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Major Themes

Gender

Gender stereotypes are present throughout the novel, especially in the narratives of Betteredge, Miss Clack, and Mr Bruff. Wilkie Collins uses the gender stereotypes attributed to his narrators to help develop these characters.

Gabriel Betteredge

Betteredge states his belief in the inferiority of the female race multiple times throughout his narrative. He states that a female should:

“See that she chews her food well, and sets her foot down firmly on the ground when she walks, and you’re all right Selina, being my wife, couldn’t charge for her board, and would have to give me her services for nothing" (Collins 24).

Through the use of Lady Verinder, Collins debunks Betteredge's classification of females as inferior to males because Lady Verinder is a successful, well-off, independent woman that clearly disagrees with Betteredge's notions of gender. Lady Verinder's characteristics do not fit those ideal for the submissive female, which Betteredge clearly states women should be. Throughout Betteredge's narrative, he uses his wife Selina as a control group for her entire gender. Whenever he wants to announce a generalization for women, he brings up Selina anecdotes as evidence to support his point. On whether or not Selina wanted to marry Betteredge, he remarks, "How little you must know of women, if you ask that. Of course she said, Yes." Betteredge's usage of his wife to generalize women as a whole eliminates the complexity of the characters, since they are compared to one submissive woman. Collins shows us through Rachel Verinder's refusal to marry multiple men and Lady Verinder's independence that Betteredge's comparison to his late wife is flawed.

In the novel, there is an emphasis on physical appearances in the piece. Many times Betteredge makes the comment on whether or not a women is disagreeable or not based on how attractive or unattractive she is:

"If you happen to like dark women (who, I am informed, have gone out of fashion latterly in the gay world), and if you have no particular prejudice in favor of size, I answer for Miss Rachel as one of the prettiest girls your eyes ever looked on. She was small and slim, but all in fine proportion from top to toe" (Collins 64).

Betteredge's comments rely heavily on the desired physical appearances of the time. Betteredge acknowledges that Rachael is pretty for her petite size and brunette hair, but common fashion is more in favor of tall, blonde women. Susan also writes in her letter to Franklin that if you take away the dress on Miss Rachel and put her in servants clothes, she would no longer be beautiful (pg. 318). In this time, clothes, money, and physical appearance are the driving factors for the characters. As humans, people like to believe that motivations come from emotional drive; however this novel is suggesting that motivations are much shallower. The characters are motivated by the trends of the society at the time. They look to economic gain either socially (through a rise in social class) or monetarily. Betteredge admits that Miss Rachel is not the prettiest girl, but these things can be overlooked because of the wealth of her inheritance. 

Ezra Jennings

Since Collins has created the mindset that men are superior to women and an ideal female is submissive to her male counterpart, being viewed as feminine in this book is the same thing as being viewed as weak:

Physiology says, and says truly, that some men are born with female constitutions-and I am one of them (Collins 373)

Jennings feels the need to justify why he cried when his only friend, Mr Candy, recovered from a serious illness. He sees crying as a weakness and offers a medical reason for why he did so. He calls this medical disadvantage a "female constitution," alluding to females being more apt to emotional instability. He comments that this instability shows their weakness and submission to the male species. As a male, Jennings feels society would look negatively upon him if he were to have these natural "female" emotions. So, he tries to use science as an explanation for his emotions. Today, people realize the ridiculousness of this mindset. However, gender stereotypes drove the success and downfall of society in the Victorian age. To be something other than the stereotype would be outrageous and intensely frowned upon. 

Religion

The ideas of second chances, forgiveness, and redemption are closely linked to the theme of religion. Lady Verinder, as a "Christian woman," is willing to give Rosanna a second chance in spite of her past as a thief:

The matron's opinion of Rosanna was (in spite of what she had done) that the girl was one in a thousand, and that she only wanted a chance to prove herself worthy of any Christian woman's interest in her. My lady (being a Christian woman, if ever there was one yet) said to the matron, upon that, 'Rosanna Spearman shall have her chance, in my service.' (Collins 34).

