top of page

The Collector (1963)

     by John Fowles

Back in the day, I didn't grade this book because I wasn't sure, after reading it, that it was actually a Phantom-inspired novel. While it shares a big old heap of the same setup and themes, the author had addressed the idea slightly in one of his commentaries and claimed that it was intentionally crafted for his own commentary rather than following in the shoes of Leroux's. However, it covers so much of the same territory and does so so brilliantly that I reviewed it anyway, and after more consideration, I'm not sure I really believe Fowles, to be honest. Either way, I'd happily point anyone who enjoys Leroux's story toward Fowles' with a glad heart.

Part 1:

The novel opens with a quote from La Chatelaine de Vergi, a lovely medieval French romance about a knight and his forbidden lady love. I, too, am in love, pretty much instantly. The line "Que fors aus ne le sot riens nee" translates roughly to "And no one knew but them", referring to the hidden romance between the main characters. That this should chill the reader down to the marrow of his or her bones is not readily apparent yet, but it certainly will be later.

There are a great number of parallels between this story and Leroux's, though not always in expected ways. The main character is Frederick, a lonely lower-class accountant and amateur entomologist who sees the lovely Miranda, an art student, from afar and becomes obsessed with her. The parallel to Erik's obsession with Christine is clear, as are the similarities in description between Christine and Miranda (blonde, blue-eyed, pure and innocent, delicate, etc). Other areas are obviously less related, such as the fact that Frederick does not attempt to set up any kind of mentor relationship with Miranda, instead merely watching her and daydreaming about her from his office building across the street.

Frederick himself is a terrifying character, which again is not immediately apparent at the beginning of the book. Fowles uses style as a clue, delivering all of the narration for Part One in a stilted, halting, and unembellished fashion that mirrors Frederick's own lack of grace and imagination. The only thing that he ever appears passionate about is his hobby; he collects butterflies and goes to great lengths to capture especially impressive specimens or rare mutations. Using the word "passionate" to describe him is not really accurate even in this context; passion is a very foreign emotion to this character, who spends the majority of the novel grasping after it or believing he is experiencing it while being very demonstrably detached from true emotional involvement. Frederick is quite simply incapable of really understanding or having any empathy for other people as having emotions similar to his own, but he understands society well enough that he attempts to respond appropriately anyway and in no way ever realizes that his outlook is out of the ordinary.

Frederick's obsession with Miranda is initially fairly innocent; he enjoys watching her, daydreams about one day meeting her and even about living together in a house, where he constructs sunny scenarios of himself collecting butterflies while she paints them in brilliant color. The only moment that hints at a darker undercurrent occurs when he sees her begin going out on the town with a young man and his fantasies occasionally turn more violent, involving her begging him for forgiveness or even including occasional violence against her. The parallel to Erik's sudden turn off the deep end after the introduction of Raoul is also notable.

It becomes clear that Frederick is not a normal dude throughout the first part of the novel, but since it is told from his point of view and Fowles is a master of subtle prose, it occurs in a sort of slow-motion creeping that eventually forces the reader to confront the uncomfortable feeling of something being wrong. Numerous asides that make no sense to us yet occur, usually involving Frederick claiming (whether in desperation or flatline matter-of-factness is open to interpretation, as the intentionally blank prose provides few clues) that he never planned things to happen the way they did or that nothing that went wrong was his fault. A lengthy interlude also establishes that he considers himself asexual and disdains the "crudity" of humanity's mating urge; his only sexual experience is a failed encounter with a sex worker, which he ends almost before it begins out of repulsion (it's hard to tell if he's repulsed by the idea of the sex act, or by the sex worker herself). Despite this and his frequently-expressed disgust for "deviancy", Frederick purchases a lot of pornography; his obsession with photographs (and, representationally, life distilled into perfect stillness) will be a major running theme. It's clear that Fowles means Frederick's asexuality to describe him as in some way incapable of relating to other human beings "normally", which is not surprising since this book was written in the early 1960s but is still disappointing.


A much less subtle clue to his status as social outsider is his outright statement that he thinks that Mabel - his wheelchair-bound cousin, with whom he has been brought up as siblings - should be "put down" painlessly, a belief he applies to all disabled people in order to save them and their families needless difficulty. The fact that Mabel's disability makes him uncomfortable is the driving motivator; there is not even a whisper of empathy or even recognization of the emotions or challenges that she must face because of it.

Another major theme, one that is key both for this novel and in Leroux's, is that of class lines and social striation. Frederick is very blatantly from a lower social class than many other characters in the novel, a fact betrayed occasionally by his style of speech but more frequently by his own antagonistic musings against the higher classes and their "airs" and "affectations". His deep, almost instinctive resentment of the higher classes is only intensified when he wins a large amount of prize money; not only is he predisposed to hate them because of his less than privileged upbringing, but he immediately senses and resents the fact that being "new money" does not automatically cause the "old money" to accept him as one of their own. One of the major things that attracts him to Miranda in the first place is that, despite her being born into a more privileged class, she displays very little affectation and seems to ignore the social lines he is so adamant about delineating; whether or not this is true or merely a facet added by his admiration of her is impossible to tell, since he seldom gives meaningful examples and Miranda herself has no place in his narrative. Frederick is the very epitome of an unreliable narrator, and the longer his drawn-out introduction goes on, slowly revealing his distressing detachment and intensifying the foreshadowing that something terrible is going to happen at the end of the story, the more skin-crawling he becomes for the reader.

