The Collector Essay - Critical Evaluation

John Fowles

Critical Evaluation

John Fowles’s fiction met with a popular and commercial success that is unusual for a novelist who also received such serious critical attention. The Collector, his first novel, was followed by The Magus (1965; revised, 1977), The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), Daniel Martin (1977), Mantissa (1982), and A Maggot (1985). The first three novels were made into successful films, and both the novel and the film versions of The French Lieutenant’s Woman were critically praised. Fowles enjoyed experimenting with narrative technique, and with each new novel he attempted to find different forms and structures for his fiction.

In The Collector, Fowles tells the story from two points of view. Fred Clegg narrates the first half of the novel in an unimaginative, flat-footed style that underscores the horror and the realism of his tale. The second half of the novel is narrated by Miranda in the form of a journal she keeps during her captivity, which is found by Clegg after her death. Her voice, completely different from Clegg’s, reveals her artistic, idealistic, and sometimes pretentious personality and gives the reader an entirely different perspective on the incidents recounted earlier by Clegg. Her journal entries end just before her death, when Clegg returns for a brief final section that recounts her death and burial and his ominous plans for the future.

Like many postwar British novels, The Collector focuses on issues of social class. Clegg’s deprived background and lack of education stunted him emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually, just as Miranda’s privileged upper-middle-class upbringing provided her with opportunities to develop herself personally and artistically. This is revealed in both the form and the content of their speech in the novel. Clegg, resentful and hesitant because of his social inferiority, is always bested verbally by Miranda, whose spirited assertiveness and self-confidence attract and later enrage him. Fowles said that Clegg’s...

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