Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone


The Moonstone is generally considered the first detective novel in English, but it might better be described as the first 'respectable' one. Earlier detective fictions such as Edward Ellis’s Ruth The Betrayer (1863) were tarnished in the public eye due to the form in which they were published (being sold for a penny per instalment on cheap paper, these books were known as ‘penny dreadfuls’). The Moonstone, by contrast, was written by an already established author, Wilkie Collins (1824–1889), and first published in All The Year Round – a journal run by Collins’s close friend Charles Dickens

Ironically, the plot of The Moonstone is not a million miles removed from that of a classic penny dreadful – revolving as it does around the disappearance of a precious diamond with seemingly magical powers, and a cabal of exotic, religious figures who may or may not have been involved in its theft. The novel uses two competing detective figures: Sergeant Cuff of Scotland Yard and Franklin Blake, an amateur sleuth. The success of The Moonstone was at least partly due to Collins’s previous success with The Woman in White (1859), but also indicates a growing public interest in stories of detection and the increasing sophistication of police work. Where earlier novels had dealt with crime, they tended to do so from the point of view of the criminal or with regard to the social conditions that appeared to make crime more likely. The Moonstone was one of the first novels to put the emphasis on the growing use of forensic science and rational deduction used by the police to solve crimes.

Full title:
The Moonstone ... With many illustrations.
1868, New York, US
Book / Illustration / Image
Wilkie Collins
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

Related articles

The creation of the police and the rise of detective fiction

Article by:
Judith Flanders
Crime and crime fiction

Judith Flanders explores how the creation of a unified Metropolitan Police force in 1829 led to the birth of the fictional detective.

An introduction to The Hound of the Baskervilles

Article by:
Greg Buzwell
The Gothic, Crime and crime fiction, London, Fin de siècle, Technology and science

The Hound of the Baskervilles merges two popular genres, the detective story and the Gothic tale. Here curator Greg Buzwell examines the novel’s depiction of scientific deduction, eerie landscapes and violent ancestry.

An introduction to The Moonstone

Article by:
Robert McCrum
The novel 1832–1880

Robert McCrum considers how Wilkie Collins combined plot, character and the imperial drama of India to create the first Victorian detective novel.

Related collection items