by Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone Theme of Drugs and Alcohol
Laudanum, a mixture of alcohol and opium used as a common medicine in the nineteenth century, is central to the mystery of the Moonstone. And it takes an opium addict Ezra Jennings to figure it out. What many readers don't realize is that Wilkie Collins was an opium addict himself – he took laudanum regularly to treat the pain of his rheumatic gout (a disease that causes a tremendous amount of pain in the joints). Besides all this drug use, there's a lot of other addiction in The Moonstone, as well – Franklin Blake is addicted to tobacco, and he gets insomnia when he tries to quit cold turkey.
Questions About Drugs and Alcohol
- Drugs and addiction figure prominently in the theft of the Moonstone – first because Franklin's tobacco withdrawal gives him insomnia, and second because the laudanum the doctor slips him to treat the insomnia makes him unconsciously take the Moonstone. Most mysteries give the reader enough clues to work with that the solution isn't totally out of left field, but few readers of The Moonstone would have expected the opium outcome. Why is this? Why is addiction so important to this novel?
- What other characters suffer from addiction, loosely speaking? To what are they addicted? What does this suggest about their characters?
- Does the novel seem to want the reader to sympathize with those who suffer from addiction? Why or why not? What passages would you quote to support your answer?
Chew on This
Opium was commonly believed to have been imported to Britain from China and India; it seems appropriate, therefore, that the theft of the Indian diamond should be caused by the unconscious consumption of this foreign substance.
Addiction is not associated with weakness of character in The Moonstone; rather, the two addicts of the novel, Franklin Blake (tobacco) and Ezra Jennings (laudanum) are two of the most admirable characters.