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“The Collector” by John Fowles deals with a man’s obsession with a woman that turns to kidnap and eventually death. What attracted me to this book was the unusual topic of obsession and intriguing title.
In my review I intend to study how the writer, John Fowles, portrays an obsessive personality – though Frederick’s actions, dialogue, and his changing relationship with his obsession Miranda.
The book is set around the two main characters of Frederick and the girl he is obsessed with Miranda and is mainly set in Sussex around the middle of the 20th century. His obsession with Miranda begins in his hometown where he merely watches her from afar but she then moves away to London to go to college so his obsession dies away. After winning the pools, however, his obsession takes a new turn. He moves to London, on the advice of the ‘pools people’, where he sees Miranda again and his obsession grows once more. Once in London he starts to develop a fantasy to capture Miranda but never really intends to act upon it until he come across a house that fits perfectly into his fantasy. The buying of this house then encourages him to carry out his fantasy and kidnap her.
This book is arranged in an unusual way. The first chapter is told from the view point of Frederick of the capturing and after the capture of Miranda. The second chapter is in diary form; this is told from Miranda’s point of view. In this she recounts people and events from before she was captured and also describes her escape attempts. This chapter is very good in letting us see how Miranda perceives the events that are happening to her and provides a contrast to Frederick. The third is back to Frederick’s point of view and is about Miranda’s illness, Frederick’s attempt to help her and his reactions. The fourth chapter is very short and is about Frederick finding Miranda’s diary, chapter two in the book, and realising that she never felt anything but resentment for him. It also introduces the idea that he may do it again for a comparison. Frederick, looking back on his experience with Miranda, tells the book in the form a dialogue with the reader.
The writer, Fowles, demonstrates Frederick’s obsessive personality through his actions. One of these is the way he marks down the viewing of Miranda in his diary.“In the evening I marked it in my observations diary, at first with X, and when I knew her name with M.”In this the writer is showing first that Frederick is organised to the point of obsession. He is also meticulous in his actions making sure that he never forgot a viewing of her.
Another event where Frederick’s obsessive and precise personality comes across to the reader very clearly is when Frederick is fitting the house out in preparation for Miranda’s kidnapping.“I worked for a month or more getting my plans ready. I was alone all the time; not having any real friend was lucky.”Fowles shows here that Frederick has a forward thinking, precise mind in the phrase ‘month or more getting the plans ready’. This shows he worked out the details of the house making sure everything was right. He also shows that Frederick is someone who is determined by the phrase ‘a month or more’. This shows that although it took a long time he still carried it through. Fowles mentions here that Frederick was alone for this time, as before this Frederick has made sure that he won’t be disturbed by people from the village by telling them, when they came to the door, to go away.
“Then the vicar came from the village came and I had to be rude with him. I said I was a Nonconformist, I wanted nothing to do with the village,”Here Fowles again shows Frederick’s determination to carry though his plans by making sure there were no disruptions to spoil his plans for Miranda.Another event where Fowles shows Frederick’s obsessive behaviour is shown is after Miranda is dead and he finds her diary. Fowles shows that Frederick meticulously measured Miranda to get the hole for the coffin and the coffin the right size for her.“(went down and got her in the box I had made and outside). I don’t think many could have done it. I did it scientific. I planned what had to be done and ignored my natural feelings.”Here Fowles once again shows Frederick’s attention to detail by using the words ‘scientific’ and ‘planned’ showing that it was a thought out process.Although Fowles uses Frederick’s actions to show his obsession he also uses the relationship between Frederick and Miranda. This relationship changes a number of times throughout the book.
At the start of the book the relationship between them is all in Frederick’s mind. This is the start of his obsession, he watches only from afar,“I used to see her everyday sometimes, because her house was right opposite the Town Hall…”The relationship changes once he wins the pools because he starts to fantasize about her and situations between her and Frederick,“I used to have daydreams about her, I used to think of stories where I met her, did things she admired, married her and all that”He then puts his fantasy to kidnap her into action.
