Tea Tonic and Toxin: Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club

THE MOONSTONE

by Wilkie Collins

 

Tea, Tonic, and Toxin is a book club and podcast for anyone who loves mysteries and detective stories. We began with Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin stories, Dickens’ Bleak House, and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Next up: Collins’ 1868 novel, The Moonstone.

 

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.

 

How to Read It: Buy it on Amazon, buy a copy at a used bookstore, or read it for free (courtesy of Project Gutenberg).

 

Estimated Reading Time: 8 hours. Share your thoughts and check out the questions below!

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

We want to hear from you! (We may even read your comments during our next podcast!)

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

  1. The Moonstone was originally published in 32 weekly parts in Charles Dickens’ magazine All the Year Round. How do you think this schedule affected the way Wilkie Collins structured the book and its chapters?

  2. Sarah loves when old books reference other old books. Gabriel Betteredge seems to use Robinson Crusoe as his bible. For example, he shares this quote: “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.” He goes on to share many other quotes, including, “To-day we love what to-morrow we hate” and “Fear of Danger is ten thousand times more terrifying than Danger itself.” Why do you think the author chose Robinson Crusoe and these particular quotes? And do you have any books you revere and quote like this?

  3. Betteredge writes, “I am asked to tell the story of the Diamond, [and instead] I have 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 …?” In what ways do we bring ourselves into the stories we tell?

  4. Franklin Blake grew up in many homes and many nations. Rather than being wedded to any one philosophy or belief system, he continually asks questions and searches for the truth. Are you like him? Do you wish you were like him?

  5. Betteredge 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 something that they must do.” Do you agree? He also writes that “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 …” Do you agree?

  6. Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print in 1887, nearly 20 years after The Moonstone. In what ways were Arthur Conan Doyle and other writers influenced by Wilkie Collins’ storytelling techniques and whip-smart detective Sergeant Cuff?

  7. In the 1799 family paper, John Herncastle’s cousin writes, “It is my conviction or my delusion … that crime brings its own fatality with it.” The story hinges on this idea. This line was also in The Woman in White. Fosco and Percival teased Laura and Marian about their morality. Is this a true saying? Do you identify with this idea? What do you believe?

  8. Let’s talk about the women. The sanctimonious Miss Clack. The spirited Rachel Verinder, who’s “unlike other girls her age.” Rachel’s alter ego, the tragic Rosanna Spearman, an unattractive servant with a prison record and a physical disability who falls in love with a man outside her class. Rosanna writes, “Suppose you put Miss Rachel into a servant’s dress, and took her ornaments off”? Good question …

  9. Betteredge references the promise of youth in his narrative. Franklin had promised to be tall, but he didn’t keep that promise. Penelope had promised to be beautiful, and she did keep that promise. What did your parents consider your “promise” as a child, and did you keep it? What sort of expectations do we place on children? Is it fair? Can we help it?

  10. The narrators often refer to themselves as superior to reason. Betteredge is superior to reason because he knows and loves the family he works for. Miss Clack is superior to reason because she believes her religion is on her side. Are these claims ridiculous, or do they have some merit?

  11. Miss Clack is clearly in love with Godfrey, though she disguises it with admiration for his Christian virtues. When have you deceived yourself over your true motivations?

  12. Let’s talk about the characters’ morality and motivations. Miss Clack is painted in a rather absurd light in the way she speaks about her genteel family members. She tries to get them to read tracts and books and participate in her bizarre charities. And she often seems misguided. And yet she has her points. 

  13. Her family does seem lazy and absurd, at least to the average working class Londoner. Why aren’t they concerned with helping others?

    The only one who participates in charitable efforts is Godfrey, and he’s seen as a bit of a shammy ladies man. Is he?

    And then there’s the doctor’s ridiculous recommendations not to exert oneself and only think of frivolous things. I agree with Miss Clack on the absurdity of that prescription. Did he only recommend such things to women? What should one think about as one nears the close of life?

    Was Wilkie Collins intending to merely portray Miss Clack as a hypocrite, or did he agree with her on some points? Does Collins seems to lack Dickens’ biting sarcasm over neglect of the poor?

