"Do you think a young lady's advice worth having?" — George du Maurier's frontispiece for Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone: A Romance. George du Maurier (1834-1896). The 1890 Chatto and Windus edition, illustrating page 94. Wood engraving, 9.5 cm x 15.1 cm, framed. The figures assembled in Rachel Verinder's sitting-room include (left to right) Gabriel Betteredge, Superintendent Seegrave, Sergeant Cuff, Rachel Verinder, and Franklin Blake. Behind Cuff is the paint-smeared door, about which Cuff is most interested as he believes that it is the key to discovering the thief. Rachel, for her part, proves strangely uncooperative. 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 the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated

"To-day is Friday," said Sergeant Cuff, addressing himself to Superintendent Seegrave. "Let us reckon back, sir. At three on the Wednesday afternoon, that bit of the painting was completed. The vehicle dried it in twelve hours​ — that is to say, dried it by three o'clock on Thursday morning. At eleven on Thursday morning you held your inquiry here. Take three from eleven, and eight remains. That paint had been eight hours dry, Mr. Superintendent, when you supposed that the women-servants' petticoats smeared it."

First knock-down blow for Mr. Seegrave! If he had not suspected poor Penelope, I should have pitied him.

Having settled the question of the paint, Sergeant Cuff, from that moment, gave his brother-officer up as a bad job — and addressed himself to Mr. Franklin, as the more promising assistant of the two.

"It's quite on the cards, sir," he said, "that you have put the clue into our hands."

As the words passed his lips, the bedroom door opened, and Miss Rachel came out among us suddenly.

She addressed herself to the Sergeant, without appearing to notice (or to heed) that he was a perfect stranger to her.

"Did you say," she asked, pointing to Mr. Franklin, "that HE had put the clue into your hands?"

("This is Miss Verinder," I whispered, behind the Sergeant.)

"That gentleman, miss," says the Sergeant — with his steely-grey eyes carefully studying my young lady's face — "has possibly put the clue into our hands."

She turned for one moment, and tried to look at Mr. Franklin. I say, tried, for she suddenly looked away again before their eyes met. There seemed to be some strange disturbance in her mind. She coloured up, and then she turned pale again. With the paleness, there came a new look into her face — a look which it startled me to see.

"Having answered your question, miss," says the Sergeant, "I beg leave to make an inquiry in my turn. There is a smear on the painting of your door, here. Do you happen to know when it was done? or who did it?"

Instead of making any reply, Miss Rachel went on with her questions, as if he had not spoken, or as if she had not heard him.

"Are you another police-officer?" she asked.

"I am Sergeant Cuff, miss, of the Detective Police."

"Do you think a young lady's advice worth having?"

"I shall be glad to hear it, miss."

"Do your duty by yourself — and don't allow Mr. Franklin Blake to help you!"

She said those words so spitefully, so savagely, with such an extraordinary outbreak of ill-will towards Mr. Franklin, in her voice and in her look, that — though I had known her from a baby, though I loved and honoured her next to my lady herself​ — I was ashamed of Miss Rachel for the first time in my life.​ ​ — p. 93-94 in "First Period. The loss of the Diamond (1848). The Events related by Gabriel Betteredge, House-steward in the service of Julia, Lady Verinder," Chapter 12.

Commentary: Rachel's Assertiveness and Eccentricity

To the present-day reader Sergeant Cuff's initial interview​with Rachel Verinder is hardly an emotional high point, and certainly not a particularly apt subject for a frontispiece, which should serve as a sort of visual overture and point towards the essential conflict of the novel. The initial appearance of the Indians or Herncastle's murdering the third Brahmin custodian of the Moonstone would seem to be more suitable subjects for a keynote illustration. However, as the illustrator of The Notting Hill Mystery​ in Once A Week (1862-63), of Thomas Hardy's The Hand of Ethelberta​ (1875-76) and A Laodicean (1880-81), and (soon afterwards)​the author of Trilby (1894), George Du Maurier was deeply involved in the production of both Sensation Fiction​ and what has been termed ​New Woman Fiction. The moment that he has seized upon underscores Rachel's strength of character and her ability to stand up to a room full of men who are bent on hearing her account of the smeared paint, the cause of which of course she cannot truthfully reveal​without implicating Franklin Blake as the thief.​In other words, although Rachel is a phlegmatic figure apparently, in fact she is in the throes of an emotional conflict, having to choose between a highly valuable diamond and the man whom she loves — certainly a suitable for the frontispiece of a New Woman novel, the genre into which readers of 1890 might well have placed The Moonstone: A Romance, illustrated by George Du Maurier and F. A. Fraser (London: Chatto and Windus).

