The Collector by John Fowles has cropped up a few times in the current Facebook ‘list 10 books that have stuck in your mind’ thing, so I thought I’d post the essay I wrote on it for the Crossing Genre Boundaries module in the second year at university. *Just* missed getting a 1st for this essay – the tutor said I should have referenced more. I referenced the shit out of everything in my third year.
Warning: Massive spoiler. (I said ‘spoiler’, not ‘spider’, calm down.)
How effectively do the writers you have studied present social difference/class anxiety?
This essay will analyse and discuss how the social and class differences between the characters are effectively presented in ‘The Collector’ by John Fowles. ‘The Collector’ is a novel based around the relationship between Frederick Clegg and Miranda Grey. Frederick is obsessed with Miranda, seeing her as a rare, beautiful butterfly and kidnaps her, believing that once she gets to know him, she will fall in love with him.
The novel is written in four parts; the first, third and fourth parts are narrated in the first person from Frederick’s point of view, with the second part also being told in the first person but from Miranda’s point of view and in the form of a diary. With the novel being set out in this way, the reader gets an insight into the mind of each individual character; we can see everything through their eyes and know their thoughts and feelings.
This essay will primarily focus on each of the character’s social class (including background, upbringing, education, vocabulary and occupation) and how the social classes are different between the two characters. It will also discuss and analyse how the format of the novel (being told from the two characters’ own points of view) illustrates these differences in an effective way.
We can see from the beginning of the novel that Miranda is from a middle-class background when Frederick says: “When she was home from her boarding-school I used to see her almost every day sometimes …” (Fowles 9). Boarding-schools were (as they are today) not used frequently by the working-class as they were costly to attend and only the wealthy could afford to send their children to them unless the parents had saved up to send their children to boarding-school, but this would still be beyond the means of most working-class people.
We do not know at this point know that Frederick feels inferior but as he mentions with regard to Miranda’s parents that her father is a doctor: “The year she was still at school I didn’t know who she was, only how her father was Doctor Grey …” (Fowles 9) and says with regard to Miranda’s mother: “I heard her mother speak once in a shop, she had a la-di-da voice …” (Fowles 10) we get the feeling that Frederick feels they are of a higher social class than him. Frederick comments on ‘la-di-da’ voices quite often throughout the novel, suggesting that he feels people often put on airs and graces. As we can see from his comment regarding Miranda: “I can’t say what was special in her voice. Of course it was very educated, but it wasn’t la-di-da …” (Fowles 18), we can tell Frederick feels there is a difference between being educated and ‘having airs and graces’.
Miranda lives in Hampstead – an affluent London suburb – with her parents. Frederick’s aunt brought him up after a car accident killed his father: “My father was killed driving. I was two” (Fowles 11), shortly after which his mother left: “… she went off soon after …” (Fowles 11). Being brought up by relatives other than his biological parents could make Frederick feel different to other people who had been brought up in the more traditional nuclear family.
The first part of the book – because it is narrated by Frederick – uses a straightforward vocabulary to reflect his personality and status; there are no fancy words and phrases, unlike the second part which is narrated by Miranda in a diary format. For example, Miranda uses phrases such as: “It’s all the vile unspeakable things …”, “Hateful primitive wash-stand and place”, “I can’t stand the absolute darkness” (Fowles 118, 119). A less educated person would use language that was less flowery and this is a good example of how the crossed genres of the novel (straight narrative from one character’s point of view and the narrative in diary form from another character’s point of view) presents the differences in the characters in an effective way.
This genre-crossing device further emphasises the differences in their backgrounds when we get the same events narrated through their own particular voices, commenting on the same incident. For example, after Frederick has bought and furnished the house with the money he won playing the football pools, Miranda derides his choice of decor: “A lovely old house really, done up in the most excruciating women’s magazine ‘good taste’. Ghastliest colour-clashes, mix-up of furniture styles, bits of suburban fuss, phoney antiques, awful brass ornaments” (Fowles 125) and criticises his choice of paintings: “You wouldn’t believe me if I described the awfulness of the pictures” (Fowles 125). However, Frederick believed that because they cost a lot of money: “They cost enough” (Fowles 52) this meant that they must be of a high quality and standard. We also have a similar comparison with the clothes that Frederick has bought Miranda. He puts a lot of thought into it: “I bought a lot of clothes for her at a store in London … I saw an assistant just her size and I gave her the colours I always saw Miranda wear” (Fowles 24) and spends a lot of money on them: “I paid out nearly ninety pounds that morning” (Fowles 25) (ninety pounds in 1960 would be the equivalent of over one thousand five hundred pounds in today’s money (This is Money website)). Miranda, however, as we can see from her diary, does not like the clothes Frederick has bought for her: “… wearing the least horrid of the shirts he’d bought for me” (Fowles 126).
As well as the football pools being a hobby more likely to be undertaken by working-class people rather than middle-class, Frederick’s feelings of being outside society are also reflected in the way in which he played the football pools, as he played the football pools on his own, rather than joining in with the work syndicate as we can see from: “Old Tom and Crutchley, who were in Rates with me, and some of the girls clubbed together and did a big one and they were always going at me to join in, but I stayed the lone wolf” (Fowles 12).
