John Fowles’s The Collector is both a promising and successful first novel, which deals with the relationship between a kidnapper and his victim. In the following article, a systematic approach is being developed to deal with this work in the foreign language classroom. For convenience’s sake it has been divided into two parts. It is dedicated to all those students who wanted to take part in one of my seminars which had to be cancelled in 2003 because of reasons which are beyond my responsibility.
Part I: Assumptions and Textual Analysis
2. Textual analysis2.1. The narrator Frederick Clegg
2.2. The events in part 1 of the novel
2.3. Narrative perspective in the second part of the novel
2.4. Comment upon some literary allusions
2.5. Miranda Grey's diary
2.6. Close analysis of a kernel passage
2.7. Conclusion: parts 3 and 4 of the novel
On the other hand, many passages of a comprehensive literary text have to be read intensively in class, too. As a rule, the learners will read the first pages very slowly and attentively until they know what the text is about. From that point onwards, it will be possible for them to make predictions, to compare their expectations with the actual text and to find reasons for similarities and dissimilarities. In addition to that, kernel passages have to be chosen for critical discussion, which is something that may be decided in the classroom.
However, the students' skill and their motivation to read also depends on the writers and the nature of the literary texts that they are expected to read. John Fowles is one of the most famous 20th century British novelists. The Collector may be described both as a promising first novel (published in 1963) and as a bestseller: it became an immediate success, which perhaps can also be ascribed to the fact that a filmed version of it was produced in the U.S.A. by William Wyler only one year later. Besides, it was taken seriously by literary scholarship, which testifies to its literary quality (1). The book may be classified partly as a thriller, partly as a detective story, partly as a romance, and it is certainly a novel which is suitable to introduce adolescent learners of English as a foreign language to comprehensive literary texts (2). Thus it may be used for instructional purposes in form 11.
The following analysis of the novel is meant to be in accordance with the didactic considerations (cf. Part II, section 3) and to pave the way for possible classroom strategies (cf. PART II, section 4).
(1) "It's some crude animal thing I was born without. (And I'm glad I was, if more people were like me, in my opinion, the world would be better)", and in the same paragraph the narrator states: "I never thought about women much before Miranda" [(3) (p. 13)]. This means that he claims to be born without sexual desires. He is proud of not being sexually aggressive and of not raping Miranda, i.e. he is proud of his self-discipline, and he certainly accepts her warnings not to use sexual violence against her since he would lose all her respect. It becomes clear that the narrator has a high opinion of his own worth.
Therefore it comes as a kind of shock for the reader when he reads a few pages later:
(2) "I think people like Mabel [his cousin] should be put out painlessly" (p. 16). This is in sharp contrast with the first statement, namely that if more people were like him, this would improve the world. The narrator pleads for mercy killing probably because of the simple fact that Mabel is handicapped. This statement is shocking, provocative and reminiscent of euthanasia (4), i.e. of the racist theory proclaimed in the Third Reich.
After kidnapping Miranda Frederick Clegg thus describes his emotional reaction:
(3) "I can only say that evening I was very happy ... and it was more like I had done something very daring, like climbing Everest or doing something in enemy territory. My feelings were very happy because my intentions were of the best. It was what she [Miranda] never understood" (p. 31).
Again this is a very strange statement: the narrator has committed a crime, but rather than having guilt feelings he is very happy, considering himself almost as a hero. He seems to congratulate himself on his courage and his braveness. This testifies to his self-indulgence, his narrow-mindedness, and perhaps even to blindness towards his own person. Frederick Clegg seems to have no moral scruples, no moral consciousness. He repeatedly emphasizes his good intentions, which can be seen from the recurrent statement that he wanted to have Miranda as his guest (cf. for example p. 9, p. 16, p. 30, p. 36). Sometimes there seems to arise a flicker of understanding between the two since Miranda Grey desperately longs to talk to somebody when her isolation during her rather long captivity becomes well-nigh unbearable.
