Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Collector (John Fowles)
aka: The Collector

Go To

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 debut novel of the English author 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Frederick Clegg, a shy, withdrawn, butterfly-collecting loser secretly seething with bitterness against society at large and women in particular, wins £73,091note  in the football pools.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 toward an elaborate scheme to abduct Miranda Grey, the beautiful and intellectual art student he has been stalking from afar for months, believing that she was too far above him to approach. Imprisoning Miranda inside a luxuriously furnished but inescapable room in the cellar, Frederick showers her with gifts and admiration, believing that if only she 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 the 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 escalating 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.

Adapted into a 1965 film 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.
  • Actual Pacifist: Miranda rejects the opportunity of harming Frederick because she despises violence. This is in contrast to Technical Pacifist Frederick, who insists he doesn't harm Miranda.
  • 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.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Miranda's diary, which ends with a few broken, disjointed sentences in which she begs God not to let her die before she succumbs to pneumonia.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: A rare played-soberingly-straight example. When she's first kidnapped, Miranda is totally convinced that Frederick has kidnapped her for this purpose and is even prepared to offer herself for sex, reasoning that as long as he's still having sex with her, he won't kill her. Even after it becomes clear that he won't touch her, she suspects that his motivations are still rooted in sex. Still later, she even tries to seduce him, hoping that the shock will give her power over him and force him to let her go. It only makes things worse.
  • Big Bad Slippage: Frederick Clegg starts off as a mild-mannered awkward man who kidnaps Miranda so she'll love him. As time goes on, Frederick gradually becomes worse and worse and it's after Miranda seduces him and has sex with him that he snaps and his misogyny and abusive behaviour emerge out in the open. By the end, his journey to full on Villain Protagonist is complete with the implication that he's about to start a new cycle.
  • Bound and Gagged: Frederick binds and gags Miranda during her abduction. The experience so traumatizes them both that they come to an agreement that as long as Miranda doesn't try to scream or escape, he'll never use the gag and ropes again. There's a terrifying callback later when he binds and gags her in order to force her to pose for pornographic photos.
  • 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 sets his sights on a new victim.
  • Downfall by Sex: Miranda's attempt to seduce Frederick in her bid for freedom dooms them both. Miranda ends up being victim of Fredrick's depravity and Frederick Clegg's transformation into a villain is completed, extinguishing any potential remaining good inside him.
  • 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.
  • Driven to Suicide: Ultimately averted with Frederick, as he planned to commit suicide after burying Miranda, but changes his mind once she finds her diary and realizes how much she despised him.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The earliest example of Frederick's misogyny is early on where he mentions having sex with a prostitute during his time in the army. He claims that he didn't enjoy the experience, later foreshadowing his [extreme reaction to Miranda trying to seduce and later having sex with him.
  • Gilded Cage: Much of the first section of the book, told from Frederick's perspective, details the lengths to which he goes to make sure Miranda's "room" contains not only everything she could possibly need but everything she could want. At the same time, he goes to equal lengths to make sure the room is an inescapable cell.
  • Has a Type: Frederick seems to prefer pretty blonde women. The second girl he decides to kidnap looks very much like Miranda.
  • Hope Spot: At one point, Miranda manages to convince Frederick to let her out of the basement. She is overwhelmed with joy when she goes outside, and hopes that in time, she will have more opportunities to escape. It's all for nothing, as her relationship with Frederick deteriorates almost immediately afterwards, and she dies without ever seeing the sky again.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: Invoked almost verbatim by Miranda.
  • Instant Sedation: In the movie, Frederick uses chloroform when initially kidnapping Miranda, which only takes a few moments to make her pass out. in the book, this is attributed to the fact that Miranda is a very small, slight girl and that he might have used too much of the chemical. 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. has a beaky nose, craggy skin, and an artistic temperament that can be intense and frightening, but women (including Miranda) are drawn to him and he's had a long history of lovers.
  • Kick the Dog: Frederick casually opines at one point that his wheelchair-bound cousin Mabel should be euthanized.
  • The Kindnapper: Well before kidnapping Miranda, Frederick takes the time to fit out her prison with everything she could possibly need, including purchasing a full wardrobe for her based on the colors and styles he's noticed she likes, and in addition to several thousands of dollars in art books. After he has her, he practically begs her to tell him whatever she wants or needs so that he can give it to her.
  • Lima Syndrome: Frederick literally adores his captive. After Miranda tries to seduce him, he loses all respect for her and things go south.
  • Meaningful Name: "Miranda" means "the one who is to be admired" in Latin.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Miranda is shocked sick at her own actions after she finally works up the courage to physically attack Frederick.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Miranda's diary. While it was too late to save her, she might have saved the other girl he becomes obsessed with if she hadn't written about how much she hated him and he had committed suicide so they could be Together in Death.
  • No Social Skills: From childhood through his time in the army to his current workplace, Frederick has always been awkward and strange, unable to figure out what to do to make people like him.
  • 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 can be docile and obedient; he embarrasses easily and whenever Miranda reprimands him, all he does his hang his head like a little boy being scolded. But he's still her kidnapper and he has enough cunning to insure that she'll never have a chance at freedom.
  • 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.
    • The names Miranda and Ferdinand. Miranda compares the situation in the cellar as being trapped together on a deserted island: no matter how loathsome Frederick is, he's still the only other human being in her world and she's so frightened and desperately lonely that she finds herself trying to reach out to him even though he's the one keeping her there.
  • Sex–Face Turn: Miranda dresses herself up in make up and a nice dress ready to invoke this on Frederick. The novel deconstructs this by having the experience ending with Frederick losing all respect for her and going full blown Villain Protagonist on her, completing his Big Bad Slippage.
  • 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.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: The first part of the novel has Frederick trick the reader into thinking he's this, though there are several hints that he's actually a budding Villain Protagonist.
  • Stalker with a Crush: The entire novel deconstructs the classic narrative of stalking and later kidnapping a woman for romantic purposes. Fredrick's love and obsession drives him to kidnap the woman he thinks he loves. Unlike most cases, his obsession with Miranda is portrayed as the creepy and frightening experience it is rather than romantic and sweet like most examples.
  • 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.
  • There Is No God: Miranda gradually loses faith in God as her imprisonment drags on, eventually coming to the conclusion that if there is a god, he can't possibly care anything about humanity.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension:
    • Frederick believes there's this between him and Miranda, though Miranda doesn't feel the same way.
    • There was attraction between Miranda and G.P., which was a case of unresolved Teacher/Student Romance.
  • Villain Protagonist: Frederick narrates a great deal of the story, making an effort to explain how his plan is completely reasonable and how clever he is for making such elaborate (and for the large part successful) arrangements. The truly frightening thing is how convincing he can be when the reader is forced to view things from his perspective.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Miranda becomes violently ill from the chloroform Frederick uses to knock her out during her abduction. The side-effects make her so sick she even agrees not to try to escape again (and even to let him rape her if he wants) so long as he never uses it again.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Frederick seems to believe that Miranda will have no choice but to love him if he becomes her caretaker and the only person in her world. He's very, very wrong, as Miranda understandably loathes him for robbing her of her freedom and never stops trying to escape him. Instead of becoming the man she loves most in the world, like he had hoped, he becomes the man she hates most.
    • Frederick also finds out that keeping someone in a basement for months can seriously affect their health. He also learns that his wealth will not help him when it comes to buying life-saving medicine.

Alternative Title(s): The Collector 1965, The Collector