Frederick's fantasies grow slowly more involved, in some casting him in the role of a hero rescuing her from some antagonist so that she falls in immediate gratitude-motivated love with him; from there, he makes a sudden leap to kidnapping her, though he never uses such ugly words to describe it to himself (as the constant reiteration of "it wasn't my fault" and "I didn't plan it" highlight, Frederick is a master of denial and never allows anything that might make him question himself to stick for long). He describes it instead as keeping her at his house "in a nice way", in the hopes that she will eventually choose to marry him. For those familiar with the Phantom story, his explanation of his motives rings eerily familiar:

"I thought, I can't ever get to know her in the ordinary way, but if she's with me, she'll see my good points, she'll understand. There was always the idea that she would understand."

Frederick has no physical deformity, but he understands society well enough to know that he isn't considered especially attractive and that he seldom has any success attempting to interact socially with others. Without the deformity, a physical and concrete motivator for shutting himself off from others, Frederick does so out of choice in order to avoid their ridicule (often exemplified by a co-worker who makes fun of his weekend "dates" with butterflies instead of girls). Even this bears close resemblance to Erik's withdrawal, however; both characters consider themselves to be every bit as human and deserving as the rest of their society - in many ways superior, in fact - but choose to wall themselves off from it and focus on their disenfranchisement rather than deal with a world that does not appreciate them. Of course, in Erik's case, a very visible disability that causes others to mistreat him is a pretty strong motivator for avoiding people; in Frederick's, the complaint is simply that people don't like him and he doesn't appreciate that, and his one-sided narrative conveniently ignores any of the reasons others might have to have difficulty socially interacting with him.

Frederick's obsession with Miranda continues for literally years before the main action of the novel starts; he carries it throughout her teen years until she moves to London for art school, whereupon he becomes somewhat rootless and lethargic in her absence. Even during this period, during which he claims he almost forgot about her, his fixation is all too strong and apparent to the reader. The continuous repetition of the idea that he never planned to do anything becomes more and more obviously denial as he takes trips to London to find out where she hangs out and intentionally covers his tracks, just in case someone might be watching for him. The most damning moment comes when, while looking for a house to buy, he purchases a country cottage after seeing the double cellar it contains and thinking (idly, he insists) about how easily the sub-basement could be converted into a living space for a captive. The sub-basement setup is again very reminiscent of Leroux's story with its descending layers of underground, and the fact that the second basement was originally a Roman chapel adds a layer of worshipfulness to the proceedings, an outward expression of Frederick's borderline-religious idolization of Miranda that is again very reminiscent of Erik's treatment of Christine.

Another brilliantly illuminative line occurs when, in reference to the cellars and what occurs in them later in the story, Frederick says, "It was two worlds. It's always been like that. Some days I've woken up and it's all been like a dream, till I went down again." The separation of the underground world from the surface world of the living is strongly emphasized, yet another core idea that Fowles' novel shares with Leroux's, but here Frederick is the character able to come and go in the bright "upper world" as he pleases.

The matter-of-factness and complete lack of moral qualms, worry, or even the decency to admit what he is doing to himself carries the reader in a state of agitated apprehension as Frederick rebuilds and furnishes the sub-basement specifically as if he were planning to keep a "guest" down there. The juxtaposition between him populating it with ladies' clothing and books on art at the same time (and in the same unvarying tone) as he furnishes it with several redundant layers of security designed to keep anyone from getting out further serves to drive home his complete and intentional detachment between the ideas of Miranda as a "friendly guest" and as an unwilling prisoner. The momentum of the novel, which by this point is practically barreling toward his actions, actually increases when he also purchases a van, guts and outfits it with restraints, and spends some time experimenting and familiarizing himself with chloroform before booking himself a rotating and untraceable battery of hotel rooms around the art school Miranda attends.

The actual scene in which he kidnaps her, luring her toward his van by mentioning an injured dog he has struck before chloroforming her and tying her up, is almost a release of tension, but the reader that assumes the situation must be resolved soon is in for a long, intense journey.

It is almost startling to actually see Miranda interact and begin to do things once she regains consciousness and finds herself a prisoner; having seen her only through the lens of Frederick's obsession, the reader has been tricked into viewing her the same way he does and is accordingly surprised when she turns out to have a personality of her own. It's an exceptional personality, as well: smart, sassy, savvy and brave, she is a wondrously strong female character and a perfect analogue for Leroux's Christine, just as unwilling to give up and ready to refuse to tolerate indignity.

Frederick is most certainly surprised, as his fantasies did not include her strenuous rejection and demands to be released, and even though he continues to cling to his idealized vision of her, the reader can see the first moment of their interaction as the moment that the strange and horrible innocence of his dreams is shattered. It's an inverted version of the scene in which Christine discovers Erik to be a man rather than an angel; in both cases, the sudden realization that the dream is merely coarse reality is jarring and life-changing.

Interestingly, Frederick, when asked his name, tells her that it is Ferdinand. While it's not surprising that he might want to set himself into the role of her lover (Ferdinand being the prince that eventually marries Miranda in Shakespeare's The Tempest), it is another moment of very obvious disconnection when he informs us in his narrative that he "doesn't know" why he said it. He is incapable of admitting it even to himself, hiding even now from the knowledge of what he is doing; in a different character this might be a sign of guilt, but in the stupendously guilt-free but undeniably orderly universe Frederick inhabits, what it really is is an unwillingness to confront the fact that he has done something that he knows was fundamentally unacceptable. At various other times, he reiterates (occasionally to Miranda herself) that he believes that many more people would do the same thing he is doing if they had access to money the way he does, a statement that is less true than it is rationalizing. He is not bothered by his own foray outside society's rules enough to stop doing it, but he is bothered enough to have to convince himself (and Miranda, if he can) that what he's doing is perfectly natural after all.

