The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins - LELE - Terminale L

The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins - LELE - Terminale L

Digischool Bac L met à votre disposition un cours de littérature étrangère en langue étrangère sur le roman "The Moonstone" de Wilkie Collins rédigé par notre professeur pour le niveau terminale L.

Dans ce chapitre vous étudierez, après une rapide introduction, la biographie de l'auteur Wilkie Colins. Puis vous trouverez un résumé de The Moonstone (en français). S'en suivra la présentation des personnages principaux de ce roman et enfin le choix de la narration et des effets de la part de l'auteur.

Téléchargez gratuitement ci-dessous ce cours de lele sur "The Moonstone" pour le niveau Terminale L.

The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins - LELE - Terminale L

Le contenu du document

 

The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins

Introduction

The Detective Novel is considered as one of the literary genres that became very popular in Great Britain, towards the end of the Victorian Era, notably with Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous character Sherlock Holmes in the 1890s. However, the first detective novel is considered to be The Moonstone, written by Wilkie Collins and published in 1886.

A dense novel, The Moonstone is based around the search for the so-called Moonstone, a big diamond from India that was taken from its religious shrine and taken to England. There, it came to the possession of a young woman, who received it for her birthday. However, on the night after her birthday party, the diamond disappears. The novel thus shows the search for the diamond, with numerous twists and turns, until the resolution of the plot. The plot itself is quite complex, with different points of views, and uses elements of social novels and mystery novels.

We are going to look into the plot of the novel, with a summary, an analysis of the major characters, and we are going to study what makes The Moonstone a detective novel, the first of its genre.

I. A biography of Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins was a prolific English writer, known for his sensation novels, but he also wrote articles, short stories, essays and plays. His father was a painter famous for his landscapes. Wilkie was thus from a well-to-do family and had the opportunity to travel to France and Italy as a child, where he learned French and Italian and later got inspired from the cultures he discovered.

He started to write when he was a young man, and his first published story is « The Last Stage Coachman », which appeared in a publication called the Illuminated Magazine, in 1843. When his father died in 1847, Wilkie wrote his memoirs, which were published the year after. These memoirs go good reviews, and in the following years Collins wrote and published novels, such as Antonina (1850), inspired by his trip to Italy, Basil (1852) and Hide and Seek (1854).

In the 1850s, Collins met Charles Dickens by working with him on a theatre production. The two men were good friends and frequently collaborated in writing, mostly for journals and magazines. The novel Hide and Seek was in fact dedicated to Dickens. Collins was actually acquainted with a lot of writers and public men at the time, evolving in the circles of good society and artists.

The Woman in White, which is one of Collins' most famous novels, was published from 1859 in Dickens' magazine All the Year Round. It was a success, and the 1860s were the most fruitful for Collins, who quickly became very famous as new novels were published. In 1868, The Moonstone is also published in All the Year Round. The novel, with its mysterious and gripping plot, is just as popular, and is today considered, in literary history, as the first modern detective novel in the English language. It inspired some of the detective novels that would be written in the decades after its publication. Collins's story, with a lot of suspense, scary elements and almost supernatural mystery, was classified as a sensational novel, just as The Woman in White. This subgenre appealed to a lot of readers at the time, and because the stories were published little by little in a magazine, the interest of the readers was even more important.

His growing popularity allowed Collins to write other novels, but he also wrote some plays, as he was fond of theatre. He produced some plays with Dickens, who also loved theatre. However, in the 1870s, Dickens' death was a key moment in Collins' life. Around the same time, his health started to decline, and the quality of his works, in the last decade of his life, also declined compared to his great novels of the 1860s. He was also a big opium consumer, as his health had always been somehow fragile. He died in 1889 from a stroke.

Even though he is not the most famous writer of the Victorian era today, Collins has left a big influence on the literature of the late 19th century, and is still known for his sensation novels, and of course The Moonstone, still by today's standards the first English detective novel.

