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May 07 2013

Collecting

A long time ago, when the world was young, John Fowles wrote a fascinating novel called The Collector. It was about a socially inept young man who collected butterflies and then inherited some money and hit on the bright idea of collecting a young woman, which he did. He bought an isolated house and fitted up a bunker in the basement, then collected the woman he’d been stalking and locked her up in it. After a year or so she developed pneumonia and died in the bunker (after begging him to get a doctor) and the novel ends with his stalking a new candidate.

Much of the novel is the diary of Miranda Grey, the collected woman, and she’s a wonderfully rich, complicated, interesting person.

It occurs to me now that I always thought of it as bordering on fantasy. Nobody would actually do that. It was a kind of thought experiment (though I wasn’t familiar with the concept of thought experiments when I read it).

Well think again.

9 comments

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  1. 1
    A Hermit

    This story really hit me as I had just finished reading Room by Emma Donoghue, which is told from the point of view of a five year old boy whose whole world consists of him, his “Ma”, the Room in which they live and “Old Nick” who visits in the night. I had the same feeling, that the story bordered on fantasy, and then bam, there it is on the nightly news…

    The parallels to this real life event are eerie and the challenges of re-adjusting to (or in the child’s case discovering) the outside world after they escape are the real story.

  2. 2
    Argle Bargle

    Thank you, Charles Ramsey, for being a caring person who reacted to a call for help.

  3. 3
    rosiebell

    I love the novel and agree about Miranda Grey. Clever, passionate, talented, growing up to be a splendid, interesting woman whose life is cut short by a self-pitying, whining envious creep who justifies his actions because he is romantically in love.

    John Fowles used to fantasise about kidnapping Princess Margaret. It’s the stalker’s fantasy – if she REALLY knew me she would love me.

  4. 4
    MEFoley

    You gotta be kidding about thinking it wasn’t real, right? After those cases in Austria? And one in Belgium, I believe.

    I’ve got this horrific image in my head of a cross section of a town in which there are young women imprisoned in cellars here and there all over the place.

    I read a book on one of the Austrian cases; no one would have found that girl if her captor hadn’t started letting her come up for air. It took *an hour* for him to undo all the locks and such to get to her to bring food, etc. There was a piece of furniture bolted to the wall of the garage that hid the opening of the first tunnel. When there was a tipoff, police searched the place, including that garage, but who would think to unbolt a big cabinet that’s bolted to the wall??

    It’s worse than the worst horror story, and it’s very, very real…

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    Mary Ellen, it was a long time ago, remember? (First sentence!) Long before the Austria and Belgium cases.

  6. 6
    freemage

    From the link (emphasis mine):

    Figuring it was a domestic dispute, Ramsey kicked in the bottom of the door and the woman came out with a little girl and said, “Call 911, my name is Amanda Berry,” according to Ramsey, who admitted he didn’t recognize the name at first.

    This. This is why we’ve been fighting all these years. This is the payoff.

    We’re never going to completely eliminate the shitstains that do this sort of thing, no matter how hard we try. But raising awareness, shifting the line governing what’s sufficiently unacceptable to get involved, that’s been key, all along, and this is a victory point.

    There’s too many times when someone says, “Oh, I just thought they were having another domestic dispute,” as the body bag is rolled through the background of the news shot. But I grab onto these little moments of light, when we see evidence that people are less tolerant of domestic violence than they used to be, and I’m heartened.

    (Even as I’m dismayed by reports that the cops failed to investigate at least two calls about the house. Neither indicated the depth of the issues, but it’s pretty clear the cops were just ignoring anything that wasn’t a corpse, and I can’t help but suspect that the number of Hispanic surnames among the local residents played a role in that. Two steps forward, one step back, and you have to count yourself lucky if you get that.)

  7. 7
    ethicsgradient

    It’s not even the only story like this today.

    Briton Geoffrey Portway admits US plot to kill and eat child

    A Briton faces up to 27 years in a US jail for plotting to kidnap, rape, kill and eat a child, authorities say.

    The 40-year-old had spent months discussing the kidnap and murder online with an American, Michael Arnett.

    During last year’s raid, federal agents found a locked door in the basement, which led to a second door that opened into a dungeon lined with sound-deadening material containing a small makeshift coffin with external locking devices.

    Nearby were a steel cage with multiple locks, and a steel table top with steel rings at six points, which police believe were intended to restrain victims.

    There are a few people who are completely without morals. And, I’d think, there always has been.

  8. 8
    h. hanson

    I read that book when I was fourteen and it was brand new in the school library. Whoever put that book there for the kids must not have known what was inside. Such an innocent looking cover with a lovely butterfly. I had nightmares for quite a while after reading that. Like you, I am always reminded of it when we hear of bizarre cases such as this

  9. 9
    MEFoley

    Oops — sorry — long time ago, yep, I get it — I think I was going on phases like “I always thought of it as fantasy” and “well, think again”, which made the disbelief seem current.

    Yeah, I read it long time ago, too, when I went through a huge John Fowles phase in the early 80s. And iit was horrific then not only because it drew an horrific picture and drew it well, not only because it could so easily have been true (and at the time I read it, like you, I didn’t think this kind of thing had happened), but because the author explicitly dramatized characters that played out as a sort of logical extension of a particular attitude to women that seemed to exactly illustrated some (obviously, thank goodness) milder things I saw and even experienced in real life.

    It’s like when Nicole Krauss in “The History of Love” has a little girl character, who feels that life is precarious and unsafe after her father dies and her mother withdraws, develop an interest in survival skills and keep a rucksack packed with a survival kit at all times, and has an old man character, who is somewhat obsessed with being invisible to society so that he creates scenes in public to be sure that on whatever day he dies, he will have been seen by someone, become a model for a life drawing class. In the same way–it seemed to me–Fowles took the I-own-you-completely-and-what-you-think-doesn’t-matter-a-damn attitude, and made it concrete. And the result was a horror story.

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