Places: The Moonstone

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1868

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Detective and mystery

Time of work: 1799-1849

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Seringapatam

*Seringapatam Moonstone, The (se-rihn-guh-puh-TAM). Capital of southern India’s Mysore under the reign of Sultan Tipu Sahib in the late eighteenth century. The novel opens with the storming of Seringapatam by the British, during which John Herncastle steals the fabulous sacred Hindu diamond known as the “Moonstone.” As a land of mystics, mystery, and fabled gems, a land known as the “jewel” in the British crown, India provides an appropriate setting for the opening of this mystery novel.


*Yorkshire. Region in northern England in which Lady Verinder has an estate on the shore of the North Sea. Yorkshire provides atmosphere; its moors and the wildness of the North Sea serve as a forbidding and oppressive setting for many Victorian novels, providing loneliness and desolation as a background. The Verinder estate, at some distance from Frizinghall, the nearest town, stands in isolation, adding to the mysterious nature of the novel. There are a few other farms some miles distant, and the tiny fishing village of Cobb’s Hill marks the boundaries of the estate to prevent a sense of total isolation, even though the manor stands alone in its environment.

Echoing the intensity of the plot, the location rapidly changes back and forth from the deserted estate to London. The trips become more and more frenetic, giving a sense of breathlessness to the atmosphere.

One of the most ominous features of the estate, a large, deep stretch of quicksand locally known as the Shivering Sands, lies along the beach front of the grounds of the manor. The danger of the shoreline itself with its hidden rocks and reefs adds to the ominous nature of the surroundings. In addition to providing an atmosphere of terror and horror, the sea and the quicksand become metaphors for being caught in a mire of overwhelming circumstances beyond human control and reinforce the content of the novel. In this deserted spot, the supernatural curse carried by the stolen diamond and its Indian origins are frequently recalled, causing the foreboding and danger to be amplified by the isolation. An additional benefit to this rural setting can be found in the characterization, as the people are more natural and themselves here than when bound by the rigid social conventions in London.


*London. Capital city of Great Britain, in which Lady Verinder owns a house on Montague Square. Many wealthy and titled people of the novel’s period lived in country houses during the spring and summer seasons and in London homes during the fall and winter seasons. When the novel’s characters are living in London, they find their lives becoming more formal and artificial. London has always been known for its entertainments, society, and royal court.

In contrast, London has another side that is characterized by squalid poverty and crime. This contrast in environments is essential to the progress of the novel, which culminates in London’s slums.


*Brighton. Popular seaside resort in the south of England to which the novel’s setting shifts from London. Brighton has always been a popular retreat because of its climate and healthful atmosphere. In The Moonstone, however, Brighton’s balmy climate is a foil to emotional tempest and cannot sustain its healthful effects.

BibliographyHeller, Tamar. Dead Secrets: Wilkie Collins and the Female Gothic. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992. Applies to Collins’ work, including The Moonstone, insights derived from feminist criticism, noting the influence on Collins of the gothic novel, one of the major nineteenth century genres associated with women.Lonoff, Sue. Wilkie Collins and His Victorian Readers: A Study in the Rhetoric of Authorship. New York: AMS Press, 1982. In this study of the author’s relation to his contemporary audience, Lonoff finds in Collins’ work a covert rebellion against public opinion coupled with an overt desire to please. The book includes an extensive, lucid, and persuasive discussion of The Moonstone.Peters, Catherine. The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1991. A biography that is sensitive to the complexities of the man and appreciative of the accomplishment of the artist.Taylor, Jenny Bourne. In the Secret Theatre of Home: Wilkie Collins, Sensation Narrative, and Nineteenth Century Psychology. London: Routledge, 1988. Explores the ways in which nineteenth century theories of the workings of the mind permeate Collins’ fiction. Discusses The Moonstone as crucially shaped by the process of interplay and transformation between models of the unconscious derived from these theories.Thoms, Peter. The Windings of the Labyrinth: Quest and Structure in the Major Novels of Wilkie Collins. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992. Posits the quest for design as the thematic link among Collins’ major novels. In The Moonstone, no governing order is glimpsed behind the apparent disorderedness of life; design can therefore only be constructed out of the needs and desires of the characters.
Categories: Places