The Return of the Moonstone

I’ve finished The Moonstone now (and rather foolishly moved onto War and Peace, when I’m really not in the mood for it) and despite some misgivings about the rather convoluted way Wilkie Collins managed to make a guilty man innocent by removing the mens rea, or the necessary mental element of the crime, it was rather good. In fact, now I know what happened and how it was all managed, I might go back and re-read it to see if I can pick up the clues that I missed the first time.

The epilogue, however, tells a slightly different but equally important story – the ultimate fate of the Moonstone. Suffice to say that the Indians succeed in their ploy, and this is discovered quite by chance by Mr Murthwaite, the adventurer, on another trip to India. Yet to me, this scene is extremely sad; for the three Indians get no reward for their efforts and are, in fact, banished from their god and each other for ever more. It seems such a heavy price to pay.

There is a lesson in this, of course – isn’t there always? – and that is not to presume to understand such mysteries. That is a form of cultural imperialism I think quite honestly, India can do well without. It is clear that the three Indians were well aware of their fate and accepted it in their quest for the Moonstone. They do not try to obstruct or fight the banishment and accept it as right and proper – as do the rest of the congregation. Yet because we’re seeing all this through the eyes of a “civilised” Englishman observing the rites and rituals, the reader is left feeling that something isn’t quite right here – that it would never happen in England.

I don’t know, it all sits wrong with me. Personally I think the final scenes are very sad and poignant and, in a strange way, possibly the best part of the book.