MY CHARACTER THIS WEEK: Frederick Clegg
Frederick Clegg is a character in John Fowles’s novel The Collector. I like this character because, honestly, Frederick is the best written creep in literature.
He is a loner with no social skills who suddenly becomes rich and buys a solitary house in the country. His one interest is his hobby of collecting butterflies. But one day, he sees a young and beautiful art student, Miranda, who becomes an object of his interest and love. Frederick, not knowing how else to have her, kidnaps Miranda because this man with low self-esteem managed to convince himself that he could never have a woman like Miranda any other way. He has no sexual interest in Miranda; in fact, this is the farthest thing on his mind. He things that sex is an animalistic things and he’s just not like that. He even says,
“If more people were like me, in my opinion, the world would be better.”
He just wants to keep the beautiful woman and love her. The thing is that his beautiful butterflies are dead and don’t talk back, whereas a living beautiful creature is something else and Frederick has to learn to deal with Miranda as a living beautiful thing.
Miranda often compares him to Caliban from Shakespeare’s Tempest because he is hopelessly obsessed with her. He gives Miranda everything she wants, absolutely everything, apart from the one and only things that she wants from him: freedom. At first, Frederick even introduces himself to Miranda in Ferdinand, who wins Miranda’s love in Tempest. The thing is, Frederick only thinks he loves Miranda. He is fascinated by this big human butterfly, but he often forgets that she is a woman. He is a true collector in his mind, not a man in love.
At one point, Miranda describes him like this:
“He is solid; immovable, iron-willed. He showed me one day his killing bottle. I'm imprisoned in it. Fluttering against the glass. Because I can see through it I still think I can escape. I have hope. But it's all an illusion. A thick round wall of glass.”
Another quote by Miranda also says a lot about Frederick.
“I am one in row of specimens. It’s when I try to flutter out of line that he hates me. I’m meant to be dead, pinned, always the same, always beautiful. He knows that part of my beauty is being alive, but it’s the dead me he wants. He wants me living – but dead.”
For Frederick, butterflies don’t have feelings, they’re just meant to be beautiful and to please him, the collector, but Miranda has feelings and he did not see this coming, which shows how he really lacks every social skill there is. He is angry with her when she talks back, but loves to watch her when she’s sleeping and silent, for example.
On the one hand, he is a sympathetic character because he is just so lost and convinced that the only way he can have anything in his life is to collect it or buy it, and so he “collects” Miranda. But on the other hand, he is also very creepy, silent and brooding, doesn’t say much, but when he does, he keeps you hooked.
He doesn’t really distinguish between right and wrong (although he appears to be very intelligent), which shows in the fact that he kidnapped a person. He has feelings, definitely, but they are not oriented in the right direction. For example, after kidnapping Miranda, he says,
“I can only say that evening I was very happy ... and it was more like I had done something very daring, like climbing Everest or doing something in enemy territory. My feelings were very happy because my intentions were of the best. It was what she never understood.”
“To sum up, that night was the best thing I ever did in my life…”
Clearly, he doesn’t think he committed a crime, which is proof enough he can’t distinguish between right and wrong. On top of it all, he considers Miranda to be his guest, not his victim.
It is easy to say that he is a complex, intriguing character.