Monday, March 26, 2007

The Moonstone

The Moonstone (Oxford World's Classics)

Wilkie Collins

Date: 1868   —   $6.95   —   Book

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Fiction, Mystery

When speaking of the mystery novel, one commonly cites Edgar Allen Poe as one of the progenitors. However, the finished form of the detective novel was, for the most part, introduced by Wilkie Collins in The Moonstone, a book that was, at the time, panned for its distinctive method of unfolding the tale. The account of the disappearance of the large diamond and what happened to it is laid out in segments of writing by different persons, recalling the strange events surrounding the Indian gemstone. The deliberate laying out of incidences makes the tale unfold as a drama, a method which seems natural to us now but was considered a bit overwrought and vulgar in Victorian times.

This novel also does something that few Victorian novels did, which is to spend considerable time with the under classes of society. (Even Dickens, who is considered a champion of the lower classes, described the middle-to-upper-class society in more detail than the lower.) Large parts of the narrative are given over to servants, and a great deal of sympathy is spent on a few unfortunates whose looks are against them.

Mostly, however, this is merely a very accessible classic, one whose prose is not leaden but engaging. It's fun and light and silly, though the undercurrents are there for anyone who knows history.

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