The Moonstone Podcast - The First Period: The Loss of the Diamond
Welcome to The Moonstone podcast episode from Tea, Tonic & Toxin!
This masterpiece includes a stolen Indian gem with a bloody past, plot twists, red herrings, a small circle of suspects, and a couple amazing detectives. It’s a serious page-turner.
T. S. Eliot described The Moonstone as the “first … and greatest of modern English detective novels.” The story includes several features of contemporary detective fiction and helped establish many of the genre’s conventions.
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What We're Talking About in The Moonstone Podcast Episode, Part I
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea, Tonic and Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison,
Carolyn Daughters 0:36
and I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a tea, or a gin and tonic,
Sarah Harrison 0:42
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:45
And join us on the journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 1:00
We have a sponsor today. Our sponsor is Linden Botanicals.
Carolyn Daughters 1:10
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Sarah Harrison 1:59
I’m drinking out of this sweet Linden Botanicals mug. Is this available to the public? How do you get one of these things?
Carolyn Daughters 2:06
That’s a great question. They’re not currently available, but what a great idea. I’m going to mention it to Linden Botanicals.
Sarah Harrison 2:17
Everyone loves some swag, right? We also have a super rad listener of the month. I’m really excited to mention Beth Roofer from Davenport, Iowa. She wrote in through the website and made our day. Beth, you’re going to receive one of these sweet Tea, Tonic, and Toxin stickers. That’s going to come to you in the mail.
Carolyn Daughters 2:50
Thanks for listening.
Sarah Harrison 2:52
Yeah, thank you so much for listening. And not just for listening but for actually telling us that you are listening. Thank you, Beth, and the sticker is coming to you in the mail. And if any of you other folks want to say, hey, I’m actually listening to you guys. Then you might get a sticker. Let us know.
Carolyn Daughters 3:28
So, Sarah, what are we talking about this month?
Sarah Harrison 3:33
We are talking about The Moonstone. Yeah, I really liked it. I have to say. I know you prefer The Woman in White. But I prefer The Moonstone for sure, and I’m super excited about this Moonstone podcast episode.
Carolyn Daughters 3:53
This book is hock full of things to talk about. This is Wilkie Collins, it’s our second Wilkie Collins novel. If you’ve listened to our two podcast episodes on The Woman in White, you know that I’m a huge fan. I’m also a fan of this book. I’m so excited about this Moonstone podcast episode. And hopefully you have a chance to read both The Woman in White and The Moonstone.
Sarah Harrison 4:17
Read them both.
Carolyn Daughters 4:19
They’re both great reads and in many cases overlooked. So this is a hearkening back. We’re reading 19th-century detective stories where the form was born. Today’s Moonstone podcast has me unreasonably excited.
Sarah Harrison 4:32
I thought that was really interesting. Back with The Woman in White, you mentioned that even though you have a master’s degree in Victorian literature, Wilkie Collins wasn’t part of it.
Carolyn Daughters 4:54
I focused on 19th century British novels and never made it to Wilkie Collins. I have no idea why. Looking back, I can’t believe it. I’m thrilled that I’ve come to these books now. I’m late to the party, but I showed up. We have a lot of things we want to talk about here. Now, some of you have read the book, some of you haven’t read it yet. So we like to share a brief summary of what we’re going to talk about.
Sarah Harrison 5:30
And we’re going to do two different Moonstone podcast episodes and break them up into the two parts of this book, the first period and a second period.
Carolyn Daughters 5:46
I will give everybody a taste of what happens in the first period, called the Loss of the Diamond. The moonstone is a large magnificent yellow diamond that originally adorned that forehead of the Hindu moon god. It was later looted in Southern India in 1799 by Colonel John Hearncastle. The stolen gem is said to carry a curse. On returning to England, John Hearncastle was ostracized by his family. Possibly out of revenge, he leaves the diamond to his niece, Rachel Verinder, who will inherit it when she turns 18. Rachel’s cousin Franklin Blake arrives at her home on the Yorkshire coast to deliver the diamond to Rachel on her 18th birthday. Rachel and Franklin grow fond of each other while decorating her sitting room door.
Sarah Harrison 6:38
That is something that happens in this book. They’re painting a door. For days. And it leads to love.
Carolyn Daughters 6:44
It’s really a standard pathway to love. And Rachel’s cousin Godfrey, meanwhile, proposes to her, but she turns him down. Rachel’s mother, Lady Verinder, hosts a dinner party on Rachel’s 18th birthday. Several guests attend the party, including a local doctor and a famous global traveler named Mr. Murthwaite. At the party, Mr. Murthwaite identifies three Indians see near the house. He says they’re high-caste Brahmins. Rachel puts the diamond in her bedroom cabinet, but the next morning it’s gone. Everyone at the family estate is under suspicion, including Franklin and Godfrey. It turns out the local police are incompetent, so Franklin calls in the celebrated London detective Sergeant Cuff. He realizes the importance of smeared paint on Rachel’s sitting room door …
Sarah Harrison 7:34
We’re back to that door. The door is pivotal to the story.
