The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Subject Guide

Kingwood College Library

Betteredge, the steward at the Verinder estate, treats Robinson Crusoe as his bible.  Notice his love for it in his comments, "such a book as Robinson Crusoe never was written, and never will be written again.  I have tried that book for years 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 Crusoe's with hard work in my service."

Web Sites
 The Period
Films & Mysteries 

    Wilkie Collins, along with Poe, Dickens, and Doyle, were the architects of the 19th century detective novel.   T.S. Eliot claimed The Moonstone, published in 1868,  the first, the longest, and the best of modern  English  detective  novels.  After reading the novel, researchers should decide on a theme and use the library's books and databases to find resources to support their premise.  The reference librarians will be glad to help.  Books have been put on reserve at the library circulation desk.  Students may want to look through this subject guide, especially The Period, to get a handle on what was going on in the world during the Victorian period.  Historical mystery writers and period films have been listed for those interested or want to put themselves in the time.

Finding Journal and Newspaper Articles

    The library databases are the best place to find journal articles. All of these databases will give you information.  We encourage you to include MLA and Essay and General Literature, since using this online index is the only way you can get INSIDE to discover essays in a book. You should especially try the literature and biographical databases, including:
Biographies Plus
Literature Resource Center
Ebsco Academic Search Premier
ProQuest PAResearchII
Essay and General Literature Index 

    Remote access is available for Kingwood College students.  Use your college library card number.  Many journal articles are full text.  The New York Times is available online from 1851 to the present.  Find early articles about Wilkie Collins or about England in the NYT.

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Search the Library Catalog.

Keywords:  Wilkie Collins; Detective and Mystery Fiction Criticism; Victorian England; The Moonstone

Several titles on the works of Wilkie Collins have been placed on reserve at the Circulation Desk in the library.  

Other books for your research include:

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Wilkie Collins on the Internet

Wilkie Collins 150 years ago
Great site for beginning your search about Wilkie Collins.  Links to bibliography, letters, photographs, and biographical information.
 Wilkie Collins Website
The most complete site for WC information.  Includes e-texts, biographical information, mailing lists, photographs, and information about London during the period.
 Wilkie Collins Appreciation Page
More of the same, but an easy way to join a Wilkie Collins discussion list.  Get a little help from Wilkie Collins fans.  There is also a link to BBC videos of Collin's works, A Woman in White and Moonstone.
Author's Directory
          Links to portraits, biography, lesson plans, and e-books.  Links tend to circle, but some good information for the persistent.

The Moonstone

 Mystery Guide
Short synopsis of the story and links to other mystery essays.
 E-Text for The Moonstone
Enjoy the book online.  Copyright by the Lintrix Reading Room.

Book Reviews
Search by book title and author.  Formal reviews from professional sources, excerpts, actual pages from the books, and reviews by readers.
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Interesting Themes to Consider

The Moonstone offers many themes for the researcher.  Talk with your instructor about this.  Here are a few ideas we like. 
  • Analyze the point of view of one of the first-person narrators.  How is the character portrayed? Education, class, gender, biases, principles, personal traits, humor. 
  • Compare the insights of two or more narrators.
  • Compare the detection styles of Sergeant Cuff and (Franklin Black or Matthew Bruff, solicitor)
  • Examine the social attitudes of the period. The story takes place during the high-Victorian imperialist age.
  • Examine plot construction (one of Collins' strongest points)
  • Discuss atmosphere in a detective novel
  • Compare Father Knox's Detection Writing 10 Commandments (1929) to the detection elements in The Moonstone.
  • Characterization -  Gabriel Betteredge - you might enjoy brushing up on your Robinson Crusoe. You can't go wrong with Collins' well-drawn characterizations.
  • Consider satire - the comical Miss Clack
  • Supernaturalism in the mystery - The three Indians are interesting.
  • 19th century novel of manners
  • A study of the procedural novel - Sergeant Cuff 
  • A look at class issues in the 19th century - Franklin Blake or Rachel
  • Examine means of bringing his own ideas and beliefs into the novel (events, characters, etc)

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About the Victorian Period

Robert Peel establishes the Metropolitan police.    The Moonstone, was written and published during the mid-Victorian period (1860s).  The story, set on the coast of Yorkshire and in London in 1848 and 1849, begins in India fifty years earlier. The Moonstone, containing many of the elements of a developing 'classic' mystery,  is generally considered the first full-length and best detective story ever written.  Author Wilkie Collins is referred to as the father of the English detective novel.   Like most books of the period, The Moonstone was serialized before being edited and printed as a full length novel.  It was serialized in All the Year Round, the magazine of Charles Dickens, a close friend of Wilkie Collins.

