The closing pages of the July 1868 first edition of Wilkie Collins's A Moonstone. A Novel demonstrate how the large-scale illustrations such as "Never more were they to look on each other's faces" (8 August 1868) informed the volume reader's assessment and enjoyment of the end of the novel. Throughout the closing paragraphs of the novel in volume the American reader (unlike his English counterpart at the conclusion of the third volume in the Tinsley publication) would have mediated the text with the illustration, aware of the almost operatic wave of sorrow that engulfs the Brahmins at having to sacrifice their life-long friendship as an expression of their devotion to the Hindu God of the Moon. Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite it in a print one.] Click on image to enlarge it.

The Final Illustration in the 1868 Volume

In this final illustration, the Brahmins are hardly blood-thirsty foreigners bent on shedding the blood of the infidel. Rather, the trio enact a ballet of despair, for the three Brahmins, have been commanded by their deity to purify themselves of the taint of their experiences in the West by separating forever. No longer savage killers or thugs, they acknowledge in their pious gestures and solemn expressions the tragic necessity of living apart after so many years together in the devoted service to the Hindu moon-god. The individual in foreground with the long moustache is the leader, the same man who, in European garb, visited Mr. Bruff to ascertain the length of the loan on the Moonstone. The illustration is effective, then, in eliciting the American reader's sympathy for the priests who, in disguising themselves as jugglers, have lost caste, and have blood on their hands, albeit hardly "innocent" blood.

Whereas in The Perils of Certain English Prisoners in the Extra-Christmas number of Household Words for 1857 Dickens and Collins had expressed opposing sympathies for those who have been colonized by a European power, there is no dissonance in the closing and coherent voice of the celebrated Indian traveller, Mr. Murthwaite, whose sympathetic diction — "forfeited their caste," "purification byn pilgrimage," "Never more," and "plaintive music" (223) — complements the overwhelming sadness of the figure two rear, arms extended (presumably to the assembled body of worshippers below the "rocky platform") and of the the figure to the left, who regards with deep concern the posture and visage of his leader (right), who brushes aside his friend's concern with his right hand as he tries to hide tears of anguish with his left. Just as Collins is unreservedly in sympathy with the Brahmins (whose dedicated service to their deity has led to murder, after all), so the American artist depicts the trio in individualised postures of despair in order to enlist the reader's appreciation of all that they have sacrificed and will continue to sacrifice. The fringed and embroidered curtain to the rear is being drawn aside to reveal the stars as images of destiny in the night sky, and the posture of the Brahmin to the rear repeats the gesture of the Hindu God of the Moon, "with his four arms stretching toward the four corners of the earth" (223) in the letterpress. Whereas the moving account of Mr. Murthwaite culminates in a description of the diamond restored to the forehead of the idol and shining with yellowish intensity upon the narrator, the artist focuses instead upon the varied reactions of the three who have restored the Moonstone to the likeness of their deity.

Images of Brahmins and Their Destination by Sharp, 1946

Left: William Sharp's recreation of the (imagined) scene in which the Brahmins take ship for India, The Three Brahmins Depart (uncaptioned: 1946). Right: William Sharp's depiction of the temple at Somnath, Uncaptioned Tail-piece (1946). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Commentary: The 1868 [July] Harper and Brothers' Volume "With many illustrations"

The elegant, gold-lettered spine and tan morocco binding of the Harper & Brothers (New York, 1868) render this first edition of The Moonstone. A Novel (no longer "A Romance") a very attractive first edition, which is also the first illustrated complete edition of novel since it has utilised all sixty-six of the original periodical full-page and vignette engravings on wood by William Jewett and a second illustrator, "C. B." Wilkie Collins himself pronounced the early illustrations "very picturesque," although he took issue with depicting Betteredge in eighteenth-century servant's livery. The tall, slender octavo volume has 223 pages formatted, like All the Year Round, in two columns, and includes two pages of publisher's advertisements. The American publisher's original reddish-brown pebble-grained cloth paneled in blind, rebacked with matching morocco, the spine in six compartments having gilt between raised bands, and two green morocco labels gilt. In vbery good condition for a book nearly 150 years old — doubtless the British Post Office will honour Collins's novel with a commemorative stamp two years from now.

The Moonstone appeared originally in All the Year Round (London) and Harper's Weekly (New York), and as The Moonstone: A Romance in three volumes (London: Tinsley, 1868). The first American edition entitled The Moonstone. A Novel was published only a few days after the British edition in July as an octavo volume; however, the British triple-decker was unillustrated. A second edition published by Harper and Brothers in 1874 lacks the refinement and forty-nine of the original illustrations. That the story has been filmed in 1909, 1915, 1934, 1972, and 1997 attests to its enduring appeal, although its popularity may be restricted to courses in crime and detection fiction and the Victorian.

Related Materials

Last updated 27 September 2016