Sunday, January 08, 2006

On this day in literature . . .

1824 ~ Wilkie Collins was born in London.

Collins is the author of The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868) as well as several other novels. He also had a strong friendship with Charles Dickens, who encouraged Collins's writing. Collins struggled with an addiction to opium as a pain reliever, a struggle that found its way into some of his writing.

T.S. Eliot declared The Moonstone to be "the first and the best of modern English detective novels," and indeed it is often praised as the first British novel to feature a detective. But my favorite aspect of The Moonstone (I've read it twice) is the variety of narrators that Collins uses to tell the story. As the story progresses (the theft of an Indian jewel is at the center of the conflict), different narrators pick up the telling of the story, each with his or her own peculiarities. I think what Collins achieves in The Moonstone is the successful combination of a detective story (which demands brevity) and a study of characters and society (which needs greater length). By using the feature of several narrators, Collins is able to do both.


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