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins - Cours lele anglais - Terminale L

The Wilkie Collins (1824-1889)

II. A summary of the novel (en français)

Le récit s'ouvre avec la légende de la Pierre de Lune (the Moonstone), un diamant jaune provenant d'Inde, qui a une signification importante dans la religion hindouiste. Le diamant fait partie d'une statue, protégée par des prêtres, mais à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, dans un contexte de colonisation britannique en Inde, le diamant est volé par un anglais dénommé John Herncastle, combattant dans l'armée britannique. Sans pitié, il tua les trois prêtres qui gardaient la statue et ramena le diamant en Angleterre.

La narration avance et l'histoire prend place au milieu du XIXème siècle, avec un premier narrateur nommé Gabriel Betteredge. Au fil du récit, plusieurs narrateurs vont se succéder pour raconter l'histoire selon plusieurs points de vue. Betteredge, premier narrateur, est l'intendant de la famille Verinder. Lady Julia Verinder est la sœur de Herncastle. Celui-ci a légué dans son testament la Pierre de Lune à sa nièce Rachel, fille de Lady Verinder, pour son dix-huitième anniversaire. Durant la nuit qui suit la fête d'anniversaire, le diamant disparaît. Toutes les personnes présentes chez Lady Verinder se demandent ce qui s'est passé, mais chacun est également un potentiel suspect. Dans son récit, Betteredge raconte les événements comme il les perçoit, avant et après la disparition du diamant. Il en dit plus sur les membres de la famille, que le lecteur va apprendre à connaître, et pose les bases de l'intrigue, alors que tous les personnages chez Lady Verinder cherchent à résoudre le mystère de la Pierre de Lune.

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins - Lele anglais - Cours de terminale L
Rachel découvre le diamant le soir de son anniversaire

Betteredge raconte la soirée d'anniversaire de Rachel Verinder, pendant laquelle deux cousins de Rachel sont présents : Franklin Blake et Godfrey Abelwhite. Le soir de l'anniversaire de Rachel, Abelwhite lui demande sa main, mais Rachel refuse – on comprend très vite qu'elle éprouve des sentiments à l'égard de Franklin Blake. C'est lui qui lui présente le diamant, cadeau d'anniversaire de l'oncle Herncastle. Rachel porte le diamant toute la soirée et le garde dans sa chambre mais le lendemain, le diamant a disparu. Pour retrouver le coupable, le Sergent Cuff, venant de Londres, se rend chez Lady Verinder.

Tout au long du récit, les suspects s'enchaînent, chaque personnage semble se comporter de façon inhabituelle et cacher des secrets. On soupçonne trois hommes indiens qui avaient été aperçus aux alentours de la maison ; Rosanna Spearman, une domestique au passé de voleuse ; mais également Rachel elle-même. Cuff se rend compte que Rosanna chercher à cacher un paquet, mais avant d'en savoir plus, Rosanna se suicide. Après cet événement, Lady Verinder, Rachel et leur maisonnée se rend à Londres, dans l'espoir de distraire Rachel. Le comportement de celle-ci est en effet devenu étrange et inexplicable.

La partie narrative qui se passe à Londres est racontée par Miss Drusilla Clack, nièce de Lady Verinder. Il s'agit d'une jeune femme très pieuse, qui n'apprécie pas sa cousine Rachel, et raconte la façon dont celle-ci a accepté d'épouser Godfrey Ablewhite, pour finalement changer d'avis très rapidement. Rachel semble bouleversée, et le décès de sa mère rend la situation encore plus difficile. L'avocat de la famille, Mr Bruff, dévoile que Rachel a annulé les fiançailles après avoir découvert qu'Ablewhite souhaitait l'épouser pour sa fortune, héritée après la mort de Lady Verinder. Pendant cette période, qui s'étale sur une année, les trois Indiens sont aperçus à Londres, et l'on entend que le diamant aurait été transféré dans une banque.

Le narrateur suivant est Franklin Blake. Celui-ci révèle à Rachel qu'il a découvert une lettre de Rosanna Spearman, avant son suicide, qui lui était adressée. La jeune femme était amoureuse de lui, et qu'elle avait trouvé un indice compromettant, sous la forme d'une tache de peinture sur la chemise de nuit de Blake, qui le désignait comme voleur de la pierre. Voulant le protéger, Rosanna se débarassa de la chemise, mais voyant que Blake ne répondait toujours pas à ses sentiments, elle préféra se donner la mort. Blake est interloqué par cette accusation contre lui, mais lorqu'il en parle à Rachel, celle-ci avoue qu'elle l'a elle-même vu, la nuit après son anniversaire, s'introduire dans sa chambre et prendre le diamant. Rachel dit n'avoir rien révélé pour protéger sa réputation, et cet événement explique le comportement étrange de la jeune femme.

