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The fabulous imperialist semiotic of Wilkie Collins's 'The Moonstone.' (Textual Interrelations)

In memory of my mother Anu Prova Baidya Roy

"My object in following the Indian plot, step by step, is to trace results back, by rational means, to natural causes."

Mr. Murthwaite in The Moonstone

The Detective Program: A Preface

Long after T.S. Eliot's canonical assessment of it as a classic detective tale, Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone has recently begun a new career as an anti-imperialist text.(1) Although germane to the recent interest in colonial discourse, this proposition embraces a mystic symbolism which the novel's more "modern" semiotic energy convincingly dismantles. Indeed, by its special, detective programming of conventional ruptures like inside/outside, domestic/alien, sacred/profane, or familiar/uncanny in the intersection of its Indian and English plots, The Moonstone produces a mythos entirely consonant with arguments for empire.(2) Better than the more workmanlike myth of colonial enterprise Robinson Crusoe, from which it takes large comfort, Collins's novel brings together a semiotic repertoire that demonstrates the structural cohesion the imperial imagination aimed at but could never quite achieve when challenged on issues of morality and reason.

A cryptic version of this cohesion lodged in Collins's Preface echoes the imperialist project's vigilance against the naive hindsight that would pit the rapacious foreign exploiter cast as self against the innocent exploited other. In fact, as in the impeachment of Warren Hastings, the architects of empire openly dismantled such oppositions when the need arose. The political discourse of empire needed to emblazon itself with imaginative justifications under the cultural rubric of reason. And that implied the willing or unwilling collusion of specialists. Unlike other genres of the archive of self, the detective tale claims a special status for its imagined-imaginary projects. They are instruments of reason, reading mystery as logical justification for surveillance of the other. Moreover, as the detective tale specializes in hidden inquiry into crime -- that is how it sustains narrative interest -- it follows that those archival motifs would be legible in only its most cryptically provocative features.

Outwardly The Moonstone's chief provocation is its oblique appeal to the public memory of the Indian Sepoy Revolt of 1857-58, which began as an army uprising and ended in widespread rebellion.(3) Bloody reprisals followed, and government in India itself was transferred from the East India Company to the Crown. In 1850, at a splendid ceremony marking the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the granting of trade monopolies to the Company by Queen Elizabeth, Victoria had been presented the legendary Koh-i-Noor diamond, won as booty in the Anglo-Sikh wars of 1848-49 and showcased a year later in the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace as a glass model. In 1858, in response to the "Indian betrayal," India itself became the "Jewel in the Crown."(4)

Imagine then, after this inaugural of formal imperial authority, the provocation of a tale mired in bloodshed for which an English army officer, not a native soldier, is culpable. Imagine, too, the further provocation of linking that culpability to the great matriarch herself, as the final paragraph of Collins's Preface explicitly does: "With reference to the story of the Diamond, as here set forth, I have to acknowledge that it is founded, in some important particulars, on the stories of two of the royal diamonds of Europe. The magnificent stone which adorns the top of the Russian Imperial Sceptre, was once the eye of an Indian idol. The famous Koh-i-Noor is also supposed to have been one of the sacred gems of India; and, more than this, to have been the subject of a prediction, which prophesied certain misfortune to the persons who should divert it from its ancient uses."(5) Poised at the threshold separating history from fiction, the parallel between the Koh-i-Noor and the sacred Moonstone does not however comprise an anti-imperialist sentiment.(6) Rather, it tactfully programs its "important particulars" in a "foundational" intersection of two histories so that empire becomes the object of a strong recuperative concern.

At face value, the minimal "story of the Diamond," as embedded in British history, refers to a curse in an archival naming -- "The famous Koh-i-Noor" -- which situates the "story" in unstable reference to the factual realm of empire. The tension is exacerbated because the "story" is free of any curse in its Russian milleu. Though the term "magnificent" corresponds to "famous" there, the diamond itself remains anonymous -- a mere "stone" -- and is absorbed into the "Russian Imperial Scepter" without seeming ado. A one-sided anxiety about the imperialist venture is produced on the immediate semantic plane. However, as will transpire again and again in the novel, such asymmetry is thoroughly mediated by a remarkable conceptual-syntactic disarticulation of that base meaning.

Yes, the flat assertion of "was once" does signal matter-of-fact identity between the Russian and the Indian gem. Simultaneously, though, the textural details of two complementary micronarratives restructure that factual proposition as improper at the symbolic level. One, the expression "magnificent stone adorns," with its amoral decorative-ornamental connotation, suggests the inherent precariousness of the "[Russian] story of the Diamond."(7) Two, the positive notation inscribed in "was once the eye of an Indian idol," with its suggestion of organic unity, actually predicts change in the "Russian story." Inasmuch as either diamond, the not-so-nameless "stone" or the "Koh-i-Noor," is the subject of a prediction," the conceptual nexus of property, propriety, and usurpation at play here charges the "Russian story" with predictability. Put in narratological terms and in the context of mid-Victorian symbology simultaneously, the terms of reference here entrust the grammar -- the equilibrium-disequilibrium pattern -- of this prefatory narrative to a nearly unilateral condition of utterance. They predict a proper future for the minimal story only when the unstable action of "adorns" reaches the legendary stasis of "was once the eye" from which the present has usurped it.

A distinct narrative itinerary, symbolic and concealed, insists on being heard in the Russian story, lack of explicit prediction notwithstanding, and no matter how it may actually turn out. In the British context no such symbolic pressures obtrude. In fact, this prefatory encrypting transforms the British/Indian diamond from "subject of prediction" into the object of unpredictability by fixing its past fortunes within the doubly uncertain temporal conjecture invested in the extraordinary locution /[supposed]/ to have been/ the "subject of a prediction." Free of any accompanying moral thematics, in contrast to the taint of usurpation in the Russian story, the British Crown jewel is safer where it is. The "famous Koh-i-Noor" only possesses the property "supposed to have been a sacred Indian gem." Distanced from its existence as "subject" of Indo-Islamic history, and firmly lodged in the contemporary public imagination, the "famous Koh-i-Noor" counts only as a legendary specimen of gemology. Indeed, simultaneously shielded by and from the vicissitudes of an unpredictable past, in this wholly perfect existence in the (mythic) present, the "[British] story of the Diamond" is not obliged to draw on (the grammar of) any narrative at all.(8)

Rather than refutation of Empire, then, from the outset an informed representation of otherness programs Collins's sensational discourse as modernizing contest for an unstable and even archaic domain. Sustained by russophobias, the more fabulous but archivally verifiable episodes of global history, and a semiotic schema intercrossing cultural norms and material signs, in fact, this contest floats its Indian possession as an inflated value in search of a proper expression of the imperialist idea.(9)

Investigating History: The Scandal

Not unexpectedly, the double articulation of usurped property/propriety on which such a contest hinges also dominates the novel's action as a whole. Its Indian plot yokes past and present to the future by the question of when the diamond's usurpation will be reversed -- so broadly is its certainty hinted. Circumscribed by this logic of prediction, the novel makes no direct claim to this Indian possession, therefore, but takes charge of it on another level. Its theft puts the diamond in reserve and inscribes any unpredictable Indian action as conspicuous absence. Meanwhile, the English plot, whose chief concern is not the diamond's actual recovery but the violation of an English home, capitalizes on its capricious value in an analysis of what happened and how. As in the Preface, the fabric of the English plot images an accurate textual-archival registering of the usurpation of a private space, which guards the scandal against public scrutiny.

