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Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone and the Problem of Pain in Life EricLey TheMoonstone is jusdy celebrated as a novel which provokes "detective -fever" (193) concerning "the horrid mystery" (183) of the Moonstone . Indeed Franklin Blake's praise of EzraJennings' reconstitution of Mr. Candy's delirious speech applies to the circumstantial complexities of the text itself: "the ingenuity which had woven this smooth and finished texture out of the unravelled skein" (438). The sustained popularity of the novel has prompted critics to explore the primary concerns and motifs in the text. The most prominent of these include (a) the ideology and practice of detective fiction, (b) juridical and testamentary issues, (c) psychoanalytic considerations, especially regarding theories of the unconscious, and (d) British imperialist doctrines.1 Collectively, these approaches have deepened the intellectual implications of a consummate novel. The present study isolates a stratum of meaning not heretofore addressed. As we shall find, TheMoonstone develops a profound approach to the classical problem of eudaemonia or the achievement of happiness in life.2 In this context, solving the mystery of the theft of the Moonstone entails confronting the problem of pain in life. There are, of course, numerous pronouncements in the novel concerning the problem of pain in life. Consider first Sergeant Cuff: 'This is a miserable world . . . Human life, Mr. Betteredge, is always a sort of target — misfortune is always firing at it, and always hitting the mark" (159). Similarly, according to the "the Betteredge philosophy," (372) "we are all of us more or less unwilling to be brought into the world. And we are all of us right" (272). A more extreme assessment is 66volume 28 number I Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone provided, as we shall see later, by EzraJennings' "melancholy view of life [which] led him to place the conditions of human happiness in complete oblivion of the past" (420). Since the problem of pain in life involves the issue of what happens to character in the course of Hving, the most convenient introduction to this aspect of the novel is provided by TS. Eliot's remarks concerning the fusion of melodrama and fate in the work of Wilkie Collins : "And sometimes the melodramatic - the accidental - becomes for Collins the dramatic - the fatal" (467). According to Eliot, whereas melodrama offers "improbability, simply for the sake of seeing the thrilling situation which arises in consequence," fate entails a more intimate relation of character and event; that which happens is no longer external to a character, and relevant only as circumstances to be confronted, mastered, or endured (467). Instead, that which happens to a character is the medium though which his or her meaning or moral value is tested and disclosed: "It is the difference between coincidence, set without shame or pretence, and fate — which merges into character" (Eliot 467). EzraJennings, the character who, because of his opium addiction and medical history of chronic pain, is traditionally identified with the author, Wilkie Collins, foregrounds the question of fate: "A man who has Uves as I have lived has his bitter moments when he ponders over human destiny" (430). This notion of "human destiny" as an influence or direction impinging equally on all who live, is not, to invoke Cassirer's words from a different context, "concerned with a single theoretical problem, however general in its scope" (9). Instead, the notion of destiny, formulated at this level of abstraction, involves the attempt to iUuminate the ultimate purpose of human life. Precisely this notion informs the motivation of the Indians in the novel, who are dedicated to recovering the Moonstone and restoring it to its position in the forehead of the idol of the Moon god. In the Indian scheme, individual life is construed in terms of a supervenient imperative to which the intrinsic significance of any individual is subordinated: "The deity commanded that the Moonstone should be watched from that time forth, by three priests in turn, night Victorian Review67 E. Levy and day, to the end of the generations of men" (34). Ironically, in the course of followingJennings' instructions to "revive, or nearly revive, the domestic circumstances" (439) obtaining Lady Verinder's Yorkshire house on the night of the theft one year...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 66-79
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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