Blake retourne donc au domaine de feu Lady Verinder, pour essayer de résoudre le mystère et sauver son nom. Là-bas, il rencontre Ezra Jennings, l'assistant du docteur de la famille Verinder, Mr Candy. Celui-ci était présent à l'anniversaire. Avec Jennings, Blake passe en revue les événements de la soirée, et finit par tirer des conclusions sur ce qui s'est passé : Blake aurait consommé sans le savoir du laudanum, un dérivé de l'opium, donné en secret par Mr Candy après que lui et Blake aient eu une dispute sur la médecine, que Blake avait vivement critiquée.

Sous l'influence du laudanum, et en réaction à ses inquiétudes constantes par rapport à la sécurité du diamant, Blake serait entré dans une transe dans son sommeil, qui l'aurait poussé à se lever et aller chercher le diamant dans la chambre de Rachel. Pour prouver cette théorie, Jennings organise une reconstitution de la scène dans les mêmes conditions, en donnant la drogue à Blake, et celui-c reproduit exactement le même comportement que celui prédit par Jennings. Blake se rend compte que c'est bien lui qui a pris le diamant sans le vouloir. Rachel lui pardonne, et les deux se fiancent.

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins - Cours lele anglais - Terminale L
La reconstitution de la nuit du vol, avec Blake sous l'effet du laudanum

De retour à Londres, le Sergent Cuff traque le diamant et celui-ci est finalement retrouvé dans une auberge, ayant été récupéré par un homme étrange. Cet homme est retrouvé mort, et sous un déguisement, on reconnaît Ablewhite, qui s'était déguisé pour fuir avec le diamant. Les actions de Blake, après avoir pris le diamant la nuit de l'anniversaire, sont éclairées : craignant pour sa sécurité, Blake croisa Ablewhite dans la maison, et lui donna le diamant en lui demandant de le mettre à l'abri à la banque. Ablewhite se saisit de l'occasion pour voler le diamant, espérant le couper en morceaux et le vendre pour se faire de l'argent. Néanmoins, le diamant fut retrouvé alors qu'il tentait de fuir sous une fausse identité : les trois Indiens, présents depuis le début de l'histoire, parvinrent à récupérer la Pierre de Lune et tuèrent Ablewhite dans l'action. Un dernier narrateur raconte ainsi, pour clôturer le roman, que le diamant fut ramené en Inde par les trois hommes et se trouvait à présent sur la statue hindoue, à sa place originale. La vie reprit son court pour les Verinder, avec le mariage de Franklin Blake et Rachel.

III. The main characters

A. Rachel Verinder

Rachel is a young lady, only daugther of Lady Verinder, who is gifted the Moonstone for her eighteenth birthday. Even though she is a central character in the story, she never gets her own narrative voice, and her role is mainly one of silence: she has a strange behavior but does not explain it, she has feelings for Blake but doesn't say it, she knows he has taken the diamond but keeps the secret to protect him.

As a female character, Rachel holds back (most of the action comes from the male characters), but she is also unconventional because she is not a traditional Victorian female character. She has her own ways, she isn't idealized through her physical appearance or personality, even though she is young and should thus be pure and attractive ; she takes her own decisions and is very straight-forward, whereas women at the time were encouraged to be less so. However, Rachel still shows some typical female qualities, such as silence, as we've just seen, and forgiveness, as she decides to marry Blake, whom she secretly loves, after his name is cleared from the theft.