Of course, the novel's Indian and English plots do intersect; and it is at this point that the economic burden of the double articulation becomes clear, disclosing a scandal of even greater provocation. The matter is made plain by Betteredge the butler, caretaker of and leading player in the elaborate strategy protecting the text's sacrosanct English milieu, when, at the threshold of the theft, he declares: "here was our quiet English house suddenly invaded by a devilish Indian diamond -- bringing after it a conspiracy of living rogues, set loose on us by the vengeance of a dead man. . . . Who ever heard of the like of it -- in the nineteenth century, mind; in an age of progress, and in a country which rejoices in the blessings of the British constitution? Nobody ever heard the like of it, and, consequently, nobody can be expected to believe it. I shall go on with my story, however, in spite of that" (67). Framed as spontaneous irruption of politically informed judgment, the improbabilities voiced by Betteredge point to the promiscuous logic which tactfully undergirds Collins's sensational project, and which not only admits an existent "intolerable" to the system of reason but invests it with plot-significant value. The Preface uses its synecdochic reference to idolatry to elucidate the position of the other in a pseudo-Manichean agon of good and bad empires. In the semiotic itinerary inaugurated at this well-guarded threshold of modern history, the same elucidation appeals more directly to the inflated perception of what is good(s) and what proper(ty) culturally encoded in monumental events like the Crystal Palace; although it continues to be as enigmatic about the exchanges between history and fabulation, which, even by their improbability, secure the luster of empire.

Of the need for lucidity, there is no better example than the Moonstone's first actual appearance, when it is flashed. . . . in a ray of sunlight that poured through the window. . . . The light that streamed from it was like the light of a harvest moon. When you looked down into the stone, you looked into a yellow deep that drew your eyes into it so that you saw nothing else. It seemed unfathomable; this jewel, that you could hold between your finger and thumb, seemed unfathomable as the heavens themselves. We set it in the sun, and then shut the light out of the room, and it shone awfully out of the depths of its own brightness, with a moony gleam, in the dark. (96-97) "Debacle of progress" as fascinated consternation of civil society faced by the abyssally different: Betteredge's disbelief is here reenacted as philosophia solaris confounded by philosophia chthnoica. But it is, precisely, a reenacting, which focuses scrutiny by "tolerating" otherness as if in the open, which invests the uncanny gem with its fabulous property in the intersectioning of inside/outside, light/dark, solar/lunar. Domesticated or housed in the stimulus of a familiar exoticism, quite early in the novel too, the intrinsic property of the other or his otherness is put under surveillance. Crucially, rather than celebrate outright victory over dogmatic fears in an explicit diegesis, this limited symbolic exchange focuses an "apprehension" of the primitive calling for a more modern system of control. Surveillance conserves dogma and puts it to work in an increasingly economic administering of that usurped property -- as the next two displays of the diamond show quite well.

With Betteredge still master of ceremonies, the first is the exhibition of the diamond at Rachel Verinder's birthday party on the night before its theft: "Miss Rachel [Verinder] ... as queen of the day, was naturally the great attraction of the party. On this occasion, she was more particularly the centre-point towards which everybody's eyes were directed; for (to my lady's secret annoyance) she wore her wonderful birthday present, which eclipsed all the rest -- the Moonstone. It was without any setting when it had been placed in her hands; but that universal genius, Mr. Franklin, had contrived, with the help of his neat fingers and a little bit of silver wire, to fix it as a brooch in the bosom of her white dress" (100). The gem is eminently suited to Rachel Verinder, impetuous, honest, defiant, beautiful "queen of the day" that she is. Referred to a code of innocent femininity, the Moonstone does indeed belong. Yet as actually showcased, it undoes such reference, or more accurately, puts it at the service of the improper. The unnatural fashion in which, meagerly assisted by a "little bit of silver wire," this gem "without any setting" adorns the "bosom of her white dress," that "housing" of a gift without a true giver poses an elaborate threat to Rachel's virginal innocence. A precise "apprehension" is marked in this present that "eclipsed all the others." As the "centre point" of an intricate symbolic dispensation "founded" in the allegory of evil empire, the accursed diamond for which Colonel Herncastle has killed and then vengefully gifted is here the subliminal vehicle of a history that the birthday party and the exotic masquerade of the "story of the Diamond" ceremonially frame. In a metonymy illuminating the primitive causality of the evil gift, Rachel's diamond localizes the unstable incursion of a fabulous wealth from the colonial enterprise in India and elsewhere, while its presentation under the sign of artifice, its site, continues to modernize the gem's archaic, synecdochic-organic unity. This route toward a true Indian possession is confirmed in the Moonstone's next display. It is after Miss Verinder's birthday party. The main issue, Betteredge informs us, is where most properly to lodge the Moonstone for the night: "First, [Miss Verinder] declared she didn't know where to put the Diamond. Then she said, "On her dressing-table, of course, along with her other things.' Then she remembered that the diamond might take to shining of itself, with its awful moony light, in the dark -- and that would terrify her in the dead of the night. Then she bethought herself of an Indian cabinet which stood in her sitting-room; and instantly made up her mind to put the Indian diamond in the Indian cabinet, for the purpose of permitting two beautiful native productions to admire each other" (112). Finally Lady Verinder vents her "secret annoyance" at Rachel's "little flow of nonsense" (112), pointing out that the cabinet has no lock. The daughter retorts that there are no thieves in the house. Next morning the gem is found missing. A family name is thus usurped, as well as the sanctity of an English home. The usurped diamond, itself sacred, undergoes a second usurpation.

These circumstances mark the thief as an insider, barring the outsider access to the inside, and ensuring that the gem operates freely as a tribute to the metonymic engagement with history intersected by English and Indian "plots." Admitting a promiscuous intercourse between outside and inside, the narrative "purpose of permitting two beautiful native productions to admire each other" thus secures the prospect of harm. Earlier, the threat apprehended in an Indian possession of Rachel Verinder's body had "explained" the moral consequences of colonial adventurism. Here that explanatory percept is ever so tactfully amplified. In so eagerly embracing the improper gift, and then, in being beguiled by its Indianness with equal enthusiasm, the virginal Rachel's "little flow of nonsense" forms a collusive opening for the amoral forces already at work. However, inasmuch as the "nonsensical" improprieties of this "weak and guilty" sexuality are put to work for more lucid purposes, they keep the otherness signified in the "diamond . . . with its awful moony light" beyond the pale. Its sexually encoded kernel acquires a normative form, which, by the time the sequence is completed, produces a problem-solving force from within.

Not that the problem-solving dynamics are entrusted entirely to the inside job. The latter coincides with the unmasking of the agents of the Indian plot, the disguised Hindu priests, who are incorporated in what may be called an "imperial bestiary," a symbolic body, which joins the already outre stimuli of detection to the excitement of the hunt. Next to the birthday highlights, on being discovered in their own language by Mr. Murthwaite, "the celebrated Indian traveller" (101) and prominent actor in the ceremonies, they turn on him with a "tigerish quickness" before, at the next instant, "bowing and salaaming ... in their most polite and snaky way" (106). Murthwaite himself confirms that Indians "wait their opportunity with the patience of cats, and will use it with the ferocity of tigers" (108). Such images of nonhuman cunning and murderousness successfully keep the Indian plot at bay; while the easy unmasking of its elaborate facade encodes those traits as the childish-female domain of male-patriarchal management.(10)

Together, Indian and English plots thus stand guard over the diamond, which meanwhile circulates as conspicuous absence. Neither its uncanny property nor the human curse focus interest henceforth. Objectal anxieties shift to the paint-stained nightshirt instead. And access to that much-desired domestic clue is barred by Miss Verinder's equally conspicuous, knowing, and impenetrable silence. A crisis ensues. The "story of the Diamond" is now housed in a tact more provocatively virginal than any so far witnessed. So precious and vulnerable is this space that it defies not just the police but the famous detective, Inspector Cuff. Heralded by the stoppage of Rachel's "flow of nonsense," a scandal may have ensued, this crisis implies, but its provenance will be shielded from all but the strictest gaze. A lack shall remain intact until the moral, not merely legal, authority for its healing is found from within that virginal reserve and the lack transferred to a reasonable problem-solving project.

