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Title-page vignette for Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone in the 1946 Doubleday edition. by William Sharp. Wood engraving from pen-and-ink, 3.6 x 4.3 cm [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Passage Suggested by the Title-page Vignette: A Proleptic Reading

The testimony of the inhabitants also declares, that Shore Lane, after midnight, is one of the quietest and loneliest streets in London. Here again, therefore, it seems fair to infer that — with ordinary caution, and presence of mind — any man, or men, might have ascended by the ladder, and might have descended again, unobserved. Once on the roof of the tavern, it has been proved, by experiment, that a man might cut through the trap-door, while lying down on it, and that in such a position, the parapet in front of the house would conceal him from the view of anyone passing in the street.

Lastly, as to the person, or persons, by whom the crime was committed.

It is known (1) that the Indians had an interest in possessing themselves of the Diamond. (2) It is at least probable that the man looking like an Indian, whom Octavius Guy saw at the window of the cab, speaking to the man dressed like a mechanic, was one of the three Hindoo conspirators. (3) It is certain that this same man dressed like a mechanic, was seen keeping Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite in view, all through the evening of the 26th, and was found in the bedroom (before Mr. Ablewhite was shown into it) under circumstances which lead to the suspicion that he was examining the room. (4) A morsel of torn gold thread was picked up in the bedroom, which persons expert in such matters, declare to be of Indian manufacture, and to be a species of gold thread not known in England. (5) On the morning of the 27th, three men, answering to the description of the three Indians, were observed in Lower Thames Street, were traced to the Tower Wharf, and were seen to leave London by the steamer bound for Rotterdam.

There is here, moral, if not legal, evidence, that the murder was committed by the Indians.

Whether the man personating a mechanic was, or was not, an accomplice in the crime, it is impossible to say. That he could have committed the murder alone, seems beyond the limits of probability. Acting by himself, he could hardly have smothered Mr. Ablewhite — who was the taller and stronger man of the two — without a struggle taking place, or a cry being heard. A servant girl, sleeping in the next room, heard nothing. The landlord, sleeping in the room below, heard nothing. The whole evidence points to the inference that more than one man was concerned in this crime — and the circumstances, I repeat, morally justify the conclusion that the Indians committed it.

I have only to add, that the verdict at the Coroner's Inquest was Wilful Murder against some person, or persons, unknown. — "The Second Period, Sixth Narrative: Contributed by Sergeant Cuff, II," p. 425-426.


The illustration connecting the Moonstone, the dead Godfrey Ablewhite (disguised), and the leader of the Brahmins points well towards the end of the novel, but these elements could be misconstrued as referring to the night of the theft if the viewer interprets the bearded man as the sleeping Franklin Blake, and the images of the Moonstone and the Brahmin as weighing upon Blake's (or, for that matter, Colonel Herncastle's) subconscious, motivating his desire to move the jewel to a more secure location. Indeed, the dark-bearded man in the vignette hardly resembles the blonde-haired, clean-shaven charity-organizer Godfrey Ablewhite, but might easily be Herncastle or Blake. The precise nature of the "theft" — that is, a double theft, after the initial theft (Herncastle's claiming it as spoils of war), with Blake trying to protect the gem, and with Ablewhite successfully stealing it — cannot be fully known until the conclusion of the experiment with the laudanum and the discovery of Ablewhite's corpse at The Wheel of Fortune Public House in Lower Thames Street, east of the Tower of London, events occurring fully a year after the theft in the opening chapters. The title-page vignette, then, constitutes a mystery for the reader to resolve through putting together the clues, discarding the red herrings, and determining who is the real criminal. The proleptic reading associates three images but offers no context for identifying them; the job of the reader of The Moonstone as Sharp sees it, then, is to acquire the context necessary to clarify the identities of the two figures and the nature of their relationship.

It remains a novel approach, however, to allude directly to the dénouement even before the story proper has even begun.

Relevant Plates from American Volume Editions: 1868, 1874 (Harper and Bros.) and 1900 (Collier's).

Left: The original serial wood-engraving in Harper's of the sacred gem in the forehead of the deity, The Idol of the Moon God (Peter Fenelon Collier). Right: Another 1868 illustration redrafted, this showing as surrealistically large Moonstone, The Diamond and the Ganges (8 February 1868). [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Related Materials


Collins, Wilkie. The Moonstone: A Romance. with sixty-six illustrations. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. Vol. 12 (1868), 4 January through 8 August, pp. 5-503.

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

_________. The Moonstone: A Novel. With many illustrations. First edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, [July] 1868.

_________. The Moonstone: A Novel. With 19 illustrations. Second edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1874.

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

_________. The Moonstone. With 19 illustrations. The Works of Wilkie Collins. New York: Peter Fenelon Collier, 1900. Volumes 6 and 7.

_________. The Moonstone: A Romance. With four illustrations by John Sloan. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908.

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

_________. The Moonstone. Illustrated by William Sharp. New York: Doubleday, 1946.

_________. The Moonstone: A Romance. With nine illustrations by Edwin La Dell. London: Folio Society, 1951.

Karl, Frederick R. "Introduction." Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone. Scarborough, Ontario: Signet, 1984. Pp. 1-21.

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.

Nayder, Lillian. Unequal Partners: Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, & Victorian Authorship. London and Ithaca, NY: Cornll U. P., 2001.

Peters, Catherine. The King of the Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins. London: Minerva, 1991.

Reed, John R. "English Imperialism and the Unacknowledged crime of The Moonstone. Clio 2, 3 (June, 1973): 281-290.

Stewart, J. I. M. "A Note on Sources." Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966, rpt. 1973. Pp. 527-8.

Vann, J. Don. "The Moonstone in All the Year Round, 4 January-8 1868." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: Modern Language Association, 1985. Pp. 48-50.

Winter, William. "Wilkie Collins." Old Friends: Being Literary Recollections of Other Days. New York: Moffat, Yard, & Co., 1909. Pp. 203-219.

Last updated 25 September 2016