B. Franklin Blake

Rachel cousin and Lady Verinder's nephew, Blake is the driving force behind the investigation to find the Moonstone. He is the character who has asked all the witnesses of the scene to write their account of the story, so that the diamond is found. Blake seems to be a cultured and good man, who has travelled and is generally thought of as good company. He seems honest, as his eagerness to find the diamond shows. Blake is a very active character, and he is both the motor and the culprit in the story. He unintentionally takes the diamond from Rachel, anxious to protect it. His actions thus come from a good intention, and are also involuntary as he is under the influence of laudanum. Blake is eventually cleared from the theft, as Ablewhite is the real villain of the story, and both Blake and Rachel have a happy ending, after their love is threatened by the misunderstanding regarding the Moonstone and the mystery surrounding Blake's involvement in the theft.

C. Godfrey Ablewhite

He is also one of Rachel's cousins. At first, he appears as a man good in all aspects. He has good looks, a good education, a good financial situation (as opposed to Franklin Blake, who is often in debt), religious principles. However, Ablewhite shows later on in the story that appearances can be misleading. If at first, he can be considered a perfect match, he reveals himself to be a liar, dishonest and only motivated by money. He proposes twice to Rachel, her status of heiress to her mother's fortune making her a good catch. In The Moonstone, the plot revolves a lot around appearances, secrets and misleading behaviors. Ablewhite is the most obvious example of that, as he shows that people can be very different from what they seem.

D. Rosanna Spearman

Rosanna's character is interesting to study because it represents a more tragic figure, quite common in literary tradition. Rosanna is a secretive character, housemaid in Lady Verinder's house for many years. There is a lot of mystery about her past, as she was known to be a thief, but at the same time, Lady Verinder trusts her and her integrity. Rosanna seems to be hiding something and is suspected of stealing the Moonstone, however after the plot twist of her suicide, we learn that she was in fact protecting Franklin Blake, and was in love with him. Overcome by despair because he didn't return her love, she took her own life, which is a very traditional feature in literature. Rosanna is a sort of double of Rachel: the two women both try to protect Blake because of their feelings for him, thus repressing their own voice by keeping silent. Rosanna is of course Rachel's tragic counterpart, as Rachel gets a happy ending, whereas Rosanna dies. Collins, even though his novel is resolutely innovative, still relies on some classic literary features such as the passionate, enamored woman destined to a sad and tragic fate.

IV. The classic detective novel plot

The Moonstone, both in its plot and structure, classifies as a detective novel. This subgenre is best known for novels that were written at the end of the 19th century, like the Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or in the first part of the 20th century, also in British literature, with Agatha Christie's novels. However, Wilkie Collins can be seen as a precursor of the subgenre.

With The Moonstone, he gives a multi-dimensional story with a complex intrigue. Because novels were often published in magazines at that time, chapter by chapter, the story needed to catch the reader's attention. Often, plots that created suspense and chapters ending with cliffhangers were used to make sure the readers would want to read the next chapter published in the magazine. The Moonstone was itself published in a magazine before appearing as a complete novel, and a lot of its plot relies on suspense and mystery, which revolves around the diamond: who has stolen the mysterious stone? To what purpose?

With this plot device, Collins created a classic detective novel intrigue. Along with the object of the crime, he brings to life many different characters that can be potential suspects. From the moment the stone disappears, several characters are suspected at once: the Indians, Rosanna Spearman, and Rachel Verinder. The multitude of options that the plot could take creates tension and suspense, as the reader tries to figure out who stole the Moonstone. It is interesting to see that all the characters are quite different from each other, all have their different “types”: Betteredge is the nice, old man devoted to the Verinder family, Rosanna is the tragic figure with a troubled past, Franklin Blake is the forward, active man who pushes the narrative and takes decisions... Much like in Agatha Christie's novels some decades laters, characters bring a depth to the story, and make it more difficult to find out who the culprit is.

At the end of the novel, the mystery is solved and Godfrey Ablewhite is accused of stealing the stone. As in all classic detective novels, there is a resolution at the end of the story. The criminal is found, and all the other characters' reputation is cleared. The mystery is only solved after multiple plot twists, such as Rosanna Spearman's death and Franklin Blake's role in the crime as he took the Moonstone from Rachel's room.

In this detective novel though, the crime is just a stolen jewel, not a murder, as will be the case in most detective novels that will be written in the next decades. The criminal is killed, but the jewel is taken back to India, where it belongs. After a rather dark plot at times comes a happy ending.

