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[212] The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

Moonstone“Here was her sensitive horror of the bare contact with anything mean, building her to every consideration of what she owed to herself, hurrying her into a false position which might compromise her in the estimation of all her friends.” [282]

T.S. Eliot pronounced The Moonstone to be “the first and greatest of English detective novel.” Unlike most contemporary whodunnit fiction, Wilkie Collins embellishes his narratives with a literary touch that might render the pace a bit slower, but without compromising the page-turning readability. Literary as it is, Collins’ works are usually not accorded the same “literary” stature as are real novelists because mysteries are more often read for pleasure rather than for academic scrutiny.

The novel concerns a precious gem that grows and lessens with the waxing and waning of the moon. Colonel Herncastle brings the moonstone back with him from India where he acquired it by theft and murder. Angry at his family, who shun him, he leaves it in his will as a birthday gift to his niece Rachel Verinder, thus exposing her to attack by the stone’s hereditary guardians. The diamond was lost—taken from Rachel’s room—two hours after her birthday party.

As no evidence indicates that the Indian guardians are at the bottom of the burglary, Sergeant Cuff, who establishes the qualifications and quirky protocol to be followed by fictional detectives nowadays, concludes that no thieves have broken in and that some person in the house must have committed the crime.

All the signs visible—signs which told that the paint had been smeared by some loose article of somebody’s dress touching it in going by. [110]

The loss of the cursed diamond thus casts a blight and suspicion on the entire company at the birthday party. Rosanna Spearman, a housemaid, is immediately suspected for her mysterious nocturnal employment. Out of an ulterior motive, love that is, she keeps the stained gown that belongs to the person on whom she has a crush. Taking advantage of the quarrel between Rachel Verinder and Franklin Blake is the needy and unscrupulous Godfrey Ablewhite, who justifies the very worst that Gabriel Betteredge, the steward, has thought of him by revealing the mercenary object of his marriage proposal to Rachel. He quickly retreats from it upon knowledge of the prohibitive terms of Lady Verinder’s will.

You are the victim, and I am the victim, of some monstrous delusion which has worn the mask of truth. [354]

The sense of delusion that the recountings of several narrators create is conducive to the shocking resolution. Wilkie Collins does well fixing the terms on which one feels justified in revealing details pertaining to the case. Beyond the mystery of the moonstone is depiction of life’s most cruel social afflictions and of hopeless, unrequited, obsessive love. Collins deliberately emphasizes on the unprivileged who have toiled hard after happiness and have gathered nothing but disappointment and sorrow.

428 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

33 Responses

  1. Now this sounds like one that I would actually read and be able to fully understand without Spark Notes!! 🙂 I’ll have to add this one to my list for sure!! Excellent review!

  2. I loved The Moonstone! How does this compare, in terms of personal enjoyment, to The Woman in White (which I have coming up soon)?

  3. I’ve been thinking of reading the Moonstone for a long time. Your review certainly sparked my interest, maybe this year I will read it… I loved the Woman in White when I read it years ago.


  4. I absolutely loved this book. When I read that it was the original mystery novel, I couldn’t resist. The pacing, the paranoia and suspicions, the location of the house, it all just created a setting that was magical. I intend to soon read The Woman in White…have it on my Kindle ready to go!

  5. So I keep forgetting to ask you…has the 1,000th comment come and gone? I’ve been away for awhile…

  6. I’m looking forward to reading this. I see you’re currently reading The Woman in White… how do you find the book so far?

  7. I just got this book in the mail the other day so I’m glad to see that you found it worth reading. From the few pages that I have read so far it seems pretty accessible for a classic.

  8. Oh I cannot resist this book when I first read it. The narratives from different people at the house just drew me deeper and deeper into the story.

  9. Ever since reading Drood I have been interested in picking up one of Colins’ books – I was going to start with The Woman in White and see how I went from there but this one does sound interesting…

  10. Hmmm, that was interesting. Looks like somethings will always remain mystery.

    I myself has been trying to solve the mystery of this legend for a wile now. Could not understand much though.

    Let me know in case you get to understand the mystery of the Old Hound and the Legend

    By the way, good writing style. I’d love to read more on similar topics

  11. I loved the Moonstone! Have you read The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher? It is a non-fiction book describing the real life crime which inspired the Moonstone. I found it fascinating, especially as I read them very close together.

  12. My friend tim gave The Moonstone to me on my thirteenth birthday, and I was all, Gee, thanks, tim, a book with a boring cover and depressing typescript (no, I was polite really). And it turned out to be so wonderful! With different narrators! I’m glad you liked it. 🙂

  13. Matt: Great review. Compared to Collins’s acclaimed mysteries, the Black Robe was a slightly slower start, but it’s good and I’m having difficulty putting it down.

    JoAnn: Personally, I liked the Woman in White better for the plot and I thought it more of a suspense-thriller. I seldom read mysteries, but both of them are fantastic. If interested, my review for them is here.

  14. I’m going to have to give The Moonstone another go. I loved Woman in White but couldn’t get into The Moonstone last time I tried.

    I think I still have a copy somewhere.

  15. Staci:
    It will hold your breath. The writing is fine and the story is just irresistibly suspenseful.

  16. JoAnn:
    I think Woman in White, which I haven’t finished and am putting aside for my upcoming Lake Las Vegas vacation, is even more “page-turning” because The Moonstone is more contemplative and a bit slow at times when Collins touches upon the technical aspect (i.e. the will, the Indians) of the story.

  17. Tiina:
    Yes, it was when I started The Moonstone that I put down Woman in White, which I’ll save for my upcoming vacation. Both are finely written but The Moonstone needs a bit more work and concentration.

  18. Sandy:
    It would be nice that we can compare notes on Woman in White. 🙂

  19. Sandy:
    Oh, yeah…JoAnn was my 10,000th commentator. Congratulations to her. And I need to get on sending her the prize. 🙂

  20. Melody:
    The Woman in White is even more engaging and intriguing. I can go on with more adjectives! 🙂 I’m saving it for later and that was why I picked up The Moonstone.

  21. Nicole:
    Collins were sort of looked down by the “real” novelists at the time because he was writing mystery novels that weren’t technically considered something that was worth academic scrutiny.

  22. John:
    But what do you think of The Woman in White?

  23. Karen:
    I’m sure I’ll peruse more Collins. He intrigues me! 🙂

  24. tanyakhanna:
    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll check that out.

  25. Jackie (Farm Lane Books):
    Awww, now I have to put The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher on my list! Thanks for the recommendation. Have you read The Woman in White? I started it but decided to save it for my getaway! 🙂

  26. Jenny:
    Yeah it’s told in a very coherent and yet sophisticated manner. I enjoyed the different style of the narratives and am most impressed by the faithful Gabriel Betteredge. 🙂

  27. Mish:
    I agree with you that The Woman in White has a better plot consider that I have only read two chapters. I saved it for my vacation because of the engaging plot! 🙂

  28. cbjames:
    It’s a little bit at some parts but you will be in for the treat if you’re patient. 🙂

  29. cbjames: I second Matt on that.

    Matt: Smart!

  30. I have never read any Collins. I’ll have to add this under the The Woman in White on my list. Thanks Matt.

  31. I finished reading The Moonstone only yesterday and I really liked it. The style of different narrators is rare I think and the plot is good and a bit fantastic. The loveliest part to me was the experiment!

  32. […] book read? Two of the oldest books read were both by Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White (1859) and The Moonstone (1868). The oldest book was The Dialogue of the Dogs by Cervantes (1613). The newest were Shanghai […]

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