Education and Power in English Mystery

In The Moonstone, I was struck by comments made by Betteredge early on about education.  On page 28 (Chapter 3), Betteredge described Franklin Blake’s father and his struggle for the Dukedom.  He says, “Mr. Blake discovered that the only way of being even with his country for the manner in which it had treated him, was not to let his country have the honour of educating his son” (28).  Early on, this quotation introduces the idea that education and knowledge are forms of power.  Countries get to assert their dominance over the next generation through the school system; it ensures that the next generation will follow the same social, moral, and political views that currently govern the country.  Mr. Blake takes this power away from England by sending his son, Franklin, to school in “that superior country, Germany” (28).  Education also sets up a system of hierarchy, legitimizing countries whose education is ‘superior’ and condemning others.  The novel points out through the description of Franklin’s education, “he gave the French a turn next, and the Italians a turn after”, that Western countries are the only ones even allowed in this hierarchical system (29).  Indian education is not present here, even as the novel centers greatly on Indian origins.  As the novel takes place in England, I find it very interesting that immediately the common themes of English power and superiority are inverted through the educational system. Perhaps, this notion is meant to signify that character’s with English education will have a harder time understanding the events of this mystery, as their upbringing was not as well-rounded as Franklin Blake’s.

Betteredge inadvertently affirms the notion that there is power in knowledge frequently throughout the novel. He makes minor comments such as, “My lady, doing me the honour to consult me about most things, consulted me about Rosanna” (35).  As Betteredge is lower in society than his lady, he finds his power in the knowledge and gossip that he obtains about everyone around him.  He takes pleasure in being the inside man who knows everyone’s secrets.  He even knows more than he tells us; he often gives the readers a brief synopsis of the story or leaves out other details entirely, proving that he has more power than we do as readers.  I find it very interesting that Wilkie Collins introduces ideas about education, knowledge, and power early on in this mystery or detective fiction.  Perhaps, it is a tool to play up the common tension in a mystery: no one character knows the whole story.  Betteredge feels powerful knowing gossip, but does he have the full story?  Conflicting notions about education could further complicate this tension if we begin to doubt whose education and understanding is reliable as we move through different characters and perspectives later on.

3 thoughts on “Education and Power in English Mystery”

  1. I agree that there is definitely mysticism applied to characters who have been educated outside of the English system. Those who were English educated don’t seem to be able to “think outside the box.” They are focused purely on logic for the mystical events that occur. The moonstone its self seems to embody the mysticism and otherworldliness of anything not “English.” Therefore, it makes sense that those who were foreignly educated might have a better understanding of certain events that occur around it. Ultimately, knowledge through gossip might not be enough for characters like Betteredge.

  2. Good analysis! When reading I did not pay close attention to the way that education was treated in relation to knowledge. In the future, I am gaining to try to pay more attention more to that because I think it is fascinating. I also think that the way the knowledge is treated in the novel helps build an air of suspense around what is the real truth in the novel.

  3. The relationship between knowledge and power is absolutely an interesting one in this novel, particularly as that power relates to institutions (like, as you’ve pointed out, education). Whereas an English education seems to produce an expectable result (i.e., it’s always clear to Mr. Betteredge when Mr. Franklin is acting as his ‘English self’) there are other institutions that aren’t so uniform. For example, the police force has produced three officers in the novel thus far, of a range of talents and capabilities: Superintendent Seegrave is preachy and unobservant, Joyce (the officer left for Cuff later on) is insecure and ineffective, and Sergeant Cuff is Holmes-ian in his powers of observation and anticipation. Other institutions, including education, have stronger through-threads: “the family temper” unites all of the Verinders (and their cousins) together despite their defining traits often lying in other expressions. The institutions that a character is a part of define who they are: their place in the work force, their family, and their engagement with education. This is part of what makes the Indian characters so worrying to Betteredge and his peers– because their only known institutional engagements are with the caste system and the Hindu temple, they function outside of the known (and therefore predictable) English institutions which so firmly shape the personalities and actions of the other characters.

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