Carolyn Daughters 7:38
The smear has been made by an article of clothing whose owner is almost certainly the thief. Well, Rachel obstructs the investigation cuts off all communication with Franklin. Seargent Cuff concludes that she has stolen her own diamond with the help of a housemaid, a reformed thief named Rosanna Spearman. Rosanna drowns herself in the local quicksand …
Sarah Harrison 8:00
The local quicksand called the Shivering Sand. I would like to find some local quicksand.
Carolyn Daughters 8:15
Lady Verinder dismisses Sergeant Cuff from the case. However, as we’ll see in the second part of the book, Sergeant Cuff correctly predicts many future developments. We’ll focus on the first half of the book in this Moonstone podcast episode and focus on the second half in our next Moonstone podcast episode.
Sarah Harrison 8:29
I thought this was a really fun book. I know I complained a lot about the sexism in The Woman in White, but I didn’t really feel like that here. You get some like you get in Victorian novels, but it wasn’t necessary to the story, so to speak. I really enjoyed the book. There was nothing prohibiting me from enjoying the book regarding in my own emotional baggage.
Carolyn Daughters 8:59
It’s a caper. It’s a fun mystery. Who did it? How was it done? It took me by surprise, in particular, the first part of the book. I was super engaged. I just turned the pages and I read it really fast. It’s not a small book, but it’s a fun read.
Sarah Harrison 9:27
Sweet. It’s a pretty large book. It’s pretty hefty. Wilkie Collins writes epically large mysteries.
Carolyn Daughters 9:47
This one was originally published in 32 weekly parts. It was published in Charles Dickens magazine All the Year Round. It makes me think that the publication schedule has to have affected the world he structures the book and each chapter,
Sarah Harrison 10:06
Yeah. The same is said of Dickens — his books are so big because he’s paid by the word. That’s true, but also, it’s not like there’s a bunch of superfluous words, in my opinion. I think Dickens is really brilliant. In today’s Moonstone podcast, I want to talk a little about Dickens vs. Collins. Tell me what you saw in terms of Wilkie Collins.
Carolyn Daughters 10:36
You’re on the edge of your seat at the close of each chapter. Wilkie Collins leaves you wanting more. And so in a book that is not published in 32 parts and on a weekly basis, you wouldn’t necessarily have to end each chapter on a mini cliffhanger. Because people are in the book, they just keep reading, you hopefully get them hooked, and then they keep reading. He’s continually hooking the reader 32 times, and he’s really good at it. If you look at the close of each chapter, you see how he grabs you and makes you want to figure out what happens next. And you start on the next chapter. I think it’s quite brilliant what he does.
Sarah Harrison 11:24
It really makes me think of modern TV is structured. We’re in this age now of binging. We’re currently watching Stranger Things on Netflix, and each episode invites you to be like, what! I’ve got to watch the next episode. I remember season one, where we definitely felt that pull to want to binge the whole thing. And I know a lot of people who would binge an entire series in maybe two days. It’s probably related to the concept of serializing a story.
Carolyn Daughters 12:19
For sure. I don’t know how many episodes are in Stranger Things, but I believe it’s a shorter season.
Sarah Harrison 12:26
Yeah, nine episodes, I think, this season.
Carolyn Daughters 12:29
That gives you nine opportunities to grab people, and close out each episode, and really engage you enough that you think, oh my gosh, I’m so tired and the hour’s late, but I’m gonna start the next episode. In a more traditional TV series where there might be 18 or 22 episodes, there’s often a lot of fluff-filler episodes, episodes that don’t really move the story forward or don’t really take you anywhere. With this weekly serial process that Wilkie Collins was doing, he didn’t have that luxury of “let me just throw in a chapter” or “I don’t have to really end this in any interesting way.” He wanted people to jump on that next one, or wait for the next weekly part to be published. He wanted that. Stranger Things is a good example. With nine episodes, every episode counts. If you take one of those episodes out, you’ve got a problem. Whereas with some longer series, there are some episodes you could probably remove, and it wouldn’t really impact the season.
Sarah Harrison 13:36
That actually reminds me a pre-streaming TV. I used to be obsessed in high school, before I had a life. It was X-Files. My Friday nights were X-Files. But the very first season of X-Files, as awesome as it was, the episodes were extremely standalone. They didn’t even start having a storyline over multiple episodes until later seasons. I hadn’t thought about that before. Like, when do you need to hook them? Was All the Year Round monthly or every other week?
Carolyn Daughters 14:23
Sarah Harrison 14:26
So it is almost like a TV show. You want to make sure your reader comes back to you and doesn’t start reading something else.
