The Collector - John Fowles : style analysis
June 21, 1989

"Comment on the structure and style of the novel. How successful is the novel as "entertainment"?"

The Collector is a rather curious book, in that it contains two parts which tell exactly the same story. Yet, it is interesting to read; this is because of what the book is about, and the way the two parts complement each other into providing a balanced overall picture. The parts, considered as a whole, make a very interesting, and thought provoking, book.

There is also a third part, in which the reader finds out what happens to Miranda and what Fred does after her death. However, this part is purely informative, and does not contribute or alter the meaning of the other two parts, and since the first two are both much more significant, I'll leave out the third part for the moment.

The first part, written by the character Fowles calls Frederick Clegg, tells the reader, in his stunted, tangled English, what happened, how, and when. It is all very matter-of- fact and there is very little personal comment within it. It is almost like a newspaper article in that it is so neutral.

The second part, by Miranda Grey, is very informative, and actually contains more about her feelings and thoughts than it does about what is happening to her. There is a great deal of personal insights in the second part, and consequently we get to know Miranda rather well.

The two parts work together to make up the book. In part I, we learn the "whys and wherefores", and in Part II, we discover the background, and the emotions, behind the facts. Fred gives the facts, and Miranda gives the feelings.

Fowles pitches the two people (and parts) against one another in our minds. We read one account, and then the other. Are we to believe that everything was as staid and laid out as Fred depicts it, or are we to believe that Miranda was feeling emotion, as SHE depicts it? The two parts present both sides of the story, and the reader comes up with a mixed up version, one that contains all the facts and most of the emotion. Neither of the parts on the book are correct, but they are not incorrect either, they are just incomplete. It is the reader, and ONLY the reader, that gets to see the whole picture, and it is this that makes the parts so effective; with the full story, we can make decisions and judgements that the characters themselves cannot make. So the purpose of the two parts is to let the reader come to conclusions about the characters, without being influenced by the entire story being written from one viewpoint, and they are very successful in doing so.

Considering the structure of each part, the form of each, and the significance of this, stands out. Part I - Fred's part - is written in retrospective first person, meaning that he is relating what happened in the story to us (the readers) directly, and in arrears. It is virtually devoid of all emotion, and presents the world as a drab place where things happen. This form is less personal and, because of its lack of emotions, thoughts and feelings, it is more "removed" from us than ever. When we get to know Fred properly, we realise that his personality is rather similar to this. For example, he is rather emotionless most of the time, and he is definitely removed from everybody else. So, the structure and style of his part mirror his personality, and in doing so they underline, emphasise, the way he is.

Miranda's part, on the other hand, is full of references to herself, she shares her emotions with us, she talks about her past and her friends without shame or inhibition. It is written in immediate first person, that is, she writes it as it happens. It is also a diary, which is why she writes what she does - in a diary, you can write what you want, you can express yourself fully and without fear of embarrassing yourself, because you don't expect anyone else to read it. In this way we get to know Miranda intimately, and because of this we can feel much more sympathy for her than we can feel for Fred. This personal knowledge also makes us trust Miranda's views more than Fred's. The structure of Miranda's part, rather than emphasising her personality, lets us SEE her personality, and, through this, understand her. The only thing we know about Fred's personality is that he doesn't have one, and we can't really understand him because he never talks about himself. And through understanding comes trust and sympathy.

Parts III and IV of the book are there to tie off any loose ends and wrap up the plot. We discover what happens to Miranda, and what Fred does (or doesn't!) do about it, and then how Fred puts it all behind him and starts again. (note that there is no mention of his feelings towards Miranda's horrible death). In Part III there are quite a few paragraphs where Fred is reflecting, and we start to think that he has learnt his lesson and is actually regretting what has happened. He is shoeing some emotion and this is a breakthrough in itself. However, the part ends, and the opening line of the next shatters all hopes - "As is happened, things turned out rather different". Part IV is where we discover that Fred will never change, that he is a "lost cause"; he hasn't learnt anything from his experience with Miranda, nothing at all. Because of this, we end up hating him.

The Collector is successful at entertaining its readers. There are several reasons for this, most of them revolving around what actually happens in the story.

First off, it has an interesting plot, and we are hooked from page one to discover what Fred does; he seems so WEIRD at the start (and doesn't change!). After getting into the plot further, and discovering some of Fred's background, we become intrigued with him, because he is so different. His values, thoughts and ideas are so radical that is is very unlikely that a reader will have come across them before, and because of this we are interested to find out what happens to him. We want to see how he turns out.

The Collector also contains elements of a Thriller novel, and these elements appeal to the reader's morbidity; what will the menacing villain do to the beautiful innocent victim? What will ultimately happen to the victim? Will the villain get caught? This sort of question is asked by both the reader and the novel itself throughout, and it is these that contribute to the story's entertaining capability.

Entertainment is further heightened by the form of Miranda's part. It is almost like "The Diary of Anne Frank" in that it is a first-hand account describing an event, as it happens, where it happens, by someone in the middle of it. This sort of writing is spectacular because of its immediacy.

On top of all of this, it is written in such a way as to entice the reader to read further - there is mini-crisis after mini-crisis, all leading up to the final climax. The reader just gets one over with, and likes it, and decided to read a little more... they get hooked into THAT "little high point". It is compelling. This is also an element, or rather a feature, of the thriller genre.

In summary, The Collector has been deliberately structured to contrast the characters, to expose their traits, faults and favourable characteristics fully. Fowles puts the two side by side, and lets the reader play them off against one another, to draw their own conclusions and come to their own opinions. This results in a balanced "weighing up" of the story, which in turn lets the reader appreciate the whole work. The structure emphasises those points that need to be emphasised (like Fred's lack of emotion, or Miranda's "human-ness") but also provides a measuring stick for the reader to use against the item being emphasised. In this way, the power of the novel is exposed, but only as far as the reader wants to take it.

The Collector is also of considerable entertainment quality. One of the reasons for this is that we want to see what happens to Fred, we want to see how he grows, matures, turns out. And when he kidnaps Miranda, we want to see what happens to her. The form of Miranda's section is enticing; (apart from getting read someone else's diary!) we find the immediacy stimulating. And finally, the series of crises make the book compelling, because on thing happens after another and the climax starts to rise - what will happen? This is a principal part of the book's entertainment value, and makes is successful in entertaining its readers.