The Moonstone

The Moonstone

Infobox Book
name = The Moonstone
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First "Pan" paperback edition cover
author = Wilkie Collins
cover_artist =
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series =
genre = epistolary novel, mystery novel
publisher = Tinsley Brothers
release_date = 1868
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn =

"The Moonstone" (1868) by Wilkie Collins is a 19th-century, British, epistolary novel, generally considered the first detective novel in the English language.

"The Moonstone" was originally serialized in Charles Dickens' magazine "All the Year Round". "The Moonstone" and "The Woman in White" are considered Wilkie Collins' best novels. Besides creating many of the ground rules for the detective novel, "The Moonstone" also reflected Collins' enlightened social views in his treatment of the Indians and the servants in the novel. Collins adapted "The Moonstone" for the stage in 1877, but the production ran only two months.

Plot outline

Rachel Verinder, a young Englishwoman, inherits a large Indian diamond on her eighteenth birthday. It is a legacy from her uncle, a corrupt English army officer who served in India. The diamond is of great religious significance as well as being enormously valuable, and three Hindu priests have dedicated their lives to recovering it. The story incorporates elements of the legendary origins of the Hope Diamond (or perhaps the Orloff).

Rachel's eighteenth birthday is celebrated with a large party, whose guests include her cousin Franklin Blake. She wears the Moonstone on her dress that evening for all to see, including some Indian jugglers who have called at the house. Later that night, the diamond is stolen from Rachel's bedroom, and a period of turmoil, unhappiness, misunderstandings and ill-luck ensues. Told via a series of narratives from some of the main characters, the complex plot traces the subsequent efforts to explain the theft, identify the thief, trace the stone and recover it.

Explanation of the novel's title

The Moonstone of the title is a large yellow diamond, (not to be confused with the semi-precious moonstone gem). It gained its name from its association with the Hindu god of the moon. Originally set in the forehead of a sacred statue of the god at Somnauth, and later at Benares, it was said to be protected by hereditary guardians on the orders of Vishnu, and to wax and wane in brilliance along with the light of the moon.

Plot summary

Colonel Herncastle, an unpleasant former soldier, brings the Moonstone back with him from India where he acquired it by theft and murder during the Siege of Seringapatam. Angry at his family, who shun him, he leaves it in his will as a birthday gift to his niece Rachel, thus exposing her to attack by the stone's hereditary guardians, who, legend says, will stop at nothing to retrieve it.

Rachel wears the stone to her birthday party, but that night it disappears from her room. Suspicion falls on three Indian jugglers who have been hanging around the house; on Rosanna Spearman, a maidservant who begins to act oddly and who then drowns herself in a local quicksand; and on Rachel herself, who also behaves suspiciously and is suddenly furious with Franklin Blake, with whom she has previously appeared to be falling in love, when he leads attempts to find it. Despite the efforts of Sergeant Cuff, a renowned detective, the house party breaks up with the mystery unsolved and the protagonists disperse.

Over the following year there are hints that the diamond was removed from the house and may be in a London bank vault, having been pledged as surety to a moneylender. The Indian jugglers are still around, watching and waiting. Rachel's mother dies, increasing her grief and isolation, and she first accepts and then rejects a marriage proposal from her cousin Godfrey Ablewhite, a philanthropist who was also present at the birthday dinner and whose father owns the bank near Rachel's old family home. Finally Franklin Blake returns from travelling abroad and sets out to solve the mystery. He first discovers that Rosanna Spearman's behaviour was due to her having fallen in love with him. She found evidence (a paint smear on his nightclothes) that convinced her that he was the thief and concealed it in order to save him, confusing the trail of evidence and throwing suspicion on herself. In despair at her inability to make him acknowledge her despite all she had done for him, she committed suicide, leaving behind the smeared gown and a letter he did not receive at the time because of his hasty departure abroad.