Of the plethora of signs betraying the project itself, the most ostentatiously transparent is the "Indian cabinet." As colonial curio, in the decorative sentiment of "beautiful native production" unable to guard its own most precious signification, the "Indian cabinet" makes a mockery of the adequacy of signifier to its signified. It conveys an import alien to the rational production of meaning. However, this semiosis of the irrational makes full economic sense, because the "Indian cabinet" is itself fortified by other similarly exorbitant import(s). That a stealing intersects with and secures a theft, is betrayed by the excess materially framing the scandal -- the way in which the entry and exit of the accursed Moonstone are everywhere strewn with the amoral sign of artifice: the English parlor fancifully restyled "boudoir" in Continental fashion; the decorative Italian design on the "boudoir" door, the wet paint of which stains the missing nightdress; the foreign "import" in Blake's makeup -- his swaying between German, French, Italian, or between subjective-objective and objective-subjective styles -- which, as "universal genius," culminates in his adorning Rachel with the Moonstone.

These details besieging the English body politic from the outside encode the pregnant silence that infects it from inside. A wanton ascendancy of the sign of the alien, the overabundant access of foreign goods makes the scandalous state of affairs necessary. Scandal as logically coherent narrative situation is a necessity because at this stage The Moonstone awaits a narrative economy that can properly administer the wealth of signs already at its disposal.

Such waiting is not linear however. Amoral this possession may be, when the idea of tolerance is itself exhibited as an exotic figure awaiting proper authority, when, as per Betteredge's sturdy but ineffectual indignation (the story "shall go on ... however, in spite of that"), the scheming in Collins's allegories still thrusts horizontally along the English/not-English polarity. Nevertheless, the elaborately proper housing of the improper masked as an improper hiding away of the proper -- which invests this horizontal energy with schematic, explanatory power -- already indicates a vertical shift and a future promise. An interjacent moment is already symbolized in the strategic entry of Mr. Murthwaite, who unmasks the Indian conspiracy, who is abstemious, says not a word more than needful, and "who, at risk of his life, had penetrated in disguise where no European had ever set foot before" (101). The event detaches the intersection of English and Indian plots from pre-Victorian free-bootery and recklessness, and makes it the site of action committed to empire as an ascetic ideal. And this troping of the idea of tolerance as shift in narrative (dis)equilibrium has the backing of a historiographic thesis proposed and sealed in the novel's outwork -- in the provocative account of an English army officer's crime in the Prologue, and the imperial traveler's record of its redress in the Epilogue.

Fiction and History: An Exchange

"Extracted from a family paper," the Prologue deposes the hand of an unnamed cousin attesting to the storming of Tipu Sultan's Palace at Seringapatam in 1799 under General Baird, when Herncastle "usurps" the Moonstone by murdering the three Hindu priests disguised as Muslim sentinels guarding it. Its avowed aim is to clarify a family misunderstanding arising from the cousin's mysterious refusal to speak to Herncastle. In fact, however, the information with which the document is replete upstages its own main event, Herncastle's crime, and reinscribes the narrow scope of private testimony in quite another history of propriety, property, and usurpation. As it stands, the account begins with the "adventures of the Yellow Diamond" from "the eleventh century of the Christian era," with the sack of the Hindu holy city of Somnauth by the Islamic invader Mahmoud of Ghizni.(11) The moon-god, whose eye it is, escapes however. Despite the "rapacity of the conquering Mohammedans" (34), and enveloped as quasi-legal statement, the idol is moved to Benaras and installed in a new shrine with the prophecy of doom, encountered under other auspices in Collins's Preface, "written over the gates of the shrine in letters of gold" while three priests guard it day and night in rotating shifts. Time passes without interruption, meanwhile, as effortlessly as the priests' vigil(ance): "One age followed another -- and still, generation after generation, the successors of the three Brahmins watched" (34). The first pause in this curious text occurs in the preceding century: "One age followed another -- until the first years of the eighteenth Christian century. . . . [H]avoc and rapine were let loose once more" (34-35), in the reign of Aurangzeb, sixth in the line of the Mogul imperial dynasty and ancestor of the 1857 Badshah or emperor. The Hindu priests keep watch, however, in disguise, powerless to recover the diamond by open force. Meanwhile the diamond passes "(carrying its curse with it) from one lawless Mohammedan hand to another" (35), while time rolls on: "Time rolled on from the first to the last years of the eighteenth Christian century" (35); until, at this juncture, the sacred stone falls into the hands of "Tipoo, Sultan of Seringapatam, who cause[s] it to be placed as an ornament in the handle of a dagger, and who command[s] it to be kept among the choicest treasures of his armoury" (35).

It is the plunder of this "stone, set like a pommel, in the end of the dagger's handle" (37) that the disapproving cousin finally witnesses in the "storming of Seringapatam, under General Baird, on the 4th of May, 1799" (33). Unceremoniously stripped of a setting at once artificial and harmful, the loot then sets sail for England where, under more legal auspices, it enters the Verinder home on 4th May 1848 and undergoes the elaborate semiosis noted above.

The configuration is worth celebrating. Bracketed by a span of eight centuries, and thus abutting onto the "nineteenth century . . .an age of progress," the diamond fabricates the arrival of modernity out of two native pre-texts of temporality. In the timeless ages of Hindu prophesy and waiting, it signifies a passive and undifferentiated ahistorical matrix. Intermittently, in the Mohammedan time of rape and plunder, it pulls together an active but lawless embroidery on the organic fabric the latter violates. Only when rediscovered by the prompt epochal marker of the "Christian era," however, is it inscribed in the semiotic register of history properly speaking. Like the exchange between British and Russian versions of the "story of the Diamond," the intersection of Hindu and Mohammedan time projects the supervision of a true, albeit provocative, narrative authority which, crucially, watches over the "Yellow Diamond" as still the object of concern -- in the clutches of an English mercenary in the age of decadent Oriental despotisms, and thus, in official British annals, at the threshold of true English mastery.(12)

The drama staged in this "family paper" is brilliantly contemporary in its representation of the conditions and need for authority. The imbalance it proposes between eight centuries of Indo-Islamic lawlessness and one of lawful English presence, progress, and constitutions ratifies an Orientalizing concern in its benighted Indian possession.(13) At the same time, the metonymic parallel -- between the violation of Hindu culture and ruptures in the fabric of English civil society produced by the opulence of the East India Nabobs -- ensures that the concern is grounded in a properly British "interest" in topoi like the "story of the diamond." Collins consolidates this ideological foundation of "family paper" in the novel proper with stories of Herncastle's misdeeds prior to his death and the bequest of the Moonstone. Sequestered in protected estates with dangerously exotic pets, fortified by reports of eccentric and riotous living, the Herncastle type of debauched colonial focuses a mythic, quasi-legal tolerance of the native-alien in the annals of empire. Perhaps that setting represents the domestic imaginary of the foreign policy of "divide and rule." Such policing certainly explains the extraordinary divisions and subdivisions which govern the archival aspect of The Moonstone's detection process.(14) In any case, the Moonstone is similarly powerless -- it lies dormant for nearly fifty years, awaiting the "wily Indians" -- until it escapes via the legality of Herncastle's will. Only at the time of this legalized rupture does it become intolerable. No wonder, then, that the narrative economy has to find a commensurately significant authority and power in order to execute its probe into a lack that authoritatively constitutes the order of Presentation from the very beginning. A progressive edition of the "fortunate fall" paradox -- rescuing epochal Christian history from its less tolerable moments -- the defeat of the lawless Mohammedan and the gem's theft inaugurate the proper return to the gem's native place. Admittedly it takes lengthy inscriptions and reinscriptions, the textual amplitude spanning a whole year. But that is nothing compared to eight centuries of evolutionary standstill. The ruses of history are many, and safely escorted by the sun of reason, this organic-synecdochic token of ahistory is finally restored in the novel's Epilogue under the supervision of the indomitable Mr. Murthwaite.(15)

The Prologue registers lack of both power and authority in the narrator's moral disapproval, thus echoing views of British "foreign debt" recorded in the parliamentary debates over the "Gates of Somnath" or Victoria's assumption of the title of "Empress of India." The Epilogue is more theatrical in its governance, unveiling the Moonstone in the moonlit wilderness of India:

A new strain of music, loud and jubilant, rose from the hidden shrine. The crowd around me shuddered, and pressed together.

The curtain between the trees was drawn aside, and the shrine was disclosed to view.

There, raised high on a throne -- seated on his typical antelope, with his four arms stretching towards the four corners of the earth -- there, soared above us, dark and awful in the mystic light of heaven, the god of the Moon. And there, in the forehead of the deity, gleamed the yellow Diamond, whose splendour had last shone on me in England, from the bosom of a woman's dress! (526) Yes the reversal has finally taken place -- splendidly ordered by benevolent witness. One piece of testimony regarding the latter, which I will later comment on, is the contact between Indian and English plots preserved in Murthwaite's last sentence. But there is other evidence as well, reaching right back to the historiography of the Prologue, which frames this final exhibition of the "sacred Indian gem" as a quelling of the Muslim usurper. Not only have the Hindus gained the upper hand in the intervening fifty years, but "a Mohametan even suspected of killing that sacred animal, the cow, is, as a matter of course, put to death without mercy in these parts by the pious Hindoo neighbours who surround him" (519). Fortified thus, Murthwaite ponders in the concluding words of the Epilogue: "So the years pass, and repeat each other; so the same events revolve in the cycles of time. What will be the next adventures of the Moonstone? Who can tell!" (526) Resplendent with wonder and awe, Murthwaite's conjecture stamps the provocative exoticism of the "story of the Diamond" with a final spectacular value. As resolution of the when question, the events of the Indian plot entail real, active, and time-bound intervention by the other: Godfrey Ablewhite's murder, for example, the routing of the Mohammedans, not to mention the restitution itself. And yet one may speculate once again -- upon the "next adventures of the Moonstone." Once again, the sacred Indian gem's value is exhibited as contradiction. Fiction and history thus illuminate each other. But only thus: one illumines the other as the intervention of an intrinsically structured action in another that is essentially timeless and undifferentiated. As the latter is the matrix of an inscrutable existence, and it is its special property to remain in that condition, the imperial (ad)venture represented in its indomitable emissary not only justifies a reinscription of that featureless domain in the annals of its own epochal history. That advent is justified only when the illuminating insight is repeated time and time again ... as if driven by an inner necessity. A specialist's tribute to the architecture of imperial reasons, the resolution of the when question alone claims not just an immediate English locale but history itself, a coherent interconnection of past, present, and future as its field of action.

History and Fiction: The Problems and the Fables

Chronologically, the year-long action spanned by the novel arrests "the nineteenth century," as it does "an age of progress," in "a country which rejoices in the blessings of the British constitution" (67). Prologue and Epilogue strongly bracket this span within a reading of fifty years of Indian history, which recedes even farther back into lawlessness and ahistory. In the properly English time elapsed in between, the decoding of the same field of action is reiterated as the usurpation and restoration of identity. Central to the Victorian novel's vision, the problem of identity already generically questions this "century of progress." In the narrowly English plot covering what happened and how, Collins refines that vision to focus a more precise question, linking the problem to a non-English world. The problem afflicts every stratum of its social hierarchy, from Rosanna Spearman to Franklin Blake, from Godfrey Ablewhite to Ezra Jennings and John Herncastle. But whatever their specific circumstances and syntagmatic position, all these cases propose that even as the dispossession of identity suggests an usurpation of inside by outside, sacred by profane, or domestic by alien, its investigation must remain within the domain of the self. It is as if, ordered in a paradigmatic scale ranging from benign to malevolent, the various cases of identity formed a series of clinical forays testing a single diagnostic thesis.

This properly English thesis, in turn, is structurally integrated with the exotic "story of the Diamond" by the seme of romance. No matter where its provocative design (mis)leads us, no matter who attests to the novel's intricacies at any given time, the cases of usurped identity articulated by the as if arrangement all threaten the lawful comingling of productive bloodlines portended by the romance between Rachel Verinder and Franklin Blake. Romance integrates because it connects the reiterative value of purely domestic agendas with the thrilling global space of Preface, Prologue, and Epilogue. The lack that assails romance at home underwrites the imperial venture as such, insures it in the purity of adventure. And the routes Collins's text traces in between, to discover what happened and how, underscore the logic of (in)tolerance so forcefully brought to our notice by Betteredge as the novel's primary ideological problematic.

Inside-outside, sacred-profane, domestic-alien, familiar-exotic: an otherness ruled by such structures alone exposes action in the realm of the other to an intolerable influx. Beseiged by that irrational surplus of meaning, the law of identity becomes liable to an interchange that threatens the integrity of the domain the law protects. To speak of productive exchange across such oppositions becomes meaningless or terminates with an utterance girded around with an unmanageable excess of signification. Collins's "case studies" amplify that remainder. They remind the imperial adventure contained in its fifty-year-old history of a realm of wealth which has to be sequestered and entrusted to a withholding action. Only such trusteeship can benevolently govern the polarity of productive and unproductive and override any outright veto demanded by a strictly antagonistic Victorianism. Ranging from beneficent to pernicious, the archival records of usurped identities thus work as fabulous coded tributes of the specialist to the architecture of this ideal.

The donation of an outre gift to the romantic community delivers an unwanted remainder discharged at the outposts of Victorian progress into the charge of a local but focused analysis. The "donation" is then investigated in stories of avarice and fortune hunting: the unmasking of Godfrey Ablewhite, the improperly named hypocrite, and his appropriately named accomplice Septimus Luker. Already, these conventional narratives deal with proper management of the influx of alien wealth. But it is Franklin Blake's unconventional case that truly centers this knowledge, drawing on that vitality of the donated residue which is left undomesticated by generic tales of Victorian villainy. The clues are many. Blake is the one who wreathes around romance a surfelt of signification. Blake "unknowingly" purloins the uncanny gift, and thus prolongs its subterranean life in the novel's generic economy. Blake is the immediate impetus in the search for authority and, withal, the architect of the narrative design meant to restore romance.

