The Moonstone | Study Guide

Wilkie Collins

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The Moonstone | Prologue : The Storming of Seringapatam (1799) | Summary

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The Moonstone is divided into two sections called First Period and Second Period, framed by a Prologue and an Epilogue. The First Period has 23 chapters, while the Second Period is divided into eight narratives, some of which additionally have chapters. In this study guide, chapters have been grouped for the purpose of summary and analysis.

Summary

The prologue is subtitled "Extracted from a Family Paper" and tells of the falling out between the prologue narrator and his cousin, John Herncastle. It occurred when the cousins were stationed in India, during the time of the siege of Seringapatam under the command of General Baird. Soldiers passed around stories of the treasures contained within Seringapatam. They were most enthralled by that of the Moonstone: a large yellow Diamond sacred to the Hindu moon-god. In the 11th century it was stolen from its place in the god's statue by Muslims and carries a curse upon it until it is returned. According to the story, three priests and their descendants have followed the Moonstone in its travels, hoping to retrieve and return it to the moon-god's statue. The last known location of the Diamond is within the pommel of a sultan's dagger.

During the sack of the city, Herncastle is separated from his troops. The narrator finds him in the armory, holding a bloody dagger and standing over a dying Indian man. Before dying, the Indian man points at the dagger and cries out, "The Moonstone will have its vengeance yet on you and yours!"

When the narrator confronts his cousin over the events in the armory, Herncastle doesn't offer answers. Because the narrator has no proof of his cousin's wrongdoing—he does not actually see Herncastle stab the Indian man or the other two guards at the door—he can't accuse him of a crime. The narrator never speaks to Herncastle again.

Analysis

The Prologue introduces the Moonstone and frames the entire narrative. The novel opens with the theft of the Diamond from India (only the most recent in a series of thefts) and ends with the stone finally returned to India and restored to its proper place. The Prologue also introduces the idea of the cursed gem with the pursuit of the Brahmin priests, and the Indian's curse to John Herncastle before he died. A number of people die after contact with the Moonstone; most of these deaths are not related to the stone itself, but the timing of them is significant.

Readers encounter the first narrator in the Prologue, the first of nine, each one offering a different personal perspective on the events of the mystery. In addition to providing layers to the story, this multiplicity of narrators must call into question the veracity of each individual narration. The narrators view events through the lenses of their own experiences, beliefs, and prejudices, and thus influence readers' interactions with the characters and text. By so multiplying the number of narrators, Wilkie Collins can increase the mystery and subjectivity of the story.

Herncastle is not to be trusted. He has likely murdered several Indian guards, if the "blood on his dagger" is any indication, and he has looted treasure during the sack of the city—a practice the general outlawed (those engaged in it were hanged). He also lied in his evasive answers to the narrator about his actions. Such instances make readers distrust Herncastle, especially when the narrator states the two never spoke again after the events of Seringapatam.

The battle Herncastle and the narrator fought in was the storming of Seringapatam, which occurred during the fourth Anglo-Mysore War (1798–99) . British soldiers captured Seringapatam from Tippu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore, consolidating their control of Southern India. India was one of Britain's largest colonies. British imperialistic rule affected India's peoples for generations. The British forces plundered many of India's treasures and harvested its natural resources via the crown's charter with the British East India Company. The theft of the Moonstone by a British soldier alludes to this troubled past.

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