The Collector Summary

John Fowles

The Collector

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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.