In addition to that, there exist a number of parallels between the narrator in the first part of The Collector and that of a very famous American short story which is still frequently read at school, namely E.A. Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart". This short story represents a classic example of an unreliable narrator. Again and again - until the very end of the story - Poe's narrator insists on the fact that he is not mad, so that even in the course of the first reading of the text, the perceptive reader cannot but conclude that this person must be out of his mind. It becomes clear that he is a victim of his bad conscience for he has murdered a human being (an easily accessible edition has been published by the Penguin English Library; cf. PART II, bibliography).
The narrator Frederick Clegg in John Fowles's novel also mentions several times that he is not mad (cf. p. 10, p. 52, p. 69, etc.); in contrast with Poe's narrator, however, as a consequence of his lack of moral values, he does not feel guilty. [Only once - in the very end - does Frederick Clegg admit to being mad (cf. part 4, p. 275). So he has got at least one lucid moment, though, even at that stage, he starts his preparations in order to capture another attractive girl: now he chooses a shop assistant so that class distinctions may be less serious than in the case of the art student.]
With this characterization of the narrator in mind, it is possible to summarize the events in part 1. What is perhaps even more interesting, is that the plot may be discussed in terms of dramatic structure which could also easily be visualized.
2.2. The events in part 1 of the novel
Frederick's plan to kidnap Miranda may be compared to the exposition of a drama; according to his own view, it is partly a stroke of genius or a brilliant idea, partly induced by the circumstances; after many examples of bad luck he thinks he experiences a stroke of good luck by winning a lot of money in the football pools.
The kidnapping itself may be regarded as the crisis/inciting moment; this is the first encounter between Miranda and Frederick.
There are some negotiations between them in order to find rules for a modus vivendi; there are some faint signs of understanding. Frederick's behaviour is respectful towards her; he does not kiss her when he feels like it while walking through the garden (p. 62). Still there is a rising tension between the kidnapper and his hostage: this may be regarded as the beginning of the rising action.
She makes several attempts at escape which illustrate her strife for freedom:
- trying to run away (cf. p. 44f); using the appendicitis trick (cf. p. 64f);
- wanting to write a letter to her parents: trying to insert a secret message (the letter trick: p. 68);
- loosening stones during his absence, increasing her chances by making a long shopping list for Frederick (p. 71f);
there are also increasing conflicts between the two: her refusal to communicate (p. 45); her hunger strike (p. 48); her physical attacks [throwing different things/plates, etc. at him (p. 74), attacking him by using an old axe so that he is hit on the forehead (p. 91)]: all these details testify to the ever increasing tension of the plot.
The clash on 'release day' (p. 78ff): at first this day resembles a wedding: she is nice and friendly so that he will keep his promise. He is thinking in tactical categories, too: as a kind of emotional bribery, he buys her valuable presents, then he will ask her to marry him. Since he is sure she will decline, he won't keep his promise to set her free. Thus he wants to use her denial as a pretext to go on keeping her like a prisoner. There is distrust, cunning and dishonesty on both parts. First there is a period of apparent harmony that leads to a fight in the end during which she tries to set the house on fire and during which he uses chloroform to prevent her from escaping (p. 86). This may be regarded as the climax of the plot. Yet he does not try to rape her (cf. above).
Now it is her who takes the initiative (p. 99f): she makes an attempt at seduction, which is not successful; this is another emotional climax; for a comment cf. PART II, below. The consequences are serious. He forces her to let herself be photographed in the nude (p. 110). This is the only time when he enforces his will on her because he thinks that she deserves this. She has got murderous thoughts, using a lot of verbal aggressiveness (p. 109), accusing him of breaking every law of human decency (p. 107). This may be regarded as the falling action of the novel.
In the end, Miranda catches pneumonia (p.111). Because of her appendicitis trick, Frederick thinks she is simulating again; it is somehow ironic that now she is suffering from a serious illness which is realized too late. On the other hand, Frederick does not really want to get medical help for her, and her former simulation becomes an alibi for him so as to refuse taking the responsibility for her death and to deny his culpability. The outcome of the plot in part 1 is certainly a human tragedy.