The first factor -- with renamed boudoir, Italian door painting, and fragile-decorative dispersal of India's Indianness -- already makes the theme of usurped identity a crucial material threshold for the reception and analysis of the alien. However, this sensitized cultural space is rendered a potent semiotic clinic only when enhanced by another alien infusion: opium. What truly undoes the generic romantic body and reinvigorates it at the same stroke is this legitimately foreign import, and, under the circumstances, a nearly exact "abducted" metonymic substrate of Herncastle's gift, the organically signifying Moonstone.(16)

Insofar as colonial-imperial history is an allegorical armature in Collins's exoticist production of meaning and identity, opium operates as an economic insistent that subdues and controls the more unpredictable material residue of the same history which is exemplified by the "Yellow Diamond." It quite soberly amends the rampant Orientalism -- including boudoir, Italian design, and unreliable dexterity -- obstructing proper analysis of its more conspicuously violent counterpart. It defers the threat an accursed Indian ahistory poses to the community of romance while, in usurping an individual will, it manages willfulness and unpredictability. And it "universalizes" the "sacred Indian gem" once more as the "subject" of chance, transferring this antihistorical signification onto the anti-community represented by Ablewhite and Luker. In fact, and ironically, the successful action of the opium connection makes this conventionally pernicious Oriental product the chief analytical and synthetic instrument of Collins's withholding action or "trusteeship." Thus in a story whose chief interest is nonsensically but provocatively placed in an "Indian cabinet, for the purpose of Permitting two beautiful native productions to admire each other" (112, emphasis added), these two foreign imports -- one productive and the other an unproductive otherness -- partake of the same order of permission, the power and narrative authority of modernizing economic laws. The illumination furnished by such fabulous symmetry of reason(s) should not be ignored. Otherwise, as the incredulous Betteredge reports of the intrepid Miss Verinder's fears, one of them "might take to shining of itself, with its awful moony light, in the dark -- and that would terrify her in the dead of the night" (112, emphasis added).

Sensationally imaging the double articulation of property/propriety/usurpation in a single analytical theater, above all, this symmetry interlocks the political problem of explanation with the ideological problem of justification. The text reiterates its explanatory-retrospcctive record of an unmanageable colonial possession in a rite of passage -- identity its clinical interest, "romance in peril" its semiotic setting -- which aims at securing the future of empire. Given its provocative ramifications, the Preface broaches that future with circumspection -- targeting it in a modern battle between good and bad empires. Boldly subtitled "THE STORMING OF SERINGAPATAM (1799)," the Prologue increases the stakes, scrutinizing documented history via the disinterested lens of private but trustworthy statement-sub-subtitled, "Extracted from a family paper." This finer script focuses the same (Indian) possession as dramatic object of an archaic contest, thus mediating the immediate impact of (India's) hostile connotation. Divided into Hindu and Mohammedan moieties, one is invested with an adversarial function at the very moment of its defeat in that role; the other is admitted into the fold of benevolent authority. However, as a fabric of anticipation, both admission and exclusion are signaled by a lapse of that specifically English power. Because Herncastle's cousin fails to denounce him, because General Baird fails to manage the general plunder of Tipoo Sultan's palace, because the Hindus fail to repossess the "sacred Indian gem" at an opportune time, and because the symbolic value of the event is thus confined to a "family paper," a proper, historic repossession is deferred to the future. Enveloped in uncertainty, but scrupulously inscribed with a material concern, the Moonstone is then secretly invested in the "opium connection," which then encrypts it in the even finer and futural-modern script of the protopsychoanalytical "scene of writing."

By the time that scene actually commences, the conflictual sites that initially vest interest in the usurped diamond -- Anglo-Russian and Hindu-Muslim rivalry -- have already been displaced by the harmless cultural space of the "beautiful" Indian cabinet. A conversion of the amoral necessity of the decorative-ornamental sense into true coin of the realm is in lucid economic view. That it occurs in concert with the infusion of opium stunningly orchestrates the loyalty of the text's withholding action to the routes of both retrospect and prospect. Finally, the renewed narrative "permit," which allows such light to shine forth in the first place, irrevocably sequesters the "sacred Indian gem," reiterating lack of authority, meanwhile, as accidental and temporary dislocation of an ind'vidual will rather than the function of internecine or interimperial histories. Acting in homeopathic relation, then, "two (other) native productions" neutralize each other, allowing the seme of romance to flourish in a ritual recognition of usurped identity. The repetition in it of the scene of the first theft, the "Indian cabinet" now housing a "mock Diamond," concludes the sequence of displays that incrementally unfold the what and how questions. Poison and cure, at once harmful and beneficent, the opium detaches the Moonstone's synecdochic reference from its accidental obtrusion in the schemes of reason. Properly administered, abetted by a nondecorative but productive property, a "mock Diamond," the process conclusively realizes the surplus value it has withheld so far from actual possession.(17)

This, then, is the didactic lesson. A "sacred Indian gem" may signify positively beset by the vissicitudes of a Russian or Islamic empire. That property may be transcribed as the prophecy of doom "written . . . in letters of gold" in the "eleventh century of the Christian era" or even when enshrined in a new Indian setting. But such ceremonial inscriptions and settings pale in comparison when, in an age of progress and constitutions, the same signification is reinscribed in the wonder that, in the black and white of Murthwaite's letter to England, romanticizes about "[what] will be the next adventures of the Moonstone? Who can tell!" (526)


Of the "Indian problem" during the fifty-year span of Collins's English plot, and at the time of the 1857 Revolt, when the Moghul Bahadur Shah II was still the titular Emperor, the Badshah, it may be said with Bernard Cohn that the "English could not be incorporated through symbolic acts to a foreign ruler, and perhaps more importantly could not incorporate Indians into their rulership."(18) Following Crown rule, an important resolution of the problem was to adopt Moghul court procedures involving prestation objects like precious gems, robes of honor, ceremonial swords, as well as gold and silver. However, the British revision of Indian ceremony construed this "unproductive wealth" as utilitarian goods rather than gifts marking incorporation. No doubt such conversion was aided by the fact that this wealth was already in British hands, thanks to events like the Sack of Delhi or of Seringapatam. In any event, the way in which Collins's modernizing post-Crusoe mythos programs and repossesses its own gifted goods makes it more than a match for actual British handling of its (problematical) "foreign debt."

Yet there is some slippage even in this fine semiotic scheme which circulates culturally tolerable ruptures only to rediscover them as the currency of tolerance. Of the lack to be healed, this side of the Epilogue, Ezra jennings is the final authority. Aided by a mock crystal diamond, surely an ideological in-joke, reason purports to detach all that is inimical or intolerable to it in the ritual of rediscovery. True, Jennings's doubtful past and the aspersions of mesmerism and clairvoyance are cleared by the absolute success of his experiment. Yet the episode has about it a hint of superstition or a primitive touch of exorcism. It shows signs of a crisis of method, theatrically apparent in the authority figure to whom it is entrusted. Plagued by a disease implicitly due to "the mixture of some foreign race in his English blood" (420) and soon to die, jennings also represents an invasion of inside by outside. Alien and native at once, like Herncastle, he is also a donor figure in the narrative. Unlike Herncastle, however, not only does he represent lawfulness; he epitomizes the archival system of reason, completing the process begun in the "family paper" of writing as restoration of usurped meaning. Yet ultimately, as social being, he is a lawless existent: with hair half-white and half-black, he is a graphic figure for the separation and logical resolution, simultaneously, of alien and native, inside and outside, white and black. His life not his own, his time in history done, he passes into oblivion. There are two sides to this symmetry. That this crucial event is entrusted to a being whose very lifeblood has been poisoned by yet another form of superfluity, a racial inmixing that no infusion of opium will cure, shows how an alien substance can become a gift when properly incorporated and how disease itself may be infinitely productive when put in reserve. That it has to be entrusted to the figure of the other graphically registers the homeopathic cure as crisis of reason, almost a case of sympathetic magical ritual. The problem, which The Moonstone will be hard put to turn around, is that it is the one and not the other that administers this final solution.(19)

Admittedly this inadequacy is supplanted by the thrilling space of interpretation we have seen Murthwaite theatrically furnish in the Epilogue. But that is only to say that conceptual limits such as the one noted above have yet to assume a reasonable, verisimilar shape or to circulate as cultural cliches.(20) Wonder figures forth tolerance in the Epilogue, as the intolerant supplies the basis of wonder. Wrapped in the interpretative facade of an unveiling, on the one hand, India lies open as a fabulous prospect, an inexhaustible reserve circumscribed by cyclical predictability. On the other hand, openly poised on the border of this thought, complacent in its own inscrutably chaste insousiance, there lurks the fable which (re)inscribes this prospect as if for the first time.

