Villainy, Earnestness

. . . she made me feel all clumsy and awkward. I had the same feeling I did when I watched an imago emerge, and then to have to kill it. I mean, the beauty confuses you, you don’t know what you want to do any more, what you should do.

This — The Collector by John Fowles — has got to be one of the strangest, most discomfiting love stories I’ve ever read. Frederick Clegg wants, quite simply, to have Miranda, object of his gaze-from-afar, for his own. And so he kidnaps her.

What [Miranda] never understood was that with me it was having. Having her was enough. Nothing needed doing. I just wanted to have her, and safe at last.

And I believe Clegg, I’m drawn by his earnestness, by the skewed purity of his intentions. I have the fuzzies for Fred, good lord. I rationalize: People love in different ways. What can we do if kidnapping is how Frederick finally expresses his ardor for young Miranda? And the kidnapping isn’t your usual shtick—though, yes, he prepares extensively for her “stay,” buying a remote cottage, outfitting it with a virtual dungeon, one with all the necessities and whatever luxuries Miranda may ask for [novels, art books, dresses, caviar]. He loves her. But he wants to keep her. No harm here, no run-of-the-mill violations for our Frederick, oh no. He’s collected his beloved, not unlike his drawers upon drawers of pinned butterflies.

Moreover, this doesn’t, for example, ring like the hollow captivity of Room — this is something far more disquieting and, thus, more sinister in its volatility.

But what have I done? [Clegg] asked.
“Nothing. That’s why I’m frightened.”
I don’t understand.
She looked down.
“I’m waiting for you to do something.”

With the reader, you want to believe that as strange as the relationship is between the captor and his captive — he provides, he serves; Miranda is treated like a queen, only one not allowed to leave — something’s got to give. Something in Clegg will shatter. It’s inevitable, the narrative makes this so. As Miranda herself tells Clegg [or, as she calls him, Caliban], in different ways: “What I fear in you is something you don’t know is in you.” And over time, that’s what we fear too. No matter how badly you want to hold on to it, gone is the predominant image of the fumbling Clegg.

I think Fowles does a wonderful job not only making the usual villain sympathetic — isn’t that an easier thing to do, in today’s cliché-ridden bookshelves? — but he’s making us doubt Clegg’s very villainy. That even as we sometimes scorn Miranda for behaving the way any kidnap victim would, we’re hoping she doesn’t go too far, that she doesn’t hurt Clegg’s feelings — that she won’t, ultimately, be the cause of her captor’s turning. Because for all Clegg’s strangeness, his odd way of loving, we believe in his love for Miranda, we believe that he simply can’t love the “right” way.

And, another thing that makes this book so creepily odd: The too-many times I thought, “Well, Miranda, just stay and love him back, won’t you?” Brr.

I received my copy of The Collector [PhP595] from National Bookstore! I saw a few at the Cubao branch the last time I locked myself in thar.

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8 comments

  1. Good heavens! That book sounds really disturbing. D:

    (reposting to correct a silly typo)

    1. Not least because I really liked Clegg!

  2. “I think Fowles does a wonderful job not only making the usual villain sympathetic — isn’t that an easier thing to do, in today’s cliché-ridden bookshelves? — but he’s making us doubt Clegg’s very villainy.”

    I think that quote – more than the creepy intrigue of such a very, very disturbing premise – really makes me want to read this. I have always liked books where the reader actually likes the villain, but these days I feel like it’s done a little sloppier. That villainous doubt… that’s what makes me suspect this will indeed be a very interesting read.

    1. The doubt I have of Clegg’s villainy is very fundamental — it’s more than, as you say, really liking the kidnapper [sympathy in cheap tricks, sometimes], but wondering if Clegg just loves in a really flawed manner. So alongside me cheering for Clegg, I’d also been giving little nudges to Miranda to be real friends with him. Which is quite disquieting for me, haha.

  3. I’ve been wanting to read this after finishing The Magus. Not sure when I’ll get around to it though, but thanks for reviewing!

    1. Thanks for stopping by. :} Strangely enough, well, I’m faltering at reading The Magus because it seems like such a huge commitment I’m not ready for just yet, haha.

  4. […] The Collector, by John Fowles. […]

  5. Okay I’m late to this thread. Helloooo.

    I found this book in high school (or late grade school, can’t remember) in a box filled with my mother’s old books. I practically devoured it.

    I found Miranda’s journal entries more disturbing than Fred, I have to say.

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