Published in 1868
"Do you feel an uncomfortable heat at the pit of your stomach, sir? and a nasty thumping at the top of your head? AH! not yet? It will lay hold of you at Cobb's Hole, Mr. Franklin. I call it the detective-fever; and I first caught it in the company of Sergeant Cuff." (Part 2, Chpt 3, pg 325)I love a good mystery and The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins is probably one of the most famous of what might be classified as the classic-mystery. Published in mid-19th century, The Moonstone is one of the earliest novels that depicts a police detective working to solve a crime. (Yes, it predates even the world-renowned Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.) In fact, this novel has led many readers to call Wilkie Collins the father of the modern detective story. Although there is some dispute amongst Edgar Allen Poe fans.
"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 extremely valuable, and three Hindu priests have dedicated their lives to recovering it.... 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 by 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." (Summary courtesy of Wikipedia.)
I was thrilled to finally get the chance to read The Moonstone. Years ago my book club read The Woman In White, an earlier novel by Collins, and I really enjoyed it, so when it was suggested as our next book during one of our meetings last fall I had nothing but the highest expectations. I am happy to report I was not disappointed. The Moonstone is a clever and witty tale of human interest, sensational thrill, romance, and social criticism. It keeps the reader (myself included) turning page after page to the very end.
And it was no different 143 years ago when the story first appeared in English newspapers. Although it is now available in complete form, when Collins wrote the story it was published in serial form from January to August of 1868. It is said that readers lined the streets awaiting the final installments and that bets were even made as to the outcome of the story plot. (Remind you of how people are today awaiting the latest installment in a popular fiction series or television show? I suppose some things never change.)
Some critics have called The Moonstone a "sensationalist" and "moralistic" novel because of the extreme elements contained within and the somewhat obvious plot. But I do not consider this a reason to avoid reading it. Yes, I did suspect certain turn of events and perhaps some of the story was obvious, but overall it was the journey, the how and why that was exciting for me to read. Yes, the bad end badly and the good end well, but there is more to the story than that. Collins used this riveting tale to shed light and draw attention to some serious issues of his time. Even now, nearly a century and a half later readers will read and give pause to think about issues they might not otherwise have stopped to consider outside a history textbook.
The Moonstone goes down as one of my all-time favorite classics. And in my opinion, if you have the opportunity to read just one classic this year you might do a lot worse than to read The Moonstone.
Tuesday Teaser: The Moonstone
A House to Let by Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Wilkie Collins (reviewed)
Project Gutenberg: The Moonstone (E-Book)
Librivox: The Moonstone (Audio Book)
Wilkie Collins - Information Page
Wilike Collins: The Moonstone - Information Page