“Frederick Clegg is a Failed Man”: Punishments in The Collector

John Fowles’ 1963 novel The Collector is a deeply disturbing, intensely psychological book based around the principles of beauty, power, control, and class. The story follows Fred Clegg through his capture and abuse of Miranda Grey, an attractive young art student from London. Fowles reveals Clegg as a damaged man who cannot sustain a relationship with another human. As a result of this damage to his psyche, Clegg blames Miranda for his issues, and he is abusive and manipulative towards her in a way that perhaps reveals more about his personality than he intends.

One crucial issue with Fred’s thinking is his concept of blame. He never admits to being at fault for the capture of Miranda, rather blaming the victim for his actions. He repeats this pattern whenever he does something unsavory to her, e.g. the two instances of ‘camera rape.’ This mentality reflects a common attitude among males at the time this novel was written, and indeed today. His method of shifting the blame is typified by the line on pg. 124, where he blames Miranda for her own death, saying “I was acting as if I killed her, but she died, after all.” He claims that her dying was her own fault, despite his denying her a doctor while she was clearly dying of pneumonia.

Clegg’s ability to form a proper sexual relationship with someone is in a similarly morbid state. When Miranda attempts to appeal to Clegg’s physical lust, she is greatly surprised by what she encounters. She finds that he is physically incapable of intercourse, which he claims is purely physiological, despite the clear psychological notes to his condition, and the way he views all things sexual as “dirty” and “nasty.” After Miranda has finished trying break Fred (mentally) through sex, Fred loses his respect for her, and goes on to actually say, “All I did later was because of that night.” Clegg’s concept of respect is a curious one, and he seems to believe that Miranda is different from other women. As he says at the start of the book, “She was not like some woman you don’t respect so you don’t care what you do.” This statement illustrates a belief within Clegg which is deeply flawed: the idea that if you don’t respect a woman you can do whatever you want to her. So it is this night when Miranda reveals herself to Clegg, lets him see her as a whole, when he loses respect for her. He punishes her for his misunderstanding of basic social rules, reflecting his misunderstanding of the class structure.

For Clegg, the unobtainable is infuriating, like a butterfly he cannot catch. Likewise, Miranda’s educated nature and cultured background are mocking jabs at his own social status, the distance between them apparently her fault, for being of a higher class than he is. When captor and captive talk eye-to-eye for the first time, on pg. 17, Clegg infers that one reason he makes the capture is because “you wouldn’t be seen dead with me in London.” This shows that he believes she will love him, in some weird Stockholm-syndrome way, because there is no-one to see her with him. Clegg’s statement implies that it is Miranda’s fault for being of a ‘higher breeding stock’ then Clegg, and that as a result she should suffer, so that he can be with her without the impediment of class boundaries. It is clear from the beginning of the novel that Fred Clegg is deranged, but the true proof of this comes when Miranda says, “oh god, you’re not a man, if only you were a man.” This goes some way to infuriating Clegg, and he then says “I had had enough, most men would have had it long before,” as if Miranda should be grateful he has not abused her to a greater degree. It seems that he believes that because Miranda is not grateful, she should be punished, as if not raping her is good of him. Clegg believes that Miranda, and likely women in general, should be thankful to men for all they do, and what they do not do. For Miranda’s waste of his time and effort, he believes he should punish her.

Frederick Clegg is a damaged man socially and psychologically, a dangerous individual with misguided ideas about society and life in general. His assumptions of class, the unobtainable, blame, and his failure to be sexually capable all feature in his slow and unhalting degradation of his captive. His capture and abuse of Miranda sees him apply his biases, opinions and pre-conceptions shamelessly, revealing aspects of his own personality which will ultimately serve to kill Miranda.