Captain Ravender and first mate Steadiman are bringing the Golden Mary from England to California, for the gold rush, when they run into an iceberg rounding Cape Horn. Crew and passengers make it into boats, as the ship is clearly going down, and row and drift around the South Pacific until being picked up just as they are all about to expire.
The captain and the first mate are both first rate: the captain steady and respectable, eating dinner with the lady passengers, threatening to shoot the bad seed who almost panics the escape operation, and the first mate hypercompetent, playful, serious, and taking over, seeing everyone through to the rescue even though he wishes for the benefit of the captain’s experience the whole time. And there are some very good scenes at sea:
The light shone up so high that I could see the huge iceberg upon which we had struck, cloven at the top and down the middle, exactly like Penrith Church in my dream. At the same moment I could see the watch last relieved, crowding up and down on deck; I could see Mrs Atherfield and Miss Coleshaw thrown about on the top of the companion as they struggled to bring the child up from below; I could see that the masts were going with the shock and the beating of the ship; I could see the frightful breach stove in on the starboard side, half the length of the vessel, and the sheathing and timbers spirting up; I could see that the Cutter was disabled, in a wreck of broken fragments; and I could see every eye turned upon me. It is my belief that if there had been ten thousand eyes there, I should have seen them all, with their different looks. And all
Continue reading The Wreck of the Golden Mary by Charles Dickens
So The Moonstone is put together from this unusually large number of separate narratives, which appear in nonoverlapping chronological order. This is the kind of thing that’s right up my alley, and somehow I didn’t even know about it until I’d opened the book to the table of contents. Shameful.
The narratives are all put together by Franklin Blake, though it’s not entirely clear why. At the beginning he seems like something of a family chronicler; later I thought he was collecting materials for his own exoneration; and later still it seemed he wouldn’t have needed them after all. But he collects a combination of preexisting documents and specifically commissioned accounts.
Blake is particular in his commission: each witness must only write about what they themselves knew at the time, and must not color their accounts with the knowledge that they later gained as the mystery of the Moonstone was solved. They are pretty good about this; we know they know what happens, but they don’t let us find anything out in advance for the most part.
So Blake wants us to have the best first-hand account possible of the entire affair from top to bottom. But normally this kind of testimony is far from unimpeachable, and we expect, with so very many narratives, to find conflicts or mysteries to clear up among them. I mean, this is a mystery, anyway, and Collins has given us a bunch of different accounts from a bunch of different people, some of whom must have something to hide. So we expect to be teasing out the differences, finding a detail here or there, that sort of thing, but it doesn’t really happen. In fact, because the stories are mostly recounted after the mystery is cleared up, the tellers don’t really have much to
Continue reading “As genuine documents they are sent to me—and as genuine documents I shall preserve them”
Sarah commented on my post about Gabriel Betteredge, the narrator of the first part of The Moonstone (actually, not of the very first part), that she thinks “the strength of The Moonstone is in its characters, especially Gabriel,” and I tend to think she is right. Or at least, one of its biggest strengths.
First, the whole idea of character is foregrounded in the novel in a couple of important ways, the first being the structure of the story itself. Franklin Blake, one of the principals in the affair of the Moonstone, charges himself with collecting the most thorough account of the mystery possible. He prevails on several witnesses, not just to the theft of the Indian Diamond but to all the ensuing events up to and including the solution to the crime, to provide him with accounts of what they themselves saw, heard, and knew at the time. The accounts are not overlapping, though they make reference to each other in places. But the experience of hearing the story recounted by eleven different first person narrators, each of whom appears in the accounts of the others, puts the matter of character immediately in mind.
The first such narrator (after the prologue) I have already mentioned, Gabriel Betteredge. He is unusual in that he is one of two people to tell two separate parts of the story, and in that his first account is by far the longest portion of the book. He introduces us to all the main players, so it’s through him we first get an idea of all the rest of the people we will come to know much better later. For one: Rachel Verinder. Rachel is behind the second reason character is so important in the story; it is because of Rachel’s character (secretive, obstinate,
Continue reading Gabriel Betteredge & Co.: character in The Moonstone
I am in love with the narrator of (the first part of) The Moonstone. The faithful old steward, as the case against his mistress’s daughter becomes thicker and thicker:
It was downright frightful to hear him piling up proof after proof against Miss Rachel, and to know, while one was longing to defend her, that there was no disputing the truth of what he said. I am (thank God!) constitutionally superior to reason. This enabled me to hold firm to my lady’s view, which was my view also. This roused my spirit, and made me put a bold face on it before Sergeant Cuff. Profit, good friends, I beseech you, by my example. It will save you from many troubles of the vexing sort. Cultivate a superiority to reason, and see how you pare the claws of all the sensible people when they try to scratch you for your own good!
How will this superiority repay him in the end? Funny that I like him, saying things like that, but I do.