As I mentioned in my post on the essay collection Wormholes, The Collector, also by John Fowles, was next on my reading list. I marked several passages that I'll return to over and over again, as I love Fowles's work, but the following excerpt illustrates the author's opinion on the destructive nature of the amateur collector.
I showed her a drawer of Chalkhill and Adonis Blues, I have a beautiful var. ceroneus Adonis and some var. tithonus Chalkhills, and I pointed them out. The var. ceroneus is better than any they got in the N.H. Museum. I was proud to be able to tell her something. She had never heard of aberrations.
"They're beautiful. But sad."
Everything's sad if you make it so, I said.
"But it's you who make it so!" She was staring at me across the drawer. "How many butterflies have you killed?"
You can see.
"No, I can't. I'm thinking of all the butterflies that would have come from these if you'd let them live. I'm thinking of all the living beauty you've ended."
You can't tell.
"You don't even share it. Who sees these? You're like a miser, you hoard up all the beauty in these drawers."
I was really very disappointed, I thought all her talk was very silly. What difference would a dozen specimens make to a species?
"I hate scientists," she said. "I hate people who collect things, and classify things and give them names and then forget all about them. That's what people are always doing in art. They call a painter an impressionist or a cubist or something and then they put him in a drawer and don't see him as a living individual painter any more."
Fowles performs an interesting magic trick in The Collector, managing to act as a collector himself--by dwelling so obsessively on the subject of human evil--and also as a saboteur of collecting--by revealing its corrupt motives. Clegg, the book's antihero, is the ultimate unreliable narrator, forever justifying his inhuman actions (and his murderous inactions) in a prudish, wounded voice that's terrifyingly believable. Clegg is such a perfect specimen of his working class genus that his very specific evil is diffused into an authorial excoriation of the general population. In studying a single social aberration, Fowles has killed, inspected, and classified an entire slice of vulgar, conservative, middle class England.