Miranda, being the spirited girl she is, will have none of his dissembling, and quite finally puts an end to his romanticizing of his behavior by snapping, "Ferdinand. They should have called you Caliban." The comparison of Frederick to Caliban will become a running theme, drawing on Shakespeare's vision of the curiously piteous half-demon servant of Prospero, and again the parallels to Leroux's Erik are impressively numerous despite the differing source material.

The bulk of the book occurs now, and it is a sometimes-interminable sometimes-unbearable journey through the enforced interactions between Frederick and Miranda. Fowles is never boring, nor is he anything but brilliant in his writing, but the sheer weight of the emotional content and the ever-present sense of doom make it a hard read nevertheless.

Despite his earlier musing on Miranda's "classlessness", Frederick very quickly blames her higher class standing for her apparent inability to calm down and be reasonable about having been kidnapped. He seldom approaches the level of resentment he reserves for most people of her echelon, but his sullen thoughts assert that the two of them could never overcome the class barrier no matter how hard he tries or how much she lies about it (note, again, that the idea of Miranda doing anything active never even crosses his mind, both because of his inability to conceive of her in empathetic terms and because of her status as representative of the higher class). More to the point, Frederick's belief in his own disenfranchisement rears its head in an especially ugly manner when he brings the idea of his own entitlement into the equation: having never had much in life before winning the money he's using to do this, he's making up for it now, and the implication that Miranda, as the upper-class representative, owes it to him to love him is doubly frightening because he doesn't in any way recognize why the idea is so unpalatable to her. Many, many, many derivative Phantom-based works also play on the idea that Christine somehow owes it to the Phantom to love him back, both because of the depth of his emotions and because it wouldn't be fair to continue to deprive a man who has had so little in life; Fowles shows us in stark, unignorable contrast how very horrible that idea is.

Miranda, for her part, alternately loathes and pities Frederick, who spends most of his days in the basement staring contentedly at her no matter what she might be doing. Their dynamic is, like Erik's and Christine's, very reminiscent of the Greek myth of Hades kidnapping Persephone; Frederick's obsession with freezing life into unmoving death and knowledge, symbolized by his butterfly and photograph collecting, is in direct opposition to Miranda's lively and life-celebrating organic art and desire to directly experience things. Frederick is capable of seeing and desiring that liveliness in her, but ultimately he knows of no other way to express that desire except to possess her, which of course kills the very lively qualities he so prizes, just like killing a butterfly to add it to a collection.

Frederick's inability to really express his emotions is his most marked difference from Leroux's Erik; where Erik could create Don Juan Triumphant and write music to mirror his soul, Frederick has no such outlet. Instead, his butterflies are his means of expression, but even they are unchanging and dead. It was hard for me, as a reader, to decide over the course of the novel if this made him less frightening than Erik, whose passions and their expression were frequently horrible or lethal for those around him, or more, since his stolid lack of any kind of expression made him all the more internally dangerous and unpredictable.

Fowles actually plays to us a little bit in here, though not quite to the extent of breaking the suspension of realism; Miranda herself comments on Frederick's didactic and clinical way of speaking, saying that he takes all the color out of words and language when he uses them. The narration is indeed dry as dust, and Fowles reminding us of it clues the reader in to the fact that it's not just authorial style but an actual facet of Frederick's character.

Frederick is somewhat incapable of understanding why Miranda is afraid of him despite her various attempts to explain; since he believes himself to be in love with her and has no plans to hurt her, he finds her reticence and apprehension confusing. Miranda herself is much more cognizant of the fact that, inevitably, the situation is going to spiral out of control, and she's unhampered by the unflinching veil of denial that Frederick conducts all emotional affairs from behind. When she says, "What I fear in you is something you don't know is in you... It's lurking somewhere about in this house, this room, this situation, waiting to spring. In a way we're on the same side against it," it's with brilliant clarity that tells us that she understands him far better in some ways than vice versa.

An interesting feature of their relationship - and one that is again mirrored by the characters of Leroux's novel - is the fact that Frederick consistently and instinctively places Miranda upon a pedestal that he can't aspire to (in fact, the idea of aspiring to it would be entirely foreign to him). It's an automatic reaction that is partly motivated by his miring in the muck of his observation of class lines - he can't help but place her above him no matter how much the idea might provoke resentment, because instinctively he assumes that she is above him - and partly, once again, by his tendency to freeze and immortalize the things he wants to look at, making perfection out of them in a way he can't achieve for himself. When she stamps her foot in frustration and declares, "You always squirm one step lower than I can go," she is being truthful: no matter who she verbally castigates him or refuses to appreciate his behavior, he always automatically assigns the blame to himself rather than to her (not that he feels guilt; he doesn't, but he does acknowledge that it must be something he has done).

When it becomes clear to Miranda that he intends to keep her in the basement for an indefinite period of time, she responds by going on a hunger strike; having discovered that he isn't holding her for either ransom or sexual favors, it's the simplest and most elegant way of threatening to take what he wants - her presence - away from him. This is also a confusing event for Frederick, who can't understand what her constant fussing is about when he's gone to so much trouble to provide her with books and music and food and clothing. In an attempt to stop her from starving himself, and as a result of her continual begging and pleading, he finally agrees to let her leave in four weeks if she will behave herself as his guest.

