Category Archives: Guest posts

Opium Eating and The Moonstone

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.

Opium Eating and The Moonstone

The use of opium is featured in several of novels by Wilkie Collins including The Moonstone. Collins was also a user of opium both in laudanum and injections. It is important however to understand that opium was widely used in England at this time as a medicinal remedy. Although Doctors and chemists widely disagreed about both its uses and it the physiological response to the drug it was accepted for use in the home and was not considered a source of shame or moral failing or addiction as an illness in the same way as modern drug use.

Opium is used in a variety of forms all of which are derived from the sticky white juice taken from the opium poppy. It can be prepared in a variety of forms. During the time period it was smoked in pipes, and injected as morphine but most often it was prepared in a brownish/red liquid tincture in alcohol known as laudanum.

Laudanum was widely available and inexpensive in chemist shops in even the smallest English villages. It was commonly given to sooth fussy children and infants. It was sold under a wide variety of names including: Batley’s Sedative Solution, Dalby’s Carminative, Godfrey’s Cordial, McMunn’s Elixir, and Mother Bailey’s Quieting Syrup for which an advertisement is pictured at left. It was given as a tonic or cure a wide range of illnesses including colds, cholera, hay fever, insomnia, tuberculosis, nervousness, headaches, gout and rheumatism.

In Opium and the Romantic Imagination, Alethea Hayter says that,”Laudanum was cheaper than beer or gin, cheap enough for even the lowest-paid worker.” Further in the same work, a chemist in a small Lancashire parish is cited as selling 200 pound of opium per year and a chemist in Thorpe is described as telling Coleride he sold two to three pounds of opium and a gallon of laudanum every market day.

Wilkie Collins saw his father taking “Bately’s Drops” to ease the pain of heart disease before his death. When Collins began to suffer symptoms of rheumatism and gout as well as eye pain he began taking laudanum to ease the pain. He would be a lifelong user of laudanum. As his tolerance for the opiate increased so did his dosages. Late in life Collins was taking doses that would have killed a normal person. At a dinner party, he apparently asked the surgeon Sir William Fergusson to verify his claim and Fergusson told the dinner party that the amount of laudanum Collins took nightly was sufficient to kill every man at the dinner table. Collins also received occasional injections of morphine for pain.

Collins seems to have both resented and romanticized his need for laudanum. He claimed he took laudanum “To stimulate the brain and steady the nerves,” but he advised his friend Hall Caine against taking it himself. He felt he needed it to bear the pain he suffered but he was also aware of the associations laudanum had with numerous writers. Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater was published in 1821. The use of opium by authors such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Charles Baudelaire was also well-known.

Walter Scott claimed to have written part of The Bride of Lammermoor (a novel particularly admired by Collins) while he was under the influence so that when he read it he did not recognize the story as his own. Collins may have remembered this story when he told a similar story about writing The Moonstone. Collins claimed that his pain was so great that he had to dictate the story and that he went through several secretaries before he found one who would ignore his cries of pain. It is clear from the manuscript that some of the pages are written in a different hand. Collins also claimed that he was “pleased and astonished” by the end of The Moonstone but did not recognize it as his own work.

“If I had only myself to think of, I should prefer the sharp pain to the frightful dreams.” – Ezra Jennings, The Moonstone

The character of Doctor Candy’s assistant, Ezra Jennings, in The Moonstone is also an opium user many critics have seen him as the voice of Collins speaking when he describes the effects of the opium that keeps him from pain but gives him terrible nightmares. Collins did not describe nightmares as part of the effects of his laudanum use but he did describe waking hallucinations including the feeling that someone was standing behind him, ghosts on the staircase who wanted to push him down and a green woman with tusks who said goodnight by biting his shoulder.

Collins personal experience with laudanum is also represented in his descriptions of the experience of being under its influence which is key in both The Moonstone and his other novels including No Name and Armadale.

Sources: Opium and the Romantic Imagination, Alethea Hayter and Wilkie Collins, An Illustrated Guide, Andrew Gasson

Wilkie Collins: Beyond the Veil of Domesticity

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.

Wilkie Collins: Beyond the Veil of Domesticity

In thinking about the complex web of interpersonal relationships in The Moonstone it is inevitable that one should look at the complicated mysteries of Collins’ personal life.

William Wilkie Collins was the son of Harriet and William Collins. His father was a successful landscape painter and member of the Royal Academy. Initially, making a living as an artist was difficult and the Collinses financial circumstances were precarious for a time before successful commissions and patronage assured the Collins family of a respectable living. Collins was named after his godfather. His father was conservative and very religious, traits Collins would seem to rebel against in his own more Bohemian adulthood. (A young Collins in a portrait by Millais at right.)

Collins had a bulge on one side of his forehead and was nearsighted from childhood, wearing glasses most of his life.

His education was patchy with time at Maida Hill Academy and travels in France and Italy with his family when he was twelve and thirteen years old. He considered his time in Europe the best part of his education. He finished his education at a London boarding school where he began telling stories to please a school bully.

He worked at Antrobus & Co., a tea merchant. Collins hated the work and used much of his time to write stories. Much of his experiences here would reappear fictionalized in his novel, Hide and Seek. He read law at Lincoln’s Inn in May 1846.

Collins maintained two households with women to whom he was not married, Caroline Graves and Martha Rudd. In 1858, Collins was living with widow Caroline Graves and her seven year old daughter from her first marriage, Harriet (but called Carrie). Collins paid for Carrie’s education and when she was older she would often serve as his secretary. She made Collins life comfortable, though Dickens apparently referred to her as “the female skeleton” in the house. Some accounts describe his meeting with Caroline Graves as the inspiration for the opening of his novel, The Woman in White, but the stories are not confirmed. Collins and Graves would live together unmarried except for a brief two years when Graves married Joseph Clow. The marriage was likely in response to Collins new relationship with Martha Rudd or because he still did not want to marry Graves after his mother’s death removed the excuse of her potential objection to the marriage. After two years Caroline abandoned her marriage to Clow and she and Collins lived as before. (Caroline Graves at right)

Collins was forty when he likely met nineteen year old Martha Rudd who was working as a servant in an inn where Collins vacationed. He brought her to London where she lived as Mrs. William Dawson and bore Collins two daughters Marian and Harriet and a son, William. (Martha Rudd at left)

The Martha Rudd and her children lived as Mrs. Dawson and the children used the name Dawson. They always lived within walking distance of Collins and Graves and the women knew of each other and the Dawson children were welcome in both homes.

Collins provided for both his families in his will. However, Carrie had married Henry Powell Bartley who served as Collins solicitor for the estate. His extravagant lifestyle decimated the inheritance that Collins had intended to secure his two families. It is notable that Collins, whose novels focus on revealing the uncomfortable realities underneath the familial structures should refrain from any traditional family structure himself.

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

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.