Imperial Resistance in Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone
All quotations taken from Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1986.
Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone has been read as an archetypal piece of imperial propaganda, and yet it seems to lend itself to an alternate reading in which it represents a distinct challenge to the colonial mindset. The majority of the tale is set in England but the Indian location of the prologue and epilogue explicitly root The Moonstone within the context of the colonial experience in India. Far from being incidental embellishments, these two sections provide the opening and the closure of the story. Significantly, the thefts of the eponymous jewel is carried out by a series of upper-class Englishmen, starting with John Herncastle. It is hugely relevant that he steals the moonstone during the siege of Seringapatam in 1799, an event which consolidated the dominance of the East India Company in colonial India. The Moonstone first appeared in serial form on January 4th 1868 by which time myths and facts about the British termed ‘mutiny’ of 1857 were firmly entrenched in the national consciousness. Amidst the widespread repercussions of the events of the mutiny was a loss of former power on the part of the same company. Through his evocation of these memories Wilkie Collins seems to link looting and violence with colonial maladministration.
It would be impossible to argue that the three Indian Brahmin are anything other than stereotypical having ‘the patience of cats...the ferocity of tigers’ (p108), yet, assumptions of Oriental deviousness are ultimately not confirmed by the text. Instead, Collins utilises Orientalist discourse to create an atmosphere of suspense and mysticism which undermines English rather than Indian society. Using terminology such as ‘supernatural...mesmeric...romantic...clairvoyance’(p332) sets the Indians up as the villains of the piece but proceeds to subvert popular expectations by focusing his critique on the underlying disorder and hypocrisies of English society. Gabriel Betteredge sees the sanctity of the English home as having been ‘invaded by a devilish Indian diamond’ (p67) yet Collins makes it clear that this ‘invasion’ is the direct result of colonial violation of India and its indigenous religions. The perseverance, dedication, and unity of the Brahmins is in stark contrast to the Victorian religious hypocrisy of Miss Clack and Godfrey Ablewhite with his ‘evangelical voice and manner’(p280). During the nineteenth...