at freedom involves trying to seduce him. She gets naked, mounts him, and feels him getting more than a little turned on. Obviously this is much more tastefully described. But it doesn’t work. Fred becomes disgusted with her, tells her how he could get this kind of attention from a hundred women in London who would charge him handsomely for the pleasure. But he doesn’t want that, he just wants her. However, this seems to be changing, he no longer sees her in the same light as before her slutty tactics.

Things go downhill fast. It’s not that she escapes, no, it’s worse. Miranda becomes very ill. She’d already faked appendicitis before attempting to run away (it didn’t work), but this time it seems serious. What is he to do? He can’t get a doctor in, although she definitely needs one. It seems like Fred’s plan may be coming to an abrupt end. Without Miranda his life would serve no purpose.

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And then we hit part 2.

Much of Miranda’s diary is her talking about her life before the kidnapping. She speaks of one person in particular, G.P. Now this man sounds like a complete bastard, forever patronising her and, knowing that she is a little infatuated with him, rubbing her nose in it with a certain lady friend.

But Miranda doesn’t ‘love’ him per-se as he’s old enough to be her dad, or her older brother (either way it’s incest). Instead she reveres him as a fantastic painter and art critic, the type of person she would one day love to emulate.

As Miranda continues to write about G.P. she seems to come to the conclusion that the reader does; ie. he’s a bit of a dick. He scorns the working class and those who don’t appreciate art in the correct way, or his way. People a little like Fred.

Miranda describes a man who she is desperate to have love and respect her, but who treats her like crap. On the other hand, she’s being treated like a princess by Fred. The only difference is that G.P. never drugged her and imprisoned her. But is G.P.’s treatment of her a little like metaphorically drugging and imprisoning her?

G.P. seems to care little of Miranda’s wellbeing, but Fred thinks of nothing else. You begin to ask yourself exactly who has treated her worse in her life.

As time passes, Miranda begins to realise that Fred doesn’t really love her, he just loves havingher, like a sexy possession or something. And she’s right, but does Fred have any understanding of exactly what love is? Miranda feels she is just another ‘thing’ that he collects. Fred is a butterfly collector (hence the title, see?) and this is the only thing he seems to take pride in. G.P. once said to Miranda that collectors are the worst. He meant art collectors, but the phrase is poignant to her situation. She doesn’t see the beauty in his collection of butterflies, she only sees the monster in him that took the lives of these creatures for his personal gain.

Does Fred really appreciate the beauty of Miranda and her life, her life of freedom? She is right when she tells him he is wicked for taking the lives of butterflies so he can arrange them like trophies. She is in exactly the same predicament and it appears that Fred is unable to see the similarities.

She may be ‘la-di-da’ to Fred but in reality Miranda’s life is anything but privileged. Her parents weren’t the greatest role models one could have. This is something they have in common.

When she’s not recounting tales of G.P. and her other ‘pretentious’ friends, Miranda describes her ordeals in the cellar. She becomes infuriated with Fred and his pathetic behaviour, nicknaming him Caliban and referring to him only as this. He never loses his temper and instead acts like a hurt puppy whenever she screams or tries to attack him.

Miranda says that she doesn’t hate Fred, because hate would indicate caring about him in some way. Instead she pities him, which further supports the notion that if she ever escaped she would never help him the outside world. No, she’d be sending his ass straight to jail. Apathy and indifference is much more hurtful than hate.

Eventually Miranda begins to describe how unwell she is feeling. It’s definitely more than a cold. By the end she is finding it hard to write in her diary, the sickness is winning. She pleads with him to bring her a doctor, but Fred always has an excuse ready. Finally her entries cease.

At this point I was asking who was the bigger monster, G.P. or Fred? Yeah, obviously Fred did the whole kidnapping and imprisoning thing, but he respects Miranda so much more than the supposed man of her dreams.

We then cut back to Fred’s POV as he comes to terms with Miranda’s illness. During Part 1 I could almost sympathise with him, and that’s not because I support the notion of kidnapping women. But the writing is so strong that you become a part of Fred’s mind and his decisions and reasoning are presented with substance.

But after reading Miranda’s diary my perception of Fred had changed dramatically. Whether it was because it had been 150 pages or so without hearing his voice, or if Miranda had completely changed my opinion, I don’t know. OK, I do. It was Miranda. Fred never described intricate details of her suffering, obviously, but she does. Obviously.

During this section of the book Fred becomes so infuriating. He can see she’s dying and knows he has to act fast, but he’s such a dick about it you just want to shake him into action. For someone he supposedly loves he seems to care little about her plight. He does finally attempt to find a doctor but runs away before speaking to one.

He returns home to find her dead. He is devastated and at first doesn’t believe it, checking her corpse several times to make sure she’s actually gone. He decides that his life has no meaning and plans to commit suicide and lie next to her on her prison bed, alerting the police beforehand so they can find them dead together. Very Romeo and Juliet.

However, before he can set this brilliant plan in motion he finds her diary. He is not pleased to say the least. He discovers how she never really loved him and was simply playing along to try and increase her chances of escape. Enraged, he ditches the suicide plan and instead buries her in the garden.

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As if this novel wasn’t creepy enough, we are treated to a very chilling ending.

Fred spots a girl in the village and follows her to work. He finds out where she lives and starts to think about how he could kidnap her, too. He remarks how she’s more ‘in his league’ and how Miranda was probably never going to love him anyway.

It seems Fred’s original plan of kidnapping the girl of his dreams and forcing her to love him, has instead simply whetted his appetite to capture another. Fred has indeed caught the bug, and isn’t about to give it up just yet.

Fred seems to believe he knows everything about Miranda, when he really knows nothing at all. He tells himself that this whole scenario has occurred because she is ‘the one’. But in reality it seems that Fred is more fucked up than even he realised and this whole situation is one he would have probably carried out on any other luckless girl.

He’s a collector, he collects things. Ain’t nothin’ gonna change dat!

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