The Moonstone was written in 1868, published in the middle of Wilkie Collins’s career as a writer. It was written after his first major success in The Woman in White (1860), yet, alongside with the 1860 sensation novel, The Moonstone is Collins’s most enduring work. It has not gone out of print since its original publication.
The novel is written in an epistolary fashion, using fictional extracted pieces and papers. All of these narratives are told from limited first-person point-of-view narrations, with several alternating narrators. The work also contains editorial footnotes and asides from the narrators to readers; it carries a fictional frame of being a compilation by protagonist Franklin Blake.
Known for being a master of sensational novel-writing, that is, fiction which focused on plot and dramatic occurrences (the prototype to detective/suspense fiction), Collins’s work would later become more serious, political, and didactic. The Moonstone finds itself balanced somewhere in the middle. While certainly plot-oriented, it possesses serious character analyses and psychological discussions. In addition to being a “detective novel,” it discusses social issues regarding treatment of servants, social class relations, and gender dynamics.
The Moonstone is considered to be the first true detective novel. American poet T. S. Eliot called it “The first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels.” Collins often drew inspiration for his characters from real life; later writers would draw on Collins’s characters for inspiration. Characters like Sergeant Cuff and the adventurer Mr. Murthwaite were proto-templates for the well-known Sherlock Holmes detective of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous series.
The book was adapted into a critically acclaimed American film in 1934, bearing the same title; in 1959 the BBC adapted it into a television serial. Other media adaptations were created throughout the 20th century into the 21st century. In 2012, there were plans to create a new television adaptation of The Moonstone.