Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Dickens, Collins, and the Tricky Subject of India

Before we hop into our first Moonstone readalong post, Alice has asked me to say some words on how Wilkie felt one way about India and Dickens felt VERY MUCH ANOTHER WAY. According to my introduction, which is on paper and therefore obviously true,

That's right, Oxford WORLD'S CLASSICS. I believe it.

Collins joined Dickens's Household Words magazine in 1856 as a staff writer. The Great Mutiny, also known as India's First War of Independence, occurred in 1857. It began with a mutiny of sepoys (Indian soldiers) in the East India Company's army. Dickens's outrage at this mutiny went beyond "civilized bounds." And then my introduction quotes some Dickens quotes that are, obviously, quite distasteful. Dickens used Household Words to "thunder out his genocidal anger and expected his subordinates to fall into step with their editor." He published 25 articles on the subject of India and "treacherous Indians." Collins wrote an article called "Sermon for Sepoys" and co-wrote a patriotic story called "The Perils of Certain English Prisoners" with Dickens. It's noted that, especially in "Sermon," Collins is far less bloodthirsty than his editor, though he does generally follow his instructions as well as the magazine's line.

Collins's outright views on India are not recorded, but his accounting of the Storming of Seringapatam does seem to paint the British troops in a rather barbarous light. His comments on the subject are subtle and easy to read into, and none were enough to bring the full wrath of Dickens on his head.

Although. Dickens reviewed and closely edited The Moonstone six months before it began its serial run in All the Year Round, and he gave his sub-editor W.H. Wills a very favourable review of the story. A year later, as the novel drew to a close, Dickens quite reversed his opinion, saying "The construction is wearisome beyond endurance, and there is a vein of obstinate conceit in it that makes enemies of readers." People have puzzled over Dickens's reversal of opinion, but my introduction suggests it may have something to do with Wilkie's preface to 1868 complete edition. Dickens wouldn't have seen this until he received his early, complimentary copy of the full story, which was to be published by a different company. Meaning, Dickens had no control over what Collins wrote. In the preface, Collins speaks of the famous Koh-i-Noor (or Mountain of Light) diamond, which was taken from India and sits in the Queen's crown.

It's the huge one in the middle there.

In the preface, Collins says "The famous Koh-i-Noor is also supposed to have been one of the sacred gems of India; and, more than this, to have been the subject of a prediction, which prophesied certain misfortune to the persons who should divert it from its ancient uses." The Queen of England cursed. The jewel in the crown tainted. Collins was sayin' some stuff. My introduction doubts, however, that Collins was writing The Moonstone as an anti-Imperial text. He presents too many viewpoints, literally and politically, for us to say for sure what his opinion was.



Sutherland, John. Introduction. The Moonstone. By Wilkie Collins. 1868. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. vii-xxix.

6 comments:

  1. Yay for Collins and not supporting the bullying of other nations. I didn't know about Dickens reversing his opinion and stuff like that, very interesting. I would really like to read some sort of biography about these two and their friendship.

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    1. I would read that - they seem like they got past their political differences enough to get in some mistressy mischief.

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  2. Look at Wilkie being (kinda) subversive and whatnot. And the gif at the end is the cherry on top

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    1. He's funny, hey? I wonder if we're reading more into it than is there. The Koh-i-Noor diamond quote seems fairly straightforward though.

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  3. SO INTERESTING. Thanks for doing this. I want to hug Wilkie and slap Dickens, but I can't do either because they're dead and so I will instead eat some gorgonzola crackers.

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    1. Gorgonzola crackers are the right alternative to impossible hugs and slaps.

      It IS interesting! I really really liked this introduction. We may need to read some Wilkie biography for our next readalong. Dude was an interesting character.

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