Faced with the stress of having to confront two senior police officers in the presence of the man whom she loves and is trying to protect, Rachel Verinder is transformed from a wilful and relatively carefree eighteen-year-old aristocrat into a protofeminist heroine. She becomes after the theft of the Moonstone a subtle, powerful, and compelling character who is feminine in her feelings but masculine in her tenacity. Complex and unpredictable, she acts here according to the promptings of her heart (still loving the man whom she believes is a thief and a hypocrite) as well as of her mind (trying to outwit Cuff, having concluded that she saw Franklin steal the diamond). Through her dilemma, Collins demonstrates​ that the scientific, rational mind, relying solely on physical evidence, can lead the thinker to false (albeit logical) conclusions: the way to the truth is reconciling one's intuitions and one's thoughts. Eventually Rachel will emerge from her nightmare of doubt in both herself and Franklin, and become an even stronger character. However, like so many of Collins's heroines and the female characters whose stories Du Maurier illustrated, Rachel transcends the limitations which Victorian society imposed upon women, and remains a fully-realised and interestingly motivated character. Her love for Franklin Blake is the antithesis of her uncle, John Herncastle's selfishness and of her cousin, Godfrey Ablewhite's greed, to say nothing of her cousin, Drusilla Clack's attempts to impose her morality upon others. As Collins himself said in his preface, the "object" of The Moonstone "is to trace the influence of character on circumstances. The conduct pursued, under a sudden emergency, by a young girl [i. e., Rachel Verinder], supplies the foundation on which I have built this book." In other words, in constructing the 1890 frontispiece, George Du Maurier was responding directly to Collins's own cue.

Although hers is "only a young lady's opinion" and her auditors (entirely male) include two highly experienced detectives, she is quite right in asserting that (male) logic alone will be insufficient to detect the criminal and solve the crime. Cuff is initially wrong in supposing Rosanna Spearman to be the thief, and is subsequently incorrect about Franklin Blake, although he rightly discerns in the end that Godfrey Ablewhite is the actual thief. And everybody is wrong about the disguised Brahamins in that not only are they not the thieves — they are in fact the rightful owners of the purloined gem. At first, having actually witnessed Franklin take her diamond and knowing of his past debts, Rachel cannot help putting the worst construction on what she has seen. In a novel which often emphasizes the foreign, the mysterious, and the exotic, Du Maurier in his frontispiece focusses instead upon the emotional and mental struggles of a New Woman. The scene he has settled upon demonstrates her strength of character and determination — ironically, to thwart the investigation rather than advance it, despite the fact that she is the one who has been robbed.

Related Materials

References

Collins, Wilkie. The Moonstone: A Romance. All the Year Round. 1 January-8 August 1868.

_________. The Moonstone: A Romance. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. With 63 illustrations. 1 January-8 August 1868.

_________. The Moonstone: A Romance. Illustrated by George Du Maurier and F. A. Fraser. London: Chatto and Windus, 1890.

_________. The Moonstone: A Romance. Illustrated by A. S. Pearse. London & Glasgow: Collins, 1910, rpt. 1930.

Leighton, Mary Elizabeth, and Lisa Surridge. "The Transatlantic Moonstone: A Study of the Illustrated Serial in Harper's Weekly." Victorian Periodicals Review Volume 42, Number 3 (Fall 2009): pp. 207-243. Accessed 1 July 2016. http://englishnovel2.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/files/2014/01/42.3.leighton-moonstone-serializatation.pdf


Last updated 17 August 2016