Last Reviewed on September 12, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 431
Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone is a seminal work in the field of detective literature. The story begins with Colonel Herncastle, the older and rather unkind uncle of Rachel Verinder, returning from India during Britain's rule of the nation. Colonel Herncastle comes home with a large and opulent diamond in tow—the Moonstone. The stone is a very precious gem to practitioners of Hinduism, and he knows that its rightful owners will want to get it back and that it will be widely recognized. In an act of anger, he leaves it in his will to his niece because he wants his family to be punished for having shunned him.
Rachel receives the Moonstone and wears it to dinner on her eighteenth birthday, a rich affair where she has many suitors. A number of maids and servants are present, including a group of Indian jugglers. The stone disappears from Rachel's room and cannot be found. Blame is cast alternately on Rachel, the jugglers, and one of the maids, Rosanna, who commits suicide by quicksand after behaving strangely throughout the dinner.
When Franklin Blake, one of Rachel's suitors, returns from abroad a year later, he realizes Rosanna was in love with him and had thought he was the thief; she tried to cover up the crime to save him before she committed suicide out of guilt and grief. The stone is presumed to be in a London bank vault, but Rachel reveals she had actually seen Franklin take the diamond, confirming him to be the thief. Not believing this or remembering having committed any sort of crime, Franklin eventually learns that he was drugged at the party and, in a trance, stole the stone to move it to a safe place. But how it got to a London vault, he doesn't know.
Franklin and his fellows attempt to track down the stone, learning that it was taken from the vault. They track it to a rundown inn, where they find the body of a man killed by the Indian jugglers and that the stone has been stolen. The real thief is revealed to be Godfrey Ablewhite, another suitor from the party who had embezzled a trust fund and was planning to use the diamond to replenish it. He had encountered Franklin after he had stolen the diamond and taken it from him, knowing the Moonstone would pay off his debts.
In the end, with the mystery resolved, Franklin and Rachel marry, and it is revealed that the stone has been returned to its native India, to the people to whom it rightfully belongs.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1227
In the 1799 storming of Seringapatam, India, John Herncastle, a violent and cruel man, steals the sacred Hindu diamond called the Moonstone. The jewel had been taken years before from the forehead of the Moon-God in its Brahman shrine, and Herncastle’s theft was only one of a series. Since the stone had first been stolen, three faithful Hindus followed its trail, sworn to recovering the gem and returning it to the statue of the Moon-God. Herncastle took the gem to England and now keeps it in a bank vault. He saves himself from murder by letting the Hindus know that if he were killed the stone would be cut up into smaller gems, thus losing its sacred identity. At his death, Herncastle leaves the jewel to his niece, Rachel Verinder.
The stone is to be presented to Rachel on her birthday following her uncle’s death. Young Franklin Blake, Lady Verinder’s nephew, is asked by Herncastle’s lawyer to take the gift to his cousin’s home several weeks before the event, but he barely misses death at the hands of the Hindus before reaching his destination. On the advice of Gabriel Betteredge, the Verinders’s old family servant, Franklin puts the gem in the vault of a bank nearby until the birthday arrives, as the Hindus had been seen in the neighborhood. Upon meeting, Franklin and Rachel fall in love. Guests begin to arrive for the birthday celebration, including Godfrey Ablewhite, a handsome and accomplished charity worker; Dr. Candy, the town physician; and Mr. Bruff, the family lawyer.
While the guests at the birthday dinner are admiring the beauty of the jewel, they hear the beating of a drum on the terrace and three Hindus appear, disguised as jugglers. One of the guests, Mr. Murthwaite, who had traveled widely in Asia, speaks sharply, whereupon the three men retreat. Watchdogs are released to protect the house that night. All seems well, but in the morning Rachel announces that the jewel has disappeared from an unlocked cabinet in her dressing room. Despite Rachel’s protests, Franklin Blake insists the police be called. The Hindus are arrested and put in jail, but to everyone’s astonishment, they have alibis for the entire night.
