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The Moonstone | Study Guide

Wilkie Collins

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The Moonstone | Themes


Subjectivity Versus Objectivity

Central to the unfolding of the narrative in The Moonstone is the conflict between objectivity and subjectivity. Wilkie Collins is intent on communicating to his readers that the "truth" of a matter is heavily influenced by the observers. To drive home his point, throughout the novel he makes use of at least eight narrators of varying levels of veracity and objectivity. The information these narrators provide is colored by their own experiences.

Franklin Blake, in addition to narrating his own section, serves as the editor to other narratives in the book, though he does not often directly comment on the narrators' accounts. Readers are then tasked with deciding which of the narrators is reliable or trustworthy. Even though Blake states he will not alter the accounts, readers must grapple with the question of authorship and editorial intent. Blake marries Rachel Verinder and is close to the Verinders; thus, he cannot be said to be objective. He seems to step in primarily during Miss Drusilla Clack's account (albeit often at her own behest). Still, it is telling that he is more present in this account: Miss Clack being so critical of Rachel, Blake's eventual wife. Does the editor have more influence over the other narratives?

With so many narrators telling their own sides of the events, readers must sift through what is trustworthy and what is colored by the narrators' own prejudices and emotions. None of the narrators is able to be truly objective; they all succumb to their own particular version of subjectivity, no matter how hard they try to avoid it.

Throughout the novel Wilkie Collins plays with the ideas of "seeming" and "being," and uses the different narrators to great effect. In a detective story, which is all about getting to the truth of the mystery to solve it, the different narrators function as a way to provide clues to the readers, while maintaining the overarching problem of objectivity in the relating of the events.

Class and Status

Although first and foremost an exemplar of detective fiction, The Moonstone is also a study in class politics. When Rosanna Spearman falls in love with Franklin Blake, she oversteps her station as a servant by falling in love with a gentleman and daring to act upon it. She follows Blake around, hiding, hoping to speak to him when he is unaccompanied. At first, Penelope Betteredge is sympathetic to her friend's plight, upbraiding her father for a lack of compassion toward Rosanna, but then rethinks her stance when Rosanna loses sight of her place in society, to her own detriment.

Gabriel Betteredge enjoys a place of rank among the servants. He's served the Verinder family his entire life and so is treated more like a trusted friend than a servant, but he is the rarity. As a whole, the servants are portrayed as a gossipy bunch without much interaction with their masters. Only Sergeant Cuff seems to pay them any attention or seems sympathetic to them. Betteredge is very conscious of his place and that of his fellow servants. As his narrative is the first and the longest, his views on societal placement inform the readers.


There are a number of outsiders and instances of "othering" in The Moonstone. Rosanna Spearman, Ezra Jennings, and Limping Lucy Yolland are all fringe characters, people that live at the margins. Rosanna is a reformed thief; now a servant. She is of a lower class than almost all the other main characters. She and Limping Lucy share this status, as well as having a physical disfigurement: Rosanna's shoulder and Lucy's limp. Their disabilities set them apart from others. Likewise, so does Ezra Jennings's strange appearance—his piebald hair and young/old appearance confuses and unsettles people around him, as does his obviously foreign country of birth.

All these characters are oppressed and treated poorly. Rosanna is bound by her past as a thief and social station as a servant; Lucy is of a lower class with a physical infirmity; Jennings is hounded by a crime he didn't commit and shunned by his foreign appearance.

Then there are the foreigners or those associated with foreign lands. First are the three Indian priests that follow the Diamond, but there are other outsiders, too: Franklin Blake was educated outside of England, and Mr. Murthwaite spends a large part of his life exploring in other countries. Murthwaite walks the line between two worlds, that of England and India, and thus is able to link them. He can communicate with the Indians in their own language and translate their responses to his English brethren. He can give insight into their motives.

Blake's otherness is less apparent but still remarked upon by Betteredge. He has spent most of his life in France, Germany, and Italy, and his disposition is reflected in Betteredge's narrative. Betteredge notes Blake's less-than-English upbringing and how this makes him mercurial and unbalanced. It drives home how the English view those who were born or raised outside the British norm.

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