    The complex tale of the Moonstone is narrated from three points of view.  This is a particularly good mechanism to allow the reader to, as the servant Betteredge claims, be the judge.   We enjoyed The Moonstone for its characterizations, humor, representation of the class system in England during the 19th century, atmosphere, and, of course, its mystery.  Visit the Victoria and Albert Museum online.  The timeline below is sketchy, but will give the user an idea of events during the Victorian age.

Dates Government British News Forensics World News
1799 Sir John Hardcastle murders 3 Brahmins and takes the moonstone during the storming of Seringapatam, India.
Before ... Bow Street in session 1719 Robinson Crusoe by Defoe  |  1814 British invade and burn Washington  |  Jane Austen  |  London illuminated by gas (1815)  |  Beginning of the Industrial Age  |   Neoclassicism and Romanticism Art 1776 Dental ID (Revolutionary War)  |  1804 Medico-legal Institute established (U of Vienna)  |  1750 John and Henry Fielding established the Bow Street Runners, a bounty hunting police force, in London Age of Imperialism 1815-1913 in Europe  |  Napoleon abdicates  1815 Waterloo  |  Brothers Grimm fairy tales   |  Malthus Principles of Political Economy
1829  George IV reigns Duke of Wellington becomes Prime Minister  |  Catholic Emancipation Act (can hold office)  |   First Oxford Cambridge Boat Race  |  British industrial ascendance clear (80% of Europe's coal, 50% of iron, and all steam engines Sir Robert PeelRobert Peel established the Metropolitan Police, Scotland Yard being the principle station.  Called Bobbies or Peelers, they were subsidized by the government.  Very successful.  Colonization of Australia  |  Louis Braille invents finger reading for the blind  |  Balzac 
1830 William IV (brother) succeeds  Writing during this period:  Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, William Thackeray  |  British votes extend to middle-class males  |  Newman Tracts for the Times |  London Bridge opened  Reform Bill   |  American police force formed in Boston, modeled after Peel's metropolitan police. Socialism becomes popular term in Britain and France
1837 Victoria (niece) succeeds
Smallpox epidemic   |  Industrial poverty , unemployed   |    |  Railway boom in England Atlantic steamship service begins   |  Britain act passed to register births, marriages and deaths  |   Morse develops telegraph  |  Pittman's Shorthand system Britain establishes Hindustani as the lingua franca of India  |  US gag law to suppress debate on slavery issue  |  financial panic in US  |  First Opium War between Britain and China
1840 Victoria marries Albert Murders in the Rue Morgue by Poe (first detective story), Punch begins publishing  |  National temperance Society | A Christmas Carol  | First public telegraph line from Paddington to Slough  Scotland Yard Detective Police Force formed  |  Penny post started |  Detective Dept formed | Crime rate highest of century | Railway from London to Manchester  |  1840-1870 mug shots, crime scene, post mortem photos  Hong Kong ceded from China  |  Can-can dance in Paris  |  Railway boom in Europe  |  Telegraph from Baltimore to Washington
1845   Thackeray, Tennyson, Trollope, Bronte's  |   | Royal Opera House | Wuthering Heights | Jane Eyre  |  First Factory Act limits working hours |  Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood forms  Warren and Morton use ether in the USA as anesthetic during operations  |  British surgeon uses chloroform  Potato Famines  |  2.5 million Irish immigrate  |  Revolutions in Europe,1848  |  Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY  |  Married Women's Property Act  |  American President Zachary Polk
1848-1849 Events of Moonstone take place during these two years.