Of the cohesive imaginary fiat thus put together, the first verisimilar element is that a rift projected as intrinsic to the other stakes out an entrance for the fabulating self and serves as site for an archivally validated knowledge. "Usurpation" of a Hindu possession, or vice versa, justifies a "lawful" English presence, vindicates a systematic dispossession. In fact the instruments of such systematics were worked out by specialists with legal expertise, including a knowledge of Muslim law and Hindu statecraft or the special knowledge required of the Prize Agent who was properly to administer the spoils from the sack of Seringapatam or of Delhi. Nevertheless the instrument in Collins's text, its benevolent program(ming) of property, propriety, and usurpation, and its "important [semiotic] particulars" secure a good enough tribute to an imperial future.(21) Riven thus, though, there is no turning back. The contradiction which bedevils the Moonstone, for example, cannot but become a property of the interpreted and resist the interpreter even as it enforces his desire. in imaginary argument as protective outwork, as in Mr. Murthwaite's prospecting of his romantic wilderness, the principle of benevolent governance needs an internal resistance connoting a potential malevolence of the other. That this inadequacy does not register an actual, external threat from the latter is well attested by the way in which Collins's scene of supervision itself splits into a demand for two other cliched practices.

One of these finds pristine form in: "And there, in the forehead of the deity, gleamed the yellow Diamond, whose splendour had last shone on me in England, from the bosom of a woman's dress." Scanning the history of a collective guilt, as it were, this final display of the "Yellow Diamond" seeks at one stroke, in the same syntactical housing, to detach two connoting systems focused on property from each other. Yet this desire cannot but rememorate a metonymic contact in between as the site of their exchange. Rapt in wonder but also in thrall to another jewel of the Crown, the syntax of restitution already finds the lure of speculation irresistible. But even so, the contact punctually centering that syntax shows that the risk needs a protective body -- of impending threats and constant vigilance. Since such protection is already entrusted to a promiscuous intercrossing between moral and material codes, the economic law must repeatedly draw its currency from the same cultural symbolic matrix. If Rachel Verinder's exposure once again to India's uncanny seductions "entrusts" the female figure to the narrative economy of penetration and vigilance, it 's no wonder that this patriarchal but not-so-benevolent law secretly solicits a usurping force sexually encoded as unproductive lust for lucre. Other narratives of empire, and not just of the nineteenth century, are ruthlessly lurid about such speculation, with a childish golden-haired female figure explicitly predicated as the threshold of a sexuality or otherness associated with filth. But even if Collins's Rachel is no such lurid object, she certainly ensures the convention. Tactfully stripped of a name -- "the bosom of a woman's dress" -- she forms a fictional site -- kept economically in reserve for the repeated and ongoing romance of justifying the imperial adventure.(22)

Incorporating the more brute facts of the Indian problem in the sexual body of romance, it is the nonhuman figure of the unruly other thus created which, for all practical purposes, completes the scene of supervision as its third verisimilar component. Needless to say, this threshold of misrule makes benevolent dispossession of his resistant otherness brutally convincing. Throughout, the logic of Collins's story covertly links "India" to a barely contained violence. Here it openly entrusts narrative authority over that site to secret policing. Murthwaite's wonder is the climactic threshold of surveillance as textual policy.(23)

Such incorporation of a desired otherness, while disabling the other whose possession it is, makes The Moonstone a prototypical imperialist text exhibiting imperialist rule and a justification of that rule within a single narrative strategy. To conclude, the above textual elaboration may be summarized using Yuri Lotman's account of the connection between plot and two basic character types. One of these types is "mobile . . . enjoy[s] freedom with regard to plot-space .. can change [his] place in the artistic world and cross the frontier, the basic topological feature of this space." The other is "immobile," and represents "in fact, a function of this space." Thus the narrative situation where "a certain plot-space is divided by a single boundary into an internal and an external sphere, and a single character has the opportunity to cross the boundary."(24) Certainly this mythic machine is powerfully evident in The Moonstone as its "mobile" characters execute the desired economic end(s) of its given narrative situation. Yet the resultant kinship predicated between its immobilized boundary figures -- between Rachel and the lawfully disguised Hindu priest(s), or between Rachel and the lawless Mohammedan, or between the two aspects engendered in the hybrid Ezra Jennings -- betrays the incommensurability of imperialist rule and the justification of that rule. One may covet the other's goods. But one may gift oneself that property as goodly, justified tribute only at the expense of engendering such covetousness from within the "internal sphere."(25)

If Franco Moretti's "Clues" expresses current theoretical opinion on the genre, then the detective tale comprises a cultural proscription on risky individualism. Its object is a criminal who(se crime) is unconditioned and who is betrayed to the detective by clues that are irreducibly personal traces -- "not facts, but verbal procedures -- more exactly rhetorical figures. . . . As is to be expected, clues are more often metonymies: associations by contiguity (related to the past), for which the detective must furnish the missing term."(26) True, the criminal's links to the socius may be entirely instrumental and individualistic -- in an age of monopoly capital. True too, Moretti is theorizing on the basis of the Conan Doyle canon. Even so, the realm of object-signs that Holmes continually decodes (a lump of English mud but also an American secret code, an Andamanese poisoned thorn, a wooden leg substituting for the human one taken off by an Indian crocodile, Indian treasure, an Indian snake, the ash from a Trichinopoly cigar) are historiographic imprints of pax Britannica, not indices of chance or of the dissociated idiosyncracies of an individual (crime).(27) A majority of Conan Doyle's stories in fact originate in the colonial or former colonial possessions. Some even return there. The criminal interest thus corresponds to an archival interest which, together, incorporates or "abducts" a practical and not scientific (Moretti overreads Holmes reading Holmes here, I think) body of practical knowledge with a paradigmatically foreign "import." And the price to be paid in all this is precisely the kind of risky speculation I have just outlined. That is why the fabulous logic of reason must always contain a prior indebtedness to an oriental economy or art of homeopathy which confounds its stated method of "following the Indian plot, step by step . . . to trace results back, by rational means, to natural causes" (332-33).

Thus we will have to wonder with Murthwaite: "So the years pass, and repeat each other; so the same events revolve in the cycles of time. What will be the next adventures of the Moonstone? Who can tell!" (526). Will this sacred gem also sometime become a sacrosanct jewel in the Crown? Prediction will have to be wary of the abducted logic of cause and effect.




