Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The Collector follows the obsessive, neurotic, and socially-inept Frederick Clegg. His practice of self-isolation has left him bereft, and he projects his feelings of inadequacy and desire onto Miranda Grey, a young woman with whom he is enamored. Although he grew up working class, a heritage that he dearly resents, his circumstances drastically improve when he wins the lottery. Free from his time-consuming job and with little else to distract him, Frederick’s obsession escalates. He daydreams about kidnapping Miranda, capturing her ephemeral beauty as he does with the butterflies he collects. Eventually, he acts on his fantasies and prepares his cellar in which he intends to keep her captive.
I could go on all night about the precautions. I used to go and sit in her room and work out what she could do to escape. I thought she might know about electricity, you never know with girls these days, so I always wore rubber heels, I never touched a switch without a good look first. I got a special incinerator to burn all her rubbish. I knew nothing of hers must ever leave the house. No laundry. There could always be something.
Frederick’s preparations put his neurosis (and active intentions) on full display. Although he pretends otherwise, his actions are a decisive choice made in service of his selfish desires and not simply happenstance. He approaches his kidnapping plot with the same obsessive, anxiety-ridden perspective that haunts the entirety of the novel, considering and fixating on every possibility. Frederick’s waking thoughts are primarily about Miranda, how he can keep her under his power and how he can get her to love him. While he worships Miranda, Frederick also obsesses about her possession of any secret knowledge that could threaten him. He is focused on maintaining dominance over Miranda, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
However, he resents that she remains dominant in a single respect: economic. Frederick despises his working-class upbringing, as he feels it has disadvantaged him intellectually. He cannot keep up with Miranda’s literary references and keen, analytic eye, and he resents her for it, attributing it to her class privileges. Moreover, he resents her—and others like her—for not welcoming him into their ranks.
She often went on about how she hated class distinction, but she never took me in. It’s the way people speak that gives them away, not what they say. You only had to see her dainty ways to see how she was brought up. She wasn’t la-di-da, like many, but it was there all the same. You could see it when she got sarcastic and impatient with me because I couldn’t explain myself or I did things wrong. Stop thinking about class, she’d say. Like a rich man telling a poor man to stop thinking about money.
Although much of Frederick’s internal monologue is disturbed and reprehensible, his insights about social structure and class distinction offer a semblance of sanity. His anger at the limitations placed upon the working class has, unlike most of his obsessive thoughts, roots in reality. Frederick projects his anger at the structures onto Miranda, who is from an upper-middle-class family, and blames her for his feelings of inadequacy. Despite his newfound wealth, he remains obsessively self-conscious about his image and the lingering vestiges of his working-class past.
Paradoxically, Frederick also resents the fact that this unspoken gulf separates him from Miranda. To hide his inadequacies, Frederick refuses to acknowledge his real name, preferring to call himself Ferdinand instead. The moniker makes him feel distinguished and relevant, yet it does nothing to hide Miranda’s contempt and distaste. She accuses him of...
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being crazy and needing psychiatric help, however, he replies:
You think I’m mad because of what I’ve done. I’m not mad. It’s just, well, I’ve got no one else. There’s never been anyone but you I’ve ever wanted to know.
Frederick's neurosis does not render him incapable of lucid judgment. Here, he tries to justify his actions to Miranda, hoping that she will understand his twisted reasons for holding her captive. Throughout the novel, Frederick continually makes excuses for his behavior. He justifies his cruelty by referencing all the injustices he has suffered in his life. Given the various power imbalances fueling Miranda and her captor’s interactions, their relationship is strange and unconventional. In her hidden diary, she writes:
No one would believe this situation. He keeps me absolutely prisoner. But in everything else I am mistress. I realize that he encourages it, it’s a means of keeping me from being as discontented as I should be. The same thing happened when I was lameducking Donald last spring. I began to feel he was mine, that I knew all about him. And I hated it when he went off to Italy like that, without telling me. Not because I was seriously in love with him, but because he was vaguely mine and didn’t get permission from me.
Miranda understands that she has a strange power over Frederick, yet she also realizes that this power is an illusion; she is only the mistress of what her captor allows. In other words, she is just as helpless with him as she was with Donald. The pair clash often and violently throughout the novel, but it is Frederick who ultimately prevails.