Category Archives: Guest posts

The Moonstone and Genre

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Bringing The Moonstone To The Stage” blog, chronicling research and process for our winter MainStage production of The Moonstone. This post is by Maren Robinson, our production dramaturg.

The Moonstone and Genre

I confess I have been delaying my first post for The Moonstone. Like a detective novel, there are so many irresistible avenues in which one can pursue when researching Wilkie Collins and the novel. I will try to set us down a number of those paths in the next few weeks without spoiling the mystery.

T.S. Eliot called The Moonstone, “the first and greatest of English detective novels,” but he did so in the context of an essay which praises Collins’ skill with atmosphere, but says that his novels will not have the permanence of Dickens.

G.K. Chesterton called it, “probably the best detective tale in the world.”

Dorothy L. Sayers in a 1944 introduction to The Moonstone said that Collins is “genuinely feminist in his treatment of women.”

It is useful to consider the question of genre.

While critics have categorized The Moonstone the first detective novel, and it certainly is a detective novel. (First detective novel is somewhat contested as The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Felix was serialized in 1862 but it did not have the success or longevity of The Moonstone) Collins subtitled The Moonstone “a romance” which has different connotations than our modern notions of romance novels. It is also part of a group of fiction popular in the 1860s known as sensation fiction. The unlike the Gothic novel, with which the sensation novel shares many features, in the Sensation novel the ordinary middle or upper middle class home becomes the scene of a terrible mystery or secret and the fear and pleasure derived in reading the story comes from revelation of some previously undisclosed familial secret. The underpinnings of the family home are made unstable by disclosure of secrets, possibly dark secrets, lying beneath the veneer of public respectability. Generally, the whole notion of genres was more fluid in the Victorian era than in the present.

For the purposes of the stage, this is particularly useful in that layers of knowledge that are revealed slowly overtime are enjoyable for an actor to play and for an audience to watch. It also fits well with Rob’s approach to the adaptation and Paul’s approach to the direction, which is to avoid the potential for vaudeville in favor of focusing real relationships.

It is also worth noting that Collins wrote a version of The Moonstone for the stage which was performed in 4 acts at the Royal Olympic Theatre in 1877. Collins simplified the plot, cut major characters and restricted the action to 24 hours. It was not well received and though it ran for three months the principal actors left the production before the run had finished.

In The Moonstone, Collins both pioneers and, in some cases, subverts the standard devices readers have come to know as the mainstays of detective fiction. An item is stolen from a locked house, there are a limited number of guests and servants who are the suspects, and an eccentric detective (who appears distracted) elicits key information from unsuspecting members of the household. The detective reveals a solution to the mystery based on analysis of the facts. The detective also at one point predicts the name of the guilty party by writing it on a piece of paper and sealing it in an envelope.

For the audience, I think it will be delightful to see these devices revealed on stage. At the same time it is important to realize that for all his popularity with reading public the categories applied to Collins have diminished his status compared to fellow author and friend Charles Dickens, who grappled with similar issues of class and the problems with the laws in England at that time particularly as they pertained to property, women and inheritance.

The novel was published starting January 4, 1868, in 32 weekly installments in All The Year Round, the weekly journal founded by Charles Dickens and simultaneously in the United States in Harper’s Weekly. Later in was published in book form in three relatively inexpensive volumes. The structure of the weeklies meant that revelations varied from week to week to keep the readers waiting to see what the next installment would bring which fit well with the emerging literary form that focused on a detective.

The structure of The Moonstone follows the narratives of multiple different characters each giving their information in turn in the hope that the layers of evidence will emerge that will reveal what happened to ill-fated moonstone. This presents unique difficulties and opportunities for the stage and I think Rob has kept the strength and individuality of Collins’ competing narrators.

In the days to come I will give more information on the context and the characters but will try to avoid spoilers.

Sources: Wilkie Collins An Illustrated Guide, Andrew Gasson; Wilkie Collins: Women Property and Propriety, Philip O’Neill; Introduction Oxford World’s Classics Edition of The Moonstone and Introduction Penguin Classics Edition of The Moonstone

Temple and Arch (2)

Note: This is a cross-posting from Paul Holmquist’s “Neverwhat?” blog, chronicling his research for directing our spring MainStage production of Neverwhere.

Temple and Arch

Hi am Maren, the dramaturg for Neverwhere and I am delighted to be part of the project and delighted that Paul asked me to post. That’s a lot of delight.

First of all, I enjoy Gaiman because he works in layers and there many resonances to his words and worlds. Neverwhere is like a street map and a tube map and bits of Celtic history, art  and modern London all blended in and knit together Gaiman’s own inventiveness and dark whimsy.

So in the spirit of layering, I wanted to add a thought about the use of temple in “temple and arch”. The beauty of the phrase is that is has so many meanings and evokes such strong images.

First, just to riff on Paul’s post, England had early pre-Christian temples and the Beast of London seems to harken back to pre-Christian stories like the Fisher King (wounded in the groin by a boar or a beast) and some Welsh mythology. Anyone interested in looking at this early mythology might look at the Welsh classic The Mabinogion, a world in which heroes step in and out of magical other worlds easily. But I digress, London below seems to get the layers of all times in history, they get the detritus of the London, both the pre-Christian, the Christian and the secular. They get their geography and customs from above and below, present and past.

However my thoughts about Temple and Arch were a bit more geographic. Since Gaiman plays with place names in London, I thought of geographic temples when I heard the oath “temple and arch.”

There is a Temple church in London that founded by the Knights Templar. The Templars being that odd hybrid of monastics and warriors made famous during the crusades both for their valor and their secretiveness and from the rumor that they had the shroud Christ was wrapped in after his death. (The Black Friars in Neverwhere seem to be cut from similar cloth.) Temple Church is near the Inns of Court of which there are four: Grays Inn, Lincoln Inn, The Inner Temple and the Middle Temple. I am sure I am inadequately representing the history of the British legal system but roughly, they used to be where law students learned the law and now I believe they sort of function like our bar associations now and you belong to one of them if you practice law. Historically, some of Shakespeare’s plays were played for these groups who were the new burgeoning class of lawyers who could afford to have the players come there.

Here are links to the church and inner and middle temple.  Judging from some of the photos on their very modern websites there are a fair number of arches there as well.

The London Temples are very old institutions and the hierarchies that govern them date back to the age of fiefdoms and guilds, a system still apparently used in London below.

Where the Middle and Inner Temples are now intricately associated with law in London (apart from the Old Bailey itself where cases are tried) Temple might also have a legal connotation.

Thinking about temples as a geographic feature of London made me think about arches in London geography of which there seem to be many. There are a few arches that might be of interest: The Marble Arch across from the speaker’s corner in Hyde Park in London, (there is a marble arch tube station), Wellington Arch also in Hyde Park and of course Admiralty Arch near Trafalgar Square. But then there are many arches in London.  Below is Admiralty Arch in picture taken by my husband when we were in London over a year ago.

The interesting thing about an Arch as a geographic memorial, you go through them like a door but not into a building, you see through them and around them, but they still function architecturally even if they are not part of a building. They change the thing you see through them and frame it.  But as you can see I am prone to digression and I have already digressed far enough I just wanted to peel a few more layers of the onion.