Colonialism and Morality in The Moonstone and The Man Who Would Be King
Let us presuppose to begin with that the cursed jewel is an impossibility and the powers of the Moonstone or any other gem for that matter only exist on an atomic level ( i.e. the energies which bind such objects together and make them what they are). Additionally it should be considered that no such object is the means by which a being exerts powers and no such object consciously exerts powers itself. Notions of the cursed or powerful jewel can be seen as a bi-product of what Said terms “Orientalism.” Said describes “The Orient” as “almost a European invention,” a place of “exotic beings and remarkable experiences.” (Ashcroft et al ed. p.87) This hypothesis adequately compliments Wilkie Collins’ characterisation of the eponymous jewel in The Moonstone and the moral pattern the author forms around its adventures.
In the Nineteenth Century the jewel was the ultimate exotic object, Collins describes the Moonstone as “a yellow diamond- a famous gem in the native annals of India,” (Collins p.33) and clearly credits influence to the Koh-i-Noor in his preface to the novel. Collins builds upon the alien nature of such an object utilising the perceived mysticism of the Orient linking the jewel to a “four handed Indian God” (Collins p.33) [Said’s “exotic being” ?] and superstition, the notion of the jewel “feeling the influence of the deity who adorned it” (Collins p.33) [“remarkable experiences” to Said?]. Collins rapidly develops the exotic object into the cursed object primarily to create a long involving tale with a successfully satisfying denouement. the novel is, of course foremost a detective story; how memorable or lengthy a tale would it have been if the misappropriated object were as English and as homely as say half a crown or a tin of boot polish? The jewel is portrayed as a fascinating invader in the Empire’s heartland, an English country estate, in theory its safest haven. The Moonstone is a narrative device which illuminates the text in multiple ways.
Such a device remains popular in western adventure literature and film, whether in the form of an Egyptian scarab or a monkey’s claw. The mystical object with powerful properties is involved in adventure tales from Conan-Doyle through Indiana Jones, even one of the most famous of modern legends the fates of Carter and Caernarfon excavators of Tutankahmun’s tomb involves a curse and shameful Orientalism. Perhaps the best indicator of such notions becoming part of western folklore is when they become utilised as simple metaphor. This is apparent in John Huston’s 1975 film version of Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King. The desire of the central protagonists; Peachy Carnahan and Daniel Dravitt to become “Kings” of an isolated region of the Indian sub-continent is built upon by the abundance of treasures that becomes available to them, an aspect absent from Kipling’s original tale. Huston’s version increases...