Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


The Moonstone
by Wilkie Collins
p. 1868
Read on Ipad/Ebooks
Project Gutenberg Edition

   This is a book I tried to buy on Amazon- because I liked his other hit, The Woman in White- but I couldn't find a copy for a reasonable price...perhaps because this is a 650 page DETECTIVE STORY.  I can see why a Penguin Classics or Oxford's World Classics would be like ""

 There is a brand new Harper Collins Classics (?) edition out as of the end of last month. (AMAZON) The copy I got of Woman in White was shitty- a DOVER GIANT THRIFT edition. If I have to chose between Dover Thrift edition and reading the same title on an Ipad/Kindle- I'll take the ereader everytime.

   Wikipedia calls The Moonstone an epistolary novel, but I think Wikipedia is wrong in this case.  Epistolary, of course, means "written in the form of a letter" and the texts that make up The Moonstone are more in the form of sworn statements under perjury, i.e. the "writer" is swearing to tell the whole truth to the best of their recollection. (1)

 Big difference between that and a true Epistolary novel like Pamela by Samuel Richardson.  Epistolary was the original novel style, and Collins, writing in 1868- a century and a half after Pamela was published- certainly was doing something more with format then writing an epistolary novel.

 Wilkie Collins was a bosom bro of Charles Dickens- the indexical entry in Peter Ackroyd's Charles Dickens is itself over half a page long and has entries like:    Collins, Wilikie: travels abroad with CD 677-82; visits huanted house, 870; CD conceals absence from Gad's Hill from, 999.  ETC.

  Collins was famous, in his time as the foremost exponent of "sensation novels" although he worked with already existing themes like Gothicism or Ghost,  he brought an easy to read, audience conscious style to the material and was buddies with Charles Dickens- so you can see where people would be coining new genre terms to describe the work.

   Whereas Woman in White is largely devoted to sprucing up Gothic/Supernatural themes, The Moonstone is widely considered to be the first Detective novel- not the first Detective story- but the first long form novel.

   If you actually read this entire book- all 650 Ipad sized pages of it- it's easy to see both why the book was famous at the time and why it is less beloved today. First, it is easy to read- none of the stylistic peculiarities of 18th century Gothic fiction.  Second- it inherits from the Epistolary novel or embodies an aspect of that format in that it is VERY LONG. Epistolary novels are ALL VERY LONG because of the attempts of Authors to simulate "reality."

 The fact that it takes Collins 600 pages to get to the denouement speaks against the lasting quality of this book, and although it gets the credit for being the first Detective novel, it's arguable that detective fiction is best in smaller doses.  Like short story size doses.  Certainly not 650 pages worth to resolve the theft of a jewel.   650 pages and ten years of "book" time.  Yikes! Solve that crime already, guys.


(1) I looked at the corresponding wikipedia entry for Epistolary Novel and it's clear that Wikipedia has an expansive view of the term Epistolary novel as a "novel consisting of documents," whereas I would say the documentary novel is different then an Epistolary novel because letters are different then legal depositions. A small point, perhps.

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