The Collector Summary
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The Collector, English author John Fowles’s debut novel (1963), was released as a feature film in the year 1965 under the same title.
The story is divided into four parts, and is told in first person from the perspective of Fredrick Clegg in the first, third, and fourth parts, and by Miranda Grey in the second part. Clegg is an unreliable narrator in that he trick’s the reader into not noticing certain inconsistencies throughout his chapters. As Clegg begins his story, Miranda has already died, but the reader doesnot know this for certain until the last few pages of the novel. Much of Clegg’s story is an attempt to justify Miranda’s murder, but this is muted from the narrative the more Clegg reveals about his neuroticism and murderous tendencies. He gives the reader a retrospective account of how “special” and “important” Miranda was to him, before she became his “guest.” Clegg is a butterfly collector, and often, beginning with the first page, makes allusions to how Miranda was like a particularly rare specimen that he was watching and catching. We also learn that Clegg worked as a clerk in the Town Hall Annexe in Southampton, but that was before he won more than seventy-three thousand pounds in the lottery. He quit his job and began obsessing over Miranda even more intensely. He had been studying her and watching her for two years already, but now he could put more time and resources into his studies. He puts notes in his observations diary. He says she is the only one for him, but he knows he has no chance of becoming intimate with her because he is not part of her “la-di-da” society. But, as he says, with a lot of money, there are no obstacles. Clegg constantly twists the truth, in this case saying that he never planned to have her as his “guest”; it just kind of happened suddenly. He tells himself it is not preparation, but he buys a new house in the secluded countryside, and constructs the basement as a small, inescapable cell. He buys a van with which he plans to follow and snatch Miranda. Then one night, after watching and noting all of her habits, he kidnaps her as she is walking home in the streets of London.
Clegg chloroforms Miranda to subdue her, and then drives off to his house in the country. He forces her into the basement cell. The next two months are a battle of wills between them. Miranda constantly attempts to escape, and Clegg explains to her that the only thing he wants is for her to love him. Miranda, we learn, has a much better education than Clegg and comes from a higher social class. Sometimes, she tries to educate him on subjects he remains ignorant about, but on other occasions, she is simply contemptuous to him. Clegg first promises to free her after a month, but then backs out of that promise when Miranda says she does not love him. Again, she tries to escape, and for the first time since her capture, Clegg must chloroform her again to keep her from running away.
The next thing that Miranda tries is just about the last thing she believes could free her: she must seduce Clegg. It goes terribly, however, and after the disastrous sexual encounter, Clegg reveals just how neurotic he is. He loses all respect for Miranda, and forces her to pose for nude photographs that he takes. This is the only sexual gratification that he seems to be able to experience. Soon after this, though, Miranda begins to develop a cold. It develops into what seems to be a severe chest infection, probably pneumonia. Clegg will not get a doctor, for fear of discovery, and Miranda gets much worse. Clegg repeats that what is happening is not his fault.
Miranda narrates part 2, which is similar to part one, except there are more details about Miranda’s life before captivity, including her affection for an artist named G.P. She decides that her time spent in captivity has changed her for the better. Miranda’s mood shifts constantly. One moment she is defeated and depressed, the next she is determined and furious, the next she is kind and conciliatory towards Clegg. By the end of her section, she is slipping into delirium and worrying that she will die.
Part 3 begins again with Clegg’s narration. He refuses, still, to get a doctor, and after several miserable days of severe pneumonia, Miranda dies. Clegg seems to consider killing himself, as would be the poetic ending of their story, like Romeo and Juliet. Part 4 begins, however, with Clegg’s change of heart. He buries her unceremoniously, and sets his sights on a new victim. He is sure this one will be more “pliable” once captured.
Divided into four parts, the story is told in the first person by Fredrick Clegg (in the first, third, and fourth parts) and Miranda Grey (in the second part); in terms of length, approximately half of the story is Clegg’s, and the other half is Grey’s. Although both characters’ voices are thoroughly believable and original, an unsuspecting reader may be duped by Clegg if he fails to note at the story’s outset the consistent inconsistencies of this murderously neurotic and unreliable narrator.
Clegg’s telling of his story begins after Miranda’s life has ended, even though the reader will not know this for certain until the last few pages of the novel. Clegg’s narrative is underpinned, then, by his attempts to justify his murder of Miranda; again, however, this motive is muted for the most part as he draws the reader into his retrospective account of how special and important Miranda had become to him before she was his “guest”: “Seeing her always made me feel like I was catching a rarity.” This simile is appropriate—and seemingly innocuous, coming as it does on the first page of the novel—since Clegg, the readers learns, is a butterfly collector (at least he was when he worked as a clerk in the Town Hall Annexe in Southhampton, England, and before he won more than seventy-three thousand pounds in a lottery). Winning the lottery permitted him to quit his job and focus more obsessively upon Miranda, a young woman he has never met, whose parents’ house was near the Annexe and whose comings and goings Clegg has been studying for two years, noting them in his “observations diary.” He “knew she was the only one” for him, but he also knew he had no chance of becoming intimate with her, the daughter of a doctor, since he did not belong to her “la-di-da” society and since she moved to London to go to the Slade Art School; that is, he knew being close to her “was just a dream and it always would have been if it hadn’t been for the money.” Yet, with a lot of money, Clegg notes, there “are no obstacles” when the person with money decides he wants something. Indeed, despite Clegg’s twisting of the truth (for example, “What I’m trying to say is that having her as my guest happened suddenly, it wasn’t something I planned the moment the money came”), as soon as he wins the money, he moves to London and sets out to transform his “observations” into the entrapment of Miranda, the “rarity” he has decided to collect and keep as his own.
After purchasing a secluded house, several miles outside Lewes, England, he not only decorates it the way he mistakenly imagines Miranda would like it but also has the cellar remodeled and equipped with plumbing and electricity so...
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