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John Fowles: The Collector

Fowles’ first novel achieved a certain amount of fame for its somewhat daring theme of abduction and its obvious sympathy with the abductor. It is told in the form of a diary – the abductor’s and the abductee’s. Frederick Clegg has been watching Miranda Grey for some time. He is a butterfly collector and sees her as a butterfly to add to his collection. When he wins some money on the football pools and his family emigrates to Australia, leaving him on his own, he has the freedom to indulge his hobby. He abducts her and takes her to a house in the country that he has bought and prepared. But, to his surprise, she does not take kindly to being abducted. He attributes this, at least in part, to their class differences – she is clearly smarter and better educated than he is. Indeed, it soon becomes apparent, he has no imagination, thinks only in terms of things while she, an art student, is far more sensitive.

The original arrangement was that he would release her after a month but, when she refuses his marriage proposal, he refuses to let her go. She becomes more desperate, trying to kill him and then seduce him, but to no avail. She gradually becomes ill but he is reluctant to get a doctor. The second part is her diary and she tells us more of her previous life, particularly about her mentor/the man she loves and her friends.

At the end we come back to Clegg and his efforts to help Miranda while she is ill but his inaction results in her death. He is tempted to kill himself but then realizes his mistake was kidnapping someone above his station and turns his attention to a girl who works in Woolworth’s. In short, there is little remorse (think Lolita, with which this book has a few points in common), which makes us concentrate on the story of Frederick Clegg and, particularly, his obsession.

Publishing history

First published 1963 by Jonathan Cape