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.