Miranda does keep her promise and her escape attempts and tantrums become less frequent, but Frederick, who had counted on her falling in love with him by the end of the four weeks, finds himself growing more and more desperate as time begins ticking inexorably closer. Finally, his ultimate plan is to propose to her on the night before he is scheduled to release her; with chillingly cold calculation, he notes that she will stay of her own free will if she says yes, and that if she says no he will have a reason to punish her by refusing to let her leave, placing the blame for the decision squarely on her shoulders no matter what she does. It's difficult, once again, to pinpoint whether it's more disturbing that he plans to not only continue holding her captive but blame her for doing so, or that he genuinely believes that there's a chance she might say yes to his proposal.

Miranda is too honest for her own good, so she refuses and is condemned to the basement again after a very disturbing interlude in which she tries to run, he chloroforms her, and then he removes all her clothing except for her underwear after putting her back in her room (as usual, the motivation is not overtly sexual, though the reader is confronted by hints of undercurrents that Frederick is not admitting to and the implication that he can only desire her when she's unconscious [i.e., dead, a still life, a butterfly on a pin] is horrifyingly evident; more it is simply his determination that she shouldn't go to bed with clothes on and a very heavy-handed desire to remind her that he has complete control over her in the hopes that she will become grateful that he has never molested her). The novel is gaining momentum again, the reader feeling the pressure of her continuing and continually helpless attempts to escape and Frederick's own slowly-building irritation at her behavior. By the time Frederick is frequently comparing Miranda to a butterfly - a beautiful emerging imago, soon to be in her full splendor - the metaphor is almost unnecessary except to most fully presage the disaster we know must be to come. Ironically, when Miranda entices him into a game of charades to pass the time and she pretends to be a butterfly, he is unable to guess, incapable of recognizing her lively, fluttering version of the creatures he keeps pinned in glass boxes.

An important theme is crystallized here when Miranda, frustrated by her inability to get Frederick to display any kind of empathy, outlines the difference in their outlooks by presenting them as differing spectrums. For Miranda, an artist and free spirit, the continuum of life runs from the ugly to the beautiful; anything beautiful is worthwhile for its own sake, while anything ugly is to be shunned. She's not talking about specifically physical beauty, but rather about artistic contribution or things that make the world better in any form. For Frederick, on the other hand, the continuum runs from evil to good and has almost no space between; he judges everything in life according to his own criteria and labels it as one or the other, as neatly and unfairly as he labels the butterflies in their boxes.

Miranda is not immune to the building pressure, either, and, after one evening when he has taken her upstairs for her bath, manages to actually build up enough desperation to attack him with a woodchopping axe he has left out, gashing him across the forehead despite her bound hands before stopping. The incident illustrates three key points of their personalites very strongly: that Miranda is a strong character willing to go to great lengths to achieve her freedom, that she is also an empathetic and sympathetic creature who is so shocked by her own actions that she nearly hates herself for the attempt, and that Frederick is still terrifyingly empty of emotion, irritated by her attack but, in the end, capable of pretending that even that didn't happen.

Another core difference between Frederick and Erik turns up here when it becomes clear that Frederick's determination to keep Miranda does not really stem from a desire to use her to become "part of" her social class as Erik desired with Christine (or, at least, it's a desire Frederick is unaware of if it's present). Rather, Frederick very specifically wants Miranda just because he wants her, in a bald and unemotional way that reminds us of the novel's title at every turn. When he says, "What she never understood was that with me it was having. Having her was enough," he is serious; he would be content (nay, much happier) to simply sit in the basement and stare at her for the rest of his life rather than constantly being forced to talk to and interact with her, confronting the fact that she is an alien and unpredictable creature.

And poor Miranda really doesn't understand; after a long time sunk in despair, she decides that Frederick must have a sexual motive after all. Just as he is incapable of really grasping her emotions, she is equally incapable of understanding that his are so far divorced from the familiar passions of humanity; from her point of view, there must be a sexual motive, and so she decides that she will have to seduce him in order to convince him to let her go. Unfortunately, she doesn't realize that his love for her - or what he calls "love", anyway - is based on his image of her and that his previous comments about women "of that kind" suggest that sexual behavior falls far down on the Evil end of his scale.

The seduction attempt is a disaster; Frederick is unable to get an erection and, after several abortive attempts by Miranda to interest him, haltingly explains that he can only love, never have sex, and that doctors have told him that he will never be able to keep an erection long enough for coitus. Frederick's internal monologue and uncomfortable tone suggest that this is merely an excuse, not the actual reason, and furthermore that he is making excuses not only to her but to himself as well.

Predictably, their reactions to the incident are polar opposites again, but now in a dangerous and distressing way. Miranda actually feels pity for him, comparing him to Tantalus in that he can desire things (and sex) but never truly have them; not only is the Greek mythology compelling, but the idea of a collector who can't truly possess things is poignant. Frederick, on the other hand, immediately and demonstrably loses all respect for Miranda, who has proven herself to be one of "those women", and every one of his increasingly reprehensible and horrifying actions toward her for the rest of the novel are blamed on her one desperate act.

The shift in relationship is similar to Leroux's characters' shift from the comfortable teacher/student dynamic to the antagonistic kidnapper/prisoner one, though of course Miranda has been a prisoner the entire time (some might argue that Christine has, too). Frederick no longer allows Miranda the freedom to take baths or walk in the garden at night, and now declares that he will only allow her to go upstairs if she allows him to take nude photographs of her; he has made an obvious switch from viewing her as a desirable, beautiful creature to viewing her as a sinful object, and the fact that Miranda refuses does nothing to prevent him from continuing to castigate her in his mind. There's also more than a little element of vengeance involved; Frederick knows that her infrequent freedoms are the things she values most, and though he does not consciously admit to a desire to punish her (both for embarrassing him and for turning out not to be the creature he thought she was), it is extremely clear in the undercurrents of his thoughts. Her attempt to kill him made barely any impression, but her attempt to force him to view her as a sexual being provokes extreme and violent backlash.