Carolyn Daughters 14:34
You can’t have a flabby middle, which is a problem in a lot of books. We’ve discussed that in previous podcast episodes, but it’s also worth mentioning in this Moonstone podcast. It’s where a book starts really strong and maybe it ends strong, but then in the middle you’re just flipping the page. Big heavy sigh. Wilkie Collins didn’t have that luxury. If four chapters in a row lose you, you might just put it down. You might say, I don’t even care. I’m not going to keep going with this. He keeps hooking you over and over and over again. Stylistically this book, I think, really influences the genre. It’s an important development. I think a lot of future writers took notice.
Sarah Harrison 15:18
That’s one reason why we’re doing two Moonstone podcast episodes. We have so much to talk about. Speaking of future writers, that made me wonder. I noticed even in a lot of modern books that I read that the end of the chapter doesn’t feel like a closure so much as trying to get me to read the next chapter. And then I have a hard time finding a stopping point. And those aren’t serialized. They’re just novels published. Is that something that you feel like just writers have adopted in general — always trying to get a chapter to lead to the next chapter?
Carolyn Daughters 15:49
I think it’s in part genre specific. And, in part, it’s one author versus another. In this mystery and thriller genre, I think you want to keep the tension heightened. In a thriller, for example, you’d have the tension heightened for quite a while, but you can’t have it a 10 out of 10 the entire book, because there’s no way to elevate, there’s no way to raise the stakes. So you keep it low, low, low, and then something happens. I think it’s part of this genre and form. Some other genres probably have also adopted it. Or, I would argue, some specific writers in some other genres.
Sarah Harrison 16:34
I think you make a good point. Maybe it’s just a tension-elevating technique, which is awesome. My brain doesn’t function at that point yet. So I’m gonna apply this technique to my storytelling. That seems really clever.
Carolyn Daughters 16:56
I think it is very clever. And I think Wilkie Collins really mastered this skill and showed a lot of other writers how to do it. One of the cool things — I think you’re really interested in this in particular — is that Wilkie Collins hearkens back to other writers, in particular, Robinson Crusoe. He’s quoting from Defoe’s book liberally. Or, rather, one of his characters, Gabriel Betteredge, is.
Sarah Harrison 17:12
I love when old books reference older books. I’m so glad we get to talk about this in this Moonstone podcast. We’ve talked about our last book club. The books we read would often reference some of the great writers who influenced them. The way that Betteredge referenced Robinson Crusoe was in a very biblical manner, which lent some humor to it. But I know an eighth grader right now who was assigned to read Robinson Crusoe over the summer and write something about it. And I was like, Oh, I know. Here’s a weird angle. There’s this other book that references Robinson Crusoe. In The Big Bow Mystery, we’ll see that it references another book we’ve read. It references Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” throughout. I thought that was really cool. The way that Gabriel Betteredge references Robinson Crusoe is a way that you see and hear — and I think this was done intentionally — a lot of people use their Bible. They’ll randomly open to a page and trust that the Lord is leading them to read something important that day. Betteredge does this all the time. He’s not even like reading it as a story. He’s just doing his Robinson Crusoe reading of the day. And then he treats it very prophetically. It provided philosophical, providential guidance in a prophetical way to the events of his life.
Carolyn Daughters 19:19
I thought that was really interesting. Gabriel Betteredge is one of the narrators. The book has a number of different narrators. At the beginning of the book, Gabriel Betteredge quotes from Robinson Crusoe: “Now I saw. though too late, the folly of beginning a work before we count the cost and before we judge rightly of our own strength to go through with it.”
Sarah Harrison 19:50
That in itself is actually like a paraphrase of a biblical quote. I thought that was really funny.
Carolyn Daughters 19:56
But it’s also a meta statement of the book that we’re about to read. A key element of The Moonstone and this moonstone podcast is the fact that this British Colonel took from India in 1799: “Now I saw, though too late, the folly of beginning of beginning a Work before we count the Cost.” You get this prophetic sense about what we’re about to read. As if, looking back, the characters might have done some things differently. The quotes are aptly chosen.
Sarah Harrison 20:31
Definitely. He uses them in a way that certainly works for how Gabriel Betteredge used Robinson Crusoe. I want to go back and reread Robinson Crusoe. It has been a long time since I’ve read it. I remember loving it. Betteredge judged Ezra Jennings harshly for not having read Robinson Crusoe since he was a kid. I was thinking, oh, he’s talking about me. Maybe we need to do a Robinson Crusoe podcast in addition to a Moonstone podcast!
A lot of people probably haven’t read Robinson Crusoe. The Moonstone is expecting readers to have that reference point.
That’s one thing I like about this eighth grader’s school. They’re still reading books like this. That’s awesome. Because I feel like it has a lot to contribute. We’re still reading “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which is quoted in The Big Bow Mystery. Are there books that you regularly quote from? I do have books that I regularly quote from.
Carolyn Daughters 21:51
Sometimes fromThe Four Agreements. I really like that book.
Sarah Harrison 21:54
Any fictional books?
Carolyn Daughters 21:58
I quote from John Milton sometimes.
