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Literature / The Collector

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Frederick Clegg: I said, if you asked me to stop collecting butterflies, I'd do it. I'd do anything you asked me.
Miranda Grey: Except let me fly away.

The first novel of John Fowles (who was later to write The French Lieutenant's Woman and The Magus), published in 1963.

Frederick Clegg, a shy, withdrawn, butterfly-collecting loser secretly seething with bitterness against society at large and women in particular, wins £73,091note  in the football pools. Immediately he quits his dead-end job as a lowly clerk, buys a Big Fancy House in the country, and uses his newfound wealth in an elaborate scheme to abduct Miranda Grey, the beautiful and intellectual art student upon whom Frederick's been stalking from afar for months, believing that she was too far above him to approach. Imprisoning Miranda in a luxuriously furnished, inescapable room in the cellar, Frederick showers her with gifts and admiration believing that if only Miranda sees how much he loves her, she will come to love him in return.


The story, shaped very much like a thriller, is told both from the viewpoint of the kidnapper and of his victim. The first half of the novel is narrated in first-person by Frederick as he coldly, logically, and convincingly explains his rationalization to the reader. The second half switches to Miranda's diary as she desperately chronicles her terror, her frantic efforts to reason with her unreasonable kidnapper, her failed escape attempts, and her growing despair— before swapping back to Frederick for the book's sobering conclusion.

It was adapted for film in 1965, directed by William Wyler, starring Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar.


Provides examples of:

  • Abduction Is Love: Deconstructed. Frederick kidnaps Miranda with the hope that she might fall for him one day. But their relationship, instead of improving, turns worse and worse. Frederick loses his respect for Miranda after she tries to seduce him in the hope that he might let her go after they have sex. He begins to abuse his position, and Miranda, who previously pitied Frederick, comes to fully hate him.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Miranda reveals that her family call her Nanda. Frederick dislikes it — he thinks Miranda is a perfect name that should not be altered.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Miranda is in love with her mentor from art school, G.P. He is twenty one years older than her.
  • Antihero: Frederick, fully in the territory of Villain Protagonist by the end of the book.
  • Bound and Gagged: Miranda.
  • Bunker Woman: Miranda is abducted by Frederick and held against her will in a cellar of an isolated countryside house. Her cellar room is furnished luxuriously and she is showered with gifts and other comforts, but she can't leave.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Frederick is very jealous and upset when he sees Miranda in the company of young men. Sometimes, his strong jealousy determines him to fantasize about hitting her.
  • The Collector: a Trope Namer.
  • Creepy Basement: Frederick purchases the house specifically because it has a "priest-hole" (i.e. a secret small chapel where Mass could be held in times of Catholic persecution) concealed in the basement. In spite of his efforts to make it cheerier for Miranda, it's still a dark, damp room with no natural light, no ventilation, and a huge, heavy door.
  • Downer Ending: Miranda dies and Frederick has set his eyes on a new victim.
  • Diary: Miranda's point of view is presented in her notes.
  • Dramatically Missing the Point: After all of Miranda's escape attempts and her eventual illness and death due to Clegg's negligence, the only thing Clegg gleans from his experience is that things went south because he was too lenient a captor, and the book ends with Clegg stalking another girl, eager to put his new knowledge to use.
  • Has a Type: Frederick seems to prefer pretty blonde women. The second girl he decides to kidnap looks very much like Miranda.
  • Instant Sedation: In the movie, Frederick uses chloroform when initially kidnapping Miranda, which only takes a few moments to make her pass out. Inverted the second time he uses it, as it takes several moments for the drug to take effect (though that could be attributed to the fact that Miranda struggles and shoves the rag away from her mouth several times).
  • Kavorka Man: G.P.
  • The Kindnapper: Frederick.
  • Lima Syndrome: Frederick literally adores his captive.
  • Meaningful Name: 'Miranda' means in Latin 'the one who is to be admired'.
  • Mentor Ship: Between Miranda and her art teacher, G.P.
  • No Social Skills: Frederick.
  • Pretty Butterflies: Butterfly symbolism abounds throughout the book, largely in its darker sense: Frederick compares Miranda's beauty to that of a rare butterfly; Miranda compares her captivity to the hundreds of butterflies Frederick has captured and killed for his collection. Even the title, The Collector, reflects this motif.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: Frederick.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Frederick's only hobby is collecting butterflies. He studies their habits and environments so that he can hunt and capture them easily, then locks them away so that he can take them out and admire them whenever he wants. Prior to the kidnapping, he keeps track of his Miranda sightings in the same diary where he records sightings of rare butterflies. But of course, the only way to keep butterflies forever is to kill them.
  • Shout-Out: Miranda asks Frederick to bring her books to read. She re-reads Sense and Sensibility and Emma. She compares herself to Marianne and thinks she is like her, but should try to be like Elinor. She also sees herself as manipulative Emma, but her attempts to influence Frederick fail just like Emma's matchmaking schemes. She also likens Frederick to sleazy Mr Elton and her fling from university to Frank Churchill. She asks herself if G.P. is Mr Knightley. She reveals that they share a Christian name — George, which she happens to dislike.
  • Shout-Out Theme Naming: Miranda has the name of the beautiful daughter of Prospero from The Tempest by Shakespeare. She also nicknames her kidnapper 'Caliban'. Fredrick convinces her that his real name is Ferdinand, who is Miranda's beloved in the play. He chooses the name partially to disguise his real name (Miranda has just learned his initials) and partially because he's liked the name since childhood, but he doesn't seem to recognize the irony in using it now. The real Miranda is well-read enough to side-eye him pretty hard over it.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The name references and characters correspond to The Tempest.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Frederick. A very dark version as his creepy love and obsession drives him to kidnap the woman he thinks he loves.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Miranda tries very hard to fight it, but she confesses in her diary to feeling grateful at some of the things Frederick does.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension:
    • Between Miranda and Frederick. From his side only...
    • There was attraction between Miranda and G.P., which was a case of unresolved Teacher/Student Romance.
  • Villain Protagonist: Frederick.


Example of: