The Transatlantic Moonstone: Part X

Trains, Trams, and the Transatlantic Moonstone

The unique relationship between sensation fiction, the serialized novel, and the transportation ‘boom’ that grew out of a period of rapid industrialization during the nineteenth century is important to consider when reading Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone. During the Victorian period, the technological advancements and expansive economic growth following the Industrial Revolution became a source of fear for middle and upper class citizens, igniting anxieties about social mobility and the blurring of class boundaries. The sensation novel was an outlet for the expression of these concerns. In this, Nicholas Daly argues that sensation fiction "came to play an important part in the transformation of human experience of time and space" (473), especially as people were learning how to adjust to new advancements in technology that impacted their everyday lives, such as transportation and communication. The printing press in combination with an increase in literacy among the lower class, in particular, was a product of this era. Furthermore, the rising commodification of ‘cheap literature’ created the perfect platform for serial publications, which relied on “speed and economy” (Law and Patten 147) to turn a profit. From there, sensation fiction, serial publications and industrialization form a fascinating web.

Simply put: technology inspired the printing press, which brought about mass readership, which insisted upon a market of inexpensive literature, which resulted in the advent of serial publications, and so on. The impact of these changes was reflected in the rise of sensation fiction. The sensational novel, Daly points out, was linked to the embodiment of modern nervousness and the "modernization of the senses effected by the technological revolutions of the nineteenth century" (468). In this way, social fears could become physically realized and readers were able to navigate these sensations of nervousness through literature.

Published first as a serial novel, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone utilizes the conventions of sensation fiction to navigate the story’s reflection on the changing conceptions of gender, class and race. The focus of this exhibition will be centered around Part X of The Moonstone, which was published March 7 1868 in both Harper’s Weekly and Charles Dickens’ All The Year Round. Given the profound impact of industrialization on the success of serial publications and the sensational novel, it seems fitting that both periodicals contained articles on the rapid developments of transportation in America and Britain. Going forward, I will be looking at the different ways in which the serial is presented in both periodicals, contrasting the first page of each against Harper’s Weekly's “Railroad Comfort and Safety” and All The Year Round’s “Locomotion in London”. With close readings informed by both Molly Knox Leverenz’s practice of "intratextual reading" and Katie Lanning’s "tessellated reading", Part X of The Moonstone appears to be capitalizing on anxieties about class and social mobility inherent in the issue of transportation and industrialization, informing its own narrative and benefiting from the modern nervousness assosciated with sensationalism.


Jackie Sudeikat