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The creepy fantasies that inspired John Fowles’ novel ‘The Collector’

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John Fowles was a 37-year-old school teacher when his first novel The Collector was published in 1963. Though Fowles had been writing for fifteen years completing two novels and an early draft of his second book The Magus, he considered himself “unpublishable.” Then he started work on an idea about a man who kidnaps a young art student and keeps her imprisoned in the basement of his home.  Fowles wrote the book in about a month, and thinking he had nothing to lose sent the manuscript off to his agent, Michael S. Howard who liked it and passed it on to the publishers Jonathan Cape. Tom Maschler at Cape thought The Collector a powerful and impressive debut, but was concerned that Fowles (who thought of himself a “serious writer”) may damage his reputation with such a lurid and disturbing tale. Fowles was adamant—he wanted the book published under his own name.

Anyone familiar with The Collector may have wondered what inspired Fowles’ grim tale. In a letter written to Maschler in July 1962, the author explained his sources in writing the novel:

...all this came from a newspaper incident of some years ago (there was a similar case in the North of England last year, by the way). But the whole idea of the woman-in-the-dungeon has interested me since I saw Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, which was before the air-raid shelter case.

 
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Film poster for ‘The Collector’ starring Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar, 1965.
 
The news story Fowles mentioned concerned “a man who had kidnapped a girl and imprisoned her for several weeks in an air-raid shelter at the bottom of his garden.”

While the musical reference Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle (1911) told the story of Duke Bluebeard who warns his new bride Judith not to open any of the seven doors in his castle. Impelled by curiosity, Judith opens each of the seven doors finding behind the first a torture chamber and behind the last, the ghosts of Bluebeard’s previous wives.
 
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Terence Stamp as butterfly collector Frederick Clegg.
 
However, there was far darker, more personal and disturbing inspiration for the novel, which Fowles explained in his journal entry for February 3rd, 1963:

The Collector. The three sources.

One. My lifelong fantasy of imprisoning a girl underground.

I think I must go back to early in my teens. I remember it used to be famous people Princess Margaret, various film stars. Of course, there was a sexual motive; the love-through-knowledge motive, or motif, has also been constant. The imprisoning in other words, has always been a forcing of my personality as well as my penis on the girl concerned.

Variations I can recall: the harem (several girls in one room, or in a row of rooms); the threat (this involves sharing a whip, but usually not flagellation—the idea of exerted tyranny, entering as executioner); the fellow-prisoner (this by far the commonest variation: the girl is captured and put naked into the underground room; I then have myself put in it, as if I am a fellow-prisoner, and so avoid her hostility).

Another common sexual fantasy is the selection board: I am given six hundred girls to choose fifty from and so on. These fantasies have long been exteriorized in my mind, of course; certainly I use the underground-room one far less since The Collector.

Two, the air-raid shelter incident.

Three, Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

 
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Samantha Eggar as art student Miranda Grey.
 
Fowles separated The Collector into three sections, where the captor (Frederick Clegg) and his prisoner (Miranda Grey) describe the events of the book. It begins with Clegg describing the subject of his obsession:

When she was home from her boarding-school I used to see her almost every day sometimes, because their house was right opposite the Town Hall Annexe. She and her younger sister used to go in and out a lot, often with young men, which of course I didn’t like, When I had a free moment from the files and ledgers I stood by the window and used to look down over the road over the frosting and sometimes I’d see her. In the evening I marked it in my observations diary, at first with X, and then when I knew her name with M. I saw her several times outside too. I stood right behind her once in queue at the public library down Crossfield Street. She didn’t look once at me, but I watched the back of her head and her hair in a long pigtail. It was very pale, silky, like burnet cocoons. All in one pigtail coming down almost to her waist, sometimes in front, sometimes at back. Sometimes she wore it up. Only once, before she came to be my guest here, did I have the privilege to see her with it loose, and it took my breath away it was so beautiful, like a mermaid.

 
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Clegg (Stamp) and Miranda (Egggar) in William Wyler’s film version of ‘The Collector.’
 
Fowles’ intention was not just to write a horror story, but to use the characters of Clegg and Miranda as conduits for his own analysis and critique of modern society, in particular his contempt for the lack of intellectual rigor in contemporary fiction—the Angry Young Men who had so forcefully invaded with John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger—and for the failure of socialism to bring equality and change to Britain:

The plot of the novel was:

1. present a character who was inarticulate and nasty, as opposed to the “good” inarticulate hero, who seems to be top dog in post-war fiction and whose inarticulateness is presented as a kind of crowning glory.

2. present a character who is articulate and intelligent—the kind of young person I try to make Miranda Grey—and who is quite clearly a better person because she has a better education.

3. attack the money-minus-morality society (the affluent, the acquisitive) we have lived in since 1951.

On its publication, The Collector was a best-seller. The paperback rights were optioned for “probably the highest price that had hitherto been paid for a first novel”.  The film rights were sold and a movie starring Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar was made in Hollywood and London directed by William Wyler.
 

 
In 1984, The Smiths used a still of Terence Stamp as Clegg from The Collector on the cover of thier single “What Difference Does It Make?” As the actor had not given permission for the image to be used, the single was quickly reissued with Morrissey copying Stamp’s original pose—though a glass of milk had replaced the chloroform.
 
