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ClassicsOnline Home » COLLINS, W.: Moonstone (The) (Abridged)
When Rachel Verinder inherits the Moonstone, a huge and priceless diamond, her delight turns to dismay when the gem disappears. But this is no ordinary theft. Sergeant Cuff of Scotland Yard is called in and immediately suspects an intricate plot. However, not even his powers of detection can penetrate fully the mysteries surrounding the diamond. And as we listen to each character tell their version of the events, layer upon layer of drama and suspense builds to the final and astonishing dénoument of the first, and most magnificent English detective novel.
William Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824, the son
successful landscape painter. After working in the tea
business and reading for the bar at Lincoln’s Inn, he was determined to become
a ‘man of letters’ and was fortunate to acquire Charles Dickens as his literary
patron. His interest in writing novels came from his early involvement in the
theater and in 1851 he became stage valet to Dickens for one of the many dramatic
entertainments, which Dickens and his friends and family staged for various
charitable causes. Eventually, Collins was promoted and in1856 the two writers
co-starred in a play, The Frozen Deep, which Collins had written himself. His
plays were full of drama and suspense and it was his love of the immediacy of
the theater which went on to inform his novels with the vitality and pace which
are so evident in The Moonstone, and which were to make it so popular with such
a huge audience.
Like Dickens, Collins was both a popular and highly literary
writer; a hundred years later, T.S. Eliot was to describe The Moonstone as ‘the
first, the longest and the best of modern English detective novels’, and
Collins’ device of letting each ‘witness’ give their own version of the events
owes as much to the drama of the courtroom as to the theater. By adopting this
structure, Collins was able not only to sustain interest and suspense
throughout a long novel based on a single event, but was also able to use his
skill of characterization to the full. Gabriel Betteridge is no ordinary old
retainer; he is sought out as often for his wisdom as for his dependability and
it is his beguiling voice, which draws us into the story. Collins wrote that
the ‘Narrative of Miss Clack…proved most successful in amusing the public’ and
she remains one of his greatest creations, as familiar today as she was when
the book was first published. Rosanna Spearman and Rachel Verinder are both
strong and passionate women who do not conform to the strict Victorian
archetype. In fact, Collins defied convention himself: he formed a liaison with
Martha Rudd, by whom he had two daughters and a son, but whom he never married,
and continued throughout to sustain another relationship with Caroline Clow.
The fact that his private life left him on the margins of respectable society
may explain why Collins felt able to create characters that are less
constrained by their social position than many figures in Victorian literature.
In the Preface to the first edition of the book, Collins
wrote: ‘The attempt made here is to trace the influence of character on
circumstance. The conduct pursued, under a sudden emergency, by a young girl,
supplies the foundation on which I have built this book.’ However, the book is
much more than this might suggest and part of Collins’ success is no doubt attributable
to his astute commercial sense. The Moonstone appeared in serial form in the
popular magazine All the Year Round from January 4 to August 8, 1868. He
explained in a preface of 1871 how difficult the process had been, when he was
struck down by illness and his mother lay dying: ‘I doubt if I should have
lived to write another book, if the responsibility of the weekly publication of
this story had not forced me to rally my sinking energies of body and mind — to
dry my useless tears, and to conquer my merciless pains.’ In fact, Collins
suffered from recurring attacks of gout and depression and relied increasingly
on laudanum for relief from his pain. The drug was freely available and no
doubt he drew on his own experiences of laudanum when he wrote The Moonstone.
Between 1859 and 1870, Collins published four major novels,
The Woman in White, No Name, Armadale and The Moonstone. Although he went on to
write many more novels, none was to match the perfection in style and content
of The Moonstone. Wilkie Collins died in 1889.
Notes by Heather Godwin
The Moonstone — Cast
Gabriel Betteridge Clive
Miss Clack Delia
Mathew Bruff/Ezra Jennings Neville
Franklin Blake Chris
Sergeant Cuff/Cousin/Mr. Murthwaite .Bill Homewood
About the Readers
Clive Swift is familiar to television audiences around the
world for his comic work in Keeping Up Appearances, but his career has been
based on extensive theatrical work with the RSC and other leading British
companies. Among his films have been Excalibur and A Passage to India; his
radio work has included Fielding’s Tom Jones and From the Depths of the Waters,
which won the Sony Award. In addition, he has directed extensively and played a
creative role in drama teaching, instigating The Actor’s Centre in London and
writing The Job of Acting.
Chris Larkin trained at LAMDA and has since appeared in
seasons at Colchester, Farnham, Clwyd and Derby. Among his theater appearances
have been Taste of Honey and The Lucky Chance. His television and film credits
include Frank Stubbs Promotes, Grimsby Last Stop, Angels and Insects and Jane
trained at LAMDA and after early experience in repertory and on tour she moved
towards radio and television work. She has worked extensively for BBC Radio and
has read several audiobooks for them. She performs her own adaptation of Mrs.
Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë.
Neville Jason trained at LAMDA and has appeared with the
English Stage Company, the Old Vic Company and the RSC, as well as with
repertory theaters and in West End musicals. His many television roles include
Lapointe in Maigret, Horatio in Hamlet and Prince Reynart in Dr. Who. Formerly
a member of the BBC Radio Drama Company, he is frequently heard in radioplays
Bill Homewood has an extensive record of leading classical
roles with major repertory companies including the RSC. TV and film credits
include Hamlet, Spy Trap, Crocodile Shoes, and his own series, Wise Guy.
Homewood is a frequent reader for Naxos AudioBooks.
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COLLINS, W.: Moonstone (The) (Abridged)