The difference in Miranda’s and Frederick’s education is emphasised in the novel by how we are shown that Miranda is well-read, by the mentions of classic novels in her diary, for example: “I have marked the days on the side of the screen, like Robinson Crusoe” (Fowles 151) and by dropping references into conversation: “So your aunt took you over. Yes. Like Mrs Joe and Pip. Who?” (Fowles 183), and by deriding him for not having any books in the house except for his butterfly books and the art books he has bought for her: “There aren’t any books … You can jolly well read The Catcher in the Rye. I’ve almost finished it” (Fowles 148). Miranda at one point compares Frederick to Holden Caulfield, the main character in ‘The Catcher in the Rye’: “You’re a Holden Caulfield. He doesn’t fit anywhere and you don’t” (Fowles 205).
There are further literary references throughout the book, especially ‘The Tempest’ by William Shakespeare, which is alluded to throughout. In ‘The Tempest’ there are characters called Miranda, Ferdinand and Caliban. Miranda – as we already know – is one of the main characters in ‘The Collector’. Ferdinand is what Frederick tells Miranda his real name is, as to him it sounds more distinguished: “She wasn’t to know F stood for Frederick. I’ve always liked Ferdinand … There’s something foreign and distinguished about it” (Fowles 39). In ‘The Tempest’, Ferdinand and Miranda are lovers and as Frederick’s/Ferdinand’s behaviour is anything but lovely, Miranda decides to call him Caliban – a beast/monster in ‘The Tempest’ who tries to rape Miranda (Frederick does not rape Miranda in ‘The Collector’ but he does at one point in the book tie her up and take photographs of her semi-naked).
Although the name Caliban is the only reference to ‘The Tempest’ Miranda explicitly makes, the themes throughout ‘The Collector’ are clear. Despite Frederick telling Miranda his name is Ferdinand and believing he is in love with her: “I love you. It’s driven me mad” (Fowles 37), because he is not well read, Frederick does not make the Ferdinand/Caliban connection and does not even question why Miranda is calling him this: “… sometimes she would call me Caliban, sometimes Ferdinand” (Fowles 66).
As well as Miranda’s distaste for Frederick’s taste in clothes and decor and his lack of literary knowledge, she also looks down on him for his apparent lack of art appreciation. Miranda drew a bowl of fruit several times and showed them to Frederick: “Another day she drew a bowl of fruit. She drew them about ten times, and … asked me to pick the best” (Fowles 60). Frederick displayed his lack of knowledge by choosing the one that looked the most realistic. Miranda looked down on him for doing so as we can see from her dialogue in the part of the novel from Frederick’s point of view: “That’s the worst. That’s a clever little art student’s picture” (Fowles 60) and also from Miranda’s point of view in her diary: “Of course he picked all those that looked most like the wretched bowl of fruit” (Fowles 132). Miranda, although an art student, also gets her views on art from a friend of hers – George Paston (that she calls G.P.). G.P. is older than her and she looks up to and admires him. When Miranda tells Frederick that he does not know what good art is, she is merely making herself sound knowledgeable by repeating what she has learnt from G.P. (who does not think much of her artistic skills), for example when she recalls: “He came and stood beside me and picked out one of the new abstracts I’d done at home … You’re using a camera … You’re photographing here. That’s all” (Fowles 159).
Although not as well educated as Miranda, Frederick is not unintelligent but he does lack a certain social awareness. For example, throughout the novel, Frederick calls Miranda his guest. A guest is someone that you invite into your home – not someone you render unconscious with chloroform, bundle into the back of a van and lock in a cellar.
Throughout the novel, although Frederick kidnapped Miranda and holds her against her will and this would usually give him the upper hand, because Frederick believes he is in love with Miranda, he does anything she asks (except for setting her free). In the end, however, Frederick has the ultimate power when Miranda gets ill and Frederick leaves her to die, instead of getting her help.
Despite Frederick saying: “Of course I shall never have a guest again …” (Fowles 282), it does not take long for another girl to catch his eye as a possible future guest: “Still as a matter of interest I have since been looking into the problems there would be with the girl in Woolworths” (Fowles 282). He admits that he made a mistake setting his sights on Miranda as she was of a higher social class than he: “… she’s only an ordinary common shop-girl, but that was my mistake before, aiming too high” (Fowles 282) and so if he were to have a new guest, it would be someone who would respect him and who would learn from him, instead of the other way round as it was between Frederick and Miranda: “I ought to have got someone who would respect me more. Someone ordinary I could teach” (Fowles 282). This is a conclusion he comes to after he has read Miranda’s diary and finds out that she never really loved him and felt superior to him.
This essay set out to analyse and discuss the social and class differences between Miranda and Frederick, by discussing how the novel portrays their backgrounds, the language they use, their jobs and education. It also set out to discuss how the format of the novel – being written in both characters’ points of view (one as a straight narrative and one in a diary format) presented these differences in an effective way.