Study Guide

The Moonstone Literature and Writing

By Wilkie Collins

Literature and Writing

'There can be no doubt that this strange family story of ours ought to be told. And I think, Betteredge, Mr Bruff and I together have hit on the right way of telling it.' (1.1.1.6)

Franklin Blake tells us on the first page of the novel that the "strange family story" – the plot of The Moonstone – is a story that "ought to be told." And they've found the "right way of telling it." This is good news for readers of The Moonstone. We're told on the very first page that the novel is worth reading and that it's being told in the best possible way. Thank goodness for that!

I am not superstitious; I have read a heap of books in my time; I am a scholar in my own way. Though turned seventy, I possess an active memory, and legs to correspond. You are not to take it, if you please, as the saying of an ignorant man, when I express my opinion that such a book as Robinson Crusoe never was written, and never will be written again. (1.1.1.11)

Gabriel Betteredge wants to assure the readers that his eccentric reliance on Robinson Crusoe, a novel by Daniel Defoe, for comfort and guidance is not at all eccentric. He wants us to realize that he knows what he's talking about!

Still, this don't look much like starting the story of the Diamond—does it? I seem to be wandering off in search of Lord knows what, Lord knows where. We will take a new sheet of paper, if you please, and begin over again, with my best respects to you. (1.1.1.12)

Gabriel Betteredge ends the first chapter of his narrative with an apology. He says that he's been rambling, and will "begin over again." But if he's been rambling, why include that first chapter? Why not crumple it up and "begin over again" for real? Well, of course the first chapter is important – Wilkie Collins wants us to know why the novel is constructed the way it is, and Franklin Blake tells us why on the very first page. And the first chapter also introduces us to Gabriel Betteredge, our first narrator and one of the most important characters of the novel.

My daughter Penelope just looked over my shoulder to see what I have done so far. She remarks that it is beautifully written, and every word of it true. But she points out an objection. She says what I have done so far isn't in the least what I wanted to do. I am asked to tell the story of the Diamond, and, instead of that, I have been telling the story of my own self. Curious, and quite beyond me to account for. I wonder whether the gentlemen who make a business and a living out of writing books, ever find their own selves getting in the way of their subjects, like me? (1.1.2.15)

Whenever you're reading a novel and you see a reference to novel writers, or "gentlemen who make a business and a living out of writing books," as Betteredge puts it, you should sit up and take notes. After all, the novelist is writing about him or herself in those places. This is ironic, because Betteredge is wondering whether novelists ever find themselves "getting in the way" of the story – which is exactly what is happening to Wilkie Collins when he brings up novel writers here.

I left the two together, and went out with a heavy heart. This was the first trouble I remember for many a long year which wasn't to be blown off by a whiff of tobacco, and which was even beyond the reach of Robinson Crusoe. (1.1.16.30)

Most of the anxieties and worries of Gabriel Betteredge's life can be soothed by his tobacco pipe and a few chapters of Robinson Crusoe. It seems comical, but a little bit self-promoting, for a novel writer like Wilkie Collins to suggest that reading a novel (like Robinson Crusoe) would comfort all afflictions.

I hear you are likely to be turned over to Miss Clack, after parting with me. In that case, just do me the favour of not believing a word she says, if she speaks of your humble servant. (1.1.23.57)

Gabriel Betteredge addresses the reader directly here, in anticipation of the change of narrator. He undercuts the reliability of the next narrator, Miss Clack, before we even meet her. It's important that we take this warning seriously, though, because Wilkie Collins has made Betteredge such a sympathetic character.

I am to keep strictly within the limits of my own experience, and am not to inform you of what other persons told me—for the very sufficient reason that you are to have the information from those other persons themselves, at first hand. In this matter of the Moonstone the plan is, not to present reports, but to produce witnesses. I picture to myself a member of the family reading these pages fifty years hence. Lord! what a compliment he will feel it, to be asked to take nothing on hearsay, and to be treated in all respects like a Judge on the bench. (1.1.23.66)

Betteredge is imagining how the novel will be read later on. He reminds us that the narratives we're reading are not only true, but presented as "evidence," as though the reader were a "Judge on the bench."

*Note. Added by Franklin Blake.—Miss Clack may make her mind quite easy on this point. Nothing will be added, altered, or removed, in her manuscript, or in any of the other manuscripts which pass through my hands. Whatever opinions any of the writers may express, whatever peculiarities of treatment may mark, and perhaps in a literary sense, disfigure, the narratives which I am now collecting, not a line will be tampered with anywhere, from first to last. [2.1.1.6 (footnote)]

Wilkie Collins, through the voice of Franklin Blake, the fictional editor, reminds the reader that the narratives we're reading have not been changed at all. Everything we read, even the poorly written or ridiculous narrative of Miss Clack, is printed just as they were originally written. Of course, we know that the whole book is fictional, so this footnote is just Wilkie Collins winking at the reader and pretending that we don't know that it's fiction.

The name of the firm is accidentally blotted in my diary, and my sacred regard for truth forbids me to hazard a guess in a matter of this kind. (2.1.1.16)

Miss Clack wants to emphasize to the reader that her narrative is 100% accurate. Everything that she writes comes out of the diary she was keeping at the time. The "blot" in her diary is Wilkie Collins's way of reminding us that there are reliable sources for everything in this narrative. Even if Miss Clack's way of presenting it is biased, the basic facts are all true.

I could write pages of affectionate warning on this one theme, but (alas!) I am not permitted to improve—I am condemned to narrate. (2.1.1.29)

For Miss Clack, the only good kind of book is an instructive, improving religious book. Novels are bad for morals. So when she says that she is "not permitted to improve," but is "condemned to narrate," she is implicitly comparing her favorite kind of book to fictional novels.