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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: January 2007

5 - The Moonstone, detective fiction and forensic science


One source of the power of Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone (1868), like the diamond at its heart, is the complex range of interpretations the novel inspires. If the diamond stands, alternatively, as a sign of religious devotion, imperial plunder, colonial revenge, capitalist desire, personal vengeance, sexual experience or psychological integration, the novel equally invites an array of interpretations: it is an orientalist romance, a critique of imperialism, an inheritance plot, an allegory of seduction and, as was most famously claimed by T. S. Eliot, the first and the greatest of modern English detective novels. Regardless of the myriad interpretative meanings the novel offers, however, its narrative force and logic are clear: The Moonstone is an elaborate act of historical detection and reconstruction. By way of an intricate collective narrative performed by a series of individuals who explicitly present their case like witnesses in a trial, this novel dramatises a sustained effort to recover a lost incident, connecting contemporary circumstances with historical origins, and assembling a 'chain of evidence' that will link the present to the past by explaining the truth about a mysterious sequence of events (p. 342). In its complex narrative and in the unfolding of its even more complicated plot, The Moonstone did in fact become the prototypical English detective novel.