The word 'Christian' is passed freely throughout the novel as something more than religion. While some characters like Miss Clack and Godfrey Ablewhite use the word to describe their devotion for God, others, like Betteredge, use it to describe good moral attributes. Betteredge comments in this passage that Lady Verinder overlooks Rosanna's past of thievery to allow her to prove to Lady Verinder (and essential herself and God) that she is a good person. Lady Verinder believes in second chances, and that just because a person has made a mistake, they should not suffer life-long punishment. Lady Verinder also accepts this attitude towards Franklin Blake, who has come to her with many financial difficulties in the past.

Betteredge comments that 'Christian' describes good moral attributes instead of a simple religion. In his narrative he adds the note:

(Nota bene: I am an average good Christian, when you don't push my Christianity too far. And all the rest of you-which is a great comfort-are, in this respect, much the same as I am. (Collins 173)

Betteredge breaks his narrative to address his audience at this point. In addressing his audience specifically, he feels he can appeal to their sympathetic natures and excuse himself from any unethical commentary. He call himself a "good Christian" to show that he is a person of good moral standing and his unmoral behaviors should be forgiven because of this. Other than a few short comments referring to a Christian as being a good person, Betteredge does not comment on the idea of religion. He refers to the book Robinson Crusoe like a religious person would refer to the bible. In a way, Robinson Crusoe is like the bible because it represents how a person should act. Betteredge also disapproves of someone who has not kept up with the book (Ezra Jennings, for example).

Miss Clack represents a population of religious people in this novel who are devoted to Christianity:

When I had dropped another tract through the area railings, I felt relieved, in some small degree, of a heavy responsibility towards others (Collins 203).

'Oh, Rachel! Rachel!' I burst out. 'Haven't you seen yet, that my heart yearns to make a Christian out of you? Has no inner voice told you that I am trying to do for you, what I was trying to do for your dear mother when death snatched her out of my hands?' (Collins 69).

Miss Clack and the rest of her overly Christian group are framed negatively in this novel following a surplus of Christian stereotypes presented by Wilkie Collins. Miss Clack feels it is her moral duty to spread the word of God and save others around her from a life of eternal damnation. She spends hours shoving pamphlets in people's faces and preaching about how they should listen and come to church with her. She even damns herself for failure to save her aunt, Lady Verinder, before Lady Verinder dies. While Miss Clack is openly religious, Lady Verinder shows more Christian behaviors than Miss Clack. Ironically, it is Lady Verinder who should be trying to save Miss Clack. Lady Verinder has dedicated her life to being economically successful, raising a well-minded daughter, and treating her servants with dignity. Unlike Miss Clack, she is not dependent on a male partner, nor does she swoon at the sight of an attractive young lad. She does not change her attitudes and depictions on life based on those around her. Most importantly, she does not view herself above others. She tolerates Miss Clack even though she is annoyed by her. Miss Clack preaches that she is there to help guide her aunt, who is already Christian, into religion, but her motivations are called into question when she comments during the announcement of her aunt's death that her aunt never got around to including her in the will. She also begins her narrative about how unfortunate and poor her life is, and how easily Franklin Blake can persuade her into doing something with the use of a check.

Miss Clack's religious loyalty is called into question throughout this novel:

Let your faith be as your stockings, and your stockings as your faith. Both ever spotless, and both ready to put on at a moment's notice! (Collins 204-205).

Miss Clack refers to her religious faith as a stocking. A stocking is an accessory that can be removed and added at someone's leisure. She even says, "both ready to put on at a moment's notice." Religion shouldn't be something called upon at a moment's notice. It should be expressed and lived through every day. Religion is suppose to be a attribute within people that people base every second of their lives upon. This line shows the reader that Miss Clack isn't the devout Christian she claims to be. It shows that her religious loyalty is a facade she puts on to raise herself above those around her. When the religious stocking is taken off, Miss Clack's true character desires monetary ambitions. She repeatedly tries to reach the sympathies of the reader for the misfortunes she has been cursed with, because she is unable to gain a higher economic standing nor receive the love of the man of her dreams, Godfrey Ablewhite.

