Leslie holds a PhD in English and a M.A. in Creative and Media Writing from Swansea University, as well as a B.A. in English and French from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. She has experience teaching at the University level, and has taught courses ranging from science fiction and gothic horror to script development. She has multiple academic and non-academic publications, and work experience as a fiction editor.
Introducing Wilkie Collins
Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) was a very popular Victorian writer of the 19th century. He was a friend of Charles Dickens, and their fiction explores some of the same themes. They both used their novels as social commentary and vehicles for change. Collins was also the most successful writer of sensation novels, which were similar to Gothic fiction, with references to contemporary journalism. His most famous novel, The Woman in White (1860) is considered the best example of sensation fiction. Collins also lived a somewhat unconventional life, having relationships with women but not marrying them. Like many of Collins' novels, The Moonstone was first serialized in a magazine before being published in book form.
Plot of The Moonstone
The moonstone in the title refers to a brilliant but flawed gem seized by a British officer in India. He brought it back to England as a family heirloom - with a supposed curse placed upon it. The officer bequeathed the stone to his niece, Rachel Verinder, for her to inherit when she turns 18. The night of her 18th birthday, the Moonstone goes missing. Everyone connected with Rachel at her family estate in Yorkshire is under suspicion. It is up to the London detective, Sergeant Cuff, to solve the crime.
Characters & Structure of the Novel
Rachel Verinder is an independent young woman being courted by two of her cousins: Franklin Blake, a resourceful young man, and Godfrey Ablewhite, a philanthropist. The rest of the household consists of Gabriel Betteredge, the venerable family servant, and Rosanna Spearman, a housemaid with a suspicious past. Dr. Candy, a local doctor; his assistant Ezra Jennings; Rachel's cousin, Drusilla Clack; the family lawyer, Mr. Bruff; and a group of Indian jugglers are also involved.
Many of the characters in the novel contribute to the unravelling of the narrative. The book begins with an account of the Moonstone theft in India by Rachel's uncle. The events of the 18th birthday party and the disappearance of the diamond are told in the next section by Gabriel Betteredge. From Gabriel's perspective, Rosanna and Rachel are both suspects given their strange behavior after the disappearance of the diamond. Rosanna commits suicide, and the crime is left unsolved.
Over the next year, the mystery is unravelled. In one section, Franklin explains that he was in love with Rachel who shunned him. After some time away, he discovers that Rosanna was hopelessly in love with him. Rosanna found some incriminating evidence which showed that Franklin himself stole the Moonstone. She killed herself in order to keep him safe.
Franklin finds out that Rachel actually witnessed him stealing the Moonstone but protected his reputation at the cost of her own. After befriending Dr. Candy's assistant, Ezra Jennings, Franklin discovers he was dosed with laudanum the night of the theft. In the section narrated by Ezra, Franklin undergoes an experiment to replicate his medicated condition on the night of the birthday party. They discover that Franklin did indeed steal the diamond in a narcotic trance, but no one knows what he did with it.
In other sections narrated by Franklin, Cuff, Dr. Candy, and Gabriel, the whereabouts of the diamond are discovered. In the end the stone is seized by the Brahmins, the Moonstone's caretakers, who have followed it from India. They return it back to its sacred place in a Hindu temple. Rachel and Franklin are married, and the matter is considered closed.
Outcasts and Others
Collins differed from many of his contemporary writers for the sympathetic treatment he gives to servants in his fiction, and for the agency he assigns his female characters. This is nowhere more true than in the character of Rosanna Spearman - a disabled, reformed thief who had been sent to a penitentiary. Although she is socially inferior, she falls in love with Franklin Blake and expects to have a chance of being loved in return.
Ezra Jennings is another outcast in the story who proves himself to be one of the most able characters. An opium addict due to an incurable disease, he has an odd piebald skin condition. He is disliked and misunderstood by many of the characters. However, Ezra is instrumental in solving the mystery and acts like even more of a detective than Sergeant Cuff.
The reverse is also true in The Moonstone. Characters who outwardly appear virtuous and trustworthy are hypocritical, such as Godfrey Abelwhite. Godfrey appears to be a Christian philanthropist. But in reality, he's in debt and interested in Rachel purely for her money.
Furthermore, Collins' sympathetic treatment of the Brahmins in the novel differs from his contemporaries when he hints that no one ever seeks to restore the stone to its rightful owners. The Brahmins were robbed by Rachel's unscrupulous uncle, and Collins notes that this is wrong.
The Moonstone and Detective Fiction
Collins based elements of The Moonstone on real crime cases. He encouraged the reader to play detective by assembling evidence from the various narrators, then deciding who was trustworthy and who was lying. The Moonstone was one of the first novels to function in this way. Many of its elements are now recognizable in all detective fiction.
In 'The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins uses a variety of narrators to involve readers in one of the first detective novels ever written. While the novel's style situates it with Victorian 'sensation' novels, Collins also creates sympathetic characters who are outcasts and uses these devices to work as social commentary.
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