The "nobody knows but us" idea, often verbatim, comes up frequently in her promises, in his fantasies, and eventually in his threats. The story is oncoming like a train aimed at a wall by the time Miranda gets sick; though the reader knows (mostly through Frederick's characteristic interjections of "I didn't know" and "It wasn't my fault") that she's genuinely ill, Frederick, no longer willing to listen to anything she says, refuses to provide her medical help or even basic relief, and the first part of the story closes with the awful realization of her doom.

Part 2:

The second bulk part of the novel is written from Miranda's point of view in the form of a diary she keeps during her imprisonment, hidden beneath her mattress to prevent Frederick from discovering it. It starts at the very beginning of her captivity, and the reader's foreknowledge of events to come makes the journey through it excruciating in view of Miranda's refusal to give up hope or become like her tormentor.

Upon realizing that he apparently isn't planning on sexually molesting her, Miranda assumes that Frederick must be looking for a mother figure; though there is no mention of this in his own section earlier, it's worth noticing that he is an orphan raised by relatives and that his violent response to her sexuality might point toward him attempting to slot her into this role. Like Leroux's Erik, who needed Christine to symbolically make up for the world's refusal to grant him maternal love, Frederick is seeking some kind of recompense from Miranda.

One of the great tragedies of this novel is that, while Frederick is unable to even remotely understand Miranda, the same is not true in reverse; much of the time she pegs him exactly, especially in the beginning, when she immediately identifies his discomfort as his inability to figure out what to do with a real woman who doesn't match his fantasy. The truly tragic part is that, in the end (whether from the prolonged psychological stress of captivity or from simple incompatibility), she misjudges him too grievously and seals her own doom.

Miranda's writing style, in sharp contrast to Frederick's narration, is flowing and emotional, artistic and evocative, a very noticeable departure from the stilted, clinical fact-telling that characterized the first part of the book. Fowles is a master of shaping this voice so that it instantly and totally becomes a new person (in fact, it's almost startling for the reader to discover her voice; long exposure to Frederick in the first part almost tricks the audience into viewing her the same way he does, as a strange, foreign animal), and many incredibly poignant lines stand out, too many to quote all of them. One of my favorites, and one that incorporates the hellish imagery that so frequently crops up in Phantom literature, is when Miranda writes, "The devil wouldn't be devilish and rather attractive, but like him."

Miranda's violent loathing of her captor is twofold: the most obvious is the natural rejection of the force that keeps her imprisoned against her will, but the other has everything to do with his ugliness, which is anathema to her artist's soul. Again, she isn't referring to physical ugliness (Frederick is physically rather unremarkable one way or the other), but rather to the ugliness of humanity and its indifference. Frederick is all the ugliness of humanity, drained to the bottom and congealed into one form; he is the creature that forces her to lose her naivete and see the ugliness that all people are capable of. The parallel to Christine's dashed innocence at the discovery of Erik's deception is strong, as is the traditional Beauty & the Beast metaphor and the obvious symbolic parallel to Christine's visceral reaction to Erik's very literal ugliness.

While Frederick's conceit in referring to himself as Ferdinand is noticed (and, in her innocence, Miranda believes him when he tells her that it is his real name), it is quickly discarded, the name parallel to Shakespeare's play too abhorrent for her to deal with. She refers to him as Caliban instead, and where the name had barely a passing mention in Frederick's section of the book, here we see that it is an ongoing and long-running theme for her.

A lot of things are similarly disjointed; it's another mark of the vast gulf between them that Miranda and Frederick remember very different scenes from the days of her captivity. Frederick remembers and recounts those in which he learned something about her or found some concrete piece of data, while Miranda remembers the scenes that were most emotionally charged for her, the most raw. Even their recollection of her many escape attempts are different; Miranda remembers her emotions, her drive behind the ones she put the most into, while Frederick remembers only the ones that came closest to being successful.

One of the largest holes in comparing this story to Leroux's is the absence of Raoul or any character that resembles him; this is suddenly and surprisingly remedied when Miranda begins to talk about a man she usually refers to as GP. His full name, George Paston, is mentioned only once about halfway through; the question of what else the initials might represent goes unanswered, but the possibilities are endless. I don't know if we can really posit a connection between the character and the real-life George Paston, a female author who wrote under a pen name around the turn of the twentieth century, but such a connection would also be interesting (not to mention, if Miranda happened to be a lady interested in other ladies, that puts a significant additional layer on top of a lot of her actions and motivations).

At any rate, GP is the silent third part of their love triangle (a gross misuse of the phrase), completely unhinted at up until now because he has nothing to do with Frederick. In an interesting dynamic flip from the Phantom story, he has several connotations that normally belong to Erik, most notably being her mentor, a greater artist than herself and somewhat thorny in personality, someone who had proposed a romantic relationship with her but whom she had refused for various reasons, and representative of a strong sexual force. GP is more noteworthy as a representative of various ideas than as a character; since he is presented only through Miranda's increasingly desperate and romantic memories of him, there's no way for the reader to get a clear picture of his actual personality anyway. He matters as the representative of Miranda's hopes - not only for escape, but for all the future passions and joys of life that she fears she will never be allowed to experience.

