The Moonstone in the Smoke: Reading for Erasure in Phillip Pullman’s Neo-Sensation Novel in the Age of #MeToo

Kimberly Cox

Chadron State College

Despite its overt indebtedness to Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868), Philip Pullman’s neo-sensation novel, The Ruby in the Smoke (1985), has received little critical attention in neo-Victorian studies in reference to Collins’s influences.[1] In a special issue on ‘Neo-Victorian Collins’, however, it would be an oversight to omit The Ruby in the Smoke, which was, Pullman revealed in article he wrote for the BBC in 2006 to coincide with the book’s adaptation into a feature-length film, originally written as a play and titled The Curse of the Indian Ruby (“Billie Piper”).[2] In addition to the fact that both texts focus on the recovery of lost (and cursed) gems with complicated imperial origins, each narrative also remains in the contemporary imaginary. In 2016, the BBC produced a new miniseries version of The Moonstone and, that same year, Reprint Productions — in consultation with Pullman — staged an hour-long play adaptation of The Ruby in the Smoke for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, both to fairly positive reviews which suggests that these stories still resonate with modern audiences.[3] Given the afterlives of these texts, this article considers what it means to read these sensation novels alongside each other at this historical moment, attending to what Cora Kaplan identifies as “That awareness of two temporalities always in play when one thinks about the past” (“Coda”53). Kaplan is not alone in suggesting that how we read the past is determined by our present. In 2015, the V21 collective, a group of Victorian scholars rethinking Victorian Studies in and for the twenty-first century, urged Victorianists to possess “an awareness that our interest in the period is motivated by certain features of our own moment” (“Manifesto”). Meanwhile, neo-Victorian studies, as Mark Llewellyn asserted in 2008, affords an occasion for just such an approach: “the neo-Victorian is about new approaches to the Victorian period rather than an attempt to indulge in the escapism masked as historical narrative” (169).

           Responding to the recent interest in Victorian Studies to the #MeToo movement,[4] this article explores how we might read Pullman’s neo-sensation novel from a contemporary vantage point in the #MeToo era as a pop-culture reimagining of Collins’s The Moonstone that highlights the ways that both novels functionally erase the stories of female characters who live in social precarity. The #MeToo movement was popularised by a Twitter hashtag that went viral in 2017, with Alyssa Milano lending her voice in support of Rose McGowan’s accusation of rape against Harvey Weinstein. The visibility of the hashtag led to many popular articles crediting Milano with originating the movement. However, the “Me Too” movement began over a decade before in 2006 with the work of activist Tarana Burke, who set out to support young Black girls in underprivileged communities who had been victims of sexual assault.[5] As Burke explained during an interview with Ebony in 2017, “It [‘Me Too’] was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible” (Hill). The phrase also emerged, Burke’s website explains, from her experience as a youth worker when she was unable to respond to the story of sexual abuse a young girl shared with her. Burke wrote, “I watched her put her ‘mask’ back on her face and return to the world. And as I stood there, I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper the words circling my mind and soul: ‘me too’” (“History & Inception”). Despite acknowledging the hashtag’s good intentions, Burke points out in her Ebony interview that “somehow sisters still managed to get diminished or erased”—even if unintentionally (Hill).[6] In this article, I take Burke’s observation and apply it to a reading of Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke and the neo-Victorian project more widely as conceived to query histories and stories that have been and continue to be erased. While #MeToo rendered visible the ubiquity of sexual assault on a national (and eventually global) scale, Burke’s “Me Too” focused on creating local networks where young, marginalised people could share their trauma and find support to begin the process of healing. Pairing The Moonstone with The Ruby in the Smoke and reading them through Burke’s critique of #MeToo highlights how the victimisation of White middle-class women comes to the fore in Pullman’s revision of Collins’s Victorian novel and how, like its Victorian predecessor, it erases the stories of the most vulnerable female members of society: that of the poverty-stricken eight-year-old Adelaide and those of women of colour who are the victims of colonization.

“Me Too,” #MeToo, and Neo-Victorian Fiction

The contemporary #MeToo movement has important implications for how we read erasures—what Tamar Heller identifies as the “gaps and silences”—in both Collins’s and Pullman’s novels (163). As The Moonstone is reworked in The Ruby in the Smoke and Burke’s “Me Too” movement goes viral via #MeToo with Milano’s tweet, both reinventions—despite their near twenty-year gap—exhibit a similar problem: sidelining the historical traumas of socially marginalised women to the periphery of mainstream culture.

