The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

When Fredrick Clegg was two, his father—while driving drunk—was killed in an automobile accident, and his mother left the infant with her dead husband’s sister; this sister, Aunt Annie to Clegg, and her only child, Mabel, both blamed Clegg’s departed mother for his father’s drinking and consequent death, and Mabel once told the young Clegg that his mother “was a woman of the streets who went off with a foreigner.” Although Aunt Annie never admitted to him whether Mabel’s accusation was true, she “always said good riddance [to his mother] in so many words,” and Clegg informs the reader that he agrees. Not only has Clegg learned, from his moralizing and prudish aunt and cousin, to resent and despise his mother for being supposedly immoral and cruel, but he has also learned to think of himself, in defensive terms, as inferior to others—partly because he suffered constant criticism from these two women as he was growing up in their home and partly because he is ashamed of them for the same reason he is ashamed of himself: That is, they belong to the uneducated working class of British society, and they are, compared to Miranda’s “la-di-da” society, uncultured. In short, Clegg is insanely neurotic, and his neurosis centers on women and social class; unfortunately for Miranda, he mistakenly believes that the large sum of money he wins will resolve his personal conflicts, by presumably enabling him to acquire the woman and social standing of his “dreams.”

The house Clegg buys after winning the lottery may itself be seen as symbolic of his neurosis concerning women, in that the upstairs represents the daylight world of consciousness and the cellar represents the hidden, dark world of unconsciousness and repressed desires. Clegg only allows these two worlds to merge at night—indeed, he abducts Miranda at night, and he permits her to enter the upstairs only after sundown.

As the psychologist Carl Jung has observed, when a man’s unconscious mind harbors a negative image of women, often that man’s anima projection will be the reverse. In other words, the woman onto whom he projects his desires and idealized feminine image will be expected to be pure, virginal, and worthy of worship. Thus, initially, Clegg sees Miranda as a woman who “couldn’t do ugly things. She was too beautiful. She was always so clean, too. She never smelt anything but sweet and fresh, unlike some women I could mention.” Clegg’s attraction to her is intensified, too, by his desire to belong to her social class; yet the result of his idealized projection is conflict that leads to murder, in that the real Miranda cannot accommodate, as an individual, the suprahuman perfection expected of her.

At one point in the story, Miranda tells Clegg that he has to “shake off the past,” “kill” his aunt symbolically, and “be a new human being.” Although Clegg is unable to...

(The entire section is 1187 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Fredrick Clegg

Fredrick Clegg, a clerk in the Town Hall Annexe in Southhampton, England, until he wins seventy-three thousand pounds in a lottery and quits his job. He is painfully diffident and ashamed of being a member of the uneducated working class of British society. When Clegg wins the lottery at the age of thirty-seven, he has both the determination and the financial power to realize his greatest ambition: He wants to possess Miranda Grey, the daughter of a doctor and a member of England’s cultured, educated upper class. Believing that once Miranda spends time with him she will see that he is worthy of her interest and affection, Clegg purchases a secluded house several miles outside Lewes, England, decorates it the way he mistakenly thinks Miranda would like it, and remodels the cellar and equips it with plumbing and electricity so it will be habitable. He next purchases clothes, records, and books, and he places these in the cellar apartment—not for himself but for Miranda. After he kidnaps her, the cellar of his house becomes her prison for two months, until she dies of pneumonia, at which time Clegg buries her body in his backyard. Throughout his retrospective account of his time with Miranda, he frequently assures the reader that he never meant to harm her, that his interest in her was nonsexual, and that he would have gotten a doctor for her if she had not proved herself to be unworthy of his trust and admiration. What he never...

(The entire section is 537 words.)