First Page Friday: ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins

I thought that it was about time that I started exploring my love of ‘the Classics’. Every Friday, I’m going to be sharing with you the first page of one of my treasured Oxford World’s Classics. The first in this collection is ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins. It’s a ground-breaking, and in my opinion under-appreciated, early example of a detective novel. For those of you who love your Agatha Christies and Arthur Conan Doyles, this is where it all began.

When ‘The Moonstone’ was written in 1868, it was one of the first detective novels, and as such established many of the genre’s conventions as follows:

  • an English country house robbery
  • an “inside job”
  • red herrings
  • a celebrated, skilled, professional investigator
  • a bungling local constabulary
  • detective enquiries
  • a large number of false suspects
  • the “least likely suspect”
  • a reconstruction of the crime
  • a final twist in the plot

Collins was friends with Charles Dickens, and the novel was originally serialised in his magazine, ‘All the Year Round’. Collins himself wrote a play adaptation of his novel, and it has since been filmed, podcasted and televised, including a BBC serialisation in 2016.

The first page…

In the first part of ROBINSON CRUSOE, at page one hundred and
twenty-nine, you will find it thus written:

“Now I saw, though too late, the Folly of beginning a Work before we
count the Cost, and before we judge rightly of our own Strength to go
through with it.”

Only yesterday, I opened my ROBINSON CRUSOE at that place. Only this
morning (May twenty-first, Eighteen hundred and fifty), came my lady’s
nephew, Mr. Franklin Blake, and held a short conversation with me, as

“Betteredge,” says Mr. Franklin, “I have been to the lawyer’s about some
family matters; and, among other things, we have been talking of the
loss of the Indian Diamond, in my aunt’s house in Yorkshire, two years
since. Mr. Bruff thinks as I think, that the whole story ought, in the
interests of truth, to be placed on record in writing–and the sooner
the better.”

Not perceiving his drift yet, and thinking it always desirable for the
sake of peace and quietness to be on the lawyer’s side, I said I thought
so too. Mr. Franklin went on.

“In this matter of the Diamond,” he said, “the characters of innocent
people have suffered under suspicion already–as you know. The memories
of innocent people may suffer, hereafter, for want of a record of the
facts to which those who come after us can appeal. There can be no doubt
that this strange family story of ours ought to be told. And I think,
Betteredge, Mr. Bruff and I together have hit on the right way of
telling it.”

For those lovers of crime novels, how do you feel that ‘The Moonstone’ ranks against other detective novels?

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