The Moonstone is an epistolary novel, generally considered the first detective novel in the English language and originally serialized in Charles Dickens’ magazine All the Year Round.
The Moonstone was made for the stage during 1877, but the production was performed for only two months.
It represented Collins’ social opinions about the treatment of the Eastern Indians.
TITLE- The Moonstone of the title is a diamond whose name derives from the association with the Hindu god of the moon. Originally set in the forehead of a sacred statue of the god at Somnath, and later at Benares, it was said to be protected by hereditary guardians on the orders of Vishnu, its brilliance was said to shine and fade according to the light of the moon.
PLOT – Rachel Verinder, on her eiteenth birthday inherits a precious diamond, gift from her uncle, a corrupt English army officer who served in India. The diamond has also a great religious value and three Hindu priests have dedicated their lives to recovering it. Rachel’s eighteenth birthday is celebrated with a large party during which she wears and shows the Moonstone on her dress. Among the guest there is her cousin Franklin Blake. At night, the diamond is stolen from Rachel’s bedroom, the burglar is followed by a period in which sad and unlucky events happens. Sergeant Cuff, a famous detective with a penchant for roses, will have to unveil the truth.
SOURCES – The book is widely regarded as the precursor of the modern mystery and suspense novels. T. S. Eliot called it “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels.. in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe”
Probably the literary sources which influenced the writing of the novel were Sarah Burney’s The Hermitage (1839) which deals with the return of a childhood companion, the sexual symbolism of defloration and the heroine’s reactions to it and Notting Hill Mystery (1862-63) The author remained anonymous until 2011, when American investigator Paul Collins identified it in Charles Felix, pseudonym of charles Warren Adams.
Historical sources – The Prologue emphasizes the historical significance of the story: the action takes place in the years 1848-49, at the time of the second Anglo-Sikh War in India, which established British control over that country with great certainty through annexation of the vast areas of the Punjab. An important English victory at Seringapatam in what was the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1789-99) marked the beginning of “the empire” of the East India Company: it represented the establishment of England as the major power on the sub-continent, and confirmed the expansion and exploitation as a company practice.
The story of the Jewel: The great diamond refers to two very famous stones the Russian “Orloff” (the diamond in the Russian Imperial Sceptre) and the “Koh-i-Noor” (the Persian “mountain of light”), both stolen by Europeans.
The historical background which supplies elements for the story is a reference to the gift Maharajah Duleep Singh gave to Queen Victoria. He was the first Sikh settler established by the United Kingdom, then dethroned after 6 years with the annexion of the country to the British crown. The exiled Sikh became a friend of Queen Victoria, and gave her the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which is the centrepiece of the Queen Mother’s state crown.
(Collins became addicted to laudanum and then suffered from paranoid delusions; he said he was accompanied by a doppelganger he dubbed “Ghost Wilkie”).
ORIGINALITY – The elements that will be an example for the following detective story writers are the English country house, the “inside job”, a famous, professional investigator, and the amateur detective, detective enquiries, false suspects, the “least likely suspect”, the reconstruction of the crime and the final twist in the plot.
Collins here uses the “multi-narration” method: the story is told by a series of narratives from some of the main characters.
The contrasting testimonies give the narration humour and pathos while constructing and advancing the novel’s plot.
Another aspect which was quite original for the period is the depiction of opium addiction, a problem Collins knew personally (Collins became addicted to laudanum and then suffered from paranoid delusions; he said he was accompanied by a doppelganger he dubbed “Ghost Wilkie”).
COMMENTARY – Collins in the novel has subverted the conventions of the Sensation Novel and also the traditional belief of nineteenth-century British imperialism. The centre of The Moonstone is crime and detection not sexual indiscretions; and the conquering English are not superior, enlightened beings who try to give the benefits of European culture and Christian morality to poor savages.
The diamond Moonstone represents all things that humanity struggles for, material and spiritual. It brings out the worst in the seek to get it: it brings out the hypocrisy of the organized Christianity.