Sarah Harrison 22:01
Oh, yeah, like what?
Carolyn Daughters 22:03
Some of his poems and maybe some lines from Paradise Lost. I took a class as an undergrad where we would sit in a circle each day and take turns reading. It was a course on John Milton, but my favorite poem of John Milton’s is a poem called “When I consider.” I don’t know. Not not from fiction, usually, but maybe more from poets …
Sarah Harrison 22:34
It’s really interesting.
Carolyn Daughters 22:35
What do you quote from?
Sarah Harrison 22:36
Definitely fiction. Aabsolutely. I’m obsessed with fiction. That’s why I’m always wanting to do these book clubs, where we read these great pivotal books. You may not agree with me here, but one book that I quote from a lot is Dune. I love Dune on a deep level. When I was giving birth to my two children, one of my mantras that I would write write down and say to myself is “The Litany Against Fear.”
Carolyn Daughters 23:13
I like the Litany Against Fear as well.
It’s brilliant. That’s the “I shall not fear …”
Sarah Harrison 23:20
Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little death. It’s great stuff. You let your fear wash over you and through you. And it’s gone. And only I will remain. But there’s a lot of there’s a lot of stuff from dune, even to the concept of the sleeper awakening, which again, is a paraphrase of a biblical quote. I think a lot about fiction, in terms of things I take with me.
Carolyn Daughters 23:55
Maybe we need to do a Dune podcast as well.
Sarah Harrison 23:56
Carolyn Daughters 23:56
Back to the Moonstone podcast — Gabriel Betteredge plays a pivotal role in the first part of the book.
Sarah Harrison 24:01
Pivotal and amusing. You have to like Gabriel. He’s a character that’s hard to dislike.
Carolyn Daughters 24:10
At one point, he’s telling the story of the moonstone, but he’s weaving in his own story. He says, “I’m asked to tell the story of the diamond. And instead I’ve been telling the story of my own self. I wonder whether the gentlemen who make a living out of writing books ever find their own selves getting in the way of their subjects.” I love that quote. I think it’s inevitable. The way we see the world necessarily informs the way we tell a story, I think.
Sarah Harrison 24:48
I agree with that. I was looking at this question, and I was thinking about it in two ways. In what ways do we bring ourselves into the things we’re talking about — in every way. We humans make everything about ourselves. That’s one of our more annoying traits. As I mentioned, in this Moonstone podcast I want to talk about Wilkie Collins, the author. Wilkie Collins wrote this book, and the story probably resonates with him. But in terms of this wild story, I wondered what parts of Wilkie Collins were getting in the way of him writing this story? But you’re an actual writer. And so I thought you would have some insight into that. How do you get in the way of your stories you tell, like fictional stories.
Carolyn Daughters 25:46
Getting in the way, maybe, is one way to phrase it. Or the way your view of the world influences the story you tell. Even in the selection of who the hero is. Is this person the hero, or is that person the hero? Whose point of view am I going to share? Whose point of view do I identify with, consciously or unconsciously? How do I tell this story? From whose perspective? What details do I share? We we do that in our day-to-day lives when we tell stories. If we’re the hero of our own story, then somebody else might be the villain of that story. That villain, in turn, when they’re telling their family and friends, the story probably have that reversed, right? They’re the hero of their story.
Sarah Harrison 26:42
I like that. I can feel that on two levels. Now that you put it that way, I think about Wilkie Collins’ heroes. Franklin Blake is the hero and Walter Hartright was the hero of The Woman in White. I don’t like either of those guys. I’m struggling with that. I keep on wondering, does he believe they’re great? Or is this tongue in cheek because these guys suck. But then there’s this stupid story I was just telling you earlier, where I forgot to bring my wallet to the grocery store. And the grocery store had all of these inane rules about why I couldn’t pay for stuff. I couldn’t enter my credit card manually, I couldn’t write a check without an ID. And I was like, this is so stupid. And I’m seeing myself standing in the line just really put upon by these grocery store rules. And I was also really aware that I’m being a pain in the butt to everyone else in line and this poor grocery store clerk because I can’t pay for my groceries according to like standard methods. And so really trying to not like moan about it. I basically apologize to everyone for being such a pain in the butt. Even though in my mind, I felt like a real martyr.
Carolyn Daughters 28:25
You’re in it, right? You’re in it and you’re feeling it and you’re angry. But on the flip side, you can see it from other perspectives and that awareness, I think, t’s not as common as we would all like it to be.
Sarah Harrison 28:39
I could see myself easily being the hero of my story and railing against these clerks for their stupid grocery store rules that they didn’t write and simultaneously becoming the villain of everyone else’s story. Here’s this entitled woman who’s just taking up space. She forgot her wallet and is acting so righteous about it. But I’m not going to play that part. I played the part of, I’m sorry I’m holding you up here. I could totally see that. Being simultaneously my own hero and someone else’s villain.
