Friday, 17 March 2000

Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone (1868)

Edition: Bibliomania, at
Review number: 453

WIlkie Collins is often cited, along with Conan Doyle and Poe, as one of the originators of the crime novel, and his best known tale is an excellent example shouwing why this is so. The moonstone is a famous diamond looted by British soldiers from a temple in India. When Rachel Verinder's uncle dies, he bequeaths the stone to her, either as a gesture of reconciliation with her side of the family, or to destroy her life through the curse placed on it when removed from the temple. On her twenty first birthday, when she receives the jewel, three strange Indians are seen in the vicinity of the Verinder country house; then, in the night, the jewel goes missing.

Though it seems obvious to all the characters that the Indians have taken the Moonstone, the mystery becomes complex as soon as they are discovered not to have it. The plot of The Moonstone is quite ingenious, though decidedly unfair on a modern reader - part of it relies on the legality of opium at the time, for example.There are elements which attack aspects of society in the Victorian period, in the style of Dickens: hypocritical piety is the main target, though evangelicalism is also ridiculed through the amiable Gabriel Betteredge. (He reveres Robinson Crusoe and uses it as his guide for life as many used the Bible.)

The Moonstone remains an exciting story, and its expert retelling will ensure that it continues to be read into the future.

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