In fact, The Moonstone is mainly a history of thefts: the stone for Europeans is symbol of money for its faithful guardians, the Brahmins, is a sacred artefact beyond price.
India as Ancient Civilization and the Moonstone as Critique of British Imperialism- The narrative transforms the sacred object into a symbol of wealth and power that immoral soldiers of various nations have sought to acquire. Back on the forehead of the Moon god, the Moonstone once again becomes a metaphysical rather than a capitalistic signifier.
After the rebellion of Sepoy (the Sepoy mutiny), during which many English included women and children were massacred, even Queen Victoria and her husband urged commanders in the field to show moderation in the number of executions. The Queen was very conscious of her duties to her Indian subjects, and here, as in Britain, she believed in her ideal of paternalistic government.
To Collins the British Raj is not civilising and benevolent, but economic and military imperialism at its worst. The Moonstone thus becomes a semiotic sign whose meanings lie beyond cultural misperceptions and hegemonies. In the idol, it inspires faith in the community of believers; as a useless bauble it excites the Christian sins of lust, envy, greed, and even murder.
Heroes and Villains- The story of the Moonstone becomes a fable, with a clear moral, and the diamond becomes a sort of catalyst. The prediction of disaster which strikes any successive owner implies that the story of the gem is one of successive thefts, and its curse pursues everybody but Franklin Blake and Rachel Verinder. Rachel loves Franklin altruistically and is ready to sacrifice her honour for the sake of her beloved – whom she believes to be a thief . Her love is similar to the religious dedication of the Brahmins. Romantic love becomes the Western equivalent of Eastern reverence. And the holy-men who recover the diamond for their deity, are like Franklin Blake who recovers Rachel’s respect.
India in The Moonstone has a function parallel to some elements in the Gothic Novels. Its mysteriousness, curses and omens, supply the background that once belonged to castles, remote areas, passageways, Mediterranean villains, and medieval premonitions. It is like the statue in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, which began the Gothic genre. Besides the place, India, gives Collins an additional suggests another sub-dimension, an obscure historical background, the pressure of the past upon the present.Today, The Moonstone may be viewed not as a response to a national insurgency and or European determination to keep the native in his place, but rather as a love story between two people who only come to see each other for what they are after misunderstandings, and considerable self-sacrifice.
Film, radio, TV, or theatrical adaptations
Movies: The Moonstone by Reginald Barker (1934)
Radio:, “The Moonstone” was episode number 67 of the radio series, The Weird Circle in 1945 and in 2011 in the Classic Serial slot
TV: the BBC adapted the novel into a television serial first in and in 1972, and in 1996.
Rachel Verinder – young heiress at the centre of the story; on her 18th birthday she inherits the gem of the title.
Lady Verinder – her mother, a wealthy widow devoted to her only child.
General Herncastle – Lady Verinder’s brother, suspected of foul deeds in India, including the theft of the Moonstone.
Gabriel Betteredge – the Verinders’ head servant, first narrator.
Penelope Betteredge – his daughter, also a servant in the household.
Rosanna Spearman – second housemaid, ex-thief, suspicious and tragic character.
Drusilla Clack – a poor cousin of Rachel Verinder, an unlikeable Christian evangelist and meddler, second narrator.
Franklin Blake – adventurer, another cousin and suitor.
Godfrey Ablewhite – philanthropist, another cousin and suitor.
Mr. Bruff – family solicitor, third narrator.
Sergeant Cuff – famous detective with a penchant for roses.
Dr. Candy – the family physician, loses his sanity to a fever.
Ezra Jennings – Dr. Candy’s unpopular and odd looking assistant, suffers from an incurable illness and uses opium to control the pain.
Mr. Murthwaite – a noted adventurer who has traveled frequently in India; he provides the epilogue to the story.
The Indian jugglers – disguised Hindu Brahmins who are determined to recover the diamond.