V. The choice of narration and its effects

Instead of having just one narrator that tells the whole story, there is a number of characters that, in turn, narrate one part of the story each. For each character, the tone is thus slightly different. It is as if all the witnesses of the investigation were giving their own version of the story. Because they are internal narrators, they only tell the story from their own perspective, so the reader only has a subjective knowledge of what is happening.

What the reader knows, for each part of the narration, always depends on how the narrator speaks. Betteredge's narration is very different from Blake's narration, for example. The two characters are different, express themselves in different styles, and have two visions of the investigation. For the reader, this means that the narration can be unreliable: who should the reader trust in telling the truth? And is one character's vision the ultimate truth? This complexity of narration, which can be a little difficult to follow, makes the plot more intense and puzzling. The reader doesn't know who to trust.

Making the characters speak through each narrative change is almost as if the writer was giving them a chance to give their own version of the events, as if they were each being interrogated by a detective in turn. It makes the story longer of course, but makes the resolution more complex.

VI. A novel about colonization

The novel was written in 1868 and was contemporary: it took place at the same time as it was written. Victorian literature was often set in its own time, and with writers such as Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy, it was often to criticize some aspects of their society. Wilkie Collins set The Moonstone in Imperial Britain, and the 19th century was a very important time for Great Britain regarding colonization. During the Victorian Era, the British Empire was at its largest, with the colonization of India, which was considered to be the “Jewel of the British crown.” Queen Victoria was herself appointed as Impress of India.

In The Moonstone, the colonization of India plays an important part, and Collins seems to be criticizing it. The most obvious aspect is of course the Moontsone, which originates from India and was attached to a religious statue. The stone was mercilessly taken from India by an English officer, who murdered the people who guarded the stone. This in itself shows a lack of respect and from the English, which was of course not usually shown. This seems like a metaphor for the colonization of India itself, seen as a theft and appropriation from the English.

At the end of the story, the Moostone is taken back to India. This is where the happy ending comes in. While the stone was in England, it seemed to have brought a curse with it: it indirectly caused the death of Rosanna Spearman, it almost ruined Franklin Blake's reputation, it brought distress to Rachel Verinder... the stone only caused negative events to the family, ever since they got it.

Furthermore, Rachel's uncle, Herncastle, maliciously gave it to her in hope that it would have that negative impact on the family. The situation only gets better when the stone is out of reach, back in India, where it belongs. Without the stone, Rachel Verinder and Blake have a happy ending, and the Indians finally go back to their country. This seems to induce that the Moonstone should always have stayed in India. It belonged there, and peace was only found when it was brought back. This seems to question the British influence on India, and thus the principle of colonization itself.

The fact that the thief of the stone was Godfrey Ablewhite can also indicative of the author's way of thinking: the “bad guy” turned out to be an English man, and not the Indians, who were the first to be suspected. Both men who steal the Moonstone are English. English people taking what is not theirs, was one way of seeing colonization negatively. Herncastle and Ablewhite were disrespectful to the Indians, as, some could think, the British Empire was disrespectful to India in the matter of colonization.

In many ways, the novel is as much a detective novel as a depiction of society at the time, with different characters that all represent different types, jobs, social classes. Colonization is a key theme in the novel, as it was a predominant topic during the Victorian era.

Vocabulary :

  • well-to-do familly : famille aisée
  • to be acquainted : connaître, être en contact avec
  • gripping : captivant, saisissant
  • theft : vol / a thief : un voleur, une voleuse
  • the culprit : le coupable
  • a liar : un menteur
  • mercilessly : impitoyablement
Fin de l'extrait

Vous devez être connecté pour pouvoir lire la suite

Télécharger ce document gratuitement

Donne ton avis !

Rédige ton avis

Votre commentaire est en attente de validation. Il s'affichera dès qu'un membre de Bac L le validera.
Attention, les commentaires doivent avoir un minimum de 50 caractères !
Vous devez donner une note pour valider votre avis.

Nos infos récentes du Bac L

Communauté au top !

Vous devez être membre de digiSchool bac L

Pas encore inscrit ?

Ou identifiez-vous :

Mot de passe oublié ?