Society and Class

Rosanna falls in love with Franklin Blake. Betteredge finds the idea of Rosanna falling in love with someone preposterous. However, his daughter Penelope finds the idea possible. Due to societal standards and social classes,however, she waivers by saying:

'She has no right, of course, to expect him to take any interest in her. It's quite monstrous that she should forget herself and her station in that way. But she seems to have lost pride, and proper feeling, and everything.' (Collins 153).

Rosanna is a servant. Penelope feels that she should respect her rank and do her work. Rosanna is allowed to fall in love with Franklin Blake, a man of higher status, as long as her love is visual and from afar. Penelope's comments show that it is common for a servant to have sexual desires for her masters. In this paragraph, Penelope foreshadows the emotions in Rosanna's mind, which ultimately lead to her suicide. She comments that the love for Blake has lead Rosanna to lose sight of her place in society. Penelope is appalled at the idea that Rosanna could let her emotions run her, knowing her station in Blake's life. Penelope becomes the ideal standard for servitude. She loves, honors, and respects her masters, but understands the social divide between them and herself. Like Betteredge's wife Selina for gender stereotypes, Penelope creates the standard for generalizations of servants.

Betteredge comments on the difference for emotional conflicts between classes:

People in high life have all the luxuries to themselves- among others, 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 as patiently as may be. I don't complain of this - I only notice it. (Collins 167-168)

Betteredge notes that, in different classes, servants and masters are not allowed to express feeling in the same manner. It's almost like the servants have not earned the right to mourn the death of Rosanna. He calls feelings a luxury that lower class/servants cannot afford. He reasons that the upper class has the free time and finances to take advantage of feelings. This can be seen in Rachel Verinder's character when she overreacts at the loss of her diamond and is seen slamming doors, ignoring people, and crying. In contrast, the only emotion that the reader sees out of the servants comes during their continual gossiping. The servants are framed in a relatively negative and gossipy light because they are not allowed to express true emotions. This shows how little the upper class really knows about their servants. In later narratives, beyond Betteredge, the importance of servants dwindles, especially in contrast to Betteredge's narrative, in which they played a huge role. The only other person who pays attention to the servants are Lady Verinder and Sergent Cuff.

Limping Lucy warns Betteredge of a common stigma of the time:

'Mr Betteredge, the day is not far off when the poor will rise against the rich. I pray Heaven they may begin with him. I pray Heaven they may begin with him.' (Collins 192).

During this time, the upper class feared a revolution from the lower class. The upper class was severely outnumbered by the lower class. The upper class worried that mistreatment of their servants would lead to a strike, or worse, a take over. This was a common fear for this time. If the lower class did decide to strike, the upper class would be left with all the house and yard work they were unaccustomed to. Most upper class spent their days socializing while their servants took care of their every need. Without their servants' submissive attitudes, they would lose a lot of their social 'luxury' time that the lower class, according to Betteredge, cannot afford. If the lower class decided to revolt, they could essentially take over their masters and steal all their money. This would leave the upper class with nothing, reducing them to servant status. This threat holds a lot of weight to Franklin Blake, as a revolution would be the worst thing to happen to the upper class.

Click [Historical Context | Moonstone Historical Context] to read more about the difference in social classes.

Foreignness and "the other"

In the novel, any foreign attributes are made out to be strange and, at times, evil. There are many things that are foreign in this piece: the Moonstone, Franklin Blake's education, the three Indians, and Ezra Jennings.

The Moonstone

When the Moonstone is brought into the Verinder household, Betteredge immediately gives the Moonstone a negative connotation:

Here was our quiet English house suddenly invaded by a devilish Indian Diamond (Collins 46).

In this passage, the house and the diamond are geographically contrasted. The house represents good (like England, if you ask Betteredge), and it is invaded by the negatively connotative Indian Diamond. Seventy years before The Moonstone was published, Britain invaded India. Through this metaphor, Collins shows an Indian invasion on England. Indeed, it's the Indians who come out victorious by the novel's conclusion, as they finally recover their sacred Moonstone.

Click here for more information about British-Indian History

Franklin Blake's education

Betteredge distrusts the part of Franklin Blake that was educated by foreign training:

At the age when we are all of us most apt to take our colouring, in the form of a reflection from the colouring of other people, he had been sent abroad, and had been passed on from one nation to another, before there was time for any one colouring more than another to settle itself on him firmly. As a consequence of this, he had come back with so many different sides to his character, all more or less jarring with each other, that he seemed to pass his life in a state of perpetual contradiction with himself (Collins 55).

Betteredge uses the word "colouring" three times in one sentence. He could use synonyms for the word but instead chose to repeat the word "colouring". The significance to using this word over others is the connotation of white supremacy. It was thought by the British that white people had more power and were better educated than any other race. By Franklin Blake being "coloured" he is lowering himself in academic and social standards. He is distrusted because his ideals has been tainted with education from abroad. As a consequence, Betteredge notes that Franklin Blake is less English because of his educational background, which thus makes him inferior. This suspicion towards Franklin's foreign education quite possibly propelled Betteredge's desire for the young Miss Rachel to marry Godfrey Ablewhite.

The Three Indians

Betteredge racial stereotypes the three Indians to a point in which they are viewed as a negative presence:

Now I am not a sour old man. I am generally […] the last person in the world to distrust another person because he happens to be a few shades darker than myself. But the best of us have our weaknesses---and my weakness, when I know a family plate-basket to be out on a pantry table, is to be instantly reminded of that basket by the sight of a strolling stranger whose manners are superior to my own (Collins 30).

First, Betteredge breaks from the narrative to excuse himself from the racist comment he is about to make. He then goes on to say that he distrust these three men because they are darker, even though he claims he's not racist. This shows that he knows racism is bad; however, he succumbs to it when placed in this situation. He reveals that he is uncomfortable with the presence of foreigners nearby. We can see this same stereotype among other characters, especially Franklin Blake, who, at first, looks down upon Ezra Jennings because of his physical appearance. Betteredge also comments on that fact that the three foreigners' manners were "superior to his own". This behavior attempts to diminish the grounds for white supremacy, however, it ends up just making Betteredge suspicious and trust them even less.

Ezra Jennings

Ezra Jennings is introduced towards the end of the narrative. He is seen as part foreigner and part Englishman, making the characters confused by his appearance.

"His gipsy-complexion, his fleshless cheeks, his gaunt facial bones, his dreamy eyes, his extraordinary parti-coloured hair, the puzzling contradictions between his face and figure which made him look old and young both together -- were all more or less calculated to produce an unfavorable impression of him on a stranger's mind. And yet - feeling this as I certainly did - it is not to be denied that Ezra Jennings made some inscrutable appeal to my sympathies, which I found it impossible to resist" (Collins 369).

In gender, Ezra Jennings makes the comment that he has a "female constitution" due to medical conditions, which lets him adhere to his feminine emotions. This eliminates the boundaries between the male and female genders in his character. Jennings appears to be both young and old, in addition to having features of both a white, English man and a brown, Indian man. This intermix of the two countries creates an interesting contrast to the British-Indian war since the combination is a main component for finding the Moonstone. Through Jennings's character, Collins tries to show that treating both nationalities equally will be most advantageous to productivity.  This advocates more equal footing for the two nations, as well as encourages assimilation of each group into the other's country. 

Editorial Presence/Different Narrations

Many characters like Franklin, Miss Clack, and Betteredge break through the narrative of the text to address the audience specifically, in an attempt to adhere to the audiences sympathies. In addition, Franklin, who we know to be the editor of all the narrators, adds a note to Miss Clack's narration: 

Franklin's note:

Miss Clack may make her mind quite easy on this point. Nothing will be added, altered, or removed, in her manuscript, or in any of the other manuscripts which pass through my hands (Collins 202).

