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NA302712 - COLLINS, W.: Moonstone (The) (Abridged)
William Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824, the son of a
successful landscape painter. After working in the tea business and reading for the bar at Lincoln’s Inn, he was determined to become a ‘man of letters’ and was fortunate to acquire Charles Dickens as his literary patron. His interest in writing novels came from his early involvement in the theater and in 1851 he became stage valet to Dickens for one of the many dramatic entertainments, which Dickens and his friends and family staged for various charitable causes. Eventually, Collins was promoted and in1856 the two writers co-starred in a play, The Frozen Deep, which Collins had written himself. His plays were full of drama and suspense and it was his love of the immediacy of the theater which went on to inform his novels with the vitality and pace which are so evident in The Moonstone, and which were to make it so popular with such a huge audience.
Like Dickens, Collins was both a popular and highly literary writer; a hundred years later, T.S. Eliot was to describe The Moonstone as ‘the first, the longest and the best of modern English detective novels’, and Collins’ device of letting each ‘witness’ give their own version of the events owes as much to the drama of the courtroom as to the theater. By adopting this structure, Collins was able not only to sustain interest and suspense throughout a long novel based on a single event, but was also able to use his skill of characterization to the full. Gabriel Betteridge is no ordinary old retainer; he is sought out as often for his wisdom as for his dependability and it is his beguiling voice, which draws us into the story. Collins wrote that the ‘Narrative of Miss Clack…proved most successful in amusing the public’ and she remains one of his greatest creations, as familiar today as she was when the book was first published. Rosanna Spearman and Rachel Verinder are both strong and passionate women who do not conform to the strict Victorian archetype. In fact, Collins defied convention himself: he formed a liaison with Martha Rudd, by whom he had two daughters and a son, but whom he never married, and continued throughout to sustain another relationship with Caroline Clow. The fact that his private life left him on the margins of respectable society may explain why Collins felt able to create characters that are less constrained by their social position than many figures in Victorian literature.
In the Preface to the first edition of the book, Collins wrote: ‘The attempt made here is to trace the influence of character on circumstance. The conduct pursued, under a sudden emergency, by a young girl, supplies the foundation on which I have built this book.’ However, the book is much more than this might suggest and part of Collins’ success is no doubt attributable to his astute commercial sense. The Moonstone appeared in serial form in the popular magazine All the Year Round from January 4 to August 8, 1868. He explained in a preface of 1871 how difficult the process had been, when he was struck down by illness and his mother lay dying: ‘I doubt if I should have lived to write another book, if the responsibility of the weekly publication of this story had not forced me to rally my sinking energies of body and mind — to dry my useless tears, and to conquer my merciless pains.’ In fact, Collins suffered from recurring attacks of gout and depression and relied increasingly on laudanum for relief from his pain. The drug was freely available and no doubt he drew on his own experiences of laudanum when he wrote The Moonstone.
Between 1859 and 1870, Collins published four major novels, The Woman in White, No Name, Armadale and The Moonstone. Although he went on to write many more novels, none was to match the perfection in style and content of The Moonstone. Wilkie Collins died in 1889.
Notes by Heather Godwin
The Moonstone — Cast
Gabriel Betteridge Clive Swift
Miss Clack Delia Paton
Mathew Bruff/Ezra Jennings Neville Jason
Franklin Blake Chris Larkin
Sergeant Cuff/Cousin/Mr. Murthwaite .Bill Homewood
About the Readers
Clive Swift is familiar to television audiences around the world for his comic work in Keeping Up Appearances, but his career has been based on extensive theatrical work with the RSC and other leading British companies. Among his films have been Excalibur and A Passage to India; his radio work has included Fielding’s Tom Jones and From the Depths of the Waters, which won the Sony Award. In addition, he has directed extensively and played a creative role in drama teaching, instigating The Actor’s Centre in London and writing The Job of Acting.
Chris Larkin trained at LAMDA and has since appeared in seasons at Colchester, Farnham, Clwyd and Derby. Among his theater appearances have been Taste of Honey and The Lucky Chance. His television and film credits include Frank Stubbs Promotes, Grimsby Last Stop, Angels and Insects and Jane Eyre.
Delia Paton trained at LAMDA and after early experience in repertory and on tour she moved towards radio and television work. She has worked extensively for BBC Radio and has read several audiobooks for them. She performs her own adaptation of Mrs. Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë.
Neville Jason trained at LAMDA and has appeared with the English Stage Company, the Old Vic Company and the RSC, as well as with repertory theaters and in West End musicals. His many television roles include Lapointe in Maigret, Horatio in Hamlet and Prince Reynart in Dr. Who. Formerly a member of the BBC Radio Drama Company, he is frequently heard in radioplays and readings.
Bill Homewood has an extensive record of leading classical roles with major repertory companies including the RSC. TV and film credits include Hamlet, Spy Trap, Crocodile Shoes, and his own series, Wise Guy. Homewood is a frequent reader for Naxos AudioBooks.
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