           As noted, more than a decade before “Me Too” was a hashtag, it was a grassroots movement designed to support survivor healing by providing resources to a segment of the population often overlooked by mainstream feminisms: “young people, queer, trans, and disabled folks, Black women and girls, and all communities of color” (“History & Inception”).[7] Like the stories of female colonial subjects and female servants with criminal histories in both Collins’s and Pullman’s novels, stories from the marginalised groups of women that Burke identifies—including those who are economically underprivileged, those who are women of colour, and those who identify as LGBTQIA+—were all but absent from the movement’s 2017 iteration on Twitter.[8] Interestingly, Marie-Luise Kohlke and Christian Gutleben assert that an aspect of the neo-Victorian project is giving “historical non-subjects a future by restoring their traumatic pasts to cultural memory” (31). Yet, as Jessica Cox and Kaplan have shown, most neo-Victorian authors remain predominantly “white, western, and ‘highbrow’” and “privilege the stor[ies] of European settlers over [those] of the non-white or indigenous population of the colonies” (Cox, “Canonization” 104; Kaplan, Victoriana 155).[9] The Ruby in the Smoke is a good example of how pop-culture often proves unable to attend fully to intersectional issues, repeating the violence of the past in the present.

Cox and Megan Hicks have pointed to the similarities in the plots of Collins’s and Pullman’s novels:cursed jewels from India, young women on the cusp of adulthood, opium-induced mysteries, and imperial others prove central to the conflicts over the jewels at the centre of these novels. The Moonstone begins with the story of John Herncastle, brother to Lady Julia Verinder, who is excised from his family after murdering three Brahmins during the siege of Seringapatam and stealing the Moonstone—the Diamond named for the moon god statue in which it resided.[10] He then gifts it to his niece, Rachel Verinder, on her eighteenth birthday. The remainder of the story relates her cousin Franklin Blake’s quest to find it after it is stolen, not realising that he himself stole it in an opium-induced act of somnambulism. In The Ruby in the Smoke, Sally Lockhart inherits the cursed Ruby from her birth father, Major George Marchbanks, who traded her as an infant for the Ruby to Captain Matthew Lockhart, her adoptive father, after the Maharajah’s death in the Siege of Lucknow, part of the First War of Independence (also called the Indian Mutiny or Sepoy Rebellion) of 1856–57. The majority of the story focuses on Sally’s attempt to find the Ruby, which her father has hidden and which the villainous Mrs Holland claims was stolen from her. The Maharajah promised it to Mrs Holland in exchange for her virginity. Sally is also pursued by Hendrick Van Eeden, a Dutch-Chinese opium trafficker also known as Ah Ling. Van Eeden killed Captain Lockhart when Lockhart discovered that Van Eeden was using the Lockhart & Selby shipping company for the transport of opium.[11] The history of the Ruby and the Siege of Lucknow bear striking resemblance to that of the Moonstone and the Siege of Seringapatam. The most overt similarity that these novels share, however, is that both Rachel Verinder in The Moonstone and Sally Lockhart in The Ruby in the Smoke are gifted these cursed gems—legacies of the personal failings of colonisers who ran rampant in the colonial world—that they are then forced to contend with in the centre of empire. Yet these novels share more than this central storyline. They share crucial absences: economically marginalised young, White, British female characters without family literally disappear from these narratives and the stories of women of colour who were victims of the specific events of British imperialism that set off the novels’ actions are never acknowledged.

           To address such absences in these novels, an account of the feminist politics that are present and represented in the personalities, actions, and fates of the heroines of each novel—Rachel Verinder and Sally Lockhart—is neccessary. Both The Moonstone and The Ruby in the Smoke have been praised by critics for their subversion of traditional gender norms with recent focus primarily on the characters of Rachel and Sally.[12] For example, Melissa Schaub asserts that the “unusually independent and courageous Victorian woman,” Rachel Verinder, “could arguably be part of a radical politics” in contrast to other scholars whom, Schaub notes, “see Rachel’s hysteria as an authorial means of re-containing her potential subversion” (13, 23, 17). While Cox sees Rachel as less radical than Schaub, she reads Sally as a feminist heroine who “symbolically reject[s] the notion of women as sexual objects to be bartered for by wealthy men” as a result of Sally’s throwing the Ruby into the Thames (Neo-Victorianism 124). Yet despite such feminist potential, Rachel fades into the background by The Moonstone’s final pages, rewarded with and silenced by her marriage to the novel’s hero, as was typical for Victorian heroines. Moreover, Sally’s newfound agency and financial independence, both of which come after she frees herself from the Ruby, overwrites the literal loss of the eight-year-old Adelaide whose fate goes undiscovered at the novel’s close.[13]

