“The last of the evening light was fading away; and over all the desolate place there hung a still and awful calm. The heave of the main ocean on the great sand-bank out in the bay, was a heave that made no sound. The inner sea lay lost and dim, without a breath of wind to stir it. Patches of nasty ooze floated, yellow-white, on the dead surface of the water. Scum and slim shone faintly in certain places, where the last of the light still caught them on the two great spits of rock jutting out, north and south, into the sea. It was now the time of the turn of the tide: and even as I stood there waiting, the broad brown face of the quicksand began to dimple and quiver – the only moving thing in all the horrid place" (160-1)
Collins’s description of the Shivering Sand is particularly evocative. It creates a complete, three-dimensional setting. While almost beautifully descriptive, words like “ooze,” “nasty,” and “horrid” remind readers that the narrator is the simple steward Gabriel Betteredge. This place, described so fully, will be significant in the plot of the story: Rosanna commits suicide here, and the hidden tin box is under the horrid quicksand.
“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" (525)
In epilogue, Mr. Murthwaite describes the view he has of the worship ceremony of the Indian Moon Deity. The countless references to nature, such as “grassy plain," “three rivers," “waveless ocean,” and “human creatures,” emphasizes the lush and natural setting of this worship ceremony. India, and the East, was, to Englishmen, still an untamed and wild land. Murthwaite strikes a balance between this opinion and the fact that the Indians are also very civilized, with cultural practices, such as this religious ritual.
“Lord bless us! It was a Diamond! As large, or nearly, as a plover’s egg! The light that streamed from it was like the light of the harvest moon. When you looked down into the stone, you looked into a yellow deep that drew your eyes into it so that they saw nothing else. It seemed unfathomable; this jewel, that you could hold between your finger and thumb, seemed unfathomable as the heavens themselves. We set it in the sun, and then shut the light out of the room, and it shone awfully out of the depths of its own brightness, with a moony gleam, in the dark" (97)
The Diamond itself is subject to a lengthy description of vivid imagery. Betteredge’s description goes to the heart of the Diamond’s nickname of “the Moonstone,” and how it gives its viewers impressions of lunar light. In addition, the description of how it seems to shine on its own is a foreshadowing of the awful role the Diamond is to play in the Verinder family’s adventures. The Diamond is almost personified, almost taking on qualities of a character.
“In a minute more, Miss Rachel came downstairs – very nicely dressed in some soft yellow stuff, that set off her dark complexion, and clipped her tight (in the form of a jacket) round the waist. She had a smart little straw hat on her head, with a white veil twisted round it. She had primrose-colored gloves that fitted her hands like a second skin. Her beautiful black hair looked as smooth as satin under her hat. Her little ears were like rosy shells – they had a pearl dangling from each of them. She came swiftly out to us, as straight as a lily on its stem, as a lithe and supple in every movement she made like a young cat. Nothing that I could discover was altered in her pretty face, but her eyes and her lips. Her eyes were brighter and fiercer than I liked to see; and her lips had so completely lost their color and their smile that I hardly knew them again" (190-1)
Betteredge also describes Miss Rachel in detail, since both her personality and the way she acts are important in determining how she makes decisions. Rachel’s physical description is also a testament to the way she is interpreted by others—why she has multiple suitors, and why other women treat her as though they were jealous.
“In the first place, Mr. Godfrey was, in point of size, the finest man by far of the two. He stood over six feet high; he had a beautiful red and white color; a smooth round face, shaved as bare as your hand; and a head of lovely long flaxen hair, falling negligently over the poll of his neck. But why do I try to give you this personal description of him? If you ever subscribed to a Ladies’ Charity in London, you know Mr. Godfrey Ablewhite as well as I do" (89)
Godfrey’s description is also important for plot elements in the story, and also aids in establishing his character. His height will be significant later in the story. Also, his physical description is necessary for comparison to his competitor, Franklin Blake.
“Look as I might, I could see no more of his boy’s rosy cheeks than of his boy’s trim little jacket. His complexion had got pale: his face, at the lower part, was covered, to my great surprise and disappointment, with a curly brown beard and mustachios. He had a lively touch-and-go-way with him, very pleasant and engaging, I admit; but nothing to compare with his free-and-easy manners of other times. To make matters worse, he had promised to be tall, and had not kept his promise. He was neat, and slim, and well made; but he wasn’t by an inch or two up to the middle height. In short, he baffled me altogether" (60)
Franklin’s description is a subjective interpretation from someone who knew him from long ago. Betteredge takes care to describe him, both physically as well as his mannerisms, so that it aids readers in understanding his actions and decisions later in the story. His confusing character upon reader adds to his continental mysteriousness; this also doesn’t help him when shady business about his monetary problems begins to show up.
The Moonstone Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Moonstone is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.