In another example of obvious insight of which Frederick is incapable, Miranda directly discusses her paintings versus his photographs here and explains the difference between paintings, which say something about the artist, and photos, which only say something about the subject. It is another terrifyingly revealing moment for Frederick, who doesn't understand what she's talking about; the concept of expressing himself through art is foreign, and he believes that all art is merely an attempt to faithfully replicate the world around it with varying levels of success. Frederick has no self to express, and the black hole of his lack of emotion is more frightening to Miranda than his physical dominance.

The correlation between photographs, butterflies, and Frederick's inability to relate to a world that isn't frozen and labeled was already clear in the first half of the book, but Miranda's discovery of it is no less chilling when she realizes, finally, that he is content merely to have her and has no interest in her feelings or view of reality. "He's a collector," she says. "That's the great dead thing in him."

Miranda blames Frederick's class standing for many of these issues, though not in a traditional upper-class-putdown sort of a way; rather, as a character who had previously given class lines little thought, she blames the entire system for creating a monster of Frederick's kind. The hideousness of the reality faced by the lower and middle classes - poverty, sickness, and above all the insupportable resentment toward their "betters" - is something she has never been confronted with before, and discovering its product in Frederick throws the system's corruption into stark relief for her. It's not only the lower class who are to blame for being cruel and small-minded; it's also the upper class that assumes and treats them as such, perpetuating a thousand small, daily evils. It's humanity itself that is ugly, and when she looks at Frederick, Miranda sees in him the distillation of the "sheer, jealous malice of the great bulk of England." The parallel between this idea and Leroux's is almost exact; in both novels, one of the greatest underlying themes is the idea that societal evils, including class striation and oppression, create monsters; humanity makes its own nightmares a reality through sheer indifference and cruelty.

Miranda's love story with GP, told in meandering flashbacks that are interspersed throughout the diary wherever she feels she needs to indulge in memories of him to keep from having a breakdown, is again very reminiscent of Christine's relationship with the Phantom. GP represents artistic sensuality, a creative genesis that is sexual on several levels. Like Leroux's Christine, Miranda is both fascinated by this sexuality and ultimately refuses it, reiterating that she came to GP only for his art and companionship, not for anything cruder. The effect of, essentially, splitting the Phantom's good qualities away from his bad ones to create two different characters is disorienting for a reader used to looking for a traditional Phantom setup, but also underscores the two ways of looking at the character beautifully; the artistic mentor's allure is intact in one character, divorced from the terrible, selfish criminality of the other. It was at moments like this I doubted the claim that this book had nothing to do with Leroux's the most.

Miranda, who despite her fear and hatred of the situation cannot help but be empathetic, actually frequently tries to help Frederick. Her musing that he's seeking a maternal figure does not in any way prevent her from becoming one, treating him almost childishly at times and attempting to explain concepts that are second nature to her but totally unfathomable to him. One of the most heart-wrenching moments of the novel involves her sitting down to tell him a metaphorical "fairy story", in which she casts them both in transparent roles in order to try to show him what she's doing. I'll reproduce it here, because it very brilliantly illustrates Miranda's astounding ability to sympathize, forgive and try to help even in the worst of circumstances, and the utter brick wall that is Frederick's response to it.

"Once upon a time (I said, and he stared bitterly bitterly at the floor) there was a very ugly monster who captured a princess and put her in a dungeon in his castle. Every evening he made her sit with him and ordered her to say to him, 'You are very handsome, my lord,' And every evening she said, 'You are very ugly, you monster.' And then the monster looked very hurt and sad and stared at the floor. So one evening the princess said, 'If you do this thing and that thing you might be handsome,' but the monster said, 'I can’t, I can’t.' The princess said, “Try, try.” But the monster said, 'I can’t, I can’t.” Every evening it was the same. He asked her to lie, and she wouldn’t. So the princess began to think that he really enjoyed being a monster and very ugly. Then one day she saw he was crying when she’d told him, for the fiftieth time, that he was ugly. So she said, 'You can become very handsome if you do just one thing. Will you do it?' Yes, he said, at last, he would try to do it. So she said, then set me free. And he set her free. And suddenly, he wasn’t ugly any more, he was a prince who had been bewitched. And he followed the princess out of the castle. And they both lived happily ever afterwards.

I knew it was silly as I was saying it. Fey. He didn’t speak, he kept staring down.

I said, now it’s your turn to tell a fairy story.

He just said, I love you."

Reading this section of the book is a little bit like falling off a cliff; you can see the bottom coming, but you have to live all the way down (twice, in this case). You don't want to deal with the disastrous upcoming seduction scene, but you're going to have to. You don't want to relive Frederick tying up and photographing an ill Miranda, but you're going to have to. You don't want her to die, but you know better.

Miranda comes to the conclusion that the only way to truly punish Frederick is to pretend he doesn't exist; after several attempts to escape, she realizes that even violence against him secretly pleases him, since it means that she has noticed him and that he is the most important person in her world. Unfortunately, she is correct, which means that Frederick's impatience and dislike of her behavior ramps up; Miranda, in turn, doesn't always understand, and in this case doesn't realize that ignoring him - as he always bitterly complains that all upper-class people do - is exactly what will make him hate her.

The seduction scene is fascinating from Miranda's point of view; of course, Frederick's version of it was not particularly trustworthy, but hers is so vibrant and full of unexpected empathy that there's no question that her character is every bit as strong and representative of "goodness" as Leroux's Christine. She understands that Frederick wants the dream of Miranda, rather than the real woman; she attempts the seduction on the mistaken belief that sex is part of that dream, a tragic misinterpretation. Then again, she may be right again; it may be Frederick himself, with his history of denial and refusal to face his own actions, who cannot reconcile any deeply buried sexual wants with his own image of what is "good", transferring the blame for his own feelings onto her shoulders for forcing him to feel something so appalling.

The fact that Miranda is a virgin is also tragic because of her impassioned writing about wanting to experience all the pleasures and fullness of life, including exploring her sexuality, and the reader is all too aware that she will never see that wish fulfilled. The most startling aspect of the seduction, however, is that Miranda approaches it with the childlike openness and goodness of a saint; she is motivated (at least in part) by a desire not to be like Frederick, to overcome his meanness of spirit with her own generosity.

She believes Frederick's story about the doctor claiming him to be permanently impotent and pities him for it, and her innocence is painful after Frederick's clear implication earlier that he might have been lying about it. And speaking of innocence, that's what she sees at last in Frederick: a deep and abiding innocence at the core of his character, one he armors with denial and preserves with lies, an innocence that is a kind of madness in and of itself. She recognizes it and is moved by it, seeing at last a parallel to herself, but the reader is burdened with the knowledge of Frederick's utter irredeemability and has no such luxury.

Back in the basement, Miranda ruminates on the basic "innocent woman" conundrum that marks so much of social history; men hate women for not giving them the sexual favors they want, but hate and look down on them for being promiscuous if they do. It's an old and still deep-rooted idea, the Madonna-Whore Complex, and the closeness of the situation makes me ache for a real Phantom story based on the idea. Would Erik still have loved Christine, his childlike, Christ-like savior, if she had not been so desperately and fantastically "pure?"

Miranda's tumultuous emotions, after this event, finally distill into one line that perfectly illustrates her dealings with Frederick: "I despise him too much to hate him." Hate is an emotion inapplicable to inhuman Caliban-esque Frederick; only loathing and pity can adequately describe their relationship. In a further instance of her damning insight, she notes that she knows now that Frederick hates her; he hates her without knowing it himself (because, after all, he could never hate dream-Miranda), so that one day that hatred will find violent expression and he will not understand why.

Growing more and more delirious as she begins to grow ill and suffers several devastating and despairing setbacks (including Frederick promising to allow her to move into a room upstairs where she can see sunlight, only to later reveal that he was lying in order to punish her), Miranda remains full of life to the end. She writes that, despite the horrors she has endured, she would not want the abduction never to have happened; she has been forced to grow and change in its crucible, blossoming from a child into a woman who finally understands the fundamental joy of art, the emotional depth of love. That she only realizes these things now, near the end, is grinding for the reader; making it through this book in one sitting requires elephantine emotional stamina.

It's worth noticing that Miranda being locked constantly in the basement is reminiscent of the Phantom's situation as well as Christine's, though of course not as strongly.

Even Miranda's despair is fierce, again reminiscent of Christine and her determination to commit suicide rather than submit to Erik's demands (a tactic Miranda has pursued at various times, always prevented from succeeding by Frederick's intercession). When she realizes that she is seriously ill and that Frederick absolutely refuses to help her, the incredible generosity and gentle artistic wonder is replaced by raw fury; it's an anger that points only generally at Frederick and his indifference and evil, but more specifically at an entire world that has allowed this to happen, that made Frederick and his actions possible, and that is conspiring to rob her of her life before she has ever used it to experience its many wonders. Her writing becomes more passionately furious, a feat, to the point where it becomes both poetically beautiful and cringeworthy in the obvious pain expressed through it:

"I hate God. I hate whatever made this world, I hate whatever made the human race, made men like Caliban possible and situations like this possible.

If there is a God he's a great loathsome spider in the darkness.

He cannot be good."

"It's as if the lights have fused. I'm here in the black truth.

God is impotent. He can't love us. He hates us because he can't love us.

All the meanness and the selfishness and the lies.

People won't admit it, they're too busy grabbing to see that the lights have fused. They can't see the darkness and the spider-face beyond and the great web of it all. That there's always this if you scratch at the surface of happiness and goodness.

The black and the black and the black."

Her cries against an uncaring, hateful God are especially poignant in the second quote; Frederick is, in the end, the God of her narrow, restricted world, and she doesn't see the parallel in her own situation well enough to realize how truthful she's being.

The diary ends in a depleted and haphazard scribbling of desperate lines, and an impassioned plea to no one: Do not let me die.

Part 3:

The return to Frederick's point of view is both a relief, as it frees us from the crushing weight of Miranda's despairing emotions, and a shock similar to being dashed in the face with a bucket of water. Even Frederick has begun coming apart at this stage; his account of her sickness is rushed and frightened here, no longer as in control, so much outside his plans and fantasies that he begins to fall out of his own pattern.

The fact that Miranda is dying is not a surprise to any reader of this book, but even so the endless drawn-out timing of it keeps that cruel hope for her rescue alive. You know she's not going to live. There's no possible way and no compelling reason. But that doesn't make it all that much easier to trudge painfully through.

The last coherent words Miranda ever says to Frederick, before she devolves entirely into hallucinatory rambling and crying, is the single, beautiful sentence, "I forgive you." Whether or not she is fully cognizant of who or what she's talking to or about is unclear, but it is a final moment in which, like Christine in Leroux's novel, she forgives all the ills perpetrated against her and offers grace to the monster that enacted them upon her. Unlike Leroux's Erik, however, Frederick is incapable of accepting (or even really understanding) her forgiveness, and there will be no redemption at the end of this story.