It is clear that Franklin Blake is the editor of this collection of narrations, which allows him to make footnotes or adjustments to his narrative in order to defend or clarify others. Even though Franklin informs us that nothing will be edited from its original form, the reader cannot help but wonder if being the editor influences the way Franklin writes his own narration, or even whether or not he lies and really does edit the narrations of others. We know that Franklin is not above commenting on Miss Clack's piece, since he both adds a clarification on her worry that he'll change her text, as well as on her perception of him and the Verinder family. Franklin proves to be a somewhat unreliable narrator, which also presents the question of whether or not the reader can trust him, since he, inadvertently, stole the Diamond from Rachel. His roles as editor, narrator, and suspect contradict and complicate the plot.

Different narrators also raise the question of subjective experience vs. objective knowledge (what the characters say because they lived through it versus hearsay, which calls into question the reliability of the narrators). If the narrator presents what he or she believes to be true to the reader, and it turns out false, the reader feels cheated and double-crossed. Click to read more about editorial presence and Different Narratives

Romance/Marriage

Romance/Marriage plays an important role in The Moonstone.  Wilkie Collins has a good amount of his female characters develop quick, unwarranted crushes on men.  Miss Clack gives Godfrey Ablewhite money merely because he is an attractive, seemingly good-hearted man.  Miss Clack does not need to know much about Ablewhite before giving him a generous donation.  Likewise, Rosanna Spearman falls in love with Franklin Blake at first sight, despite their differences in social class.  She discovers that he might be the thief and tries to cover for him, refusing to realize that he’ll never appreciate the favor.  Collins includes a fair share of love-stricken female admirers in this book. He also write about many unromantic males throughout The Moonstone:

Gabriel Betteredge has a very unromantic philosophy about marriage. He views marriage as an economic advancement:

Selina, as a single woman, made me pay so much a week for her board and services. Selina, being my wife, couldn't charge for her board, and would have to give me her services for nothing. That was the point of view I looked at it from. Economy---with a dash of love. (Collins 24).

Collins has made it clear that many of his females have a romanticized vision of love. In contrast, Betteredge makes it clear that he did not marry for love. He felt it was more practical to marry his servant than to pay her. With marriage, she had to work for him for free, and in return she had his protection of financial security. Since Betteredge says "with a dash of love", the reader has to assume he has some sort of sentiment towards his wife, otherwise it would just be economics.

Godfrey looks to a selfish economic gain as well when it comes to marriage, but at a higher price:

'Do you know many wives, my dear Rachel, 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.' (Collins 244).

Godfrey tries to tell Rachel that if she doesn't marry soon, she'll spend her life waiting for a romanticized version of love, only to be disappointed later when it falters. He tries to convince Rachel that she should marry someone she gets along with: himself. He addresses the fact that many couples get along quite happily with this arrangement. Godfrey is trying to persuade Rachel through this argument because he knows she is in love with Franklin and that getting her to fall in love with him would be futile. He instead tries to appeal to the fact that she no longer trusts Franklin and should marry a friend who will be her friendly companion for years to come. If Godfrey succeeded, he would've gain the monetary value that he is after. The reader knows that Godfrey is only after Rachel for her inheritance. However, Rachel's romanticized view prohibits Godfrey's success.

Overall, it is Franklin and Rachel love for each other that propels the plot forward. Without this love, Rachel would have been a child-like girl crying over a lost jewel. Franklin and Rachel would have parted and never married. Rachel might even have taken Godfrey's offer of marriage with a companion. Rachel wouldn't have felt the need to hide the fact that Franklin was the person who stole the diamond forcing The Moonstone to lose its mystery. Franklin would have never hired a detective or found out who took the diamond and why. Their love for each other the reason the story can continue forward.

Debt

In this novel, the English and Betteredge-pronounced Christian characters are motivated by emotional and fiscal debt to the degree and with a frequency that suggests that they consider debt every bit as sacred as the Brahmins consider the Moonstone to be.

