The Race, Women, and Empire in The Moonstone

Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone is one of the masterpieces of mystery. As T.S. Eliot wrote: “The Moonstone is the first and greatest of English detective novels.” The novel, based on a yellow diamond called The Moonstone, questions the established order of the class system, patriarchy, and colonialism.
The Moonstone is plundered by John Herncastle at the time of the storming of Seringapatam in 1799. After Herncastle’s death, the moonstone is presented to Herncastle’s niece, Rachel Verinder as a birthday present. During the evening of her birthday party, the moonstone is stolen from Rachel’s cabinet. As a result of this incident, confusion ensues and the order in the Verinder family is destroyed.
Just as the moonstone was plundered from the Indians by the British, so Franklin and Ablewhite steal it from Rachel. It is noteworthy that Rachel was “small and slim” and has black hair which matches her eyes. These physical features usually belong to people in colonized countries such as India and this symbolizes the fact that Rachel is categorized as one of the exploited.
Here, let us examine the scene where the moonstone is stolen. While under the influence of opium, Franklin goes to Rachel’s room and takes the moonstone out of the cabinet drawer. Witnessed by Rachel, she later explains:
‘There are three glasses in my sitting-room. As you [Franklin] stood there, I [Rachel] saw all that you did, reflected in one of them.’
‘What did you see?’
‘You put your candle on the top of the cabinet. You opened, and shut, one drawer after another, until you came to the drawer in which I had put my Diamond. You looked at the open drawer for a moment. And then you put your hand in, and took the Diamond out’
It is possible to interpret Franklin’s reflection as Franklin’s second self, so Rachel discovers another side of Franklin she’d never known before.
On the top of all this, Rachel’s witnessing of the theft is seen by Ablewhite. As soon as Franklin takes the moonstone, he hands it to Ablewhite and asks him to deposit it with a bank for security. The following morning, Franklin remembers nothing and Ablewhite plans to possess the moonstone as well as Rachel. Later Ablewhite is killed by three Indians on his way to Amsterdam.
Next, let us turn to how Sergeant Cuff investigates the case. Cuff finds “the small smear” on Rachel’s room’s door on which the paint was wet until three o’clock in the morning. He decides the criminal’s clothes would have been smeared and tries to check the clothes of everyone who lives in the Verinder house. However, Rachel refuses to have her clothes checked and Cuff suspects her. In reality, it is the maid Rosanna who hides Franklin’s smeared gown and makes him a new one. Rosanna commits suicide after she thinks she has been rejected by Franklin and now it seems the teuth will be lost forever.
One year later, Franklin restarts his own investigation to find the real criminal. He reads Rosanna’s letter to him and this letter shows she had hidden a box in the quicksand inside which is a clue to the mystery. After getting the box, Franklin examines its content and finds another letter by Rosanna as well as Franklin’s smeared nightgown. Franklin realizes he is the thief.
Thus, Franklin’s stained nightgown transforms his world into something grotesque. This has the same effect as Holbein’s “Ambassadors” which Jacque Lacan constantly refers to. At the bottom of the picture, a viewer can see an amorphous spot and it is only when, on the very threshold of the room in which the picture is exposed, and the visitor casts a final glance at it that this spot acquires the contours of a skull, disclosing the true meaning of the picture - the nullity of all terrestrial goods.
Next, let us examine Rosanna’s letter to Franklin: “Sir - I have something to own you. A confession which means much misery, may sometimes be made in very few words. This confession can be made in three words. I love you.” This letter also has the same effect as the stain of Franklin’s nightgown. Franklin has never thought of himself as a thief nor the object of Rosanna’s desire.
It is Ezra Jennings, Dr. Candy’s assistant who brings salvation to the Verinder House. Jennings’ appearance is thus described:
“His gipsy-complexion, his fleshless cheeks, his gaunt facial bones, his dreamy eyes, his extraordinary parti-coloured hair, the puzzling contradiction between his face and figure which made him look old and young both together…”
Here, we find diverse contradictory elements in his appearance. Though Franklin regards this appearance as “unfavourable,” he cannot resist Jennings’ mysterious power that appeals to his sympathy.
It is not just his appearance but also his identity that shows the sign of multiplicity. According to Jennings, “I was born, and partly brought up, in one of our colonies. My father was an Englishman; but my mother -…”
In this way, Jennings has multiple identity that is an “English gentleman” and “colonial Other.” Thus Jennings belongs to both England and the colonized nation, the dominant and the dominated. What does Jennings’ ambiguous position suggest? It may imply the possibility that different people might cooperate in harmony.
Jennings carries out the experiment to prove Franklin’s innocence. Jennings arranges the same condition as last year’s and lets Franklin take opium. This experiment demonstrates Franklin took the moonstone under the influence of opium. As Franklin is found innocent, he reconciles himself with Rachel.
The question remains whether it is really a true happy ending. Franklin steals the diamond in a state of unconsciousness. This means that though Franklin pretends to be a kind-hearted decent lover in his everyday reality, this illusion rests on a certain “repression” on overlooking the reality of his desire.
Considering Rachel’s character “absolute self-dependence” it is hard to predict their happy life will continue. It is possible that another personality repressed in Franklin emerges and tries to control Rachel. It should be time Rachel’s rebellion begins and it also symbolizes India’s rebellion against British colonialism.

About estherhawdon

a University lecturer, teaching English, engaged in translation, research on British novels from the 19th century to 21st century, love movies, music, meeting new friends
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