(1) See John Reed, "English Imperialism and the Unacknowledged Crime of The Moonstone," Clio, 2 (1973), 281-90. In her Wilkie Collins and His Victorian Readers (New York, 1982), pp. 174-82, 213-25, Sue Lonoff agrees with Reed, although her documented sources could lead to exactly the opposite conclusion. Patricia Miller Frick follows Reed even more closely in presenting a case for the Indians' moral superiority in "Wilkie Collins' |Little Jewel': The Meaning of The Moonstone. Philological Quarterly, 63 (1984), 313-21. Eliot's praise came in his Introduction to The Moonstone (London, 1928), p. v. (2) This intersection was noted as early as 1889 by one of The Moonstone's Victorian reviewers, who wrote "[t]here are two games going on at once, -- that of the Indians who are seeking their diamond, against the heirs of Major Herncastle; and afterwards that of Franklin Blake against his traducers" (Spectator, 63 [8 Sept. 1889], 395); cited in Lonoff, Wilkie Collins and His Victorian Readers, p. 112. My aim, of course, is to show how these "two games going on" together fit into the "Great Game" of Empire. (3) Collins twice wrote about the revolt in Charles Dickens's magazine Household Words. On one of these occasions he collaborated with Dickens -- they coauthored "The Perils of Certain English Prisoners," which appeared in the Christmas number of 1857. The other, "A Sermon for Sepoys," appeared on 27 Feb. 1858. For an account of the revolt from a British perspective, see Christopher Hibbert, The Great Mutiny: India 1857 (London, 1978), which includes copious extracts from contemporary documents describing the brutal response to the uprising. Since its reissue by Penguin in 1980, Hibbert's book has been reprinted six times, including twice in 1980. The "mutiny" still holds a prominent place in the popular imagination! (4) Later, in 1877, as Geoffrey Moorhouse disapprovingly puts it, Queen Victoria's status "was amplified into Empress of India (at the suggestion of that florid man Benjamin Disraeli)" (Geoffrey Moorhouse, India Britannica [London, 1984], p. 96). Moorhouse's book also gives a concise account of the historic events mentioned at this juncture. (5) Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (Harmondsworth, 1986), p. 27; hereafter cited in text. (6) This is a crux of Reed's argument; see Reed, "English Imperialism," 286-87. Mark M. Hennelly, "Detecting Collins' Diamond: From Serpentstone to Moonstone," Nineteenth Century Fiction, 39 (1984), 24-47, follows Reed's reading, and concludes that Indian worship of the gem represents Collins's acknowledgement of the organic, spiritual significance of culture. In fact, beginning with Tavernier and Thomas Roe, the wealth of the Indian temple towns and complexes had always focused the economy of the Western imagination by connecting idolatry with the worship of useless-unproductive riches and by eliding the covetous gaze under the narrative momentum of chaste Christian wonder. (7) Again and again, Partha Mitter shows in Much Maligned Monsters: History Of European Reactions to Indian Art (Oxford, 1977) how the ornamental or the decorative were used as pseudo-aesthetic categories to negatively judge things Indian, from jewelry to temple architecture. For a sketch of the metonymic shorthand linking foreign wealth and its amoral import ornamental-decorative, see James Bunn, "The Aesthetics of British Mercantilism," Nezt, Literary History, 11 (1979), 303-21. Some time after the post-crystal Palace debates on design and style, in 1859, Ruskin pointedly connected ornament as a seme with cruelty and the Indian Mutiny: "All ornamentation of th[e] lower kind is pre-eminently the gift of cruel persons, of Indians, Saracens, Byzantians.... Get yourselves to be gentle and civilized, having respect for human life and a desire for good, and ... you will not be able to make such pretty shawls as before. You know you cannot make them so pretty as those Sepoys do at this moment." John Ruskin, The Two Paths, in The Works of John Ruskin, ed. E. T. Cook and A. Wedderburn (London, 1903), p. 304, quoted in Mitter, Much Maligned Monsters, p. 247. (8) As noted, the Koh-i-Noor was a conspicuous specimen of the Indian possessions. According to Patrick Howarth, The Year Is 1851 (London, 1951), pp. 241-42, the glass model shown at the Exhibition drew greater admiration from some than the genuine and brilliant Duria-i-Noor. Regarding the associative-recuperative link between the Moonstone and the Koh-i-Noor: the value of either diamond is dependent on size; cut up, the brilliance of the original was lost, but this is a way of averting the curse. Indeed, it is quite likely Collins here uses the suggestion that it is because of its troubled history, that the Koh-i-Noor was cut up in Amsterdam and simply deposited with the other Crown jewels after its initial display at St. James's Palace.