2.3. Narrative perspective in the second part of the novel
In part 2 the narrated time covers the period from the beginning of October to the middle of December; thus Miranda's captivity lasts two months and a half. Whereas part 1 is Frederick Clegg's rather neutral account of the events, the second part is written from Miranda Grey's point-of-view, which creates the sense of a palimpsest (5). Thus in The Collector there is a double perspective, which can also be found in at least three other novels used for instructional purposes, namely in Paul Zindel's The Pigman (1969), Robert Swindell's Daz 4 Zoe (1990) and in Berlie Doherty's, Dear Nobody (1991). All these novels have got a male and female narrator who, as a rule, use diary entries which supplement each other in order to form the different parts of the plots. Since they are almost of the same age as the learners and since adolescents are very often supposed to identify with literary characters, every learner has got a possible identification figure of his/her own sex, which may be a motivational advantage for instructional purposes.
Basically the choice of a particular perspective is always an invitation to sympathize with that view or to take sides with the narrator. The learners will see how perspective may influence narration since Frederick's and Miranda's perspectives are completely different. Their clashing viewpoints result from different selves: the young man is a psychopath, whereas the young woman has many things he lacks: she is a talented, sensitive, intelligent art student. Thus the two have got different values, norms and ideals.
On October 14th, i.e. one week after having become a hostage, Miranda starts writing a diary: for the reader, this is a sudden change of the reference frame. Now it is Miranda who is speaking: her diary is similar to an interior monologue, reminiscent of a stream-of-consciousness technique. This change of perspective (also a use of different text types in one novel) is typical of postmodern fiction; the reconstruction of different perspectives is decisive for interpersonal and intercultural understanding as well as for social competence (6). If the students try to sympathize with the thoughts and feelings of another person, it may lead to the important educational teaching aim of developing empathy, and it may also contribute to a different understanding and evaluation of the novel under consideration.
2.4. Comment upon some literary allusions
Since there exists no didactic edition, the course members will have to use a text designed for the native reader, which means that particularly in part 2 they will come across a number of literary allusions which call for a commentary.
The most obvious of these alludes to the last romantic play that was concluded by William Shakespeare, namely The Tempest (1611). In that play, Miranda is the daughter of the exiled magician Prospero, and both of them are living on a remote island. Miranda Grey very often compares her kidnapper to Caliban: he is the son of a witch, a misshapen monster who would like to have sexual relations with Miranda; if he were allowed to, he would people the island with his offspring. At the beginning of her captivity Miranda is naturally afraid of being raped by Frederick, and perhaps this is one reason why she calls him Caliban. However, Caliban - because of his insensitivity - also stands for a lack education and civilization (7).
Frederick Clegg's lack of understanding is also shown when she wants to discuss literary works with him, for example J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. As to parallels between its narrator-protagonist Holden Caulfield and Frederick Clegg, one may mention their difficulties in communicating to other people and their sexual problems: in order to have their first sexual experiences both of them go to a prostitute, which leads to an obvious failure because of the boys' extreme nervousness (cf. p. 14)(8). But whereas Holden Caulfield aims at honesty and therefore voices his protest against the insincerity of the adult world, Frederick Clegg does not see any parallels between Salinger's protagonist and himself. He insists on his self-control and his self-discipline and does not admit to himself he has sexual problems. Frederick Clegg - in contrast to Miranda - has no real understanding for Holden Caulfield's problems (cf. p. 205).
