John Fowles’s “The collector” book review by Izabela Daržinkevič

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“I think we are just insects, we live a bit and then die and that’s the lot. There’s no mercy in things. There’s not even a Great Beyond. There’s nothing.” (J.Fowles)

UtopiaNowadays, people spend a lot of time looking for the answer who we are and what is the main aim of our life. A few years ago I have also started thinking about who I am and why I am living. I found a lot of different articles and movies, but recently I’ve realized that the best way to answer all these questions is reading books. Of course, not all books are fit for this purpose. Existential and psychological novels are the best books that can help to explain many difficult spiritual things. I have read several books which changed my way of thinking, books like “Utopia” by Thomas More, ”The Master and Margaret” by Michail Bulgakov and a few other, but one book has become a mystery to me – it is “The Collector” by John Fowles. I am still trying to understand what the main topic of this novel is, but every time I start thinking about it, I have many different questions and there’s always something that I cannot explain.

“The collector” was written by an English novelist of international stature John Robert Fowles and it was his first novel that became very popular. A few years after publishing (1963) the book, a featured film with the same title was created. On one hand, it seems that “The collector” is a tragic love story, but on the other hand, it’s something more than that. As I said before, this novel is full of various topics and perspectives. It is about love and relations, happiness and sadness, domestication and about some of us – poor people who are still looking for something good for our soul. This whole inner world is presented only by relations between the two main characters Frederick and Miranda.

The author presents two very different people. Frederick Clegg is a young lonely man who collects butterflies in his spare time. Miranda Grey is a middle-class art student at the Slade School of Fine Arts. Frederick is obsessed with Miranda, he likes her looks, but he does not realize what is happening in her mind. The lack of social skills prevents him from talking to her, but he dreams how he is going to meet her and marry one day. His dream comes true, but only partially. Frederick wins a large money prize and hopes that Miranda will love him at least for his money. He decides to buy an old isolated house in the countryside, arranges everything for his guest and kidnaps Miranda. Further, the author presents a fight between two main characters. There are a lot of external and internal conflicts. All that happens next is self-knowledge in a very uncharacteristic way even for extreme situations.

John Fowles uses two perspectives to tell his story. One part is presented from Frederick’s point of view and the other part is presented in a way of reading Miranda’s diary. This way, the author shows much more details for his readers and creates a very gloomy atmosphere. “While being a guest” Miranda analyzes her whole life. Of course, she tries to get out of her cell, but she is not strong enough to physically fight with Frederick. She understands that freedom is the most important value in life. butterflyMiranda remembers her family and friends, but a big part of her memories is occupied by a man named G.P. Finally, she realizes that she would like to get married with G.P. and continue her artworks. At the same time, Frederick hopes that one day Miranda is going to love him because she is the aim of his life. He tries to be a nice and person, but the lack of social skills and education prevents him of normal conversations with Miranda. Frederick has a very big disadvantage it is his selfishness interlaced with fear. On one hand, Frederick has reached his goal – he has Miranda very near and nobody, as it seems, can destroy his beautiful life. But on the other hand, the result did not meet his expectations. J. Fowles says “We all want things we can’t have. Being a decent human being is accepting that.” When a person, in this case Frederick, dreams about Miranda for a long time he feels happy about his dreams, but when Miranda becomes a real person – someone he can touch or talk with – Frederick loses his interest, loses his aim and now he has to look for something new. At the end of the story, after Miranda‘s death, he realizes that he has found his cruel „vocation“ – to collect not only butterflies but also young beautiful girls.

When I have finished reading this book I tried to imagine what my reaction and behavior would be if I were in Miranda‘s place. Also, I tried to understand and even justify Frederick‘s behavior, but it was really hard. For one moment I even thought that Miranda was to blame for some of Frederic‘s actions. I cannot say that this book has revealed the purpose to my life, but I have found two main thoughts which are very useful. The first, is that we should reduce our level of selfishness and try to live as if today is the last day of our lives because one can never know what can happen next. The second, is that all our goals are like butterflies – we need a lot of time to catch them, and we can never know what the result will be. Some people are like Frederick – they collect small and large butterflies and hide them for the future so that later they could boast about the wonderful collection and have a hope that the biggest and the most beautiful butterfly that can satisfy all the expectations is captured.

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