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.

The Gothic as a force of randomness in a cartesian world

“So!” she said, without being startled or surprised; “the days have worn away, have they?”

“Yes, ma’am. To-day is —”

“There, there, there!” with the impatient movement of her fingers. “I don’t want to know. Are you ready to play?”

“I was obliged to answer in some confusion, “I don’t think I am, ma’am”.

“Not at cards again?” she demanded, with a searching look.

“Yes, ma’am; I could do that, if I was wanted”.

“Since this house strikes you old and grave, boy,” said Miss Havisham, impatiently, “and you are unwilling to play, are you willing to work?”

I could answer this inquiry with a better heart than I had been able to find for the other question, and I said I was quite willing”.

The Satis House is the emblematic place of contradiction. A site of continuity and discontinuity. A scenario of the preparation for life and the stagnation of life. Pip and Miss Havisham hang on a spectrum, whose edges go from joviality and naivety to dullness and stasis, respectively. However, they do share something in common: both of their lives have been deeply affected by great expectations.

In the passage that I selected above, Pip is visiting Miss Havisham one more time. We can see the torpidity in Miss Havisham’s behavior, because she asks about the quick passing of time without being surprised. However, now that she has Pip as a visitor, her stasis transforms itself in impatience or even eagerness. She wants Pip to play again with her and Estella. The conversations are short and straightforward. Miss Havisham insists on playing with Pip, even after he said he didn’t think he was ready to play. She suggests then that he should work with her, and he agrees. Some moments after this passage, Pip goes inside the party room, where there is a rotten wedding cake. Everything is in a state of putrefaction in the room: no air, no sun, an excess of yellowish fabric everywhere, worn by time.

Miss Havisham was hours away of getting married when her husband-to-be abandons her. Time has stopped for her, because she stopped seeing meaning in life. She was in love, she wanted to build a happy life alongside her future spouse, but her great expectations were broken by the unpredictable hands of fate. She wants Pip to play with her as a way of compensating for the lust she missed. She wants Pip to work (and that means, going around the cake table many times with her), because she wants to imagine what it would have been like if the party had actually happened. She doesn’t want to face reality, she is forever stuck in time, wondering and wandering, projecting her own hypothetical scenario towards Pip.

Pip is in the Satis House, but, in opposition to Miss Havisham, he is being prepared for his great expectations. He gladly wants to work, and he even considered playing again, although not being that willing. The house works differently for Pip: its stagnation doesn’t affect him, and it actually represents a rite of passage. He goes several times to the mansion, and slowly learns about love, sexuality, masculinity and the labor world.

Both characters expect change in their lives, but both are carried away by unpredictable events. Miss Havisham had great expectations for her life after her marriage, but they didn’t happen. Pip has great expectations (he wants to live a different life from the one he has in the countryside), and he is suddenly taken to the Satis house, being subjected to adults’ decisions. This space, so gothic, represents the unpredictability and mystery of life, in a society which praised science and rationalism. Dickens ultimately wanted the Victorian reader, who was excited to this fresh, revigorated thinking, to be aware of life’s randomness.

The sublime as eternal torn in the Gothic novel

“On an afternoon in October, or the beginning of November, a fresh watery afternoon, when the turf and paths were rustling with moist, withered leaves, and the cold, blue sky was half hidden by clouds, dark grey steamers, rapidly mounting from the west, and boding abundant rain”. (Page 209)


This is one of the many passages in Wuthering Heights that portray a very important tenet of the Gothic novel: the sublime. According to the Cambridge dictionary, the sublime refers to something “of overwhelming greatness, grandeur, beauty”. We can see a “tug-of-war” between two opposing forces: “overwhelming”, which represents a more negative feeling and “greatness, grandeur, beauty”, which are nouns that embody positivity or happiness.


The passage contains in itself clusters of antagonism. It’s a “fresh watery afternoon”, with “cold, blue sky”. However, this same sky is half hidden by “clouds, dark grey steamers”. The blue sky will be soon covered by them and greyness will prevail. The “watery” afternoon makes the reader sense the change in humidity and in the air pressure, or, in other words, the anticipation, the building up of tension. Another contrasting set is the moist present in the turf and paths and the dry, withered leaves. Lush life and decay side by side. Finally, the verb “rustle” is very sublime: hearing the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind is overwhelmingly beautiful. It is an eerie sound.


Why do the Gothic novel use the sublime as a background scenario to its plot? Because the Gothic fiction itself is antagonistic. Roger Luckhurst, in his article “Late Victorian Gothic Tales”, says that the Gothic is “disordered” and “dark” (page xi), as the clouds mounting in the passage and “labyrinthine”, as the moisty paths. It also mixes up categories of “life”, such as the turf, and “death”, such as the “withered leaves”. Luckhurst talks about the “… undamming of dark forces that rush into and insidiously undermine the order of everyday life”. It’s the rain which will transform the blue skies.