When even Frederick can no longer pretend that cough syrup is going to cure her, he attempts to go get a doctor for her from the nearest town; the farthest he gets is a doctor's waiting room, but he leaves before seeing anyone. His reasons for doing so are a combination of his hatred of people and his abiding resentment of the upper class, evidenced by his delusions that everyone in the waiting room is looking down their noses at him, and his fear of discovery (which brings with it its own resentment; much of his inner monologue is devoted to stridently proclaiming that anyone else would have done the same as he did if they could afford it, as if the idea that the rest of humanity is also made up of hideous beasts exonerates him of fault). It's his last chance to truly achieve any kind of redemption, to bring someone to save Miranda from him before it's too late; but there is no Raoul to rush into his lair in this story, no one to force him to face facts, and so his denial and hatred rush in to fill the void and he goes home, leaving her last chance to live behind him.

He tells Miranda, in varying stages of lucidity at this point, that he has called a doctor or is about to go fetch one several times, but each time is intended to pacify her; he never so much as sets foot outside the house to look for medical help again. Also frequently repeated throughout this section is his assertion that he loves her, but it's always accompanied by the familiar excuses, the "I didn't know"s and the "It wasn't my fault"s that let us know that he's hiding from himself. In the end, Frederick is not capable of loving Miranda or anyone else; but even if he did, he loves his solitude and his meanness more.

Miranda's final hours are characterized by Frederick's astounding, stupendous selfishness; there is no part of the book wherein it is more clear that he has no conception of her as a living person. He romanticizes his own involvement to the end and spends the last several hours after he can't pretend she's going to get better on her own anymore, as she burns with fever and coughs blood onto herself, wallowing in self-pity over imminently losing her. She is the only one who truly knows him; she is the only one he could ever love. Even now, at the very end, there's not even the tiniest suggestion of thought devoted to what she might have wanted, what she might have felt. For Frederick, the idea simply doesn't exist.

Miranda's true last words, uttered in a hallucinatory haze, are, "The sun," the light she had so desperately wanted to be allowed to feel again. When she dies while he's in the other room making tea, Frederick's childish panic is almost comical; he is somehow still surprised, still trying until the end to pretend it isn't happening, and he takes her body back down and puts it to bed in her basement prison, even bolting the doors behind him as if she might try to escape again. The feeling is still one of denial, even now; even in the fact of incontrovertible reality, some part of him is still hoping she will simply wake back up if he treats everything normally.

Frederick's sorrow - if it can be called that - is every bit as detached as his behavior toward Miranda was when she lived; even now there's no hint of feeling for her, nor even qualities of her he liked. He mourns the fact that he will never feel the good feelings having her made him feel again; he mourns that he won't be able to look at her anymore. He doesn't have a specific feature of hers to focus on in mourning, because nothing of hers actually mattered; only his own emotions and universe did. He behaves exactly as if he had lost a rare and priceless artifact, because as far as he's concerned, that's exactly what happened.

In a dramatic gesture, he decides to commit suicide, though once again it's out of very selfish and bitter motives (he declares bitterly that "she's lucky to be done" while he still has to be alive). He plans to write a suicide note and drink poison to lie down beside her in bed, so that anyone who discovers them will think it's a Romeo and Juliet story and know how much she loved him. This is the only moment in the entire novel where the rest of the world's perception of his relationship with Miranda matters to him, but it's a telling one - he wants to make sure that they know that she belonged to him. She was his to collect and own.

Part 4:

The final part of the novel, really just a coda, is very short. In it, Frederick gets over his suicidal impulse with lightning speed after discovering Miranda's diary when he goes downstairs to see her. It is a final moment of horror for the reader at his complete and total rejection of her personhood; he discards the suicide idea not because his emotions have changed but because she no longer "deserves" it. Reading the diary does nothing except convince him of her selfishness, which he illustrates when he exclaims with irritation that "she only thought of herself and the other man all the time". It is, in the end, Miranda's own fault; for not loving him, for daring to love someone else, and above all for not being the perfect, unattainable and unrealistic hallucination he had wanted her to be.

The very end of the book, in which Frederick sees a new girl in town the next day and starts planning in the same very noticeable way, refusing to admit to himself that he's doing so, is almost unnecessary; surely no reader thinks that Frederick is going to turn over a new leaf at this point, but the fact that he has learned absolutely nothing from his long experiment is a horror that Fowles can't pass up. We leave the book while Frederick follows her around town and plans to clean out what was Miranda's room; a collector planning to catch a new butterfly, pinning it down to display and inevitably still surprised when it dies - or, surprised that it was ever alive in the first place, that it ever had any purpose except to be his.

A long time ago, when I reviewed Argento's 1987 film Opera, I said, half-joking, that anyone who thinks it's romantic to be stalked by a horrifying murderer should watch the film just to really get a grasp on how horrible the idea would be in real life. I'm not joking now: any time I see a Phantom-based story that romanticizes Christine's capture, that castigates her for daring to escape or to love someone else, that sends her running back to her captor because he demonstrates his love with murder and expensive presents or that views her as merely a prize to make him happy rather than a character in her own right, this is the book that I want to give that author. There is no starker portrait of the horrible indignity of capture and incarceration, "gentle" or "pampered" or not, and no better illustration I've ever seen of the gulf in understanding between the kidnapper and his victim.

The author may claim that this is not a Phantom book, but even if that's true, it should be.

bottom of page