Common Sensation Novel Quaities as Seen in “The Moonstone” and “Clue”

Allingham quotes P. D. Edwards saying the term “Sensation Novel” “was originally applied disparagingly to a broad range of crime, mystery, and horror novels written in the early 1860s.” The Victorian Sensation novel came about around 1860 when the society started to find new ways of reading and printing texts such as an increase in libraries, tabloid journalism, and the circulation of the newspaper. Also around this time, reforms and abolition were occurring; reform in divorce procedures as one could imagine, would stir up possible thoughts about how to end a marriage in another way…. bang bang.

Being that “The Moonstone” by Wilkie Collins was considered the first detective novel in the English language, it has many of the typical sensationalist aspects. One that we discussed in class, is the use of drugs, potions, or poisons. In this stories case, it’s drugs. Ezra Jennings addiction to Opium helps to ultimately solve he crime, and Franklin Blake’s attempt to go cold turkey on his addiction to tobacco makes him an insomniac, thus giving the Dr reason to give him drugs to treat his sleep disorder when in reality it caused him to unknowingly steal the moonstone.

Romantic love triangles are also common in sensation novels. In “The Moonstone”, Godfrey proposes to Rachel twice however she remains in love with Franklin despite her anger towards him on occasion. She proves her love to him by not giving him up when she knows she saw him take the moonstone with her own two eyes.

Another sensationalist trait is characters adopting disguises. At the end of the novel, Godfrey is revealed to be a sham. His disguise as the sailor shows his hidden double life and that appearance isn’t always what it seems. Though Godfrey is described as better looking then Franklin, his personality is what wins Rachel over to him.

This novel very different from, yet reminds me of the famous novel “Clue” by Michael McDowell. There are many different characters who all become suspects in the murder of “Mr. Body”, just as there are many suspects who are accused or questioned for the theft of the moonstone. Just as Mr. Godfrey is in disguise, “Mr. Body” turns out to not be the dead host, but the butler who has set up this whole scandal. I’m sure you all have played the board game before so you know that with allotted clues, the truth is revealed at the end. Heightened suspense, another sensational characteristic can most certainly be felt by the reader in both novels, however I recommend the film version as well. Here is a clip that shows everyone’s anxiousness toward finding out who the culprit is in the film version of “Clue”. Mr. Body, the man who first speaks says “If you denounce me to the police, you will also be exposed and humiliated.” This makes me think of when Rachel chooses not to expose Franklin except not for her caution of being humiliate, but because she loves him. Mrs. Peacock shows her need for alcohol just like the character in “The Moonstone” need their drugs. It also brings up the idea of poison; another sensationalist occurrence.

Both “The Moonstone” and “Clue” display common sensationalist themes, just as most mystery novels do. Enjoy the clip! I suggest the full film/book!

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13 thoughts on “Common Sensation Novel Quaities as Seen in “The Moonstone” and “Clue”

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  7. swu7

    As everyone said, I really like how you compared “The Moonstone” to “Clue.” For one thing, all I knew of it before this post was that it was a board game I never learned how to play. I never knew it was a book or a movie, so for me, this post definitely did its job in introducing new material. Plus, the clip makes me want to see the movie. I want to see for myself the connection you made in your example of Mr. Body addressing the idea of being exposed and humiliated and Rachel choosing not to give Franklin in. You’re right in saying she doesn’t do it because she loves him and not because she’s afraid of being humiliated, but she also does it because there’s a part of her who doesn’t want him to suffer the humiliation.

  8. clemence

    Your explaination about when sensation novel started to fascinate is really interesting because we see that the writings were exposed to more people … and sensationalism is the catchy way to get people to read you. Indeed, all the ingredients are reunited in The Moonstone to make the reader go through the pages. Maybe another sensationalist trait is the reversal, when Franklin finds out he took part in the theft, which goes beyond than what the clues found by sergeant Cuff pointed out.

  9. Angela

    Kelsey, I enjoyed the reference to Clue. The book, movie and board game are favorites in my home. Your post made me want to research what defines a sensational novel. This is a term that I have had minimal exposure to. As you mention, Collins uses drugs, romantic love triangles, disguises and heightened suspense detailism in writing “The Moonstone.” The Victorian Web also includes a misdirected letter as one of the features of a sensational novel. Do you believe that Rosanna’s letter can be interpreted as “misdirected?”

  10. Nathan

    Good book, however I think all novels are sensationalist in some ways, albeit there are novels that are completely boring because they cannot cause any emotional response in their readers. Even other literature such as Austen’s novels on love and romance I would consider sensational. I do think the mystery genre itself though was really created during this time period with sherlock holmes and the moonstone etc.

  11. Jason Tougaw

    It’s great that you’ve provided some historical context for sensation fiction. Collins’s novel fits squarely into the genre. It’s pretty interesting that some readers were so dismissive or disdainful of sensation fiction, when in fact much of it is extremely sophisticated in its use of literary techniques–for example, the multiple narrators in Collins’s novel.

  12. davidginsberg

    I love the comparison. It’s not one I would ever think of connecting but it’s completely apt in this scenario.
    Although there’s no official ‘detective’ in “Clue,” there are a bunch of unofficial sleuths who are anxious to find out who the murderer is. The movie is hilarious and well worth seeing. After reading “The Moonstone,” the movie will be that much more enjoyable.

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