Some of Frederick Clegg's problems with Miranda Grey seem to result from the fact that they belong to different social classes. This is illustrated by some allusions to Alan Sillitoe's influential novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which was first published in 1958, i.e. just five years before The Collector. Its protagonist Arthur Seaton, whom Miranda thinks to be "disgusting" (p. 230), is a member of the working class; however, like Frederick Clegg, he has a permanent job. Arthur Seaton works in a bike factory, a work he does not like since it is hard and monotonous. Compared to him, Frederick Clegg is considerably well-off, since he has got a white-collar job, and because of that and the fortune won in the football pools he has no monetary problems either. At the same time Arthur Seaton is very critical of society, although his verbal criticism is not supplemented by political commitment. His resignation may be compared to the attitude of indifference shown by Frederick Clegg. Moreover, Caliban/Clegg has also got the selfishness and brutality of Sillitoe's working-class 'hero'. Only in one respect, however, the two are different: Arthur Seaton has a strong sexual drive and does not hesitate to act it out. He is a real womanizer, and in that respect he is just the opposite of Frederick Clegg (cf. p. 230f)(9).
Miranda Grey claims that for her origin and descent, money and social rank do not play a crucial role; therefore she can identify with Emma Woodhouse (cf. p. 157) as she is depicted in Jane Austen's novel Emma. To some degree the two novels deal with Emma's and Miranda's growth (10). A certain degree of class consciousness is also present in Miranda's thinking: although she hates class distinctions, they are always between them (cf. p. 41) and she feels superior to Frederick Clegg in every respect (cf. e.g. p. 130 and p. 222) (11).
2.5. Miranda Grey's diary
Many events are the same as told before: there is bound to be some overlapping. Nevertheless part two is much more than a mere repetition of the same events in different words, for now the emotions of the victim play a crucial part. Miranda's account, on the whole, is a reliable one, and it is much more colourful than Frederick's factual and descriptive report. A certain amount of tension arises from the question whether the relationship between the captor and the captive will be transformed into one that is more like that which may exist between a host and his guest.
Miranda's feelings: a collection of textual evidence
Generally speaking, her moods change rapidly. She is deeply frightened, she also feels alone, the feeling of solitude is unbearable for her (cf. p. 123), anyway she wants to survive: her life-preserving instinct is very strong (cf. e.g. p. 233).
Particularly in the beginning of her captivity, she feels frightened of being raped (cf. e.g. p. 118, p. 121), but at the same time she also feels pity for her tormentor (cf. p. 213). In addition, she feels hatred and contempt for her kidnapper (cf. p. 117); at times their relationship is almost friendly since she has to live in a world consisting of only two people (cf. p. 139f).
Writing has a therapeutic effect for her as well as for Frederick Clegg (12); for Miranda writing even becomes like a drug (p. 165).
Still she is suffering from a complete lack of privacy (p. 157); she is on the verge of insanity; she feels close to death, buried (p. 164).
She is filled with hysteria (p. 225).
If Miranda behaves aggressively, sometimes even beastly to him, she feels self-hatred and pity towards him; if she is nice, he shows so many signs of self-satisfaction that she feels frustrated and aggressive at the same time (p. 229).
One day she feels "endless panic in slow motion" (p. 236).
She suffers from isolation and loneliness; she feels hate, also hatred of God; sometimes she is beyond despair. Miranda is trapped like a mouse, due to her long captivity, her mind begins to disintegrate; she becomes mentally and emotionally unbalanced and unnerved; she is paralysed, i.e. she is neither able to talk nor to act on her own; she falls ill, gets feverish and delirious; her last entry is a desperate cry for help (p. 260).
2.6. Close analysis of a kernel passage
Undoubtedly Miranda's attempt at seduction calls for a comment. When she is first thinking about seducing Frederick Clegg, this seems to her like a good sacrifice at chess - a sacrifice for freedom, that means to give up something valuable in order to win the game (cf. p. 237ff). For the appropriate evaluation of her behaviour, the reader has to pay attention to the context of the novel, i.e. to all of part 2: with all other attempts having failed, Miranda thinks she has to sacrifice her moral principles in order to survive. She would give anything for her freedom (she even takes the risk of getting a baby from Frederick (cf. p. 238); having sexual intercourse with him, she thinks, is the price she has to pay for her release. Certainly, she is no girl for easy sexual adventures: she is not prudish, to be sure, but she does not want to become an object for sexual gratification. It is her last desperate attempt to get free again; she acts in this particular way in the hope of being able to escape. Her behaviour is dictated by her instinct of survival, nevertheless it implies a certain degree of self-humiliation. She also claims she wanted to help him, which is not quite convincing. After the attempt at seducing him has failed, she regrets what she has done (p. 241). Thus, it is difficult for Miranda to justify her behaviour in her own eyes since she does not want to lose her self-respect and the sense of her personal integrity.