At the beginning of the novel, Godfrey Ablewhite, like the other upper-class, English members of the household, is considered by most (except for Sergeant Cuff) to be beyond suspicion for the robbery.  There is little basis for deducing Ablewhite’s debt until Mr Bruff reveals, in his narrative “the mercenary object of the marriage,” proposal of Ablewhite to Rachel Verinder (Collins 276).  Mr Bruff finds out that Ablewhite had seen Lady Verdinder’s will and, shortly thereafter, backed out of his marriage proposal to Rachel Verinder.  Like the reader, Bruff assumes that Ablewhite figured out he would net little short term money by going through with the marriage.  While this obvious marriage-for-money attempt proves Ablewhite’s fiscal need, it is not until Sergeant Cuff returns to the scene that the reason for Ablewhite’s debt is discovered.  As Cuff explains:

“…Mr Godfrey Ablewhite was entrusted with the care of a sum of twenty thousand pounds---as one of two Trustees for a young gentleman” and this trust “…had every farthing of it, been sold out of the Funds” (453). 

Ablewhite had been stealing money from the trust to provide a lavish home for his mistress.  When he is pressed for money, his need to repay the debt propels him to steal the Moonstone from his own cousin, a highly treacherous act.  However, like the Brahmins with the Moonstone, resolving his debt takes Ablewhite’s priority.  Mr Luker offers him a pittance for lending him the Moonstone, but Ablewhite takes this small sum anyway just so he can repay his short-term debt, with the hope that he will be able to acquire money in other ways in the meantime.  This is when he decides to try the ‘double-dip’ idea of stealing more from Rachel through marriage.  When this doesn’t work, he tries a marriage with a different girl, much to the same effect.  Without Godfrey’s reverence for fiscal debt, The Moonstone would lack the crime that makes it one of the first detective novels.

Emotional debt also helps drive the novel.  Ezra Jennings is only half-English, he goes out of his way to establish that he has an English mentality with statements such as,

“I can only assert my innocence.  I assert it, sir, on my oath, as a Christian” (Collins 379).

Jennings finds oppression everywhere he goes, due in part to rumors of the accusation he asserts he didn’t commit, and in part to his hideous and foreign physical appearance (even a lowly maid in Mr Candy’s house avoids looking at him).  However, Mr Candy takes the chance in hiring Jennings because he believes Jennings’s claim of innocence.  As Ezra Jennings states, “He has given me shelter, he has given me employment, he has given me rest of mind---and I have the certain conviction…that nothing will happen now to make him regret it” (Collins 380).  Jennings’s gratitude toward Mr Candy extends to the point where he feels an emotional debt toward his employer.  Jennings begins to repay this debt by staying with Candy night and day, trying to keep him alive.  He overrides the medical opinions of established doctors in an attempt to save Candy’s life, even though common practice would dictate following the doctor’s more qualified orders, even if they appear incorrect.  However, Ezra Jennings’s emotional debt doesn’t end there; he feels the need to relay Mr Candy’s message that he had had Godfrey Ablewhite spike Mr Franklin Blake’s drink with opium.  Without insight on Jennings’s part on the workings of opium, Blake would have had no clue as to his exact role in the theft, and his relationship with Rachel Verdinder would have still been strained.  Jennings takes a liking to Blake and Rachel because they treat him with kindness and equality, which is something he is quite unused to.  Ezra Jennings immediately feels indebted to Blake’s kindness, and puts it upon himself to help prove Blake’s ignorance of his piece in the crime to Rachel.  When he fulfills his debt, he writes, “Oh me, how I felt it, as the graceful happiness looked at me out of her eyes, and the warm pressure of her hand said, ‘This is your doing!’” (Collins 430).  This repayment brings his life such a purpose that, when he is dying, he takes solace in the fact that he chooses to not worry his two new friends with that knowledge.  Ezra Jennings’s debts allow for the mystery of how the Moonstone was stolen from Rachel’s room to be uncovered and for Franklin and Rachel’s relationship to be patched up.

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