08 August 2012

The Moonstone, Part I - Are You Hooked Yet?

This book is LOLARIOUS, you guys. Of course, since Reading the Bricks is my brand new baby blog, everyone here is likely already aware of this fact; I just have to reiterate because hello, Gabriel Betteredge, my new second favorite cantankerous old man narrator. (Don't fret, Frederick Fairlie; you will always be first in my heart. What have you do to with bosoms?)

But before we get into that, I'm going to discuss Collins's own introductions, which it has come to my attention may not be in some of your editions. 

The intro to the first edition is fine author-y stuff; "I hope you like this book, I worked hard, blahblah." But the Introduction to Later Editions is simply the stuff of hilarious legend: 

When this work was still in course of periodical publication in England and in the United States, and when not more than 1/3 of it was completed, the bitterest affliction of my life and the severest illness from which I have ever suffered fell on me together.
Of the physical sacrifice which the effort cost me I shall say nothing.
I doubt if I should have lived to write another book, if the responsibility of the weekly publication of this story had not forced me to rally my sinking energies of body and mind - to dry my useless tears, and to conquer my merciless pains.

In other words,

I'll be here taking opiates and writing my book.

So, mes amis, let us to the prologue!

Given Alice's disappointment (and mine too, the first time through) that The Woman in White contained no actual ghosts, I find it highly hilarious that The Moonstone contains no actual moonstones. It's a diamond.

You win again, Collins.

And then we get to the story, which Betteredge has to start over not once, not twice, but three times because he can't stop talking about himself and Robinson Crusoe (tedious book...) and apologizing for how boring it is to read about old men sitting in beehive chairs, when really I'd like to know what on earth is a beehive chair? It sounds terrifying.

I was planning to do a synopsis-type post, but as I'm checking what I've underlined in my book it's not so much plot as it is Wilkie just being a genius writer and creator of characters. Observe:

Here follows the substance of what I said, written out entirely for your benefit. [...] Lord! haven't I seen you with the greatest authors in your hands, and don't I know how ready your attention is to wander when it's a book that asks for it, instead of a person? (33)

Way to be modest, Wilkie.

Let's talk about characters!

There's Franklin Blake, aka Suitor #1, who Betteredge complains "had promised to be tall, and had not kept that promise," - way to disappoint, Blake. Plus he was brought up on the continent and so had a wild French/Italian/German side to his character as well as a steady English side, and who knows when any will be uppermost? This is mysterious!

There's Godfrey, Suitor #2, who occupies his spare time with the rights of women [furthering the Internet's suspicion that Collins was a closet feminist (at least on paper)], but then leaves town after the diamond Moonstone is lost.

And then there's Rachel. Oooohhhhh, Rachel. You couldn't pay me any dollars at all to be 18 again. First she gets a jewel worth roughly 1.4 million dollars, then she leaves it in a cabinet and LO! It is gone! And then she flounces and shuts herself in her bedroom and refuses to let anyone talk to her including the people investigating the loss of her diamond, which is not at all suspicious behavior.

Her mother is Lady Verinder, who some have suspected of being a little - maybe a lottle - in love with Betteredge, who is clearly requiting as much as his old, sexual harrass-y heart is able. (It's not immoral, it's habit!!) Awwwww.

There's Superintendent Seegrave, who is obviously the character Collins allowed his good buddy Boz to name. He's bumbling and puts all the servants' backs up and offends the wimminz - especially Betteredge's daughter Penelope, which is awesome because Betteredge gets all offended on her behalf and talks smack about him from then on. Penelope, by the way, is the person whose diary we are consulting as to dates for this trip down Gabriel's memory lane. We like her.

And then there's Cuff, the proto-Sherlock. He sees clues in paint smudges, loves roses because they are the opposite of detectiving, and is generally one bad mofo.
The great Cuff, on his side, looked at Superintendent Seegrave in that quietly expecting way which I have already noticed. I can't affirm that he was on the watch for his brother-officer's speedy appearance in the character of an Ass - I can only say that I strongly suspected it. (101)
I laughed out loud at that one while I was reading on my phone at work. Well done, Collins.

So far, everyone except Seegrave is a suspect, except what if it's him? That would be the reddest of red herrings, TEAM SEEGRAVE 4 EVAH!

The obvious choice here is Rosanna the Former Thief-turned-Housemaid, who has a hunched shoulder, which is iiiiiinteresting because of the outer-deformity-reflects-inner-deformity thing that 19th c. writers used so often (see: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, among others). I get the sense that Collins will be turning that little trope on its ear, otherwise whyfore the next 250 pages? Cuff would have pinned it on her in two shakes. But there IS something weird going on between her and Blake.

So many clues! Here is what I think: Lady Verinder pitched the moonstone into the quicksand to protect Rachel. But then why not just send it to Amsterdam and get it cut into smaller gems and thus (as we learn from the uncle's will) render the mystical value of the thing moot?

I spent most of these chapters feeling like one of those women who talks to the screen during horror movies:
Oh girl, don't hang out alone by the quicksand!
Oh, Lady, don't let her have that CURSED JEWEL that people will try to KILL HER FOR!
OH GURL, don't leave your GIANT KILLER DIAMOND in the house!

and also wanting to slap Rachel, who is only like Marian MAAARIAAAAANNNNNN! in that they are both female.

(Speaking of which, today I am shipping Marian and Cuff.)

And yes, Alice, I am in for a little Sarah Waters after this. maybe we can get her to comment on whether she's ever read any Wilkie, and whether she is Team Mariaaaaaannnnn or Team Limp-Wrist Laura. I am not biased either way, obvs.