The Transatlantic Moonstone: Part XXI

It remains a mystery how current scholarship of Victorian literature should categorize the novels of Wilkie Collins. For instance, The Moonstone has been read as “the paradigmatic 1860s ‘sensation novel’ and as a generic bridge between the eighteenth-century Gothic and the later nineteenth-century detective story” (Liddle 37). It has also asserted “its self-definition as a sensation novel” according to Leighton and Surridge. Is The Moonstone “the first and greatest of English detective novels” as T.S. Eliot suggests?

In their simultaneous 1868 publications of The Moonstone, both Harper’s Weekly (U.S.) and All the Year Round (U.K) show self-conscious efforts to reinforce the literary mystery and downplay the connection to sensation fiction. There are hints in section XXI (first published May 23 1868) that Collins’ novel supports its own reading as suspense, mystery, or what might anachronistically be called detective fiction. Nearby articles to this section of The Moonstone in both Harper’s and Year Round reflect these elements in discussion of “Knots” and “Riddles”, respectively. These articles also carefully cultivate an understanding of their topics as elevated discourse.

Modern literary critics have studied the popular Victorian genre of sensation fiction and noted its focus on the body, because of the “central interest in producing, and reproducing, affect in the reader” (Kennedy 451). Yet Harper’s and Year Round seem interested in reading The Moonstone, and by extension themselves, as intellectual activities experienced in the mind. This may be emblematic of traditional mind-body dualism, which privileges the rational mind over the emotional body. Both journals try to brand to their audience as highbrow, and even the description “highbrow” clarifies the advantaged term in the mind/body opposition. 


Melanie Radford