Collins, Wilkie. The Moonstone. T.S. Eliot admired The Moonstone and called it "the first and greatest English detective novel." He also added that it was "the longest" of its kind. Collins himself is considered the "father" of the modern English detective novel, but The Moonstone is much more than a detective story: it experiments with multiple narrators of varying degrees of reliability and pertinent information, speaks to British colonialism and racial assumptions, raises questions of class, treats religious fanaticism satirically and humorously, and shows a contempt for the hypocrisy of certain philanthropic organizations.
Collins begins with a background of the moonstone (a huge yellow diamond) and its violent theft, then moves to the narrative of Gabriel Betteridge who gives a background to the Verinder family. The moonstone, with its curse, is presented to Rachel Verinder on her eighteenth birthday, but by the next morning has disappeared.
Through the narratives of various individuals, the mystery of the diamond's disappearance and its aftermath is gradually related. The novel first appeared as a serial in Dickens' All the Year Around (which also published such authors as Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Elizabeth Gaskell) in 1868. It is easy to imagine the eagerness with which the audience would have looked forward to the installments that ran from January through August of that year. Rather like a soap opera or a television mini-series, The Moonstone must have been responsible for myriads of conversations and speculations among the Victorians.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I remembered the solution to the mystery, but little else, so it provided an enjoyable reread after 4 decades. While, in my mind's eye, I retained the image I formed of the actual theft, the references to Robinson Crusoe, the narratives of silly Miss Clack and the sadly alien Ezra Jennings were lost over the years. In many ways, it turned out to be a completely different novel that what I remembered, but just as rewarding. The Moonstone is a classic for good reason...
Fiction. Mystery/detective. Signet Classic. 493 pages.