The Collector Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 1117 words.)

The Collector Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Collector, Fowles’s first published novel, was an instant hit. While the British viewed it as criminal fiction, Americans liked it for its psychological exploration of a troubled character. Written from a split viewpoint, it tells the story first from Clegg’s point of view, then repeats the same story from Miranda’s diary, and finally returns to Clegg describing the inevitable ending and his plans for the future. In the telling, the marked differences separating the two characters are evident. Clegg’s narrative is halting, formal, and nearly inarticulate in places. Miranda’s narrative is free-flowing, alive with feeling, expressive, and natural. Their two tales, divided as they are by language and background, reflect the vast differences that separate them.

Echoing many of the same ideas expressed in his philosophical work The Aristos: A Self-Portrait in Ideas (1964), Fowles examines his social concerns over the split between “the Many,” which Clegg represents, and “the Few,” which Miranda represents. Clegg, who suddenly finds himself wealthy as a result of winning money in the football pools, is given the money of “the Few” without any of the education to appreciate it or to use it wisely. He is freed to quest, but he does not have the inner or outer knowledge to understand what confronts him and what he can choose. Thus, he fails not only for himself; his failure also causes Miranda to die. For Clegg, Miranda remains nothing more than his most prized specimen, better than...

(The entire section is 626 words.)

The Collector Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Frederick Clegg, a government clerk in his middle twenties, wins seventy-three thousand pounds in the football pools, which enables him to act out his secret fantasy. Just as he collected butterflies in the past, he stalks and kidnaps Miranda Grey, an art student in her early twenties who is studying at the Slade School in London. Clegg recently purchased an expensive home in the Sussex countryside, with an underground room that he secured and prepared for his kidnapped guest, as he calls her.

When Miranda is chloroformed and taken to Clegg’s house, she discovers that he made extensive preparations for her, including the purchase of clothing and other items. In the beginning he treats her deferentially, serving her the food she wishes, and brings her anything she desires. It quickly becomes clear to Miranda that, although Clegg apparently is not interested in sex or violence, he does not plan to allow her to leave. The two, of approximately the same age but from very different worlds, become acquainted with each other.

Clegg, of working-class origin, resents his lower social position and did not have access to the privileged, artistic world that Miranda inhabited. In addition, his mental problems become more pronounced as his conversations with Miranda continue, just as her idealism and naïveté are revealed. Her naïveté is particularly evident when she believes he will make good on his promise to release her at the end of four weeks, for Clegg has no intention of doing this.

During the four weeks, more differences between the two emerge, particularly between her artistic, politically liberal worldview and Clegg’s disturbed, repressed mind. In his spare time, Clegg is a butterfly collector who kills and photographs his collections, activities that Miranda abhors. She makes clear her disgust with his narrowness and lack of culture and usually criticizes him sharply. Clegg accepts her verbal abuse and continues to defer to her wishes, telling her he abducted her because he is in love...

(The entire section is 827 words.)