Once she is kidnapped a new relationship is formed, Frederick still feels love for her but Miranda feels hatred and resentment for him,“She stood a moment, then she suddenly jumped and me across the face…. There was real hatred in her looks.”It is when Miranda first tries to escape that Frederick’s obsessive personality is shown through the relationship between them. After the first escape attempt Frederick is still convinced that he can make Miranda love and want him. He treats her as if he is a servant in a hotel and she is the guest; he thinks this is the way that she also feels but in fact he is in fact hiding the truth from himself that she in fact feels like a prisoner in a jail and he is the warden.“I want you to be my guest.‘Your guest!”The use of the explanation mark, by Fowles, at the end of this quotation shows Miranda’s disgust at the idea of her being his guest.
This does not stop him from trying to make her love him. He offers her his money and all else that is his. In return he wants her to act like the perfect wife that is in his fantasies. She refuses but Frederick is still convinced that he can make her love him, he asks her to marry him but Miranda takes advantage of Frederick’s vulnerability and hurt by attempting to escape again. Frederick is ready for the escape attempt and quickly controls her and gets her to her room. Once in the room Frederick is excited by the situation that is in front of him. While she is lying there knocked out due to the chloroform he takes pictures of her.“This was my chance I had been waiting for.”
This shows that Frederick had fantasised and wanted this to happen for a long while.Although Miranda has refused to marry him Frederick is still sure that he can make Mirada love him. However when Miranda tries to have sex with him in an attempt to escape, this pushes them further apart. Frederick realises that he can never make her love him and that she is not as special as he first thought;“she didn’t see how to love me in the right way. (as in his fantasies)…She was like all women, she had a one-track mind. I never respected her again.” At this point of the relationship they have a great deal of hatred towards each other. Frederick’s hatred arose because of Miranda’s disgust and constant abuse towards him but Miranda’s hatred has always been with her.“You’re not a human being. You’re just a dirty little masturbating worm.”
The relationship changes once more. Miranda becomes sick and Frederick then feels sorry for her and believes again that he can make her love him. However this obsession of wanting to make her love him stops him from helping her. This becomes a fatal mistake.“I know I could have gone to the village and phoned or got a doctor but for obvious reasons I never…”Along with actions and the changing relationship between Frederick and Miranda, the writer also uses dialogue to show the obsessive personality too. One place where Fowles uses dialogue effectively to demonstrate Frederick’s obsession is when he is comparing Miranda to the subject of his hobby, butterflies.
Throughout the book he makes many references to this comparing her beauty and her situation to them. One of these takes place just after an escape attempt,“It was like not having a net and catching a specimen you wanted in your first and second fingers … it wasn’t easy like it was with a killing-bottle. And it was twice as difficult with her, because I didn’t want to kill her, that was the last thing I wanted.”Fowles here is suggesting that Frederick’s obsession spawned from his love of his hobby, collecting butterflies. The significance of this to me is that Fowles may be using this to hint about the ending that Miranda will end up dead the same as his prize butterflies he is comparing her to.This is made clear in piece of dialogue that took place just before the escape attempt.“Aren’t you going to show me my fellow-victims?I pulled out one or two of the most attractive drawers.Did you buy them?Of course not, I (Frederick) said. All caught or bred by me and set and arranged by me.They’re beautifully done,”
The tone of the Miranda’s dialogue is sarcastic and joking. The ‘fellow-victims’ are the butterflies that he collects and is very proud of. This is shown by the repetition of the word ‘and’. Suggesting he spent a lot time on them. The joking use of ‘fellow-victims’ is ironic because at this point Miranda is still confident of escaping. However in fact she does end up like the butterflies.
Another important piece of dialogue showing Frederick’s obsessive personality was when Frederick is showing Miranda around the house. The reason why it is important is because it once again refers back to his hobby, butterflies.“She saw some old pictures of butterflies I bought in an antique shop. I chose them, I (Frederick) said.‘They’re the only decent things here.’ ”Fowles is once again comparing Miranda to the butterflies suggested by the ‘only decent things’ talking about the butterflies that in fact he is talking about Miranda in her surroundings of the cottage and in the company of Frederick.
In this book Fowles sets out to show the character of Frederick to have an obsessive personality and I think that he has succeeded in doing this. He manages to do this in the way that Frederick acts, what he says and though his relationship with his obsession, Miranda.
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