‘The Moonstone’: Wilkie Collins’s ‘Jane Eyre’

Wilkie Collins’s novel, The Moonstone, is thought to be the first detective novel ever written. Just as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre conveyed personal thoughts, feelings, and autobiographical elements, Collins’s The Moonstone did as well.

As we have spoke about in class, Wilkie Collins was close friends with Charles Dickens, the famous author who often wrote about the lower and middle class’s ongoing struggle with poverty. Whether or not Collins agreed with Dickens’s critique of how the poor and the outcasts were treated and how they lived is unknown, but it certainly looks as if Collins sympathized with Dickens’s feelings.

By making Ezra Jennings – the social outcast who nobody trusted – the hero of the book, Collins clearly expressed his feelings of the old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Ezra Jennings is portrayed as villainous and mysterious by the townspeople, while Godfrey Ablewhite is beloved by everyone. Collins shocks the reader by reversing the perceived notions of the malicious foreigner and the clean-cut Brit.

Also, as Mary Elizabeth Leighton and Lisa Surridge clearly express in their essay, The Transatlantic Moonstone: A Study of the Illustrated Serial in Harper’s Weekly (http://englishnovel2.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/files/2014/01/42.3.leighton-moonstone-serializatation.pdf), (paraphrasing) the Indians are depicted as being victims (in the beginning of the book) and heroes and the rightful owners of the Moonstone at the end of the book. This is another way in which Collins cleverly subverts colonialism. A well-traveled man who appreciated art and culture of all kinds, Collins most likely was of the belief that colonialism was wrong. Much like Shakespeare’s not-so-subtle commentary of colonialism in The Tempest, Collins uses a clever backdrop and an intriguing narrative to disguise his thoughts.

In terms of a more direct autobiographical standpoint, Collins and Ezra Jennings are directly linked. Due to his excruciating pain from rheumatic gout, Collins became addicted to Opium, just like Jennings (http://www.wilkie-collins.info/wilkie_collins_biography.htm). Perhaps this contributed to Collins’s decision to make Jennings the hero of the novel.

Taking what we’ve learned from all of the texts we’ve read in class – Emma, Jane Eyre, A Christmas Carol, and The Moonstone – all of these classic authors tend to use their real-life experiences in their stories. Maybe that’s why these novels are so timeless.

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12 thoughts on “‘The Moonstone’: Wilkie Collins’s ‘Jane Eyre’

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  4. davidginsberg Post author

    I thought that they were completely correct and argued their points very well. Almost any unillustrated work is going to have some sense of ambiguity to it since every reader perceives the characters in a different light; an illustrated work leaves nothing to the imagination in terms of what the characters look like because they are right there for the reader to see. Besides that, Leighton and Surridge provided several specific examples which really struck me as being relevant.
    In the illustrated version, the Indians in the beginning of the novel are depicted as victims of racial and religious violence. During the meat of the story, the three Indians are shown in the shadows, often a sign of untrustworthiness. However, at the end, when they reclaim the Moonstone, they are once again shown in a nice, religious light, which is a scathing critique on colonialism in its own right. Although that’s how I personally pictured it while reading the book in class, I’m sure there’s been tons of people who think that the Indians are nothing more than evil, murdering villains.
    The other example which really struck me was when Leighton and Surridge compared the similarities of Herncastle and Godfrey on their lonely deathbeds. This felt like another direct jab at race and colonialism – the two people who stole the diamond for financial gain are clearly shown in a negative light as they are dying.

  5. Jason Tougaw

    Those autobiographical connections make a lot of sense. It’s clear that Collins’s portrayal of long-term opium use is based in his own experience. He and Dickens were certainly in dialogue with each other. Whereas Dickens makes his critiques of poverty and social neglect very clear, Collins embeds them in an intricate narrative that makes it much more difficult to know whether he’s using material about social class, race, and gender as material to fuel his sensational plot or to critique the status quo with regard to these issues. Of course, both may be true.

    What do you think of Leighton and Surridge’s argument that the unillustrated serialized version of the novel in Dickens’s Household Words is more ambiguous about race and colonialism than the illustrated version that was serialized in Harper’s in the U.S.?

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