The Transatlantic Moonstone: Part XI

The debut of the mystery novel as we know it today came in Victorian England with the serialisation of Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone in 1868. While there is debate as to who should be credited with creating mystery fiction, many considering Edgar Allan Poe’s “Murders of the Rue Morgue” to be the first example (Messent 110), there is no doubt that Collins’s novels shaped the genre as we see it today, supplying some of the main thematic elements. Considering the elements of mystery in this genre to be grounded in the reader's knowledge of what is occurring in the narrative, the serialisation of The Moonstone in two different publications across the Atlantic allow for discrepancies in perception due to contextual differences. The differences between Harper's Weekly and All The Year Round are not subtle: the rich illustrations provided in Harper's Weekly contrast the significant amount of text found in All The Year Round, while Harper’s inclusion of journalism, advertisements, and humorous pieces create a frame narrative for The Moonstone.

The readers of either publication differ greatly in their respected social positions. Due to the focus on literature in All The Year Round, it can be seen that Dickens’ publication was to cater to those looking for something to satisfy their literary desires without disrupting their focus, whereas Harper's Weekly was for the everyday person looking for entertainment, news, or literature. 

The section of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone that I focused on is portrayed in a greatly different context between the two publications. The narrative has reached Rosanna's death and the focus character of this instalment is Sergeant Cuff, an authority figure in the novel, and Rachel, the victim of the crime. Comparing the two publications, there is a difference in presentation through contextual placement, from the author's name to the advertisements and other literary works found in the publications. While the instalments both end at the same point in the narrative, the reader’s perception of this instalment would create two completely different narratives depending on what publication they read.

The added advertisements, humours, and context of current events in Harper’s Weekly function as a frame narrative that creates a contextual perspective that adds more social and cultural implications to the narrative whereas All The Year Round’s focus on the literature itself and the exclusion of authors, images, and informative external pieces separates authorial intent from the piece, contextualizing the narrative within itself rather than within society. Therefore, the two publications created two separate narratives: the American publication provided commentary on the Victorian culture and practices through its situating the instalment in the context of American society, while the English publication drew the literature into itself by creating a meta-commentary through the exclusion of all names of authors in its publication.

Looking first at the front pages of both publications, followed by the first page of The Moonstone, and ending with extras in each publication; a humour section in Harper’s Weekly and an uncredited poem in All The Year Round, this exhibit will demonstrate the effect of external materials in publications have in shaping the reader’s perception as they read The Moonstone. While the audiences may differ in their reasoning for reading such publications, the differences in the instalments create multi-levelled understandings that inform the readers of social and cultural implications. 

Works Cited:

Bisla, Sundeep. "The Return of the Author: Privacy, Publication, the Mystery Novel, and The Moonstone." boundary 2, vol. 29, no.1, 2002, pp. 177-222. Project Muse.

Collins, Wilkie. The Moonstone. Edited by John Sutherland, Oxford UP, 1999. 

Lanning, Katie. “2011 VanArsdel Prize Essay Tessellating Texts: Reading The Moonstone in All the Year Round.” Victorian Periodicals Review, vol. 45, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1–22. Project Muse, doi:

Leighton, Mary Elizabeth and Lisa Surridge. "The Transatlantic Moonstone: A Study of the Illustrated Serial in Harper's Weekly." Victorian Periodicals Review, vol. 42, no. 3, 2009, pp. 207-243. JSTOR, 

Leverenz, Molly Knox. "Illustrating The Moonstone in America: Harper’s Weekly and Transatlantic Introspection." American Periodicals: A Journal of History & Criticism, vol. 24, no. 1, 2014, pp. 21-44. Project Muse, doi:

Messent, Peter. The Crime Fiction Handbook. Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. ProQuest.


Caitlin Chanski