Reverse, Reverse: The Inside-Out Relationship between The Moonstone and A Study in Scarlet

When moving onto A Study in Scarlet, one of the most interesting aspects thus far has been tracing the genre inheritance from The Moonstone. In many ways, the focuses seem to be inside out. Made of the same material, but different sides shown. Implicitly, Scarlet has much more of a lower-class focus, whereas The Moonstone seems more to be concerned with the affairs of the rich, from the granular to large scale. More precisely, Scarlet features more of the consequences of the lack of. As the reader sees the story unfold through the eyes of Watson, the inciting incident for the story as a whole is simply that Watson lacks money to live comfortably (8 Conan Doyle). Additionally, what partially causes this is Britain’s own imperialist practices in India and Afghanistan, providing another Moonstone connection (Conan Doyle 7). Still, Watson was involved in the upholding of this imperialist practice through battle, whereas the characters in Collins’ work mostly just profit off of the plunder. Additionally, Moonstone more directly deals with questions of empire (though what exactly it resolves is debatable) throughout the story. But in Scarlet, the reader sees how Britain’s imperialism impacts the “average” British man as merely a fact of life to uphold, presenting British imperialism merely as something that is, whereas the implicit thematic throughline of The Moonstone is much more concerned with delving into what this imperialism means, for better or worse.

For the characters themselves, Moonstone presents a fuller, albeit perhaps more upwards tilting, in its effort to exploring a complete picture of British society (which is definitely for the worse). Though narrators like Betteredge and Clack are noted to lack wealth, they still spend their narration with the wealthy and privileged. After all, the tragic chain of events caused by the diamond’s loss occurs due to that a wealthy woman wants “her” diamond back. In contrast, the main site of the crime in Scarlet “wore an ill-omened and minatory look. It was one of four which stood back some little way from the street,.., [It] looked out with three tiers of vacant melancholy windows, which were blank and dreary…A small garden sprinkled over with a scattered eruption of sickly plants.” (28 Conan Doyle). Throughout this passage, words like “dreary,” “ill-omened,” and “sickly” among others reinforce the grimness of life where the victim lived, and the reality facing all of the boarders who live there. Similarly, while Sherlock Holmes is portrayed positively as an eccentric character, the characters of Scarlet are more down-to-earth than the colorful persons of Moonstone. For example, John Rance, though perhaps not up to Holmes’ level of intelligence, is not presented with the same massive blind spots of Clack or Betteredge In comparison, The Moonstone features characters of much more “sensational” backgrounds, whether it be through the penitent and troubled former master thief, or the ultimate culprit having a wildly different secret double life. While realistic in their own ways, and much more defined than the common-if- somewhat-suspicious-joe of Scarlet.

When taking these differences in conjunction, it becomes interesting to think about the novel as almost inverses of each other. The lives of the common English people are more directly featured in Scarlet, but the shadow of empire still impacts the proceedings nevertheless. The Moonstone, however, is much more invested in ideas of empire and upper-class concerns, though the voices of those from below still filter through. But as Scarlet progresses, it will be interesting to see if this middle/lower class and insular focus develops further and will perhaps prove itself a true study after all.     

Works Cited:

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

Conan Doyle, Arthur. A Study in Scarlet. Penguin Classics, 2001.

2 thoughts on “Reverse, Reverse: The Inside-Out Relationship between The Moonstone and A Study in Scarlet”

  1. I like the stance you have taken in your post a lot, and I have one more comparison between the two stories to add. I think the forms and perspectives of both novels are also like the inverse of each other. In The Moonstone, the story is told through the perspective of multiple characters, who all prove to be unreliable in their own way, and have distinct eccentricities and personalities. In A Study in Scarlet, the only narrator is Watson, who is written to be as close as an insert for the audience as possible. This means he lacks a noteworthy personality and has no special quirks that suggest his perspective may be strongly influenced by any biases, etc. The narrators in The Moonstone are additional entertainment for the readers, whereas Watson is meant to be almost forgotten so readers can focus on digesting the story.

  2. I really love your post. I really see where you are coming from. I am interested to see how Sherlock’s role as an aristocrat plays into your thesis. I feel like there are some power imbalances at play here between Sherlock, Watson, and the detectives just as there were power imbalances between Betteridge, Sergeant Cuff, and the whole Verinder family. I wonder if you were to look at those power imbalances and how they play into class structures, if something interesting would come out if it.

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