Contains spoilers, do not read until you've finished The Moonstone.
In the first half of this month's #readwilkie readalong, we spent a lot of time with old-fashioned steward Gabriel Betteredge and formidable spinster Miss Clack. The narratives in the second half of The Moonstone are, for the most part, shorter than the first, and there are more narrators, the most significant being Franklin Blake and Ezra Jennings.
We've already met Franklin in Betteredge's narrative; a young relative of the family who had been abroad for a long time, but whose return brought the fateful Moonstone into the house. And here is revealed a twist just as shocking to Franklin as it is to us: all the evidence points to himself as the thief! Though he has no memory of that night, he accepts on the word of Rachel Verinder that she saw him take the stone from where she had kept it. The reason for her suspicious behaviour is revealed: Rachel is in love with her cousin (hey, this is the Victorian era, after all) and is covering for him. It emerges that after an argument with the Doctor, Mr Candy, on the subject of medicine at Rachel's birthday dinner-party, Candy arranged to have Franklin drugged with opium. Perhaps it's a sign of how times and attitudes have changed (and we know that Wilkie used opium) but what would nowadays be considered a shocking act of medical malpractice is brushed off as a practical joke, a minor annoyance.
And then comes the craziest part of the story. Franklin and Mr Candy's assistant, Ezra Jennings, hatch a ridiculous plot to attempt to discover the location of the Moonstone by recreating that evening as precisely as possible. Because surely if you give a man opium a second time he will retrace his exact steps and actions as the last time he was under the influence of the drug, no? They are very reluctantly assisted by Betteredge, who is hilariously snarky and passive-aggressive in his part.
"When we took up the carpet last year, Mr Jennings, we found a surprising quantity of pins. Am I responsible for putting back the pins?"
"As to Mr Franklin's bedroom (if that is to be put back to what it was before), I want to know who is responsible for keeping it in a perpetual state of litter, no matter how often it may be set right - his trousers here, his towels there, and his French novels everywhere. I say, who is responsible for untidying the tidiness of Mr Franklin's room, him or me?"
"Speaking as a servant, I am deeply indebted to you. Speaking as a man, I consider you to be a person whose head is full of maggots, and I take up my testimony against your experiment as a delusion and a snare. Don't be afraid, on that account, of my feelings as a man getting in the way of my duty as a servant! You shall be obeyed. The maggots notwithstanding, sir, you shall be obeyed. If it ends in your setting the house on fire, Damme if I send for the engines, unless you ring the bell and order them first!"New narrator Ezra Jennings is a character to be pitied, a good man, but an outsider, shunned and feared due to his mixed race and odd appearance. He is not self-indulgent, but makes it clear he's had a sad and lonely life; he speaks of a lady he's never stopped loving, but could never marry, he is dying of an unspecified disease, and addicted to opium, which he started taking for the pain. If your heart doesn't ache for this man, it must be made of stone!
I wasn't very surprised by the revelation of the ultimate thief; Mr Godfrey Ablewhite had not escaped suspicion, and in fact seemed to be the obvious thief back when no one really seemed to care what had happened to the Moonstone. I never trusted him from the start. This whiter-than-white gentleman, patron to all these ladies' charities and sponsor of innumerable good causes, seemed more than a bit smarmy to me, right from his first introduction. Poor Miss Clack, she idolised him so. What a blow it must be for her to learn of his hypocrisy and double life.
The Moonstone keeps you guessing right to the last couple of dozen pages, a story of thrills and twists. But did its ending live up to it? I'd been a little uncertain of where the story would end up, but in the end I'd had no need to worry. I was pleased that the Moonstone ended up returning to its rightful place - by which I do not mean in the possession of a spoiled rich English girl! The epilogue takes the story full circle to see the stone returned to the sacred statue in India, whence it had been stolen amid bloodshed by the evil Colonel Herncastle. Thank you Wilkie!
And thank you to Ellie for organising this readalong. The Moonstone was my first Wilkie novel, though I once owned a copy of The Woman in White, which I lent to a friend before reading, and never saw again. I'm very glad I decided at the last minute to join in, it's been great fun.