Carolyn Daughters 29:17
Let’s stick with Gabriel Betteredge in this Moonstone podcast for a minute because he’s so instrumental in the first part of The Moonstone. At one point he says, “Gentlefolk have it tough because they spend their time searching for something to do.” He says, “Thank your stars that your head has got something it must think of and your hands of something they must do.” He also writes “People in high life have 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.” I thought this was so interesting. He is a servant. That is his profession, his job, his lifelong identity. He lives in this household. He supports the Verinder family. He’s very respectful and trusted and trustworthy.
Sarah Harrison 30:21
He really loves them. Like, he loves them. In modern parlance, I would call him like a company man. Like I worked. In my last company, you would have folks that were there since they were 18. They were gonna retire there. They had been there for life. Whatever they feel, they’re very loyal to the company.
Carolyn Daughters 30:46
Many times, I’m not thankful that my head has something to think and that my hands have something they must do. He’s referencing the leisure time of these wealthy people. They fritter it away. Do I want to sit in this chair? Do I want to move to the veranda? Do I want to paint the door today? They’ve got nothing going on.
Sarah Harrison 31:10
The most important thing is dressing for dinner versus morning dress? Which cravat do I put on?
Carolyn Daughters 31:19
Should I stroll the grounds before I put on my cravat?
Sarah Harrison 31:22
What recipe am I using for my paint. The paint recipe was actually super pivotal to the plot.
Carolyn Daughters 31:30
Two of the upper-crust characters, Franklin and Rachel, paint this door. It just it felt it went on and on and on. And I just thought like, my gosh, this is truly the only thing they have to do.
Sarah Harrison 31:50
It’s true. They have this leisure time.
Carolyn Daughters 31:50
Gabriel Betteredge says be thankful if you have something to do. Many times, to be honest, I am not thankful. I look upon people who have all of this leisure time and freedom and so forth. And I feel a little put upon. Like, oh, poor me, I’ve got so much to do, and they have so much free time. Whatever that story is that we tell ourselves. But it was a good observation on Gabriel Betteredge’s part. He personally appreciates having something to do to fill his time, and his thoughts.
Sarah Harrison 32:31
It’s really interesting. I felt the same way. Not to digress from this Moonstone podcast too much, but I was thinking about when you see stupid stories in the news about super rich people making terrible, wasteful decisions with their lives. You just think, oh, my goodness, if I had this money and this time, I have a list of things I’d like to get started on. I really think that’s true. But it does make you pause and wonder. I mean, is that true? There are different kinds of people, some very proactive and some that need more structure. Or does having a lot of wealth and leisure breed complacency?
Carolyn Daughters 33:12
Say I came into a fortune tomorrow, I’d like to think that I would keep writing, that I would be supporting organizations that are meaningful to me, that I would be sharing the wealth with people I cared about. But it’s possible, I would just retire to Fiji.
Sarah Harrison 33:36
You just wonder. You and I weren’t raised to be super wealthy. So we have developed a structural mentality that if we were given a lot of leisure tomorrow, we would probably still be very active. Whereas if you have generational wealth, it probably takes a whole different structuring to keep up some activity there. But I do have to say, when you put it this way, there definitely have been times in my life where I’m like, thank goodness I have this job to take my mind off my life because my life was in shambles at that time. Having a job and having that structure could let me compartmentalize and focus. Whereas if I didn’t have that, I probably would have just laid on the floor and fallen apart for months.
Carolyn Daughters 34:30
If you take a step back and you’re not too deep into it, you can see that, yes, maybe it is a gift to have the desire or even the need to be productive and to do productive work. To work with your hands. To use your head. To have something better and more productive to do each day than paint door.
Sarah Harrison 34:57
Painting is one of the things I would love to do more of with my time.
Carolyn Daughters 35:01
But I would like to think that a year later you’d have more to show for your efforts than one door.
Sarah Harrison 35:07
I hope so.
Carolyn Daughters 35:08
Unless this was a major project of yours, and you’re like, you won’t believe this door when I’m done. This is my passion project,
Sarah Harrison 35:14
And bringing it back to the Moonstone podcast … then you smudge it with your thievery.
Carolyn Daughters 35:18
Exactly. I’m interested in talking about the women in this book. There are so many interesting, diverse female characters in this book.
Sarah Harrison 35:31
There are some really interesting ones. And I did like them. I mean, I liked them, and I disliked them. They were interesting. And it was interesting, again, going back to what is the narrator’s perspective here? I feel like you can sense favoritism, but I don’t always agree with what it feels like the author’s telling me I should feel about these people. I always wonder if he’s really telling me that, or am I just reading into it.
Carolyn Daughters 36:04
There’s Miss Clack. She’s sanctimonious.
Sarah Harrison 36:09
She’s the second narrator.
Carolyn Daughters 36:11
And she can be funny. Both intentionally and not intentionally.
Sarah Harrison 36:16
I have to say, I really did like Miss Clack.