Now believing that Rachel suspects him of the theft on Rosanna's evidence, Franklin engineers a meeting and asks her. To his astonishment she tells him she actually saw him steal the diamond and has been protecting his reputation at the cost of her own even though she believes him to be a thief and a hypocrite. Now thoroughly bewildered, he continues his investigations and learns that he was secretly given laudanum on the night of the party; it appears that this, on top of his anxiety about Rachel and the diamond and other nervous irritations, caused him to take the diamond in a narcotic trance, in order to place it in a safe place. A re-enactment of the evening's events confirms this, but how the stone ended up in a London bank remains a mystery only solved a year after the birthday party when the stone is redeemed. Despite disguise and subterfuge, the man redeeming the stone is traced to a seedy waterside inn, only to discover that the Indians have got there first: he is dead and the stone is gone. Under the dead man's disguise is none other than Godfrey Ablewhite, who is found to have embezzled the contents of a trust fund in his care and to have been facing exposure shortly after the birthday party. The mystery of what Blake did in his drugged state is solved - he encountered Ablewhite in the passageway outside Rachel's room and gave the Moonstone to him to be put back in his father's bank, from which it had been withdrawn on the morning of the party to be given to Rachel. Seeing his salvation, Ablewhite pocketed the stone instead, and pledged it as surety on a loan to save himself temporarily from ruin. When he was murdered he was on his way to Amsterdam to have the stone cut up. It would then have been sold to replenish the plundered trust fund before the beneficiary inherited.

The mystery is solved, Rachel and Franklin marry, and in an epilogue from a traveller the reader learns of the restoration of the Moonstone to its rightful place in the forehead of the idol.


* Rachel Verinder – heiress and inheritor of the large Indian diamond known as "The Moonstone"
* Franklin Blake – Rachel Verinder's cousin and suitor
* Godfrey Ablewhite – philanthropist, also Rachel Verinder's cousin and hopeful suitor
* Gabriel Betteredge – the head servant, first narrator
* Rosanna Spearman – second housemaid, ex-thief, suspicious and tragic character
* Drusilla Clack – cousin to Rachel Verinder, second narrator, a self-righteous, religious tract-dispensing lady
* Mr. Bruff – family attorney, third narrator
* Sergeant Cuff – famous detective with a penchant for roses
* Dr. Candy – the family physician, loses his sanity to a fever
* Ezra Jennings – Dr. Candy's unpopular and odd looking assistant, suffers from an incurable illness and uses opium to control the pain
* The three Indians – Hindu Brahmins who are determined to recover the diamond

Literary significance & criticism

The book is widely regarded as the precursor of the modern mystery and suspense novels. T. S. Eliot called it "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels". It contains a number of ideas which became common tropes of the genre: a large number of suspects, red herrings, an English country house, investigation by talented amateurs, and two police officers who represent the 'local bungler' and the skilled, professional, Scotland Yard detective.

"The Moonstone" represents Collins's only complete reprisal of the popular "multi-narration" method that he had previously utilised to great effect in "The Woman in White". The technique again works to Collins's credit: the sections by Gabriel Betteredge (steward to the Verinder household) and Miss Clack (a poor relative and religious crank) offer both humour and pathos through their contrast with the testimony of other narrators, at the same time as constructing and advancing the novel's plot.

One of the things that made "The Moonstone" such a success was its sensationalist depiction of opium addiction. Unbeknownst to his readership, Collins was writing from personal experience. In his later years, Collins grew severely addicted to laudanum and as a result suffered from paranoid delusions, the most notable being his conviction that he was constantly accompanied by a doppelganger he dubbed "Ghost Wilkie".

It was Collins's last great success, coming at the end of an extraordinarily productive period which saw four successive novels become best-sellers. After "The Moonstone" he wrote novels containing more overt social commentary, which did not achieve the same audience.

"The Moonstone"'s portrayal of three mysterious Indians who play an integral role in its plot is unparalleled in contemporary fiction.


"The Moonstone", Oneworld Classics 2007, ISBN 978-1847490094

"The Moonstone", Modern Library Classics 2001, ISBN 978-0375757853

"The Moonstone", Penguin Popular Classics 1998, ISBN 978-0140620139

Film, TV, or theatrical adaptations

In 1934, the book was made into a critically acclaimed motion picture by Monogram Pictures Corporation. Adapted to the screen by Adele S. Buffington, the film was directed by Reginald Barker and starred David Manners, Charles Irwin, and Phyllis Barry. The New York Times said of it: "The Moonstone is a prime example of what can be accomplished on a small budget with a little extra time and care."

In 1972, it was remade again in the United Kingdom, featuring Robin Ellis, and aired on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre.

In 1996, it was remade a third time, also in the United Kingdom, for television by the BBC and Carlton Television in partnership with U.S. station WGBH of Boston, Massachusetts, airing on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre. It starred Greg Wise as Franklin Blake and Keeley Hawes as Rachel Verinder.

External links


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