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The Moonstone

Wilkie Collins

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

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Study Questions

In what sense is The Moonstone a novel about imperialism? Is it anti or pro-imperialistic?

Collins explicitly places The Moonstone in an imperialist context by setting the prologue and epilogue—the frame of the novel—in colonial India. The novel itself is more anti-imperialist than pro-imperialist, though we might say, more specifically, that it subverts some of the suppositions upon which English imperialism is based. To begin, the Indians that appear in the novel, though depicted stereotypically, are also respected for the strength of their religious convictions and the efficiency and tenacity of their mission to reclaim the diamond. Often when characters such as Betteredge or Miss Clack display sentiments that are distrustful of the Indians, these sentiments reflect on Betteredge and Miss Clack as racist rather than on the Indians as untrustworthy or dangerous. Imperialism also supposes that territory outside of England, territory that must be conquered and domesticated, is exotic and dangerous. In this novel, however, the diamond is presented as having been stolen first by an Englishman and again, from Rachel, by another Englishman. Collins thus subverts imperial expectations that equate criminal/dangerous behavior with non-English peoples.

Describe how the form of The Moonstone is appropriate to a detective novel.

The form of The Moonstone involves eleven different narrators describing their knowledge of events related to the theft of the Moonstone in turn. This format, in which each narrator acts as a "witness," contributes to the investigative tone of the novel. Additionally, because each narrator picks up where the last one left off, we rarely gets a double perspective on the same event—thus our knowledge of the facts is limited, and the suspense around the identity of the thief and the method of the crime is drawn-out. Finally, because each narrator brings his or her own personal opinions and suspicions to the reporting of the facts, the revelation of the crime and criminal is suspended even further as the reader is lead down various false trails.

What is the role of women in The Moonstone?

Unlike some Victorian novelists, Wilkie Collins offers us an array of fully- realized female characters in The Moonstone. Limping Lucy Yolland, Rosanna Spearman, Penelope Betteredge, and Rachel Verinder are all detailed and interesting (and non-stereotypical) characters. All four also go some ways toward subverting Victorian gender roles with their "manly" straightforwardness and tenacity or their interesting histories. The characters in the plot who do hold to traditional, limiting roles for women, such as Betteredge or Miss Clack, are satirized in this belief. We are invited to laugh at Betteredge's humorously knowing banter about the difficult characteristics of women, and Miss Clack's disgust for Rachel's manly forwardness is shown to be hypocritical and backward. Finally, it is the women of The Moonstone that enable the suspensefulness of the plot—Rosanna's and Rachel's reticence about Franklin's guilt, Penelope's reticence about the drying time of the paint on Rachel's door, and Lucy's refusal to mail Rosanna's letter to Franklin—and all play pivotal roles in prolonging the investigation and therefore the plot of the novel.

Suggested Essay Topics

What various methods of reading and writing does The Moonstoneaddress?

How does Franklin Blake's presence as editor affect how we read the novel?

What role does intoxication play in the novel? Is it ever used as a metaphor for something else? What are the implications of intoxication in The Moonstone?

Look at all the different wills and legacies in The Moonstone. How do they figure into the plot? What connotations do they have?

How is "Englishness" defined in the novel? With what characters is it associated? Does it have an opposite?

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