Carolyn Daughters 36:24
Rachel Verinder is called spirited, unlike other girls her age. But I feel like the narrator had to tell us that because we didn’t really have an opportunity to witness that.
Sarah Harrison 36:35
That’s true. But we don’t witness a lot of other girls her age except for her two cousins, who are both giggly and screechie.
Carolyn Daughters 36:45
That’s now how I’m going to refer to them — giggly and screechie.
Sarah Harrison 36:51
I can see that. It is one of those things with The Woman in White where I have a little bit of baggage around that phrase. A lot of people have told me, “oh, you’re not like other girls.” I don’t know what they mean by that. I’m perfectly fine as a girl. Your compliment is simultaneously an insult to womankind. But nevertheless, people say that, and they do say it about things like being direct, or being logical or those sorts of traits. And in this case, for Rachel, they were saying it about the way she kept her own counsel. She didn’t ask people and she didn’t tell people what she was thinking. She would think about it and do it.
Carolyn Daughters 37:42
She’s keeping a big secret. And she does keep this secret. She tells no one.
Sarah Harrison 37:51
Maybe that was really unusual for women at the time. I think women in the Victorian era weren’t encouraged to do that.
Carolyn Daughters 38:01
And she’s young. We meet her around her 18th birthday. She’s fairly assertive and self aware, I think, for 18. But I think the narrator makes a bigger case for her than what we actually witness. She’s a spirited girl, unlike other girls.
Sarah Harrison 38:31
The adoration that the older men in the book seem to shower upon her did feel a little unwarranted. It seemed ridiculous. Her mom is seen as extremely capable. Like when her husband died, she managed everything. Wilkie Collins doesn’t really like dwell on that, but she didn’t train Rachel to manage everything and she didn’t give her the opportunity to manage everything. That’s another pivotal plot line, which is funny. Both Wilkie Collins books have these inheritance structures. They’re pivotal plot lines. We discussed it a bit in our Woman in White podcast episodes and I think it’s important to discuss in this Moonstone podcast episode.
Carolyn Daughters 39:13
I agree. There’s also Rosanna Spearman. She’s this unattractive servant. She has a prison record. She has a physical disability. She falls in love with a man outside her class, and she’s given the space in this book to express that affection for him. That to me was astounding. This character to me is almost as interesting as Marian Halcombe in The Woman in White.
Sarah Harrison 39:39
I really liked Rosanna. I did like her a lot. She doesn’t think Rachel’s even pretty. It’s not clear if she’s just jealous, but she makes a fair case. If she was dressed like a servant, nobody would think a thing about her.
Carolyn Daughters 39:56
Yeah, if you put Rachel into servants’ dress and took her ornaments off, what then?
Sarah Harrison 40:02
Yeah, she’d be some skinny little nothing. That’s basically what Rosanna says.
Carolyn Daughters 40:07
I really am blown away that Wilkie Collins gave space in these novels, at the time these books were written, to Marian Halcombe and to Rosanna Spearman.
Sarah Harrison 40:22
Tell me more about why that blows you away.
Carolyn Daughters 40:25
They are unconventional heroines of a Victorian novel. They are given a voice, they are given expression of affection, caring, love, duty. They’re both willing to die for the people that they love, and Rosanna actually does die. She disappears into the Shivering Sands. And then in The Woman in White, Marian Halcombe is ready to give her life for her sister. And Marian Halcombe is unattractive. We hear it from every character.
Sarah Harrison 41:12
They’re these unattractive women with heart.
Carolyn Daughters 41:15
In a Victorian novel of woman with a physical disabilitym a woman who is unattractive, a woman with a prison record, these are not women, given voices and major roles in books, generally speaking. I love that Wilkie Collins gave each of these women a major role.
Sarah Harrison 41:34
I’m really curious here because now that you bring up that similarity, which wasn’t apparent to me at first, the main guys, Franklin Blake and Walter Hartright are dismissive of these women. Given that these guys are the heroes, I don’t know what to make of that in terms of Wilkie Collins’ actual perspective. He includes the women, but he’s simultaneously dismissive of the women.
Carolyn Daughters 42:05
Yeah, I think he is maybe to some degree. But I think Wilkie Collins likes the hero. If I had to guess, I’d say that Franklin Blake, for example, and Walter Hartright are both based on Wilkie Collins. Readers, if you’ve read Wilkie Collins, if you’ve studied the books, please tell us.
Sarah Harrison 42:25
Readers are always invited. We want to hear what you have to say. Anyhow, that’s what I would guess, but I dislike both of them so much.
Carolyn Daughters 42:47
But also, it’s worth talking about outsiders in this Moonstone podcast. Wilkie Collins seems to really like outsiders. Like Ezra Jennings, Rosanna Spearman, and the kid, Gooseberry. Wilkie Collins seems to have an affection for people who are outside the norm. I think that’s really interesting. He seems to like have a foot in each world. He gets the swashbuckling hero, and he also gets these people who don’t normally fit into the mainstream narrative.
