The Transatlantic Moonstone: Part I

Wilkie Collin’s The Moonstone is a rich and complex work of literature. Sensationalist novel, mystery, detective fiction, romance, tragedy; it does not wholly adhere to the conventions of any one genre.  In 1868, The Moonstone was printed simultaneously in Great Britain (by Charles Dicken’s All the Year Round) and in the United States (by Harper’s Weekly). This was the height Victorian era, a time of imperialism and colonialism. Gary Darden calls this the “Age of High Imperialism” (8). The United States had just come out of five years of brutal civil war (1861-1865). Armed conflict erupted, primarily as a result of decades of tension over the question of slavery. The nation had already dispossessed nearly every indigenous tribe and had its own colonial desires and ambitions. Racial tension was high. At the same time, Great Britain was the most powerful nation in the world, the heart of colonial empire that occupied a fifth of the earth’s surface. During this time an Anglo-American transatlantic discourse existed. By cross-examining the two different publications of The Moonstone we can gain insight into this discourse.

This exhibition analyzes Part I of The Moonstone (January 4, 1868) by focusing on the illustrations and articles that accompany each version of the text. All the Year Round includes various articles, but no illustrations. One article, “Flies,” exhibits blatant and unapologetic imperial ideology regarding white superiority. Harper’s publication of The Moonstone includes illustrations that seem to point the finger at Great Britain, while making America appear more progressive, sympathetic to the plight of the racial other. In terms of black civil rights, significant progress was actually being made in the American South from 1865-1870 (Degala 12-13), but this progressive appearance is undermined by a widespread acceptance of white superiority, which is indicated in an article that accompanies Harper’s version of The Moonstone.  

Part I of The Moonstone  is a microcosm of a larger transatlantic discourse. Being the first of the series, it is important because it sets the overall ton. The analysis reveals an Anglo-American imperialist connection. Harper’s publisher’sconscious efforts to identify the United States as a socially progressive are self-sabotaged. All the Year Round does not make attempts to apologize for Britain’s imperial arrogance. The exhibition highlights a subtext of white superiority present in both Great Britain and The United States.

Works Cited

Darden, Gary Helm. "The New Empire In The 'New South': Jim Crow In The Global Frontier Of High Imperialism And Decolonization." Southern Quarterly 46.3 (2009): 8-25. Academic Search Complete. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.

Leverenz, Molly Knox. "Illustrating The Moonstone in America: Harper’s Weekly and Transatlantic Introspection." American Periodicals: A Journal of History, Criticism, and Bibliography 24.1 (2014): 21-44. Project MUSE. Web. 7 Oct. 2015.

Pilgrim, David. “The Picaninny Caricature.” Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. Ferris State University, Oct 2012. Web. 6 Oct  2015.

Sutherland, John. Explanatory Notes. The Moonstone. By Wilkie Collins. New York: Oxford Press, 2008. 467-502. Print.


Mico Migliarese