Little about the crime is discovered until Sergeant Cuff of Scotland Yard arrives. He decides that fresh paint from the door in Rachel’s dressing room must have come off on someone’s clothes. Inexplicably, Rachel refuses to allow a search for the stained clothing. Sergeant Cuff suspects that Rachel had staged the theft herself, and that Rosanna Spearman, a maid with a criminal record, is a party to the plot, for he learns that Rosanna had made a new nightdress shortly after the theft. Sergeant Cuff guesses that the nightdress was to replace another dress that is stained. Because the Verinders oppose his efforts, he drops the case. The only other clue he has is that Rosanna might have hidden something in the rocks by the seashore. Rosanna commits suicide soon afterward by throwing herself into a pool of quicksand. She leaves a letter for Franklin, who had, however, departed from the country by the time the letter is found.
Rachel goes to London with her mother. In time, she is engaged to Godfrey Ablewhite. When Mr. Bruff tells her, however, that Godfrey has secretly ascertained the terms of her mother’s will before asking for her hand, Rachel breaks the engagement. Franklin returns to England later in the year and visits Betteredge, who tells him about Rosanna’s letter. From the letter, Franklin learns that she had thought him guilty of the crime; Rosanna also left him directions for recovering a box she had buried by the sea, just as Sergeant Cuff had thought. The box proves to have the stained nightgown in it, but it is not Rosanna’s nightgown but rather that of Franklin.
Unable to account for this strange fact, Franklin returns to London, where he has a long talk with Mr. Bruff about the case. Mr. Bruff informs Franklin that the Moonstone is thought to be in a bank in London, deposited there by a notorious pawnbroker named Septimus Luker. A mysterious attack on the moneylender seems confirmation. Franklin also tells Mr. Bruff of the strange discovery of the nightgown. Mr. Bruff arranges a surprise meeting between Franklin and Rachel, at which Franklin learns that Rachel had actually seen him come into the room and steal the stone. Because she loves him, she had refused to let the investigation continue. Franklin tries to convince her that he has no memory of the deed.
On Mr. Bruff’s advice, Franklin returns to the Verinder’s country place and tries to discover what had happened to him that night. From Dr. Candy’s assistant, Ezra Jennings, he learns that the doctor had secretly given him a dose of laudanum on the night of the theft, so that Franklin, who suffers from insomnia, would get a good night’s sleep. Jennings suggests administering a like dose in the same setting, to see what Franklin will do. Mr. Bruff and Rachel come down from London to watch the experiment.
The scene is set with the help of Betteredge, and Franklin is given the laudanum. Under its influence, he repeats his actions on the night of the theft. Rachel watches him come to her room and take out a substitute stone. She is now convinced that his original act had been an attempt to protect her from the Hindus by removing the stone to another room. Before Franklin can recollect what he did with the stone after he left Rachel’s room, however, the drug takes full effect, and he falls sound asleep.
The experiment explains how the stone disappeared from Rachel’s room but not how it ended up in a London bank through the hands of Luker. Mr. Bruff suggests that the gem might shortly be redeemed from Luker. Sergeant Cuff is called back into the case, and a watch is set on the bank. One day, Luker comes into the bank and claims the stone. On his way out, the watchers think he could have passed it to any of three people, all of whom are followed. Two prove to be innocent citizens; the third is a bearded man who looks like a sailor, whom Bruff’s office boy trails to an inn where the suspect takes lodgings for the night.
When Franklin and Cuff arrive at the inn, they find the sailor dead and the box from the bank empty. Cuff examines the dead man closely and then tears away a wig and beard to expose the features of Godfrey Ablewhite. They learn from Luker that Godfrey had seen Franklin go into Rachel’s room the night of the robbery and that Franklin had given Godfrey the stone with instructions to put it in the bank. Because Franklin had remembered nothing of this request the next day, Godfrey kept the jewel. The mystery is solved, and Rachel and Franklin are happily reunited.
Several years later, Mr. Murthwaite, the explorer, tells them of a great festival in honor of the Moon-God that he had witnessed in India. When the idol is unveiled, he sees gleaming in the forehead of the stone image the long-lost treasure of the god—the sacred Moonstone.
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