The Ruby in the Smoke offers Sally a voice that The Moonstone denies Rachel who never gets to tell her own story despite her narrative centrality.[14] Rachel initially appears as a proto-feminist character in the novel’s first narrative by Gabriel Betteredge, the Verinder’s house steward. As he explains it, Rachel is possessed of “one defect”: “she had ideas of her own” that meant she “judged for herself” (Collins 85). Subsumed by married life, Rachel has all but disappeared by the novel’s conclusion where her story is told once again by Gabriel who happily relates the “marriage of Miss Rachel and Mr. Franklin Blake” and alludes to her pregnancy in a final conversation with only Franklin (472). “I have got some news for you!” says Franklin. To which Gabriel responds, “You needn’t say a word more, sir […] God bless you both! I’m heartily glad to hear it” (Collins 473). Rachel is the occasion for Franklin’s good news. She does not participate directly in the conversation nor does she contribute directly to the narrative. As Aviva Briefel shows, Victorian novels about women and jewels illustrate the impossibility, during the period, of women’s owning material property that would afford them financial independence and thus individual social agency (136). Given the laws of coverture, women’s property was fully controlled by their husbands until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, which granted women full control and legal authority over their property in marriage.[15] The Ruby in the Smoke, however, effectively reimagines Collins’s silenced proto-feminist character as an economically independent New Woman who finds happiness in the prospect of work outside of marriage or domestic employment.[16] Sally, in fact, refuses the romantic advances of Frederick and the cultural capital of the Ruby by the novel’s close, which ends with Sally’s own thoughts: “[T]here would be a future. […] Oh, there would be difficulties, hundreds of them. But she would cope” (Pullman, Ruby 230).[17] Her economic independence affords her the ability to tell her own story, which includes the discovery and narration of her early childhood history. As in the neo-Victorian project more generally, Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke is “self-consciously engaged with the act of (re)interpretation, (re)discovery and (re)vision” of the traditional fate of the Victorian heroine who, like Rachel, is “rewarded” with marriage and children (Heilmann and Llewellyn 4). But does it do the same for other female characters with traumatic pasts?

           Pullman’s novel revisits the plight of working-class White young women left without male protection to contemporary view but also ignores and, in effect, erases the histories and traumas experienced by British female servants and women in India and China affected by the British imperial project. In their individual readings of The Moonstone, both Heller and Melissa Free note the intersection between economic, gender, and imperial marginalisation in Collins’s novel. Heller, in particular, shows how “gender and class are mutually reinforcing categories” just as there is a clear “analogy [in the text] between the Victorian ideologies of gender and imperialism” (147). In this article, my intention is not one of recovery. I do not have the “detective-fever” that Gabriel suggests plagues the other characters in The Moonstone (Collins 128; emphasis original). Rather, in the remainder of this piece, I attempt to identify gaps, silences, and erasures by uncovering the moments in both Collins’s and Pullman’s novels where the narrative functionally denies female characters from marginalised groups the opportunity to tell their own stories and give voice to their traumatic histories. #MeToo created a mainstream public platform for what Karen Boyle identifies as networked feminism focused on “re-interpreting” or “naming” traumatic experiences that “had previously been unspoken or invisible” (25). That said, the experiences initially voiced paid little attention to the experiences of members of disempowered communities, focusing instead on White celebrity culture. How does Burke’s observation about #MeToo apply to how literary scholars might read the feminist politics of neo-Victorian novels like Pullman’s that are self-consciously engaged in the act of feminist revision but still manage to leave key voices out of the neo-Victorian project of recuperating the stories of historical non-subjects?

Disappearance: Economic Precarity and Narrative Silencing

Though Burke’s movement began with a focus on women of colour, it evolved to address issues of access that plague young girls from poorer communities. Before moving into my reading of characters of colour who are both racially and economically oppressed, I wish to explore how Pullman’s and Collins’s novels represent the traumatic histories of young working-class White female characters whose lower socioeconomic status leaves them vulnerable to victimisation.

Unlike Rachel and Sally, Rosanna Spearman in The Moonstone and Adelaide Bevan in The Ruby in the Smoke are treated by their respective narratives as if subjectivity cannot be imagined for them, given their social positions and personal histories.[18] Though servant characters like Rosanna and Adelaide play central roles in their respective novels, they are effectively erased from those stories with little narrative space dedicated to mourning that loss. Rosanna narrates the events leading up to her suicide in a letter for Franklin that she hides, leaving directions for its discovery with a friend to deliver to him after her death. In spite of her letter, Franklin and the other characters who mention Rosanna’s suicide do so briefly only to express pity at her sorrowful life rather than to grieve her death. Similarly, little more than several paragraphs in The Ruby in the Smoke are devoted to Adelaide’s disappearance. As a differently-abled working woman from an impoverished background, Rosanna is a precarious member of society and her story is not a happy one. She exemplifies the class of women whose labour and silence the upper-economic echelons depended on for their domestic and global dominance. Rosanna, a reformed criminal given a second chance by Lady Verinder following imprisonment for theft, is the second house-maid to the Verinders. She was hired from a reformatory and offered the chance to work for her livelihood, which raised her from the poverty into which she was born. Gabriel tells readers that Rosanna’s history is “a most miserable story, which [he hasn’t] the heart to repeat” (Collins 25). Rosanna’s sole friend Lucy Yolland, whom other characters commonly refer to as ‘Limping Lucy’ because she walks with a crutch, also says that Rosanna led a “miserable life” and that “vile people had ill-treated her and led her wrong” (Collins 191).[19] What that ill-treatment was neither Rosanna, Lucy, nor any of the narrators divulge. Rosanna’s past suffering—whether physical, sexual, or otherwise—remains a mystery. Her early trauma and present socioeconomic insecurity is pushed to the periphery of The Moonstone by the characters who refuse to give voice to her story in the same way that the stories of underprivileged women were initially pushed to the periphery of #MeToo.

