, a novel by British writer Wilkie Collins, originally appeared as a weekly serial in Charles Dickens’s magazine All the Year Round
. In 1868, the story was published in a three-volume set titled The Moonstone: A Romance
. A variety of narrators present the tale, which centers on the disappearance of the valuable Moonstone gem on the very night Rachel Verinder receives it as a gift. Part sensation novel and part mystery, The Moonstone
prefigured the modern detective novel.
The story opens with a letter chronicling the removal – or theft – of the dazzling Moonstone diamond from its original location in India. In 1799, during England’s campaign to conquer India, John Herncastle and his fellow British marauders ransacked a temple that honored the Indian moon god. Herncastle dispatched the three Indians guarding the moon god statue and then helped himself to the Moonstone affixed to its forehead. Before he died, one of the guards cursed Herncastle and his family with misfortune so long as they possessed the Moonstone. Herncastle ignored the prophecy and returned to England with the gem.
Fifty years later, Herncastle is dead. According to his will, Rachel Verinder, his niece, shall receive the Moonstone as a gift for her eighteenth birthday. Gabriel Betteredge, the Verinder’s family servant, narrates this portion of the novel, having witnessed first-hand the events leading up to and including the evening of the birthday celebration.
A month before Rachel’s birthday, her handsome cousin, Franklin Blake, arrives in Yorkshire for a stay at the Verinder home. Franklin confides to Betteredge that he has brought the Moonstone to present to Rachel, per the terms of Herncastle’s will. Rachel and Franklin are attracted to one another and undertake a project to paint Rachel’s bedroom door. The ensuing hours they spend together only intensify their mutual admiration. When Rachel asks Franklin to give up his smoking habit, he obliges to please her, but consequently suffers from sleepless nights.
Meanwhile, and unknown to him, Franklin also becomes the love object of Rosanna Spearman. A former thief for whom Rachel’s mother felt pity, Rosanna is now a maid in the Verinder household. Three mysterious Indians seem to take an interest in Franklin, as well. They appeared in the neighborhood shortly after he arrived, and both Franklin and Betteredge suspect they’re pursuing the Moonstone.
Rachel’s birthday arrives. Franklin gives her the splendid diamond in the presence of a few others, including her cousin, Godfrey Ablewhite. A well-to-do philanthropist, Ablewhite also admires Rachel and proposes to her later that day, but she refuses.
Rachel wears the Moonstone at her celebratory dinner party. Mr. Murthwaite, one of the guests and a seasoned traveler, is familiar with Indian culture. He cautions Rachel to safeguard the jewel as it is prized and coveted by Indian religious leaders. An argument between Franklin and Mr. Candy, the local doctor, disturbs the party, which is further disrupted by three uninvited Indian jugglers. Disregarding Mr. Murthwaite’s warning that the jugglers are disguised Indian holy men scheming to recover the Moonstone, Rachel retires for the night with the diamond and leaves it in an unlocked cabinet.
The next morning, the Moonstone is gone. Its disappearance shocks the entire Verinder household, but Rachel is exceptionally distressed and refuses to see anyone. The crime baffles local law enforcement agents, so Sergeant Cuff of Scotland Yard arrives to investigate. After noting smears on Rachel’s freshly painted door, Cuff announces he will search everyone’s clothing for stains. Rachel won’t allow Cuff to examine her gowns, which leads him to wonder if she engineered the robbery herself. Because Rosanna begins to leave the house at odd hours and makes enigmatic remarks, she, too, falls under suspicion.
Cuff’s investigation stalls, and Rachel plans a holiday in London with her mother to put the episode behind her. The same day Rachel departs, Rosanna commits suicide by sinking into quicksand. Having inexplicably fallen from Rachel’s favor, Franklin leaves for a tour of Europe to distract himself from heartache. Shortly thereafter, a young girl appears at the Verinder’s door with a letter from Rosanna addressed to Franklin which, she insists, is for his eyes only.
The story shifts to London, and Drusilla Clack, Rachel’s cousin and host, assumes the role of narrator. A devout and sanctimonious Christian, Drusilla participates in Godfrey Ablewhite’s charitable works and has secret hopes for a future with him. Rachel’s mother succumbs to illness and dies, leaving Rachel an inheritance. When Ablewhite proposes marriage again, Rachel accepts, but then learns he had first asked her lawyer about the value of her legacy. She immediately ends the engagement.
The narrative perspective switches to Franklin, who, after traveling for a year, returns to the Verinder home. He finally reads Rosanna’s letter, which directs him to a hidden box. Inside he finds a paint-stained square of cloth and another letter in which Rosanna explains the cloth is from his nightgown. She concealed this incriminating evidence because she loves him, the letter reads, but, despairing that he will never return her feelings, she resolves to kill herself.
Mystified by Rosanna’s revelations, Franklin guesses Rachel has additional insights and seeks her out. Rachel claims she saw him take the Moonstone from her cabinet, which stuns Franklin, who has no memory of this action. He subsequently discovers that Dr. Candy secretly dosed him with opium during dinner to alleviate his insomnia. With help from the doctor’s assistant and more opium, Franklin and Rachel recreate the events of that night. In an opium-induced trance, Franklin takes a mock Moonstone from Rachel’s cabinet, mumbling that he must protect it for her. Franklin thus redeems himself, and Rachel reunites with him.
Franklin secures Sergeant Cuff’s services again. Together they crack the case, and Cuff’s summary of the facts closes the novel. After determining that a moneylender had the Moonstone, Cuff and Franklin discovered the claimant was Godfrey Ablewhite. Franklin had apparently entrusted the Moonstone to Ablewhite during his opium trance, and Ablewhite, who was desperate to replace money he’d embezzled, hocked the gem to the money-lender. A year later, Ablewhite reclaimed the diamond. By the time Franklin and Cuff caught up with him, however, the Indians had already killed Ablewhite and left for India with the Moonstone.The Moonstone
introduces story elements that have become tropes of classic detective fiction. These include the bumbling local police, the superior investigator who applies scientific reasoning to the situation, and the inclusion of clues sufficient to solve the puzzle. Modernist poet T. S. Eliot reportedly praised The Moonstone
as “the first […] and the best of the modern English detective novel.”