For Frederick Clegg her attempt at seducing him is like a shock (p. 99). Since she makes him feel ashamed (p. 99), it is like a threat to his personality, the situation as such is face-threatening to him. Therefore he feels humiliated because of his sexual problems (she makes him feel ashamed many times). Rather than remaining his idealized princess for him, now she is no better than a common street-woman, and therefore he says he has lost all respect for her (p. 103). But Frederick's problem is that he cannot trust anybody: he never understands Miranda as a human being in her own right (13), although she is everything he has got, and that is the reason why he is determined not to let her escape. His alleged contempt of her is like a compensation of his own defects; since he feels threatened, he has to find a possibility of shielding himself. Thus both people's personal dignitiy is at stake and therefore, the psychological distance between them becomes larger, that is, as large as it can possibly become. Both characters remain completely isolated from each other: there is no bridge to span the separation between them (cf. p. 102 and p. 222) (14).
The same distance also becomes visible when she tries to persuade Frederick to let her go; she argues, at least tries to insinuate that he should be grateful to her for the offer of letting him have sex with her and that he owes her something (p. 101). However, this is a mistake: there is a dead end in their relationship. Because of this attempt at seduction Frederick forces her to let him have his photographs for which she has to pose in the nude (p. 110). This is his personal way of 'possessing' Miranda which has been called a symbolic or photographic rape, and a photographic violation of her integrity (15). It is also a kind of vengeance he takes on her because he wants to be superior to her and to control the situation at least once. It is his way of compensating a shameful experience.
2.7. Conclusion: parts 3 and 4 of the novel
Part 3 (cf. p. 263f)
Miranda has fallen ill. She wants him to see a doctor (the short form G.P. stands for "general practitioner", but also for the initials of Miranda's boy-friend and mentor, namely the painter George Paston). While she is in a delirium, Frederick does not manage to get the right medicine (penicillin) for her.
In the end he says he forgives her (cf. p.274)! What sin may she have committed against him? In his view she was intended to be his guest (cf. above); this is what Miranda could never understand. Of course, this is an ironical use of euphemism (16), a form of linguistic manipulation for what in reality is a most brutal act even if he did everything to please her and to spoil her. In his opinion, it was her who did not understand him, not the other way round. The problem seems to be that he does not understand himself. For a brief amount of time, Frederick thinks of a suicide pact (cf. p. 277), which turns out to be wishful thinking.
Part 4 (cf. p.281f)
Miranda is going to be replaced by Marian, i.e. the art student's role is to be fulfilled by a girl of less intelligence, by a shop assistant. Was this his mistake that he took a girl prisoner who turned out to be superior to him? Was the class conflict between Miranda and Frederick responsible for the human catastrophe? This is an unacceptable hypothesis, another futile attempt to justify himself, to belittle a crime.
In the end Frederick Clegg at least once confesses to being mad (p. 274; cf. above), and that is the reason why he plans his next move. He thus becomes a collector of girls who are meant to become his personal property. He is also unable to communicate, being too narcissistic to be able to maintain a warm relationship with somebody else: he is a cold-blooded monster feeling very much alone. He is interested in girls as far as their bodies are concerned, interested in watching his photos of them, but unable to have sex. Therefore Miranda's fate becomes a human tragedy, but at the same time Frederick Clegg is a very lonely and miserable figure.
