With The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins signed one of the first detective novels in English, and first published it serialized. What’s interesting with it, when we replace it in its time is that it opened the way for one of the most read genre today. The choice of the narration offers an exceptional possibility, and permits to eliminate the suspects one by one, just as in the Ten little niggers’ song. This song is an adaptation made by Agatha Christie of a minstrel American song published in 1868, written by Septimus Winner, and called Ten Little Indians. She modified the title for the needs of her novel; indeed, every time a death happens in the book, a statuette of a black person is broken. The word “nigger” is a reference to those statuettes, and not a way to qualify the characters of her book. It is also a reminder of where the action takes place : on an isolated island called “island of the nigger”, located in Devon, in England. Here is the song:
“Ten little nigger boys went out to dine
One choked his little self, and then there were nine.
Nine little nigger boys sat up very late
One overslept himself, and then there were eight.
Eight little nigger boys traveling in Devon
One said he’d stay there, and then there were seven.
Seven little nigger boys chopping up sticks
One chopped himself in half, and then there were six.
Six little nigger boys playing with a hive
A bumble-bee stung one, and then there were five.
Five little nigger boys going in for law
One got in chancery, and then there were four.
Four little nigger boys going out to sea
A red herring swallowed one, and then there were three.
Three little nigger boys walking in the zoo
A big bear hugged one, and then there were two.
Two little nigger boys sitting in the sun
One got frizzled up, and then there was one.
One little nigger boys living all alone
He went and hanged himself and then there were none.”
The great number of suspects in The Moonstone and the fact that they were all possible culprits immediately made me think of Agatha Christie’s famous novel. Wilkie Collins, in my opinion, hits stronger with his novel than Agatha Christie, by alternating the narrators, without whom it would not be possible to reunite all the clues needed to solve the investigation. . At every change of narrator, the vise it tightening and the list of suspect is reduced. We are leaded on wrong tracks by Sergeant Cuff and we do not have all the clues to solve the mystery by ourselves. Just as in Ten Little Niggers, we need deaths (Mrs. Verinder, Rosanna, Mr. Ablewhite) to move forward in the inquiry.
In both of the novels, it’s interesting to notice that the police is totally (Ten Little Niggers) or partially (The Moonstone) unable to help any of the characters. Indeed, Sergeant Cuff does help the inquiry but does not resolve it, and even suspects Rachel. He tells Mrs. Verinder with an amazing calm and certain confidence that her daughter is guilty, when all she did was saving Mr. Blake’s honor. A particular event, Mr. Ablewhite death, is necessary to guide the characters to the dénouement. The police, in Ten Little Niggers, do not find a solution nor a responsible to the ten deaths that happened on the island, the key of the mistery is given by an external help, a message in a bottle. We finally get a resolution but meanwhile, there were none.