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Terence Stamp as Clegg on the cover of The Smiths single ‘What Difference Does It Make?’
 
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Morrissey as Clegg on the reissued single.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
O, You Pretty Things: Terence Stamp and Jean Shrimpton model knitwear, 1967

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Such a beautiful couple. Shame about the knitwear.

Terence Stamp and Jean Shrimpton model for Ladies Home Journal, September 1967.
 
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Previously on Dangerous Minds

Terence Stamp on Being, Nothingness, Acting and the Devil: A rare interview from 1978


 
Via Jean Shrimpton Tumblr
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Terence Stamp on Being, Nothingness, Acting and the Devil: A rare interview from 1978

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Terence Stamp and Michael Caine once shared an apartment in the early 1960s. Stamp was the star, with Billy Budd, Term of Trial and The Collector to his CV, while Caine was still on his way up. The turning point came when Stamp knock-backed the title role of Alfie, a role he had made his own on Broadway, but didn’t want to reprise on film. Caine spent a long night trying to change Stamp’s mind. He failed and the role was given to Caine.

Years later, Michael Caine wrote how he sometimes dreamt of that long night trying to convince Stamp to take the role, and “still wakes up sweating as I see Terence agreeing to accept my advice to take the role in Alfie.”

Stamp made Modesty Blasie instead, which on paper sounded fabulous - directed by Joseph Losey; starring Monica Vitti and Dirk Bogarde; adapted by poet and writer Evan Jones from the best-selling Peter O’Donell comic strip. Sadly, it flopped, and the blue-eyed, angelic Stamp was slowly eclipsed by his former room-mate, Caine.

Yet, Stamp was no longer interested in making films for the sake of making films. He was beginning to choose roles because he wanted to make them. He turned down an incredible amount of work, as he later explained in an interview with Valerie Singelton in 1978:

‘I didn’t accept a lot of work because I was of the opinion, if one wanted the long career, one should do good, interesting things. One shouldn’t do anything.

‘So, that was a kind of a political decision really, apart from the fact I enjoyed to do things that interested me. It didn’t interest me to play Tate and Lyle lorry drivers, you understand? I did that already. I didn’t want to do that in a movie. I wanted to play princes and counts, and intellectuals and things that I wasn’t, rather than something I was.’

After Modesty Blaise, Stamp opted to work with radical film-maker Ken Loach, on his first movie Poor Cow, which co-starred Carol White. The film was a surprise hit in America, largely down to Stamp’s casting.  He then appeared in John Schlesinger’s Far From the Madding Crowd with Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Peter Finch. Yet, for all his success, there was something missing.

‘And this thing which came later was a feeling of an inner emptiness success didn’t fill. I had assumed that this inner poverty would be transformed when I became rich and famous. And it took me a few years of being rich and famous to understand that the inner void was very much there.

‘And, you know, if I couldn’t fill it with one Rolls-Royce, I couldn’t fill it with three.

‘I started traveling and looking at myself. Looking, thinking the answer was outside still in a form of, you know, I transfered from beautiful female companion, to highly, holy, spiritualized person. So I was kind of looking for that in truth - it was an inner odyssey that was going on.’

Stamp moved to Italy and then onto an ashram in India, where he found he could get ‘Groovy Kashmiri hash or groovy golden guru - you get what you’re looking for.’ Here he was “transformed from Terence Henry Stamp to swami Deva Veeten.”

The years passed and the roles had dried-up, until (as in all good tales) one day in 1977:

‘On this particular morning, as we enter, I am hailed by the concierge who showed me to my original room.  Apparently he remembers me. “Mr. Terence”, he says in an accent worthy of Peter Sellers. “We have a cable for you”.  He extricates the telegram from the depths of his nightstand and presents it to me. Dog-eared, with tickertape strips glued onto the square envelope and smeared with dust, I have no idea how long the urgent missive has been waiting. However, as it is dropped into my palm it has the psychic weight of the English breakfast I am about to order. I read the typed front piece and realize why. It is addressed to: Clarence Stamp, The Rough Diamond Hotel, Dune, India. It is a miracle that it is even in my hand. Goose pimples spread up my arm and I have a sense that my life is about to change. The telegram is from my long-suffering agent James Fraser, who came across me playing Iago at the Webber-Douglas Drama Academy in 1958 and, bless his heart, has represented me ever since. The telegram reads: ‘Would you be prepared to travel back to London to meet Richard Donner regarding a role in the Superman films 1 & 2. You have scenes with Marlon Brando. Could you stop over in Paris to talk to Peter Brook who is going to make a film of George Gurujieff’s Meetings With Remarkable Men. I read it again. Can hardly believe it, but yes, it’s there, in the palm of my hand. And yes, my life is about to change.’

After Superman, Stamp was cast as the Count in a London production of Dracula, (one of several productions about the great undead vampire that had appeared on both sides of the Atlantic). It was during this production that the following interview with the BBC took place, where Terence Stamp explained, to interviewer Valerie Singleton the attraction of Count Dracula.

‘I always think of evil and the Devil being terribly groovy - not unattractive at all, they have to be really interesting and really seductive because that’s the magnetism of evil, you know, it has to be outwardly beautiful and fetching.’
 

 
With thanks to NellyM
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment