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  • The Moonstone
  • Written by Wilkie Collins
  • Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780679417224
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The Moonstone

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Written by Wilkie CollinsAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Wilkie Collins

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On Sale: July 22, 2009
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-307-42218-7
Published by : Modern Library Random House Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

The Moonstone is a stunning yellow diamond the size of a bird's egg that glows like the harvest moon and harbors a flaw in its brilliant depths.  Inherited by the beautiful young Englishwoman Rachel Verinder, it is also a sacred talisman to the Hindu priests who hope to bring it back to their holy city in India, from which it was looted long ago.  The diamond's disappearance sets in motion an intricately plotted mystery.  Wilkie Collins gives the reader all the necessary pieces to the puzzle, but they are so cleverly disguised that his surprise ending takes the breath away. 
   
The elements that make up The Moonstone—a purloined jewel that carries a mysterious curse, an indefatigable British police sergeant, a drama of theft and murder in a spacious country house—have been repeated, in varying guises, throughout much of the avalanche of detective fiction that followed Collins's immensely popular 1868 novel.  But none of those books has surpassed the richness and suspense of the storytelling of The Moonstone, the first detective novel and the continuing standard of its genre.

Introduction by Catherine Peters

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

Excerpt

Collins: THE MOONSTONE

First Period the loss of the diamond (1848) The Events related by Gabriel Betteredge, House-Steward in the service of Julia, Lady Verinder

Chapter I

In the first part of Robinson Crusoe, at page one hundred and twenty-nine, you will find it thus written:

“Now I saw, though too late, the Folly of beginning a Work before we count the Cost, and before we judge rightly of our own Strength to go through with it.”

Only yesterday, I opened my Robinson Crusoe at that place. Only this morning (May twenty-first, Eighteen hundred and fifty), came my lady’s nephew, Mr. Franklin Blake, and held a short conversation with me, as follows:—

“Betteredge,” says Mr. Franklin, “I have been to the lawyer’s about some family matters; and, among other things, we have been talking of the loss of the Indian Diamond, in my aunt’s house in Yorkshire, two years since. Mr. Bruff thinks, as I think, that the whole story ought, in the interests of truth, to be placed on record in writing—and the sooner the better.”

Not perceiving his drift yet, and thinking it always desirable for the sake of peace and quietness to be on the lawyer’s side, I said I thought so too. Mr. Franklin went on.

“In this matter of the Diamond,” he said, “the characters of innocent people have suffered under suspicion already—as you know. The memories of innocent people may suffer, hereafter, for want of a record of the facts to which those who come after us can appeal. There can be no doubt that this strange family story of ours ought to be told. And I think, Betteredge, Mr. Bruff and I together have hit on the right way of telling it.”

Very satisfactory to both of them, no doubt. But I failed to see what I myself had to do with it, so far.

“We have certain events to relate,” Mr. Franklin proceeded; “and we have certain persons concerned in those events who are capable of relating them. Starting from these plain facts, the idea is that we should all write the story of the Moonstone in turn—as far as our own personal experience extends, and no farther. We must begin by showing how the Diamond first fell into the hands of my uncle Herncastle, when he was serving in India fifty years since. This prefatory narrative I have already got by me in the form of an old family paper, which relates the necessary particulars on the authority of an eye-witness. The next thing to do is to tell how the Diamond found its way into my aunt’s house in Yorkshire, two years ago, and how it came to be lost in little more than twelve hours afterwards. Nobody knows as much as you do, Betteredge, about what went on in the house at that time. So you must take the pen in hand, and start the story.”

In those terms I was informed of what my personal concern was with the matter of the Diamond. If you are curious to know what course I took under the circumstances, I beg to inform you that I did what you would probably have done in my place. I modestly declared myself to be quite unequal to the task imposed upon me—and I privately felt, all the time, that I was quite clever enough to perform it, if I only gave my own abilities a fair chance. Mr. Franklin, I imagine, must have seen my private sentiments in my face. He declined to believe in my modesty; and he insisted on giving my abilities a fair chance.

Two hours have passed since Mr. Franklin left me. As soon as his back was turned, I went to my writing-desk to start the story. There I have sat helpless (in spite of my abilities) ever since; seeing what Robinson Crusoe saw, as quoted above—namely, the folly of beginning a work before we count the cost, and before we judge rightly of our own strength to go through with it. Please to remember, I opened the book by accident, at that bit, only the day before I rashly undertook the business now in hand; and, allow me to ask—if that isn’t prophecy, what is?

I am not superstitious; I have read a heap of books in my time; I am a scholar in my own way. Though turned seventy, I possess an active memory, and legs to correspond. You are not to take it, if you please, as the saying of an ignorant man, when I express my opinion that such a book as Robinson Crusoe never was written, and never will be written again. I have tried that book for years—generally in combination with a pipe of tobacco—and I have found it my friend in need in all the necessities of this mortal life. When my spirits are bad—Robinson Crusoe. When I want advice—Robinson Crusoe. In past times, when my wife plagued me; in present times, when I have had a drop too much—Robinson Crusoe. I have worn out six stout Robinson Crusoes with hard work in my service. On my lady’s last birthday she gave me a seventh. I took a drop too much on the strength of it; and Robinson Crusoe put me right again. Price four shillings and sixpence, bound in blue, with a picture into the bargain.

Still, this don’t look much like starting the story of the Diamond—does it? I seem to be wandering off in search of Lord knows what, Lord knows where. We will take a new sheet of paper, if you please, and begin over again, with my best respects to you.
Wilkie Collins

About Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins - The Moonstone
William Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824, the eldest son of a successful painter, William Collins. He studied law and was admitted to the bar but never practiced his nominal profession, devoting his time to writing instead. His first published book was a biography of his father, his second a florid historical romance. The first hint of his later talents came with Basil (1852), a vivid tale of seduction, treachery, and revenge.

In 1851 Collins had met Charles Dickens, who would become his close friend and mentor. Collins was soon writing unsigned articles and stories for Dickens’s magazine, Household Words, and his novels were serialized in its pages. Collins brought out the boyish, adventurous side of Dickens’s character; the two novelists traveled to Italy, Switzerland, and France together, and their travels produced such lighthearted collaborations as “The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices.” They also shared a passion for the theater, and Collins’s melodramas, notably “The Frozen Deep,” were presented by Dickens’s private company, with Dickens and Collins in leading roles.

Collins’s first mystery novel was Hide and Seek (1853). His first popular success was The Woman in White (1860), followed by No Name (1862), Armadale (1866), and The Moonstone (1868), whose Sergeant Cuff became a prototype of the detective hero in English fiction. Collins’s concentration on the seamier side of life did not endear him to the critics of his day, but he was among the most popular of Victorian novelists. His meticulously plotted, often violent novels are now recognized as the direct ancestors of the modern mystery novel and thriller.

Collins’s private life was an open secret among his friends. He had two mistresses, one of whom bore him three children. His later years were marred by a long and painful eye disease. His novels, increasingly didactic, declined greatly in quality, but he continued to write by dictating to a secretary until 1886. He died in 1889.
Praise

Praise

"The first and greatest of English detective novels."
--T. S. Eliot
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. T. S. Eliot called The Moonstone “the first and the best of English detective novels.” What classic elements of mystery are present in this story, and how has the genre of detective fiction evolved from the 1860s to the present day?

2. Discuss Collins’s employment of first-hand accounts to tell the story of The Moonstone. What does each narrator bring to the story, and how skillful is the author in shifting from comedy to pathos, romance to suspense? Is it an effective method of storytelling?

3. According to his 1868 preface, Collins’s stated objective was to trace the influence of character on circumstances. Whose character exerts the strongest influence on the plot of this novel, and how?

4. Drawing on the Prologue, as well as the opinions expressed by characters including Mr. Betteredge and Mr. Murthwaite, what may be determined about Collins’s views on British imperialism? Does he support or defy racial stereotypes in his depiction of the trio of Brahmins?

5. When Penelope suggests to her father that Rosanna Spearman has fallen in love with Franklin Blake, Betteredge bursts out laughing at the “absurdity” of it. What additional examples of class distinctions are evident in The Moonstone?

6. Dorothy L. Sayers, the acclaimed detective novelist, noted that, for his time, Collins was “genuinely feminist” in his treatment of women. Do you agree?

7. Discuss the role that opium plays in The Moonstone. Is it a believable plot device? Does the fact that the author created the story while under the influence of laudanum lend credibility to his depiction of its effects?

8. Charles Dickens, longtime friend and mentor to Wilkie Collins, edited and published The Moonstone in its initial serialized form. What do these two writers have in common in terms of style, structure, and characterization? How do they differ?


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