Study Guide

The Moonstone Society and Class

By Wilkie Collins

Society and Class

That was the point of view I looked at it from. Economy—with a dash of love. I put it to my mistress, in duty bound, just as I had put it to myself. […] My lady burst out laughing, and said she didn't know which to be more shocked at—my language or my principles. Some joke tickled her, I suppose, of the sort that you can't take unless you are a person of quality. (1.1.2.6-7)

Betteredge feels the need to ask his employer's permission to get married. And when he explains his reasoning to her, she laughs. He explains to her that it's cheaper to marry Selina Goby than to continue paying for her to clean his house – after all, as his wife, she'll have to clean his house for free! It actually makes a certain amount of sense, if you think about it. But Lady Verinder is a member of the upper class, and she can afford the luxury of marrying for love…so she finds Betteredge's unromantic reasons for marrying to be funny.

Rosanna Spearman had been a thief, and not being of the sort that get up Companies in the City, and rob from thousands, instead of only robbing from one, the law laid hold of her, and the prison and the reformatory followed the lead of the law. (1.1.4.14)

Betteredge suggests that rich people steal, too, but they get away with it. He's talking about investment companies that "rob from thousands." He says that Rosanna Spearman only stole from individuals, but she got in more trouble. He is making a sly political statement about the inequalities in the justice system.

I follow the plan adopted by the Queen in opening Parliament—namely, the plan of saying much the same thing regularly every year. Before it is delivered, my speech (like the Queen's) is looked for as eagerly as if nothing of the kind had ever been heard before. When it is delivered, and turns out not to be the novelty anticipated, though they grumble a little, they look forward hopefully to something newer next year. An easy people to govern, in the Parliament and in the Kitchen—that's the moral of it. (1.1.9.2)

Another sly socio-political remark by Gabriel Betteredge. He implicitly compares the servants of the "Kitchen" to members of Parliament (the British legislative body, like the American Congress) and himself to the Queen.

You have heard of beautiful young ladies falling in love at first sight, and have thought it natural enough. But a housemaid out of a reformatory, with a plain face and a deformed shoulder, falling in love, at first sight, with a gentleman who comes on a visit to her mistress's house, match me that, in the way of an absurdity, out of any story-book in Christendom, if you can! I laughed till the tears rolled down my cheeks. (1.1.7.7)

Betteredge thinks that it's just beyond absurd that an unattractive servant girl should fall in love with a gentleman. He thinks falling in love is only the business of "beautiful young ladies."

'I never knew you cruel before, father,' she said, very gently, and went out. My girl's words fell upon me like a splash of cold water. I was savage with myself, for feeling uneasy in myself the moment she had spoken them—but so it was. (1.1.7.7-8)

Penelope, Betteredge's daughter, doesn't think that it's all that unnatural for an unattractive servant girl to fall in love with a gentleman. She certainly doesn't think it's a laughing matter. She even thinks her father is "cruel" to laugh at Rosanna for falling in love with a rich man when she's only a servant.

Gentlefolks in general have a very awkward rock ahead in life—the rock ahead of their own idleness. Their lives being, for the most part, passed in looking about them for something to do, it is curious to see—especially when their tastes are of what is called the intellectual sort—how often they drift blindfold into some nasty pursuit. (1.1.8.10)

Betteredge has spent his entire life as a servant in the Verinders' house, so he's seen a lot of "gentlefolks," or people who are rich enough that they don't need to work for a living. And he has noticed a general trend: people who don't need to work have a lot of time on their hands, and they tend to fill it with strange and often "nasty" hobbies.

It often falls heavy enough, no doubt, on people who are really obliged to get their living, to be forced to work for the clothes that cover them, the roof that shelters them, and the food that keeps them going. But compare the hardest day's work you ever did with the idleness that splits flowers and pokes its way into spiders' stomachs, and thank your stars that your head has got something it must think of, and your hands something that they must do. (1.1.8.10)

Betteredge knows from personal experience that it's tough to have to work for a living. But he thinks that having to work hard sure beats not having anything at all to do. After all, if you have nothing to do, you end up inventing hobbies, like dissecting flowers and spiders.

'Hadn't you better say she's mad enough to be an ugly girl and only a servant?' he asked. 'The falling in love with a gentleman of Mr Franklin Blake's manners and appearance doesn't seem to me to be the maddest part of her conduct by any means. (1.1.14.18)

Sergeant Cuff is quite understanding of Rosanna Spearman. He doesn't think it's unnatural at all for a servant girl, even an "ugly" one, to fall in love with Franklin Blake.

'She has no right, of course, to expect him to take any interest in her. It's quite monstrous that she should forget herself and her station in that way. But she seems to have lost pride, and proper feeling, and everything.' (1.1.17.38)

Penelope thinks that Rosanna has forgotten "her station" not so much by falling in love with Franklin Blake, who is far above her in social rank, but by expecting him "to take any interest in her." It's not unnatural that she should love him, but expecting him to feel even close to the same way suggests that she has "lost pride, and proper feeling, and everything."

People in high life have all the luxuries to themselves—among others, the luxury of indulging their feelings. People in low life have no such privilege. Necessity, which spares our betters, has no pity on us. We learn to put our feelings back into ourselves, and to jog on with our duties as patiently as may be. I don't complain of this—I only notice it. (1.1.20.7)

Gabriel Betteredge makes another radical socio-political statement. He remarks that servants and members of the working class don't have the "luxury of indulging their feelings." In other words, when something tragic happens, like Rosanna's suicide, the rich are able to cry and take the time to grieve, while servants just have to grin and bear it, and continue to go on with their work.

'Mr Betteredge, the day is not far off when the poor will rise against the rich. I pray Heaven they may begin with him. I pray Heaven they may begin with him.' (1.1.23.28)

Lucy Yolland, Rosanna's best friend, blames Franklin Blake for Rosanna's suicide. This is why she's particularly angry with Franklin Blake. But the statement that begins this passage is the most radical that appears in the novel: she asserts that, someday soon, there will be a revolution and "the poor will rise against the rich." This is actually a common fear during the Victorian period, when the gap between rich and poor was tremendous.

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