Sarah Harrison 43:25
He likes them, but not at the deep, heartfelt level that I would say Dickens would write the characters. Dickens writes about the poor kid who died in Bleak House [Jo]. What Dickens writes this character, the street sweeper, the little young, poor, dirty, ragged boy, and you just have heart for him. You feel him deeply. You feel all of Dickens’ characters really deeply, especially when he’s writing about these outsiders. I feel like Wilkie Collins pulls them in and dismisses them a bit. He’s like, “Well, isn’t that interesting? Well, aren’t they real people, too. Moving on.” Gooseberry’s clearly a hard case. But Franklin Blake is like, “Great! Good job following, kid. We’re gonna give you this weird name and a few like pounds for your trouble. Now move on.”
Carolyn Daughters 44:36
And also the three Brahmins who are trying to reclaim the moonstone. They’re also arguably outsiders.
Sarah Harrison 44:44
Yes. There’s also quite a bit of racism.
Carolyn Daughters 44:50
And there’s also periodically an odd respect for these three Brahmins at times. He has a foot in both worlds again. Wilkie Collins is really deft at that. He stands on high and looks down characters and at the same time identifies with, feels for, and respects characters. It gets a little confusing at times.
Sarah Harrison 45:29
That brings me back to Miss Clack, who I don’t want to gloss over because she’s definitely one of my favorite characters. She is presented as sanctimonious. And she’s a bit tone deaf. But also, I kept feeling like, well, she’s not wrong. She’d come into a situation right. And all of these rich ladies who paid her no attention at all, did not even like her company, they want they to do things. As one of the narrators, she points out the vanity that they’re all like mooning over. I was like, she’s right. You’re all being ridiculous.
Carolyn Daughters 46:18
There’s glimmers of truth in a lot of the things she says. If you just write her off as a sanctimonious busybody, then you won’t see the truths that she’s putting a spotlight on.
Sarah Harrison 46:31
Yeah. I really liked her.
Carolyn Daughters 46:34
I think we’re going to talk more about her as well in part two of the Moonstone podcast. She plays a very big role in part two. In part one, we know she’s at a dinner party, but in part two we get her narrative and we see her hiding behind a drape and overhearing a marriage proposal.
Sarah Harrison 46:50
I was glad she got to be a narrator. That would be maybe a contrast with the Dickens that I keep contrasting to, where his sanctimonious, telescopic philanthropist women are extremely two-dimensional and hard headed. But getting inside Miss Clark’s head, you can you can feel some sympathy for her perspective.
Carolyn Daughters 47:15
The first part of The Moonstone, The Loss of the Diamond, focuses on this diamond that’s going to go missing after a dinner party. And we’re launched right into the mystery — where did the diamond go? Who took it? Did the Brahmins take it? Did a member of the dinner party take it? Did somebody outside the dinner party take it? Gabriel Betteredge really dominates this first part. He says he has what’s he calls detective fever, where the horrid mystery hanging over us in his house gets in his head like liquor. He says it makes him wild. Maybe Wilkie Collins had the detective fever. Gabriel Betteredge has it. Several other characters get like embroiled into this detective story and try to figure out how to solve the case and who did what. Everybody’s interviewed and whispering behind closed doors.
Sarah Harrison 48:30
I think it’s super-duper common. I think it’s pervasive now. It’s the concept of watching a train wreck and not being able to look away. Even supposed news articles are crafted now to feel like a piece of clickbait. Like, what is the crazy thing we’re going to tell you? What will happen next? And it just winds up being something weird that somebody tweeted. It’s made into some big deal.
Carolyn Daughters 49:17
As if it’s earth-shattering, new information.
Sarah Harrison 49:21
It capitalizes on our human weakness for these sorts of things.
Carolyn Daughters 49:26
I like the detective fever because the reader also gets into the detective fever. I think the concept being introduced here is: “Okay, reader, there’s going to be a big mystery here. And we’ve got a wild ride coming. It’s not a small book, but it’s going to be a fun ride. The characters are in it. And as the reader, you’re in it as well. There’s a small number of people at this dinner party. Ostensibly, the thief is one of the people in the house.
Sarah Harrison 50:05
It was a good twist. We’ll probably talk about that more in the next Moonstone podcast episode, but I really liked the twist. I thought it was clever.
Carolyn Daughters 50:18
To close out this first Moonstone podcast, let’s call out the elephant in the room here, right? So, this story starts when we learn this guy named John Herncastle killed several Indians and stole their sacred moonstone in India. He stole it contrary to a direct command and under threat of death. And when he died, the moonstone came out of hiding to be bequeathed to Rachel Verinder, John Herncastle’s niece. At what point did the moonstone become British property? It was stolen, and the theft comes to light when the thief dies. Why is there so much effort to keep this Moonstone, to make sure Rachel has the moonstone, to make sure the Brahmins don’t get the moonstone? Sarah, I know you have an opinion on this. I want to hear what you have to say.
