The minutiae and the many perspectives in the Moonstone: guaranteed detective fever

“The Moonstone” is considered by many the first investigation novel ever written in English. Despite being located in the very birth of this genre, Wilkie Collins makes use of some techniques that demands from the reader an active stance while reading the story. There’s no main character working as a clever detective who will solve all the mysteries for us. As a matter of fact, the title itself reveals that the center of the story is not a character specifically (like we have in “Mary Barton”), but the mythic Indian diamond which has been stolen from a sacred temple for the Indus and which breaks the balance of an upper-class house in England. Everyone is under suspicion.

The first part of the story is narrated by Gabriel Betteredge, who is the house-steward in service of Lady Verinder. Collins cleverly chose this character as the first narrator because he smoothly gravitates between the servants and the upper-class characters. He has first-hand information from the opposing sides of the house. However, he considers himself as a different employee given his closeness to the Verinder family members. When I first noticed this about this character, I automatically started to pay attention to his name and see what it meant, perhaps because I have already done that in “Great Expectations”.

To me, the name Betteredge suggested that he wanted to be in a “better” position, but he never left the edge or the limits between the social classes in the house. He is always in between. James R. Simmons Jr., in his article entitled “Read the name… that I have written inside: Onomastics and Wilkie Collins’s ‘The Moonstone’” says that Franklin Blake considers him one of his friends and that he has a “superior edge in relation to the other servants” (page 71). Simmons also comments that Gabriel is the name of an angel who is a messenger of God and this conveys the message that the house-servant is not only someone reliable to the Verinder family, but also the one who brings the information to the reader in the first part of the book. However, by being the narrator, we come to discover his many flaws, such as considering himself superior because he is unapologetically English, so supposedly different from the continentally educated Franklin Blake.

Although having such a strong and reliable name, Gabriel Betteredge is flawed and it’s not the one who solves the mystery regarding the Moonstone. In the second part of the story, the reader finds a plethora of narratives from characters whose names aren’t that dignifying (such as Miss Clack, a name that suggests a disturbing noise). They have quite different personalities and do not have the typical qualities of a hero, such as Betteredge. The reader is presented to very real human beings.

The meaning of the names in the “Moonstone” reveal interesting information, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. The reader must closely inspect everything, because nothing is obvious in the Verinder family’s house. As Simmons said, the family’s last name means that the truth is in the “very inside” (page 70).  Collins consciously creates a mysterious world full of hidden meaning, but also realistic, since we have the perspectives of many flawed characters. A definite answer takes a long time to appear. The mystery is intense, but not overwhelmingly supernatural.  The richness of details (and the name-choosing being an important aspect), alongside the variety of perspectives through the narratives ultimately contribute for a detective fever sensation for the ones who read the Moonstone, who deservedly has the title of the first investigation novel.

2 thoughts on “The minutiae and the many perspectives in the Moonstone: guaranteed detective fever”

  1. I think the interpretation of Verinder is a bit of a stretch, but I thought you did a good job explaining the theories for each of the characters’ names that you mentioned. I wonder how many of these connections were intentional, and how many have been contrived later. I also wonder how obvious the connections would have been to contemporary readers. They would probably be familiar with the Bible and understand basic wordplay, so Betteredge and Clack’s names were probably obvious, but I’m not sure about the Verinders’ name.

  2. I love how you bring the detective fever in at the end and aline us readers with Betteredge. I wonder how many more connections there are like that, like we have access to a variety of perspectives just like him. Could be an interesting investigation. Your investigation of names is also very productive and really paints the moonstone as a novel that turns you into the detective.

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