[Part 3 of the author's 4-part essay, "Collins's 'detective business': The Moonstone as a Detective Novel."]
It can be argued then that despite the novel's criticism of English imperialism and characterization of the Brahmin's as noble, The Moonstone reinforces the imperial ideologies. Even as the novel pits the 'wicked' Englishmen against naïve Hindoos, it sustains the myth of colonial enterprise. The novel is beleaguered by 'a structure of attitude and reference' towards the empire (Said, 73). The British imagination notes Indians for their duplicity, cunning, hypocrisy, treachery; and coupled with this, their capacity of secrecy and concealment. Written in the wake of the Revolt of 1857, the novel negates the anti-colonial Indian sentiments. Unsurprisingly then, rather than an Englishman, Mr. Murthwaite draws attention to the duplicitous and conniving nature of the Hindoos. He points out that not only they can cleverly conceal their feelings but they are also bestial creatures who possess 'patience of cats' and the 'ferocity of tigers' (108). Undeniably, Indians are 'Others', marked by differences in colour, moral traits, class and caste distinctions. The historical experiences of Indian people have no independent existence outside Collins' Oriental text. India and Indians are frozen in a pre-historic time-capsule. 'The wild regions of Kattiawar' remain unaffected by both colonial exploitation and Enlightenment thinking (461) even in what Betteredge calls the 'age of progress' (43).
It seems to me that the anxiety regarding the expanding empire and 'the struggle over geography' (Said, 6) initiates the surveillance of the colonial other and his otherness. Collins's 'fictional history' becomes a tool for shaping, ordering and reinterpreting historical events such as Anglo-Sikh Wars (1848-49) and the Revolt of 1857. Collins blurs the boundary between literature and history by using annals, family papers, and documents within his narrative. Since the detective figure is crucial to the surveillance mechanism operating in the empire, it can be proposed that this figure acts as a cultural custodian. Sergeant Cuff and Franklin Blake spend considerable energies in order to trace the Indians. Even though the Indians go back to their own land, detection is complete. Collins successfully designs a cultural universe which is more repressive than any individual institution. There is an understanding that the ever-expanding empire needs a new framework of control.
Interestingly the process of recuperation begins at home. Caroline Reitz argues that the English police had imperial origins and that the English police systems originated and evolved in India and Ireland (175 — a contrary view). Nevertheless, the model of surveillance society is constructed first in the metropolis before it is exported to the colonies in The Moonstone. Surveillance forms a capillary network through which power is distributed throughout 'the country [English countryside/ colony] and the city' [metropolis/ mother country] (Williams, 282). The spectacle of the momentous machinery of law is elided in Collins's novel. Rather it makes detection public and hides execution and punishment by law. The eye of the detective complements the public eye of power. It is true that no single gaze performs the function of surveillance in Collins novel. However in a novel where each character is perturbed by 'detective fever' (128), the multiple detectives (Blake, Bruff, Betteredge, Cuff, Ezra Jennings) together occupy the social 'panopticon' and try to make all things visible on behalf of the hegemonic forces (Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 200)
Even as Collins contends the notion of absolute truths, he retains a totalitarian desire to create a 'transparent society' (217). There is a heroization of the agents of surveillance. Sergeant Cuff to an extent can be regarded as the prototype of the nineteenth-century detective hero. He is introduced as an eccentric character by Betteredge: 'His walk was soft; his voice melancholy; his long lanky fingers were hooked like claws. He might have been a parson, or an undertaker-or anything else, except what he really was' (104). The Yorkshire estate is opened to visual inspection down to its darkest recesses by him. He wishes to examine 'the wardrobes of everybody-from her ladyship downwards' (145). Further he trails Rosanna Spearman, eavesdrops on Blake, and Betteredge and sets a spy on Rachel's carriage.
Collins, Wilkie. The Moonstone. London: Penguin, 1994.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage, 1977.
Reitz, Caroline. "Bad Cop/ Good Cep: Godwin, Mill and the Imperial Origins of the English Detective". Novel: A Forum on Fiction 33:2 (Spring 2000): 175-95. JSTOR. 20 March 2007
Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Knopf, 1993.
Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. London: Chatto and Windus, 1973.
Last modified 3 October 2007