Sunday, 22 February 2015

The form of The Moonstone

The Moonstone is an epistolary novel. This form has many advantages: the "realistic" look, the various points of view, the mingling of voices, the representation of the numerous sides of each character as appear to other characters, etc.
But there are also disadvantages. Before the documents are written, the truth has already been revealed, and all the writers have hindsight (except Rosanna). Presenting things in the past as they were, without emphasis, without bias, without foreshadowing, would be difficult, and at the same time the writers have to be, if not objective, secretive. They report the events, impressions, actions and feelings of themselves and other character in a manner that creates mystery, confusion and suspense. A professional detective/ crime writer can do so easily, which has a purpose, but it would be difficult for these characters, especially when they're involved. It's like that banal quote going around the internet "What has been seen cannot be unseen". One's remembrance of the past would have a tint of hindsight. 
Or, I suppose the tint of hindsight I just talked about is that in these narratives, nobody suspects Franklin Blake (Miss Clack does, but I'm not sure if she really suspects him, or only tries to defend her dear Godfrey Ablewhite). I myself did suspect him. 
If we look at the series of documents, before there is a hint of the truth, we have the narratives of Gabriel Betteredge, Miss Clack, Matthew Bruff and Franklin Blake. I reject the suggestion that Franklin could be an unreliable narrator who is actually guilty, because that means Rachel Verinder is crazy (for marrying him) and some other narrators like Ezra Jennings and Gabriel have to be liars as well, and that's too much conspiracy theory for me. What bothers me, or, what makes me think, is the part by Miss Clack. I didn't think anything while reading her narration, and I admit reading the novel very fast, a lot faster than I usually read a book and may have missed something, but it seems curious that by the time she writes her part of the story, with the help of her diary, she knows the truth and yet still presents Godfrey in that light. I say that from personal experience- once in a while I may be under an illusion about somebody, a guy perhaps, but afterwards when I realise what kind of person he is and then write about the the past, I cannot depict him as though I don't know his true character, however hard I try. By which I mean, Miss Clack's part is rather strange. 
Hmmm... I'm thinking outside the book again. 


  1. Interesting. The author -- by using multiple narrators -- gives himself wonderful opportunities for using different POVs within the same plot. Thus, no narrator is omniscient -- even after the fact -- and all narrators' contributions must be combined by the reader into a coherent whole. That is important. I think a deliberate reading pace rather than a hasty engagement is a wise strategy for appreciating Collins's 19th century technique and strategy. And, yes, The Moonstone -- for its period -- is a fine book. Our 2015 contexts, however, may make us less tolerant of the 19th century techniques on display.

    1. Postscript: Let us also keep in mind the 19th century serialization strategies. The narrative overlap, connections, repetitions, and omissions (i.e., gaps and fillings) were essential to the genre.

    2. I intend to reread it at some point, slowly, but now I have several deadlines to meet, after Daniel Deronda took so much of my time, so...
      This part about Miss Clack I find curious rather than flawed, and perhaps I don't know much about mystery or crime fiction, but placed next to the 21st century books I've read, this is still a very good novel. The female characters are particularly well-drawn.

  2. Miss Clack is HILARIOUS. Especially the part where she leaves religious tracts all over the house. She sounds like a presumptuous but frustrated woman. About her being nice about Godfrey: this could be a flawed oversight by Collins. He wanted to present Miss Clack's liking for Godfrey before she found out about him, but didn't carry it off well in her voice. Or alternately, Miss Clack is reminiscing about the past and forgets that she is supposed to hate Godfrey because she was so overcome by his charming behaviour. You have to admit that Godfrey can be charming. He might have been a villain, but certainly he was more polite to Miss Clack than Rachel Verinder ever was. (I actually find the idea of Godfrey being more polite than Rachel very realistic). Perhaps Miss Clack by putting Godfrey's charming bits in was having a snide jab at Rachel and the rest? I have to say, while Miss Clack was annoying, Rachel's attitude to her was quite rude compared to the others, considering Miss Clack is older than her.

    Making a charming gentleman the villain is a good tactic on Collins' part. It helps to explains why the rest don't suspect him. The plotting may be crazy, but Moonstone shows Collins' insight into human nature.

    Personally I find Agatha Christie's novels more obviously intellectual (because you can try to solve the mysteries by yourself, which makes it fun) but Collins beats her in terms of human nature. I think that's why The Moonstone is re-readable.

    I have a YA crime novel to recommend: Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens, set in the 30s. The author has recently published Arsenic for Tea.

    1. Godfrey can be charming, but I've liked Franklin from the beginning. Haha.
      I see your point about Rachel's rudeness, but Miss Clack is an unreliable narrator, who strongly dislikes Rachel and presents her in the most negative light possible. So there is definitely some exaggeration in there, if not an outright lie.
      It's interesting how Miss Clack wants to write about the next part of the story, the events she hears about in which she does not participate, and gets stopped by Franklin. I'm pretty sure that she would see the whole thing differently, add a few comments of her own, and perhaps would be suspicious of the discovery. She might even dismiss it, and cling to the idea that Godfrey is the good guy. In that case, her depiction of Godfrey in her narrative makes total sense.
      I haven't read Agatha Christie. But I agree with you about Collins and human nature.
      Guess what, I know a Miss Clack in real life. She didn't give me books or tracks, but she talked about Christianity all the time and tried to convert me, and even made me go to her religious group. And she had that way of saying the opposite of what she meant- like she said she forgave me, and stuff, though it's clear that she didn't.

    2. I liked Franklin at once. Gabriel too. I like the chemistry between both of them. And you can see even though Gabriel praises Godfrey, he has genuine affection for Franklin. I am sorry for Rosanna Spearman though.

      Hahaha, I know several Miss Clacks in real life. It's funny how in fiction she seems funny and so human, but in reality we can't stand them. (They were all either Evangelicals or Latter-Day Saints, for some weird reason.)

      Yes, I think you're right about Miss Clack trying not believe that Godfrey was the villain.

      What your Miss Clack did to you was passive-aggression. It's a common tactic among converters. People pretending to be so sympathetic and kind and understanding "Oh I forgive you for your sins! By the way God loves you and I'm SURE you will become this religion in future" and feeling so smug about themselves for not scolding you for sinning.

      I knew a Mr Clack once, but darker and more disturbing. He had the awful habit of talking about his religion ALL THE TIME that everyone got fed up. I heard that he used to stalk girls in his course and then got expelled for entering a girl's room without her permission.

    3. Yeah, I like Gabriel too. Though he's sort of crazy, in some ways. Like the way he talks about women, and about the different sides in Franklin. And his belief in Robinson Crusoe.
      And yeah, I'm sorry for Rosanna. Men, even good ones, can be blind.
      I know a Buddhist Clack too, which is weird, because Buddhism is not about trying to spread the word of Buddha and convert people. She even sent me a book by Thích Nhất Hạnh and a T-shirt from Plum village. She means well, but it's frustrating.
      Tell me more about that Mr Clack. Or you could write a character sketch. That would be fun.

    4. Oh yes! He brings a totally new meaning to fanboyism XD In this case, his fandom is basically a Book of Prophecy.
      Good idea, I'll write a character sketch of Mr Clack. Though I'm afraid I won't be able to write from his perspective, the way you managed to do with your character.

    5. Give it a try.
      When I have time, I'll find someone else to write about.