In this context it is also possible to interpret the title: just as a collector uses a net to catch butterflies (17), Frederick uses chloroform in order to kidnap a young lady: obviously for him, this is no more vicious. Then Miranda is kept as a very valuable butterfly by him (cf. also part 2, p. 123 and p. 127). She is kept in the basement like the butterflies in a drawer, thus there are analogies between a human being and the insects: they are fellow victims (18). When she acts out the movement of butterflies in a charade, Frederick - being completely uncreative - is unable to guess what she means (cf. p. 83); this testifies to his lack of imagination and to the differences between the two. Miranda is given to creation, whereas Clegg is given to destruction (19). For Miranda the collectors are the worst animals (p. 123). For her collecting animals (and/or humans) means killing them: it is identical with anti-life. By planning to kidnap Marian he shows that in reality he has not learned anything (20): he still thinks that in order to overcome his solipsism he can capture human love and beauty in the same way he catches his insects.
So the message of the novel may be that you cannot buy neither love nor happiness. Frederick Clegg has got nothing but money whereas Miranda Grey has got everything but her freedom (21), and therefore she does not come to love her captor. The presents he buys for her may be a means of bribery, even some kind of emotional pressure, however, she does not yield to this temptation as nothing can compensate the loss of her personal freedom. Therefore she cannot be called ungrateful. The novel also shows that complexes and/or inhibitions and obsessions have a deforming influence on the human psyche, that as to the victim, these problems have an interpersonal or social dimension as well and that she does not have any chance of a self-determined life.
(2) Cf. Ansgar Nünning, op. cit., p. 138 and p. 141.
(3) In the following, page references to The Collector are given in brackets and are based on the 1998 Vintage edition.
(4) Cf. Robert Huffaker, John Fowles (Boston, 1980), p. 79.
(5) Cf. Peter Conradi, John Fowles (London and New York, 1982), p. 34.
(6) Cf. Ansgar Nünning, op. cit., p. 142f and p.156.
(7) Cf. William Shakespeare, The Tempest (1611). London: The Arden Shakespeare Paperbacks, 1964. In The Collector, there are quite a number of textual references to Shakespeare's play: cf. p. 39, p. 61, p. 66, p. 140, p. 245.
(8) Cf. Jerome D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951) (Penguin Books, 1971), pp. 101-103. Although Holden Caulfield, like Frederick Clegg, calls himself crazy or mad in the the text several times, his madness is basically different from that of Fowles's protagonist. Holden Caulfield, to be sure, is supposed to tell the events of the novel after recovering from a nervous breakdown. Yet he has a lot of common sense and a high degree of intuitive knowledge concerning human nature.
(9) Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958). London: W.H. Allen, 1975. This novel has also been recommended for instructional purposes by Liesel Hermes; cf. Peter Freese/Liesel Hermes (eds.), Der Roman im Englischunterricht der Sekundarstufe II. Theorie und Praxis (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2. Auflage, 1981), pp. 373-375.
(10) Cf. James R. Aubrey, John Fowles. A Reference Companion (Greenwood Press, 1994), p. 91.
(11) In The Collector, there are several references to some of Jane Austen's novels, e.g. p. 157, p. 213 and p. 218f.
(12) Cf. Mahmoud Salami, John Fowles's Fiction and the Poetics of Postmodernism (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1992), p. 63 and 67.
(13) Cf. Thomas C. Foster, Understanding John Fowles (University of South Carolina Press, 1994), p. 24.
(14) Cf. Barry N. Olshen, op. cit., p. 19.
(15) Cf. Hanspeter Buchholz, Die schöpferische Elite und ihre gesellschaftliche Verantwortung (Frankfurt/Main: Lang, 1986), p. 94. Cf. also Pamela Cooper, The Fictions of John Fowles. Power, Creativity, Femininity (University of Ottawa Press, 1991), p. 27 and Peter Conradi, op. cit., p. 36.
(16) Cf. Mahmoud Salami, op. cit., p. 53.
(17) As to the different butterflies mentioned in the novel cf. p. 16, p. 31, p. 54.
(18) Cf. Pamela Cooper, op. cit, p. 26.
(19) Cf. Katherine Tarbox, The Art of John Fowles (Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1988), p. 48.
(20) Cf. Thomas C. Foster, op.cit., p. 26.
(21) Cf. Barry N. Olshen, op. cit., p. 27.