Transatlantic Moonstone: Part 5 Jane Wishart

The amount of attention that Willkie Collins’ The Moonstone is unvaried compared to other mid-nineteenth century novels of its kind. The novel has attracted a vast range of ideological interpretations, from a representation of imperial anxiety, a critique of the Victorian family, or a discussion on the interplays of power between race, gender, and class systems. Despite the overwhelming array of interpretation of Collins’s novel, scholars all seem to agree (or at least, do not mention otherwise) that they have all experienced the same novel. Yet, even just at first glance The Moonstone as it appears in England’s full text version of Dickens’s All the Year Round, and in America’srichly illustrated” Harper’s Weekly Magazine is an entirely different novel. The illustrations have a great significance on the interpretation of the novel- they are the sole factor that creates a different text between the simultaneously published serializations. The illustrations affect Collins’s novel in the way that they integrated an English novel into an American magazine, thus creating a literary hybrid between image and text, as well as between English and American literature. Yet, while the publication of a British novel in an American periodical is not the most absurd notion, the printing of The Moonstone in Harper’s gives a unique understanding of print culture, and its discourses during the Victorian period. The different forms that Collins’s novel takes on through the interplay of illustration and text has the ability to not only give the novel different meanings, but also the ability to be sold to different markets. In conjunction with the other texts of both the magazines’ contents, The Moonstone becomes a part of a transatlantic discourse of information, not just a textual exchange. Just as the novel’s plot, as well as its characters revolve around global exchanges of wealth, power, and culture, so does the text’s publication form. Of this discussion of global culture, Collins’s characterization of the three Indian men allows for a particular attention to be paid to ongoing discussions of globalization and imperialism, and certainly above all else, the representations of an orientalist ‘other’. These implications of other-ing are essential to both Collins’s text and the Harper’s illustrations that accompanied it. Collins’s moonstone diamond circulates in the novel in various distinctions through value; first as a Hindu religious emblem, as a symbol for power, as jewelry, then as a globalized commodity. Akin to this structure, Collins’s novel also went through variations of change which were dependant on the commoditization of the periodical in different forms. This reading gives way to insights of the novel’s impact as a serialization within Harper’s Weekly Magazine, and All the Year Round, as well as significant portrayals of globalization through transatlantic discourse. By close reading the holistic combination of the periodicals, the novel, and the illustrative impact, Willkie Collins’s audiences are offered a study of how reading as a productive method of analysis and global exchange takes place directly through Victorian periodicals. 


Jane Wishart