1850   Dickens, Tennyson | Population 21 million | Crimean War | Cholera epidemic  |  Britain has 39.5% of world shipping |  trade unionism begun  |  Realism Art   |  Crystal Palace in Hyde Park Telegraph cable under English Channel | Faraday discovery of electromagnetic induction  |  Pinkerton Detective Agency founded in America  |  Wells Fargo Darwin's The Origin of the Species  |   Smithsonian Institute in US  |  Moby Dick   |  The Scarlet Letter
1855   Livingston discovers Victoria Falls | Indian Mutiny  |  Great Stink - sewage in Thames  (cholera)  |  Florence Nightingale  |  Metropolitan police extended to the villages  |  Cunard steamer crosses Atlantic in 9.5 days  |  Uncle Tom's Cabin  |  Flaubert's Madame Bovary  |  Thoreau  |  East India Company dissolved.  Control of India transferred to the crown
1860  Prince Albert dies The Woman in White (1860)   |  Industrial Expedition   | Elizabeth Barrett Browning  |  Telegraph cable under Atlantic | Steam powered subway in London  |  patent for Gatling machine gun Unification of Italy | American Civil War   |  Silas Marner  | Les Miserables  |  Lincoln becomes US president
1865   2nd reform bill | Moonstone (1868)  |  First concrete roads in Britain  |  Impressionism  |  Debtor's prisons abolished  Last public hanging | Last convict sent to Australia  |  Nobel invents dynamite Fenian rising in Ireland | Suez Canal opened   |  Red Cross  |  Alice in Wonderland  |  Impressionist movement in art  |  Mark Twain
1870   Univ Tests Act removed religious tests at Oxford and Cambridge | Trade Unions legalized | Population 26 million  |  Compulsory education introduced 1870 document authenticity - handwriting  |  Typewriter invented  |  Bell's telephone  |  Edison's phonograph  |  Repeater rifle Germany unified  |  Gilbert and Sullivan  |  Diamonds found in South Africa  |  invented  |  Barbed wire
1875 Victoria named Empress of India   Zulu wars   |  Post Impressionism   |  Secret ballot introduced Edison invents phonograph |   Bell  invents telephone Thomas Hardy  |  Tom Sawyer  |  Dostoyevsky
 1880   Disraeli and the Tories  |  Married Women's Property Act  |  Conan Doyle A Study in Scarlet, first Sherlock Holmes. First book on fingerprinting  Socialist workers in France  |  Edison's incandescent lamp  |  Pasteur immunization for anthrax 
1885 Golden Jubilee Bloody Sunday Riots | Jack the Ripper  |  Kipling  |  Stevenson  Motor cars Fall of Khartoum  |  Eiffel Tower  |  Faberge eggs  |  Karl Marx Das Kapital 
1890   Financial panic in London and Paris  | London dock strike New Scotland Yard    |  X-Rays Emily Dickinson  |  Ibsen  |  First comic strip in US  |  Freud employs 'cathartic' methods
1895 Diamond Jubilee Turbine ships built by Royal Navy    |  Wireless telegraphy from Britain to France Fingerprinting System adopted Madame Curie  |  First modern Olympic Games in Athens
1900 Victoria dies (1901) Edward VII succeeds Boer War  |  Labor Committee founded   Marconi wireless  |  Wright Brothers  |  First coast-to-coast crossing by car takes 65 days Boxer Rebellion in China  |  1902 US acquired control of the Panama Canal  |  Flatiron building on Broadway, one of first skyscrapers (20 storeys)
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Finally, writers who are setting their historical mysteries during the Victorian period are...

    Historical mysteries are very hot and there are many authors writing series and setting them in England's past.  A good historical writer worries about the accuracy of the character, language, culture, and setting.  Mystery readers are typically well-educated and love discovering anachronisms, though they may quit reading an author who errs too often.   Research is important. :-)  There are many historical mystery writers who set their tales in the Victorian 19th century.  Compare them to Collin's book which was actually written then.   How do you think they hold up?

Try Film (A great way to get a feel for the period and to tune your ear to the language)

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updated 1/18/02