The Collector – Book Review

The Collector was the English author John Fowles’s 1963 debut novel which follows Frederick Clegg – an isolated young butterfly collector with limited social skills and intelligence. His one burning passion outside of his butterflies is Miranda, the young and beautiful art student who remains outside of his grasp due to his social ineptitude. However, when Clegg wins a great deal of money on the football pools, he is finally provided with his opportunity to capture Miranda, with the idea he will hold her captive until she gets to know and understand him and inevitably fall in love with him.

Fowles wrote later that he intended for the book to provide a commentary on the dangers of class and intellectual divides in a society where the majority was increasingly prosperous, and positions of power were gained by those intellectually unsuited to handle it. He further stated the Greek philosopher Heraclitus as one of his inspirations. Heraclitus saw humanity as divided into two main parts, the first being ‘the good’ – those who were intellectually and morally superior, although not necessarily of high birth. Then the second, known as ‘the many’ – the unthinking, conforming majority. He wrote: “I tried to establish the virtual innocence of the many. Miranda, the girl he [Clegg] imprisoned, had very little more control than Clegg over what she was: she had well-to-do parents, a good educational opportunity, inherited aptitude and intelligence. That does not mean that she was perfect. Far from it – she was arrogant in her ideas, a prig, a liberal-humanist snob, like so many university students.”

The message of the novel is one that comes through strongly through his writing and through the vivid and well-developed (if not always likeable) characters. The book is broken down into sections, first told from the perspective of Clegg, then including diary entries from Miranda during her time as his ‘guest’. Fowles writes with extraordinary imagination and skill from the perspective of both Clegg and Miranda, as both characters develop and their thought processes (an extremely key part of the plot which is extremely necessary to understanding both the characters and the message) become clear. I thoroughly enjoyed the thought-provoking and gripping novel, and would unreservedly recommend it as entirely worth reading.