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Friday, June 12, 2009

Religion in The Moonstone

Collins was not an overly religious person himself, as he was turned off by his overpious father and the evangelical movement in Victorian England. However, he was not opposed to religion, as he once wrote that he "believe(s) Jesus Christ to be the Son of God." Nevertheless, he did not believe that religion as a topic belonged in a newspaper, as he once told an editor for whom he wrote, and it is not a topic on which he dwells in his novels (Keith Lawrence, "The Religion of Wilkie Collins: Three Unpublished Documents").

In The Moonstone, religion plays a role in the narrative as the reader sees Chrisitianity and Hinduism as ooposing forces. Christianity is represented in the character of Miss Clack while the three Indians as well as Murthwaite's travel to India allows us to obtain a view of Hinduism. Despite the feelings of superiority of Englishmen toward Indians, Hinduism is portrayed positively in the novel while Christianity is given a bad name.

Though certain characters diapprove of the Indians' presence near the Verinder estate, Collins uses Murthwaite's ability to communicate with the Hindus to show that their object is noble. Their goal is not to harm anyone, though that may be a result, but to recover the stolen diamond. It is a diamond that is ultimately stolen on two different occasions by two English Christians, who have only financial gain as their motive. As a result, they both flee threats of death, though Godfrey is eventually killed while in possession of the diamond. Despite this death of an Englishman, the reader sympathizes with the Indians who only sought to reclaim that which had first belonged to them.

Collins ends the novel with a cativating description of a Hindu ceremony in which Murthwaite witnesses the diamond placed back in the head of a statue of the Hindu moon goddess.

"Looking back down the hill, the view presented the grandest spectacle of Nature and Man, in combination, that I have ever seen. The lower slopes of the eminence melted imperceptibly into a grassy plain, the place of the meeting of three rivers. On one side, the graceful winding of the waters stretched away, now visible, now hidden by trees, as far as the eye could see. On the other, the waveless ocean slept in the calm of the night. People this lovely scene with tens of thousands of human creatures, all dressed in white, stretching down the sides of the hill, overflowing into the plain, and fringing the nearer banks of the winding rivers. Light this halt of the pilgrims by the wild red flames of cressets and torches, streaming up at intervals from every part of the innumerable throng. Imagine the moonlight of the East, pouring in unclouded glory over all—and you will form some idea of the view that met me when I looked forth from the summit of the hill.
A strain of plaintive music, played on stringed instruments, and flutes, recalled my attention to the hidden shrine.
I turned, and saw on the rocky platform the figures of three men. In the central figure of the three I recognised the man to whom I had spoken in England, when the Indians appeared on the terrace at Lady Verinder's house. The other two who had been his companions on that occasion were no doubt his companions also on this.
One of the spectators, near whom I was standing, saw me start. In a whisper, he explained to me the apparition of the three figures on the platform of rock.
They were Brahmins (he said) who had forfeited their caste in the service of the god. The god had commanded that their purification should be the purification by pilgrimage. On that night, the three men were to part. In three separate directions, they were to set forth as pilgrims to the shrines of India. Never more were they to look on each other's faces. Never more were they to rest on their wanderings, from the day which witnessed their separation, to the day which witnessed their death.
As those words were whispered to me, the plaintive music ceased. The three men prostrated themselves on the rock, before the curtain which hid the shrine. They rose—they looked on one another—they embraced. Then they descended separately among the people. The people made way for them in dead silence. In three different directions I saw the crowd part, at one and the same moment. Slowly the grand white mass of the people closed together again. The track of the doomed men through the ranks of their fellow mortals was obliterated. We saw them no more.
A new strain of music, loud and jubilant, rose from the hidden shrine. The crowd around me shuddered, and pressed together.
The curtain between the trees was drawn aside, and the shrine was disclosed to view.
There, raised high on a throne—seated on his typical antelope, with his four arms stretching towards the four corners of the earth—there, soared above us, dark and awful in the mystic light of heaven, the god of the Moon. And there, in the forehead of the deity, gleamed the yellow Diamond, whose splendour had last shone on me in England, from the bosom of a woman's dress!
Yes! after the lapse of eight centuries, the Moonstone looks forth once more, over the walls of the sacred city in which its story first began. How it has found its way back to its wild native land—by what accident, or by what crime, the Indians regained possession of their sacred gem, may be in your knowledge, but is not in mine. You have lost sight of it in England, and (if I know anything of this people) you have lost sight of it for ever."

Against the backdrop of this ethereal scene, the diamond is back where it belongs and peace has been restored. In no way does Collins mock the ceremony of the restoration of the diamond. Instead he paints a beautiful picture of the Hindus that is evocative of the respect that Collins has toward their religious beliefs.

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