Monday, 2 March 2015

The female characters in The Moonstone

are very well-drawn and vivid.
Miss Clack has been discussed on this blog before. She's irritating and amusing at the same time; she seems to have no sense of humour and yet she's hilarious, in her religiousness and hypocrisy and self-contradictions; she's not to be trusted as a narrator and yet she's so fascinating in her own way that I enjoy reading her narrative and want more of it; she's the kind of person we stay away from, and yet she also seems pathetic, almost pitiful. Because she's alone, single and poor and no one seems to think highly of her (Rachel and Penelope are even rude), there's something sad and pathetic about this woman; as she doesn't have anything, such as wealth or social status or perhaps good looks, and apparently doesn't have much intellect either, she has to cling to something that gives her a sense of worth, a sense of dignity, which is her religion and related activities; then because she clings too much to religion, without true goodness, she's a hypocrite and a prude and a bore, which makes people dislike her even more and stay away from her; so it's like a vicious cycle.
Rachel and Rosanna arouse more sympathy. At 1st glance, they're very different: Rachel has all the advantages- social status, wealth, beauty, respect, love and finally a happy ending, whereas Rosanna has nothing and finally commits suicide. Rosanna is also more quiet, reserved, withdrawn, because of her past as well as her physical disability and her feeling about it; if Rachel, whilst keeping the secret, acts like an impassioned, unstable person and cannot be normal, Rosanna has more self-restraint and keeps everything within her, revealing hardly anything. However, in many ways they are doubles. They are both young. They are both in love with Franklin Blake. They both know about Franklin taking the diamond. They both choose to be silent about it, even though it's destructive for themselves- their silence is a kind of sacrifice. They both obstruct the plot in the sense that if they were not silent, the diamond would be found sooner. Rachel and Rosanna are "united" in their love for the same person and their silence. If you think about it, Rosanna's death leads to the gown and therefore helps other characters to find out the truth- there's little likelihood that after being stopped and interrupted so many times she would say anything to Franklin if she didn't die; but the whole time Rachel insists on being silent, and if this carried on, without Rosanna's letter, nobody would know the truth and Rachel would always think Franklin the real thief; so in a way it's like Rosanna has to get out of the picture in order for Rachel to have her happy ending.
Anyhow, they are lovely characters, depicted with lots of sympathy. The Moonstone is more about characters than about the mystery. Wilkie Collins helps us see beneath the appearance (Rachel as a stubborn, strong-willed, impassioned, almost irrational young woman and Rosanna as a physically disabled, diffident, reserved woman); lets us understand them, their feelings and actions; breathes life into them; most importantly, makes us feel sorry for Rosanna and her hopeless love, without exaggeration, without making it appear melodramatic or sentimental. In spite of everything, Rosanna's still a romantic, believing that Franklin could look at her and could love her, with a kind of love that crosses all boundaries. She is tragic from the 1st moment she appears, lonely, strangely drawn to the sea and the quicksands; she is tragic to the end, dying believing that Franklin deliberately ignores her and avoids her and wants to hurt her.
It is inexplicable, sometimes a character is left more or less in the background, in the shadows, and yet I feel a kind of love and melancholy for them as though for a real person. Like Dolores Haze. Caddy Compson. Jane Fairfax. Rosanette "The Marshal". And now Rosanna Spearman.
OK, enough sentimentality. Let's talk about a character nobody seems to care about: Penelope. The interesting part is that she's right all along. She's right about Rachel and Franklin being in love; she distrusts Godfrey Ablewhite, who is charming but phony; she's right about supporting Franklin; she believes in Rosanna when most others suspect her; she's also right about Rosanna's love for Franklin. It's only because she's female and her father Gabriel Betteredge is a sexist that her insightful remarks are dismissed, and she's a minor character, but Penelope's right the whole time. 
Apart from Misses Ablewhites, who appear briefly at the beginning, and Lady Verinder, who doesn't interest me 1 bit, there's only 1 female character left, if I'm not mistaken- Lucy. Some people think she has romantic feelings for Rosanna. Is that the case, or the fact that they are both physically disabled and unattractive simply creates a kind of bond between them? Now that could be discussed further.


  1. Rosanna really bothered me. Drawn like a moth to the light, I found the Rosanna characterization hard to resist. However, in the end, I felt as though Collins short-changed her quite a bit. And I would like to have seen the author spend more time developing Betteridge' daughter. However, what I would like has no relevance to the novel. Collins was writing a particular kind of novel for a particular kind of audience in a particular point in time. So, I must "suspend my disbelief" and petty criticisms in favor of understanding and appreciating Collins's success within those particularities.

    1. "I felt as though Collins short-changed her quite a bit."
      What do you mean?
      "I would like to have seen the author spend more time developing Betteridge' daughter."
      I feel that way too, a bit, but then Wilkie Collins wouldn't want Penelope to stand out too much. Take Ezra Jennings, when he appeared the 1st time I felt something but didn't care much, but afterwards he appeared again and was described in such a striking way that I started paying attention to him and knew he was going to do something important in the story. If Penelope had more space, we would pay attention to her and realise how observant and intuitive she is, and that could make the ending less surprising.

  2. The fact they're physically disabled and unattractive is the draw factor, I think. Franklin finds Lucy repulsive, and Rosanna finds it hard to belong. Those two girls have a lot in common, and both are strong-willed, with a great deal of feeling. Doesn't sound like wholesome reasons for a friendship, but I believe their friendship was strong and genuine.

    1. I think so too, actually. Never considered anything else. Then I got into a discussion with some people and they thought Lucy had romantic feelings for Rosanna.
      It's possible, but not necessarily the case.