For the political prestige of the Koh-i-Noor in Indian history, see Abdul Aziz, The Imperial Treasure of the Mughals (Lahore, 1942) and Khushwant Singh, Ranjit Singh: Maharajah of the Punjab (London, 1962). Regarding the hardening of cultural attitudes evident in the time leading up to 1857-58, of which the possession of the Koh-i-Noor was a conspicuous symbol, see Peter Mudford, Birds of a Different Plumage: A Study of British-Indian Relations from Akbar to Curzon (London, 1974). (9) See Anthea Trodd, Introduction and Explanatory Notes, in Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (Oxford, 1982), pp. vii-xxi and 523-36, respectively, for a concise account of the facts regarding this exchange. (10) For a historian's account of the ideology of India as a female jungle in need of a male manager, see Ronald Inden, Imagining India (Oxford, 1990). This interlocking of the alien and the outside (characterized in nonhuman and animal terms) and a sexually-morally encoded movement of the inside and familiar culminates in the metaphor of the hunt. Conan Doyle's The Sign of the Four, which specifically draws on the events of 1857-58 ("The Great Agra Treasure"), and which mobilizes nearly all Collins's stage properties, is a particularly aggressive example of the imperious possibilities of the detective tale. (11) See Trodd, Explanatory Notes, pp. 523-24. (12) From the British standpoint, Tipu Sultan's death ends this "decadence," begun with the reign of Aurangzeb. Interestingly, in connection with the motif of an "imperial bestiary," Tipu adopted the tiger motif as a heraldic device used on items ranging from banners to cannon. One item of entertainment he had manufactured was a life-sized mechanical figure of a tiger, which, when activated, would fall upon an equally life-sized figure of an Englishman, emitting loud roars and growls. See Denys Forrest, Tiger of Mysore: The Life and Death of Tipu Sultan (London, 1970) for a fascinating commentary on Tipu Sultan's dealings with the English. Historically, the events of Seringapatam resulted in one of the largest hauls of treasure, arms, and other plunder to return to England in the annals of British-Indian relations. Tipu himself had an impact on contemporary popular drama, art, and literature similar to that of Tamerlane. See Forrest, Tiger of Mysore, pp. 298-303 and 316-27, respectively, for documentation of this "exchange" between history and fabulation. (13) Speaking to Parliament, Macaulay had roundly censured Lord Ellenborough who had proposed restoring the gates of the Somnath temple as part of his campaign against the Afghans. Two points of the speech are of interest here: its attack on Ellenborough's action as encouragement of Hindu idolatry against British policy and as an insult to Islam and the Islamic war against idolatry. See Thomas Babington Macaulay, "The Gates of Somnauth" (9 Mar. 1843), in The Works of Lord Macaulay (London, 1898), 11, 18-39. (14) This is the political twist that may be given to D. A. Miller's statement that "[wlhat integrates and consolidates the efforts of characters is a master-plan that no one governs or even anticipates. The community serves such a master-plan but is not its master," in his "From roman policier to roman-police: Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone," Novel, 13 (1980), 159. (15) T. S. Eliot praises Collins's ability in "delaying, longer than one would conceive it possible to delay, a conclusion which is inevitable and wholly foreseen" (T. S. Eliot, "Wilkie Collins and Dickens," Selected Essays [New York, 1950], p. 416). From my perspective, the temporality of this "implausible" art of delaying is embedded in the matrix of history rather than being a simple function of suspense. (16) I allude to the third in Sebeok's "three canonical types of reasoning, to wit: deduction, induction, and abduction" (Thomas A. Sebeok, "One, Two Three Spells UBERTY," in The Sign of Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce, ed. Umberto Eco and Thomas A. Sebeok ([Bloomington, Ind., 1983], p. 1). However, my use of the term also underscores the historic import of opium as the product of a vastly exploitative labor, and in that sense, the antithetical positioning of opium to diamond as a dubious "abducted" meaning. (17) Popular as well as specialist memory could not have forgotten that the Great Mutiny coincided with the Second Opium War, which created a serious crisis for the divided British forces. In an article citing the Bluebook recorded correspondence between Lord Elgin, Special Envoy to China, and Lord Canning, Governor-General in India, Yu Sheng-Wu and Chang Chen-Kun describe the mutual assistance the Indians and Chinese indirectly rendered each other at this time. See Yu Sheng-Wu and Chang Chen-Kun, "China and India in the Mid-19th Century," in Rebellion 1857: A Symposium, ed. Puran Chandra Joshi (Calcutta, 1957), pp. 337-52. (18) Bernard Cohn, "Representing Authority in Victorian India," in The Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cambridge, 1983), p. 171. (19) An interesting sidelight on the imperialist "foreign debt" directly concerning the project of reason and knowledge: of Indian divinatory practices, like the pool of ink read by The Moonstone's Hindu priests which Mr. Murthwaite decrypts as superstitious clairvoyance, Carlo Ginsberg notes: "In 1860 Sir William Herschel, district commissioner of Hooghly in Bengal, came across this usage [messages in the print of a dirty finger], common among local people, saw its usefulness, and thought to profit by it to improve the functioning of the British administration.... as Galton was to observe, there was great need for some such means of identification; in India as in other British colonies the natives were illiterate, disputatious, wily, deceitful, and to the eyes of a European, all looked the same.... The imperial administrators had taken over the Bengalis' conjectural knowledge and turned it against them." On Galton, Ginsberg comments: "His research had been made possible by the convergence of three separate elements: the discoveries of a pure scientist, Purkyne; the concrete knowledge, tied in with everyday practice, of the Bengali populace; and the political and administrative acumen of Sir William Herschel, faithful servant of Her Britanic Majesty. Galton acknowledged the first and third of these. He also tried to trace racial characteristics in fingerprints, but did not succeed. He hoped, however, to pursue his research among some Indian tribes, expecting to find among them 'a more monkey-like pattern'" (Carlo Ginsberg, "Clues: Morelli, Freud and Sherlock Holmes," in Eco and Sebeok, The Sign of Three, p. 108). The Galton quotation is from Sir Francis Galton, Finger Prints (London, 1892), pp. 17-18.

One need hardly cite Sherlock Holmes's hunt in The Sign of the Four or the bestiary (see also n. 10 above) that configures it as a fully Orientalist method. (20) These are the specific ramifications of the "effect of the real" in imperialist discourse. Their inflexibility must surely modify a standard notion like Seymour Chatman's, where verisimilitude is "established by previous texts -- not only actual discourses, but the |texts' of appropriate behavior in the society at large. Verisimilitude is an 'effect of corpus' or of |intertextuality'" (Seymour Chatman, Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film [Ithaca, N.Y., 1978], p. 50). (21) It is quite plausible to link causally the restitution enacted in The Moonstone with historical events between the fall of Seringapatam and the novel's publication. This was a period of consolidation for the British in India. Between Tipu Sultan's defeat in 1799 and the 1857 Revolt, Muslim power was the chief obstacle in that consolidation; and the war against Tipu was supported by the Hindu powers in another tale of "Indian plotting and intrigue." The other fragile non-Muslim resistance came from the Sikhs, one item in the price for whose voluntary capitulation was "the famous Koh-i-Noor." As noted, during the revolt imperial power in India was actually in the hands of the Mughal Emperor in Delhi, Bahadur Shah. It was the dispossession of the "Mohammedan," therefore, which led to the possession of India as "Jewel in the Crown." Not insignificantly, in 1857-58 the Sikhs enthusiastically assisted in the sack of Delhi. Is there a homeopathic acknowledgment of loyalty here, in the fact that just about the same time the Koh-i-Noor was making its way to England to adorn an Empress's crown, Collins's Epilogue stages the return to India of the "yellow Diamond, whose splendour had last shone ... in England, from the bosom of a woman's dress" (p. 521), under the supervision of the Empress's anonymous agent, Murthwaite? See also nn. 12 and 13. (22) Together with the other two, this convention is repeated well into the twentieth century, particularly in the work of novelists like John Masters, M. M. Kaye, and Paul Scott. Although I do not know of any discussion which looks at the issue quite as I have formulated it, Benita Parry does look at the link between sex and fear as part of British attitudes in her Delusions and Discoveries: Studies on India in the British Imagination (Berkeley, 1972), pp. 70-131. On a general level, a pertinent treatment of the subject would be Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, tr. Leon S. Roudiez (New York, 1986). (23) As clear policy, this lure of romance ranges from Richard Burton's travels to Mecca and Medina to T. E. Lawrence's forays in the Arabian desert to the recurring figure of the traveler-spy in Kipling. For an analysis of the mythic aspects of the knowledge acquired by adventurers like Burton and Lawrence, see Rana Kabbani, Europe's Myth of the Orient (Bloomington, Ind., 1986).

An example closer to The Moonstone's historic context is Flora Annie Steel's novel about the 1857 Sepoy Revolt, On the Face of the Waters (London, 1897). Its action is controlled almost entirely by the shifting perspectives of a professional spy, who stabilizes the connection between the novel's political and romantic interests by going underground in the native section of Delhi during the revolt. However, the pattern also recurs well into the twentieth century, in writers like John Masters, M. M. Kaye, and Paul Scott. Although it only looks at these conventions as stereotypes, David Rubin's After the Raj: British Novels of India Since 1947 (Hanover, N. H., 1986) gives an exhaustive account of these writers. (24) Yuri Lotman, "The Origin of Plot in the Light of Typology," Poetics Today, 1, nos. 1-2 (1979), 167. (25) In her essay on "The Violence of Rhetoric," Teresa de Lauretis draws on Lotman to propose that "[a]s he crosses the boundary and |penetrates' the other space, the mythical subject is constructed as human being and as male; he is the active principle of culture, the creator of differences. Female is what is not susceptible to transformation, to life or death; she (it) is an element of plot-space, a topos, a resistance, matrix and matter." Teresa de Lauretis, Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction (Bloomington, Ind., 1987), pp. 43-44. I indirectly owe this reference to Elizabeth Claman from my graduate seminar at the University of Oregon. (26) Franco Moretti, Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literan Forms (London, 1988), pp. 145-46. 27 Moretti seems to regard metonymy judgmentally as an inferior form of the linkage between signifier and signified. For the theoretical ramifications of the metonymic constructs, as I have outlined them, a better reference would be Kaja Silverman, The Subjects of Semiotics (New York, 1983), pp. 85-88, 108-22, 191-94. See also, nn. 10, 16, 19 above.
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Author:Roy, Ashish
Publication:New Literary History
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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