The Collector was John Fowles's first published novel, released in 1963. Fowles described this book as a commentary on class in England, specifically on class issues such as prosperity, pretension, and the contrasts between the working class and the upper class during the 1950s and 1960s.
In his own words, Fowles explained the novel as an examination of the Few and the Many (hoi polloi); this theme was inspired by the Greek philosopher Heracleitus, whose work had influenced Fowles considerably. Fowles wanted to explore the pity that the Few (the educated, intelligent, and good) have for the Many (the ignorant and impressionable populace). He also wanted to examine the idea of the flawed, uneducated, or maladjusted hero, which he personally thought had been misused as a literary motif; he wanted to push back against the glamorization of such characters in other novels of the time.
Fowles was motivated to write The Collector after seeing a performance of the opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, which depicts a man who imprisons a woman underground. Fowles wanted to invoke the symbolism of this earlier work in his novel. He was also inspired by a case in 1950s London of a boy imprisoning a girl in an air-raid shelter.