The sublime scenario ultimately highlights the Gothic plot. When the narrative leaves the suffocating houses of the novel, the readers find themselves in the moors, with its open spaces and its mystery. We want to explore this space and see what in the other side of the moor, but there are many obstacles. The moors, as the Gothic genre, “… inflicts exorbitant punishments” (page xii) on those who dare to walk on them, or better, those who “step outside the norm”. Cathy wants to have a wealthy life with Mr. Linton but finds misery. She finds true love in Heathcliff, but also death. Money and love are so enticing, but the Gothic genre imposes punishments for these earthly desires. Therefore, the sublime mirrors these dangerous desires, complementing and emphasising the eternal torn that the characters suffer.

The brutal and misogynistic domesticity in Wuthering Heights

“… She has been pining for your sake several weeks; and raving about you this morning, and pouring forth a deluge of abuse, because I represented your failings in a plain light for the purpose of mitigating her adoration. But don’t notice it further. I wished to punish her sauciness, that’s all – I like her too well, my dear Heathcliff, to let you absolutely seize and devour her up.”


This passage is located immediately after Catherine Linton reveals the attraction that Isabella Linton, her sister-in-law, has for Heathcliff. It’s impossible not to feel flabbergasted when reading this paragraph, since Cathy shows absolutely no regret for having just revealed the secret in front of Heathcliff, making Isabella feel extremely humiliated.


This scene has a dense psychological brutality and the paragraph I chose encapsulates Catherine’s devilish behavior, motivated by her jealousy of Heathcliff. The words “raving” and “pouring forth a deluge of abuse” show how Cathy has considered Isabella’s quite normal attraction to Heathcliff as practically a sin. She wanted to “mitigate” her adoration by portraying Heathcliff in a bad light. Cathy had a clear plan to follow and she did, acting with no restraints whatsoever.


It seems that Cathy escapes from the controlling web that civilization imposes on us, but which is paramount for survival. The domestic setting of Thrushcross Grange and its isolation exacerbates her unrestrained behavior. Therefore, the passage portrays how domestic abuse can happen for futile reasons and in a fairly frequent fashion, having no consequences for the one who starts it. The domain of law is often absent in domestic setting, especially one so isolated as Thrushcross Grange. We can feel as suffocated as Isabella, who has no one to turn to in the house.


This passage also reveals some of the gender expectations in Victorian society. Isabella’s desire for a man was reprehended by Catherine.” There is this idea of “how dare you, expressing your feelings towards a man?”. The attraction her sister-in-law feels is “sauciness”. Also, there’s this idea that, in case Catherine didn’t do anything, Heathcliff would have no other choice but to “seize and devour” Isabella. Therefore, there is an opposite set of gender expectations here: one that blames women for feeling attraction and another that considers the sexual impetus of men to be natural and unavoidable.


To sum up, Wuthering Heights delves into domestic settings to show how suffocating and brutal these places can be, especially for women. Although Isabella acts in a way that Victorian society expects her to act, she is humiliated by Cathy for just showing her emotions. It is known that Cathy is jealous, but her motives are also rooted in misogyny. The result is sheer and gratuitous brutality.

Breaking through alienation’s drought

Mary Barton is a novel that exhales urgency. A large part of the British society in the 19th century contributes immensely for the wealth of just a few but receive practically nothing in return. The working classes lie, concomitantly, at the center of the country’s economy and in a void where the State cannot be found. Elizabeth Gaskell, through the genre of the realist novel, expects the reader of 19th century England to acknowledge their situation and to start questioning their own place in capitalism’s machinery.

The passage I chose, located in chapter 6 (Poverty and Death), is a great specimen of what a descriptive passage from a realist novel is. The words chosen by Gaskell make the reader feel the density of the unbearable situation that the working classes have to go through every day. This passage in particular describes in detail the dwelling of a family in the novel, the Davenports. Gaskell doesn’t use the word “dwelling” but “lair”. The Davenports are, therefore, animalized. The three or four children roll “…on the damp, nay wet brick floor” (60). The narrator doesn’t know the number of children: they seem to merge with the dirty floor, invisible in their pain and hunger, utterly ignored by the State.

Through the brick floor, “… the stagnant, filthy moisture of the street oozed up (60). There is no clear distinction between the street and the dwelling. Gaskell wants the reader to grasp the putrefaction of the Davenport’s house and how urgent their situation is. The stark and lengthy description of the present moment is preferred by Gaskell, instead of long digressions trying to find the reason why there is such a disparity between social classes in industrial England. The focus on the present is a call for action in a society largely dominated by alienated workers, hyper specialised in the line of production. They don’t see any meaning to what they are producing and all the work they are doing has no benefits. Gaskell wants the reader to feel the void, the abandonment, the darkness. The author, through this passage and many others, wants to plant a seed which can break through the dry soil of alienation and reach the first breezes of awareness.