The Moonstone: A Gothic Disruption

The arrival of the Moonstone at Lady Verinder’s house is a sudden, unsettling disruption of everyday norms. The novel is structured in such a way that the reader first hears the legendary history of the gem and is then introduced to the normalcy of everyday life in England, 1848; immediately, a sharp juxtaposition is set up between past and present, India and England. Gothic fiction is frequently concerned with these kinds of juxtapositions of time and place (British Library “Gothic Motifs”) and the Moonstone itself acts as an interruption of one time and place into another. The prologue sets up the Moonstone’s role as an object of the past through the way its history is presented: upon its placement in a new temple, the god Vishnu “commanded that the Moonstone should be watched, from that time forth, by three priests in turn, night and day, to the end of the generations of men… the deity predicted certain disaster to the presumptuous mortal who laid hands on the sacred gem, and to all of his house and name who received it after him” (Collins 12). The language used conveys an archaic, mythological feeling to this tale, and it reads in a similar manner as a ghost story told around a campfire, with no real bearing on the modern day. The British colonizers clearly hear the tale in this way, as to them, the Moonstone is nothing but a “fanciful story” (Collins 13). Only John is taken in by the tale, and even he has no respect for the diamond’s cultural significance. He becomes the “presumptuous mortal” who takes the Moonstone from its home country and brings it – and its curse – back home to England. 

In gothic texts, beings, objects, and events of the past tend to disrupt everyday norms by “suddenly erupt[ing] within the present and derang[ing] it” (British Library “Gothic Motifs). However, before the gothic impact of the Moonstone can be felt in England, a sense of normalcy must first be established so the stone’s presence has something to affect. This sense of normalcy is set up by Betteredge’s narration of the first part of the text, in the way he describes his life and responsibilities. As house-steward and head of the servants, it falls to him to ensure day-to-day activities run smoothly. There is a disruption to his routine in the arrival of Franklin and the Moonstone, but Betteredge manages to maintain the peace by convincing Franklin to keep the Moonstone in the bank – away from the house – until Rachel’s birthday (Collins56-57). The moment the Moonstone is revealed, however, its effects are felt by the household and it is fully functional as a gothic threat. Lady Verinder is upset at the reminder of her brother (Collins 73-73), the stone’s presence negatively influences Rachel’s birthday dinner (Collins 78-81), and its disappearance and the intrusion of the police disrupt the entire household the next day. The sense of normalcy is gone, and will not be fully recovered until the issue of the Moonstone is dealt with.

 

Collins, Wilkie. The Moonstone. Penguin Books, 1998.

The British Library. “Gothic Motifs.” The British Library, 2014, www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/gothic-motifs.

4 thoughts on “The Moonstone: A Gothic Disruption”

  1. This Gothic motive is clearly indicated and I would take this one step further including the death of John Harcastle. He has laid a spell (or curse) on the Verander family so while he dies, this curse and its impacts “comes back vividly alive in the present.” (Gothic ….). In addition another element of the gothic in The Moonstone would be in reference to the wild and remote landscapes and yet alongside “imprisoning places.” The Shivering Sands definitely indicate a wild and tempestuous landscape but contrasting this, the characters are imprisoned in the Verander household. They are all held under suspicion as prisoners and their freedom is compromised in addition to their personal items being searched.

  2. Good analysis! I agree that this novel was full of gothic troupes and that I saw a lot of Gothic themes and how destructive the moonstone seemed to be in the character’s lives. Like you mentioned, the beginning of the novel painted the moonstone’s lore to have no real bearing onto the modern day. I am super interested in how the characters believe in the moonstones threatening curse instead of believing it to be fake and the bad things happening around the stone as a coincidence.

  3. Some of the language used to describe the Moonstone like “curse”, “predicted certain disaster” definitely carries with it a very gothic vibe. And as you said the stone itself is a physical thread that connects the past and the present, the distant India and the familiar England; it’s another proof of “the past is never dead”. I noticed that the “curse” seems to emphasize that it not only brings disaster upon the person who displaces the stone, but “all of his house and name who received it after him” as well.

  4. Juliana,

    I’m a huge fan of the Gothic, so I was naturally drawn to your post. Wonderful analysis! I had not thought about the juxtaposition between the prologue of the novel, set in 1799, and the contemporary account by Betteredge. The language that Collins used to introduce the Moonstone, as well as the culture and religion of the Hindu people that protect and worship it, creates an image of the mysterious, the foreign, the “scary” because it is so unfamiliar to British audiences during the 1860s. The Moonstone, fictional or not, is a device that brings about paranoia and disorder like a plague, and it might have been a lesson to Europeans to fear the foreign cultures of the “Orient” and India, to keep away from them and try to keep them out of their island.

    Nice stuff!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *