Intertextuality in The Moonstone

April 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

In 1987, Michael McKeon theorized that the novel form developed concomitant with the rise of the individual in English society. This correlation implies that the novel marked a shift from a communal experience of literature to a solitary experience of text: the writer writes alone, and the reader reads alone. In his detective novel The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins works against this paradigm by emphasizing the benefits of writing and reading together, contrasted against the dangers of leaving a subjective interpretation unchecked. Indeed, the novel itself is an amalgam of different narratives; the method of storytelling is communal. Within the text, however, Collins’ narrators also rely on other texts to distract, bolster, shift, or clarify their own stories. Collins’ insertion of various texts throughout the novel—novels, songs, letters, wills, pamphlets, receipts, newspaper articles, and footnotes—implies a certain anxiety toward and rebellion against the notion that the novel is a solitary form, meant to be written and read by an individual. Of course, writing a novel without engaging or referencing other texts would be nearly impossible. Collins, however, takes noticeable advantage of every opportunity to use text as a method of conveying information. For example, rather than recognizing his own nightgown through sight or experience, Franklin Blake reads his “OWN NAME” on the garment, describing “the familiar letters which told me the nightgown was mine” (362). Letters and correspondence of all kinds fill The Moonstone’s pages, replacing potential dialogue. Examples include Rachel’s destroyed letter to Franklin Blake, informing him of her knowledge of his guilt and Rosanna’s admission to Franklin Blake that she kept his secret. Additionally, Collins introduces a competition between text and conversation in the scene during which Godfrey Abelwhite describes his Northumberland Street attack. Rachel insists that he “tell…the whole of the Northumberland Street story directly” because she “know[s] the newspapers have left some of it out” (244). Godfrey Abelwhite replies: “‘Dearest Rachel…the newspapers have told you everything—and they have told it much better than I can’” (245). In this scene, Godfrey places value on texts—even those of a public nature—as a superior way to mediate and communicate experience. Of course, the ending—in which Godfrey is revealed to be the thief—complicates this paradigm of valuing texts over direct communication. This troubled preferential treatment of text might express anxiety about whether or not the solitary form of the novel is sufficient to tell a complete story; equally valid, however, is the idea that intertextuality injects flexibility into the novel that offers a new possibility of the novel form as communal. Indeed, the first page of The Moonstone privileges the outside text of Robinson Crusoe over the text of the narrative itself. Gabriel Betteredge introduces himself and his narrative through mediation of other texts, by quoting “the first part of Robinson Crusoe, at page one hundred and twenty-nine” (21). Like the scene in which Godfrey describes his Northumberland Street story, however, Betteredge’s invocation of Robinson Crusoe is a complicated intertextual move. On a level of form, Gabriel’s quotation supports the novel as potentially communal, by immediately inviting another author into the narrative. On a level of content, however, Robinson Crusoe is the quintessential solitary novel, literally stranding a man on an island to create a narrative. Moreover, Robinson Crusoe is often credited as the first novel, which makes Collins’ decision to invoke the text even more symbolically wrought. In the remainder of Gabriel’s narrative, he uses Robinson Crusoe to different effects. In certain scenes, Gabriel calls upon the text as prophetic and informative. In others, however, Gabriel recognizes the novel’s limitations. After Sergeant Cuff suggests that Rachel stole the diamond herself, Gabriel describes “the first trouble I remember for many a long year which wasn’t to be blown off by a whiff of tobacco, and which was even beyond the reach of Robinson Crusoe” (165). For most of his individual life, Robinson Crusoe serves to inform and guide Gabriel. However, when faced with the task of contributing to a communal narrative, the singular, solitary novel form fails. Collins presents Sergeant Cuff as a contrast to Gabriel, a character who fixates on one novel to inform his worldview. As a character, Sergeant Cuff represents intertextuality by introducing elements of the city into the Verinders’ country life, expressing apparently irreconcilable interests (i.e. detection and roses), and his attention to detail. His presence at the Verinder estate interrupts the coherent narrative of trust and transparency between mother and daughter, mistress and servant by implicating Rachel in the theft. The actual text Sergeant Cuff introduces to Gabriel’s narrative is the poem “The Last Rose of Summer” by Thomas Moore. Notably, Sergeant Cuff manages to express intertextuality without actually using text by whistling the song constantly. Although the lyrics are never explicitly included in the text, the novel’s guiding principle—that Sergeant Cuff has “never met with such a thing as a trifle yet”—implies that the reference is worth exploring (125). Indeed, the lyrics of the poem reflect the tension between solitude and community through imagery of a rose “left blooming alone” (ln. 2). Although the first stanza of the poem evokes the loneliness of “the last rose of summer” whose “lovely companions/are faded and gone” (ln 1; 3-4), the speaker insists on community, even if that community must be achieved through death. The speaker instructs the last rose to “Go, sleep though with them”—meaning the “lovely” roses whose death preceded her own (11-12). The lines “Thus kindly I scatter/Thy leaves o’er the bed” might even refer to the leaves of a book, reinforcing the idea that discrete texts work together to create a coherent sense of narrative community (13-14). The final lines of the poem complete the idea that could theoretically serve as Collins’ guiding rhetorical question while writing The Moonstone: “Oh! who would inhabit/This bleak world alone?” The morbid conclusion to “The Last Rose of Summer” highlights Collins’ use of wills, letters, and journals to allow characters to speak from the grave, often revealing significant details that change the course of detection. By using these other texts, Collins bypasses the necessary immediacy of dialogue and personal communication. Rosanna Spearman’s letter to Franklin Blake, left to him after her suicide, provides the perfect example of such intertextual information. The text proper seems to delight in the letter’s status as intertext on a number of levels. First, the “letter” actually contains multiple texts, including the short note, the nightgown, the memorandum, and finally the long letter. Second, Franklin’s method of reading the letter—by forcing Gabriel to read it and pick out the important parts—destroys the one-to-one writer-reader ratio that an independent text (like a novel) would imply. For the most part, Collins’ use of intertextuality expands the possibilities of the novel form. However, the manic, obsessive intertextuality found in Miss Clack’s narrative introduces an anxiety to intertextuality that Gabriel Betteredge’s narrative does not feel. Miss Clack’s narrative can only be described as hyperintertextual; her story includes a diary, footnotes, letters, pamphlets, books, and hymns. Although Miss Clack mourns her condemnation to narrate, she is nonetheless obsessively bound by texts of all kinds. Despite this, her original concern is the purity of her own narrative, saying, “not even [Mr. Blake’s] wealth can purchase my conscience” (232). Even though this concern appears on page two of her narrative, it ushers in the third outside text, Mr. Blake’s footnote. Before Miss Clack assures us of her “sacred regard for truth,” she has already invoked the Evening Hymn she sang as a girl and her meticulously kept diary (231-2). Just two pages later, Miss Clack expresses anxiety that her narrative is not sufficient to tell the story in a re-telling of the scene between Godfrey Abelwhite and Rachel. She says, “[l]iving in my present isolation, I have no means of introducing the newspaper account of the outrage in my narrative….All I can do is to state the facts as they were stated…to me…These lines are written by a poor weak woman. From a poor weak woman who will be cruel enough to expect more?” (234-5). This anxiety translates to total trust in outside texts when Lady Verinder confronts Miss Clack with her illness. Miss Clack’s “large experience” (which could be considered a “text” of its own) “informed me that this was another case for preparation by books. I possessed a library of works, all suitable to the present emergency, all calculated to arouse, convince, prepare, enlighten, and fortify my aunt” (256-7). Miss Clack shares Gabriel’s all-encompassing trust in words to guide and inform, but her books are decidedly not novels. In fact, she describes Mr. Bruff disparagingly as a man “equally capable of reading a novel and a tract” (258). Similarly, rather than using outside texts as a means of guiding herself, Miss Clack views sharing these texts as a mission of mercy. She rejects the paradigm of reading as a solitary activity. This rejection comes to a climax when she leaves a creepy trail of books to haunt her aunt, even placing a “book among the groundsel” of Lady Verinder’s canary cage (268). The Moonstone’s narrators do not just write; they read and incorporate outside texts to different extents. One interpretation of this intertextuality celebrates the novel’s flexibility as an inclusive form. On the other hand, however, the novel expresses a certain amount of anxiety that the novel form alone—communally structured though it may be—is not sufficient to solve a crime. Collins structures every clue the novel provides to be an outside text, a move that casts doubt on the idea that putting together discrete narratives can lead to a coherent whole. After all, the novel’s detectives never recover the diamond; they merely uncover who took it.

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