To Trust a Storyteller…?

Wilkie Collins makes the reliability of the narrator an immediate and persistent question in The Moonstone. In the prologue, Collins writes, “And I declare, on my word of honour, that what I am now about to write is, strictly and literally, the truth” (11). This declaration of honor and truth makes the reader skeptical of his veracity because it brings the possibility of an unreliable narrator to the forefront of the reader’s mind. The narrator of the prologue (and Gabriel Betteredge as well) merely recounts the story as he, himself experienced it. What is “strictly and literally, the truth” for one person may seem entirely false to another who experienced the same situation (perspective) (11). His contributions in the prologue include the retelling of the myth of the Moonstone, which is not from his culture (therefore, it cannot hold the same meaning and relevance to his that it would to, for instance, the Brahmins) and the explanation of events that he did not actually witness—namely, how Herncastle acquired the Moonstone. The narrator, allegedly, is committed to writing truthfully; however, he has little or no first-hand knowledge on which to base his story.

In part IV of the prologue, the narrator casts more doubt on his ability to convey the tale honestly: “Whether this be true or not, I cannot prevail upon myself to become his accuser” (15). He admits that he has no moral qualms about omission; this conscious editing of events leads the reader to question what else he has left out, whether purposefully or not. Despite his good intentions, the narrator cannot escape the problem of perspective. This question also appears throughout Gabriel Betteredge’s narrative. The reader should keep that question in mind for the entirety of The Moonstone: Is it possible to experience and relay something that is objectively true? Or must human views always be colored by certain paradigms?

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