  14. When Godfrey proposes to Rachel, he asks her, “Do you know many wives … who respect and admire their husbands? And yet they and their husbands get on very well. How many brides go to the altar with hearts that would bear inspection by the men who take them there? And yet it doesn’t end unhappily — somehow or other the nuptial establishment jogs on. The truth is, that women try marriage as a Refuge, far more numerously than they are willing to admit; and, what is more, they find that marriage has justified their confidence in it.” Whoa. Thoughts?

  15. Gabriel Betteredge has what he calls “detective-fever,” where the “horrid mystery hanging over us in this house gets into my head like liquor, and makes me wild.” Characters like Rosanna behave as though subconsciously intoxicated by outside forces. What are your thoughts about “detective-fever”?

  16. It’s implied at the beginning that the original perpetrator, John Herncastle, probably killed several Indians and stole their sacred moonstone, contrary to a direct command, under threat of death. No one could definitely prove it until he died and the moonstone came out of hiding to be bequeathed to Rachel. Then comes so much indecision, and plotting, and hiding, and suspecting the Indians of trying to get it back. At what point did it become British property? It was stolen, and the theft came to light when the thief died. Why wasn’t it returned to the Indians? Is this a representative example of historical looting?

  17. Wilkie Collins seems to sympathize with outsiders such as Rosanna, Ezra Jennings, and the three Brahmins. What makes these characters outsiders? Why do most of the characters distrust and dislike them? How do you feel about how they are treated by other characters? What signals does Collins give to suggest that he has an affinity for these characters (and that we should, too)?

  18. Franklin Blake learns that the doctor, Mr. Candy, gave him opium without his knowledge, which Franklin calls an act of treachery. Ezra Jennings says, “Every doctor in large practice finds himself, every now and then, obliged to deceive his patients …. I don’t defend the folly of playing you a trick under the circumstances. I only plead with you for a more accurate and more merciful construction of motives.” How did you feel about the “trick” Mr. Candy plays on Franklin?

  19. The Moonstone contains many of the elements of classic detective stories: sequence and causality, secrecy and silence, buried clues, encoded messages, bumbling cops, an idiosyncratic detective, outcasts with excellent skills in observation, withheld evidence, red herrings, and a small circle of possible suspects. The reader knows what the characters know, when they know it. What themes and ideas used in the book have since become common in the genre?

  20. Most everyone acts as either a detective or a spy in the book: Gabriel Betteredge, Franklin Blake, Rosanna, Miss Clack, Mr. Bruff, Ezra Jennings, the boy who follows “the sailor,” and, of course, Inspector Cuff. Who impressed you most?

  21. At the end, Inspector Cuff writes, “there is a chance of laying hands on the Indians, and of recovering the Moonstone yet.” Yet on the last page, the gem once fixed to the bosom of an Englishwoman’s dress is returned to the forehead of the god of the Moon. What’s your take on the ending?

ABOUT TEA, TONIC & TOXIN

Tea, Tonic, and Toxin is a book club and podcast for people who love mysteries, thrillers, introspection, and good conversation. Each month, your hosts, Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters, will discuss a game-changing mystery or thriller from the 19th and 20th centuries. Together, we’ll see firsthand how the genre evolved.

 

Along the way, we’ll entertain ideas, prospects, theories, doubts, and grudges, along with the occasional guest. And we hope to entertain you, dear friend. We want you to experience the joys of reading some of the best mysteries and thrillers ever written.

Tea, Tonic, and Toxin Book Club and Podcast - Mysteries and Thrillers

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Sarah Harrison - Host of Tea Tonic and Toxin (Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club)

SARAH HARRISON

HOST

Sarah loves getting to the bottom of any mystery having to do with life, love, work, play, personality, or process dysfunction.

Carolyn Daughters - Hot of Tea Tonic and Toxin (Mystery and Thriller Podcast and Book Club))

CAROLYN DAUGHTERS

Host

Carolyn has loved mysteries ever since she and her sister started the highly successful CarMich Detective Agency when they were kids.

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