Sarah Harrison 51:10
Man, this was really troubling for me. So this Herncastle guy murders people. He disobeyed a direct command. He murdered Indians. He stole the moonstone. His cousin almost witnessed the murders. He came in right as the Indians were dying. He’s like, well, I didn’t actually see it, so I won’t report him. But then his whole family basically disowns Herncastle over it. He’s alienated. They disown him over this murderous, thieving deed. Until he gets the moonstone to his niece, and then suddenly it’s legit. It’s like, look at this great stone. It’s mine now. These murderous Indians are trying to steal my moonstone.
Carolyn Daughters 52:06
“It looks so pretty when I wear this beautiful gown. It looks so nice around my neck.”
Sarah Harrison 52:10
Get it back at all costs. Call the detectives! I’m like, what? He kept it in hiding. These are the same people, it’s not even another generation. His own sister, who wouldn’t speak to him over the moonstone. Once she gets the moonstone, it’s a different story. That was really weird. And, of course, I would say it’s still current today. For example, what is the British Museum going to do with all of these things from Greece? don’t know enough to even speak about it to speak about the original conditions under which these objects were obtained. But we know right here that within one generation the moonstone was obtained through murder. It’s not like it was purchased and it turned out to be a sheisty purchase. It was a straight up crime.
Carolyn Daughters 53:11
Right. But once it’s bequeathed to Rachel, somehow it legitimizes this thing.
Sarah Harrison 53:17
Now you can call the police, now you can throw these Indians in prison.
Carolyn Daughters 53:21
“My jewel has been stolen. The moonstone is gone!” Everybody in the book is now involved. They bring in the authorities and everybody’s trying to find this stone. And that initial crime is forgotten.
Sarah Harrison 53:40
Totally forgotten. The source of Herncastle’s alienation. I had a really hard time with it. We’ll talk more about the ending in the next Moonstone podcast episode. I was like, I hope this goes the way I want it to because this is too much.
Carolyn Daughters 54:03
The second part wraps up in a really interesting, complicated way. We’ll definitely talk more about it in our next Moonstone podcast episode. I think is worth talking about the ending of the book. When the first part ended, I was engaged in the story. It’s a page turner. But at the same time, I was thinking there’s a lot of emotional and legal investment in Rachel Verinder’s ownership of this stone.
Sarah Harrison 54:37
She just some kid. She just turned 18 And she inherits this from her estranged uncle. And suddenly we’re calling the police. The end they go to — getting in disguises, hiding it in banks, to keep it from its rightful owners. It’s really weird to me.
Carolyn Daughters 54:55
And the stolen gems is supposed to carry a curse. Did he leave it to her out of revenue?
Sarah Harrison 55:04
Carolyn Daughters 55:07
This curse is my parting gift to you. And you’re welcome. Bye bye.
Sarah Harrison 55:12
That was a revenge gift. The fact that they would even entertain the idea that he would turn generous in his old age is weird.
Carolyn Daughters 55:26
We’re gonna get to part two of the book in our next Moonstone podcast episode. We have a lot more to cover. Also, start reading The Mystery of a Hansom Cab.
Sarah Harrison 55:43
The Mystery of a Hansom Cab was Australia’s first literary sensation. Published in 1886, t sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide. It’s set in the charming and deadly streets of Melbourne, this thriller highlights class and social issues as a crime is committed by an unknown assassin. I’m looking forward to it.
Carolyn Daughters 56:08
I’m almost done with The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. I’m really enjoying it. It’s a fast read, three to four hours tops. It’s a page turner, super interesting. And a lot of conventions introduced there I’ve seen in in book after book and movie after movie since this story was written. And it’s fun. It’s set in in Melbourne, which feels new. It feels fresh. So we’ve got another Moonstone podcast episode coming up. We’ll cover part two, which is the second period, The Discovery of the Truth.
Sarah Harrison 57:13
Thanks for joining us, listeners. We appreciate you!
February 11, 2024
Barbara Nickless is a Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Charts bestselling crime novelist who joined Sarah and Carolyn in their makeshift studio for a heartfelt discussion about her writing and research process, her travels, and her latest book, Play of Shadows. Amazing woman, amazing writer. You’ll love her.Listen →
January 29, 2024
Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter Julie Rivett joins us on a second episode to discuss The Thin Man, Nick and Nora Charles, and all things Dashiell Hammett. Color us honored, which I envision as pleurigloss with a hint of alpha plaid. What a DELIGHTFUL conversation. Folks, you want to hear what Julie has to say. Trust me.Listen →
January 21, 2024
We could have interviewed Julie M. Rivett for days on end. She’s fascinating in her own right, and she shared AMAZING information about her grandfather, Dashiell Hammett. This one’s a must-listen, folks. Well, they’re all must-listens in our biased opinions, but this one belongs at the top of the must-listen list.Listen →