Mr. Murthwaite and the Narratorial Ambiguity of Indian Society

First an aside: I apologize for the tardiness of my post, I’ve no reasonable excuse for its lateness but my ineptitude for to pull myself away from mixing drums and rather focus on adhering to deadlines!

In the third chapter of the third section of the The Moonstone, Mr. Murthwaite details an odd relationship with “the Indians”: “the Indians look upon their boy as a seer of things invisible to their eyes – and, I repeat, in that marvel they find the source of a new interest in the purpose that unites them. I only notice this as offering a curious view of human character, which must be quite new to you.” The description is emblematic of Murthwaite’s relationship to the British conception of India: he sees himself as an expert on the “human character” of the “Indian”, and thus a worthy advisor to Mr. Bruff. What’s more, he more than considers his travels in India as justification for his advisorship, and does not appear to question his own authority on the matter.

The irony of this passage is emblematic of the narrative on the whole. Up to this point in the text, Wilkie Collins has consistently presented us with narrators whose viewpoints seem to contrast with the viewpoint that the book as a whole presents. We as a readers are invited to adopt viewpoints contradictory to the that of the narrators themselves and are offered ample evidence with which to evince our opinions. Thus far, there has been a reading of the book ‘between the lines’ of the narrators, which may better elucidate Collins’ own opinions, and I believe this passage to be emblematic of this reading.

And so, in the spirit of these blogposts, I envite one and all to consider how Mr. Murthwaite’s words (despite his humble station as a character, rather than a narrator) may invite the reader into a state of dramatic irony, and in doing so, offer some insight into the themes and motifs governing the work as a whole. In doing so, it may be worth considering how his experience as a wealthy, British travelor lines up (or not) with the experience of one living in India during that time and perhaps how his experience correlates with modern day Europeans on the “backpacker” trail through South-East Asia.

As an aside on my group name, tea is an enjoyable, non-caloric, beverage, which after water, is the most widely consumed beverage in the modern world [according to our grandest of friends, Wikipedia]. During the 17th century, its consumption became popular in Great Britain [also according to Wikipedia’s dissertation on tea].

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