Johnny Waco's Reviews > The Moonstone

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
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's review
Dec 03, 08

bookshelves: imperialism, classics, mystery
Read in December, 2008

The Moonstone reminds me that so much of what seems essential to our modern age was foreshadowed by the Victorians. The spark for the whole mystery, the spectacular diamond called the Moonstone, raises questions about foreign intervention across the seas, while the solution to the disappearance of the gemstone is reached through medical experimentation and a rudimentary form of forensics, Scotland Yard with its investigative techniques having been founded only a few years before the setting of the novel. On the negative side, we see furtive yet widespread drug use/abuse, racial prejudice, and snapshots of a violent, squalid urban underbelly, all still ills we deal with today.

Yet despite the sweeping and gripping canvas of The Moonstone, two figures continued to haunt me once I finished the book, Rosanna Spearman and Ezra Jennings. Both are doomed, but we cannot decide if it is because of their characters or their circumstances, and Collins wisely never makes either of their back stories explicit. Rosanna's childhood--her mother forced to the streets by her abandonment by Rosanna's father--would seem to have given Rosanna no choice but to become a thief and evetual inmate in a reformatory. Lucy's outburst about the callous way the upper classes treated the poor like trash to be ignored simply fades into the background as Franklin Blake--whose insensitivity to Rosanna contributes to her suicide--is vindicated at the end as a noble, sensitive man, and who wins the hand of Rachel Verinder as a result. Was Franklin ever to feel remorse over Rosanna while surrounded by his happiness? Ezra Jennings, also pursued by his past, is further hamstrung by his status as biracial. His "gypsy complexion" and vaguely Asian facial features ensure he will never be a successful physician in England, and he determines his last chance to secure someone's friendship and respect is to ween himself off opium--taken because of his fatal illness--long enough to help Franklin conduct an audacious experiment which proves his "innocence."

The Moonstone may or may not be cursed, but enough rot lies at the heart of Victorian England that the gem becomes almost incidental...

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