Though both Rosanna and her friend Lucy are well-developed characters, as Martha Stoddard Holmes and Mark Mossman have shown, both characters have disappeared from the narrative by its close: Rosanna commits suicide in the Shivering Sands and Lucy limps away after delivering a posthumous letter from Rosanna to Franklin Blake.[20] As Mossman asserts in his analysis of disability in The Moonstone, “[Rosanna] is marginalized as a character in the novel, indeed quickly disappearing in person, in body, from it: she is first literally not seen by Blake […] and then she is ultimately replaced, supplemented in the narrative by a letter buried deep in the Shivering Sands” (489). Rosanna is erased, or, more accurately, colludes with the text to erase herself because she’s unconvinced of her own self-worth. Rosanna is dead by the time her letter is unburied by Franklin, and its position in the narrative is constructed by Franklin to tell his own story, not hers. Though the letter shares Rosanna’s choices and actions, Franklin’s frequent narrative interjections work to invalidate her description of events and minimise the trauma that she has experienced while in the Verinders’ employment, therefore reducing the level of subjectivity she is afforded within the text. For example, Rosanna asserts, “when you saw me—I am certain, sir, you saw me—and you turned away as if I had got the plague, and went into the house” (Collins 334). Franklin responds with a footnote: “The writer is entirely mistaken, poor creature. I never noticed her” (Collins 334). Rosanna is not living and thus cannot assert either voice or agency to talk back to Franklin or readers and claim the validity of her subjective experience. This dynamic, in which Rosanna’s story is subsumed and interpreted by Franklin, is what I refer to as erasure. Her position as a subject is limited: she never shares her early history and she does not have access to either a private or public network that will offer her “empowered empathy” (Hill). Her friend Lucy shares a similar social position as a differently-abled character, but Lucy has a family and no criminal past, thus limiting her ability to relate fully to Rosanna.

Further, Rosanna’s life before prison and the reformatory, and the literally unspeakable abuses that may have led to her view of suicide as her sole option, remains a conspicuous mystery, one to which The Moonstone frequently refers but never explores. She is the only servant character to die and the only one without family and friends, disliked by her co-workers, marked by her physical difference (her “deformed” shoulder [Collins 27]), and born into abject poverty. Rosanna rejects the independent lifestyle that Lucy dreams of—“going to London together like sisters, and living by our needles”—and that Sally in The Ruby in the Smoke avidly fights for (Collins 191). Rosanna dies a “poor creature” to be pitied, not a fully realised subject, who asserts her voice from beyond the grave. She tries to tell her story, but it is overshadowed by Franklin’s narrative; it is only a part of the section titled “Third Narrative,” “contributed by Franklin Blake” (Collins 235). Additionally, her letter and fate have no effect on Franklin’s future prospects or happiness. Rosanna is limited by class and heritage rather than race. She is not a young woman of colour, but she is an underprivileged young woman who grew up in a life of crime on one of the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder whose past is too “miserable” to even utter. Her life history is sacrificed, becoming only an explanatory component of Franklin’s own story. Pullman repeats such an erasure in The Ruby in the Smoke, as Adelaide is torn from the novel’s pages, her mystery left unsolved and sidelined.

Like Rosanna, Adelaide has an undesirable history that is the result of being born into abject poverty. And, like Rosanna, Adelaide disappears from the narrative quite violently. A child-servant to Mrs Holland, Adelaide is malnourished, abused, and unprotected by the society in which she lives as a poverty-stricken orphan. Mrs Holland does not pay for her labour, and Adelaide has no family or friends to call on for protection. How Mrs Holland acquired Adelaide remains a mystery; readers are left to assume that Mrs Holland has plucked her from the streets. When Adelaide is first introduced in the narrative it is as “a girl whose only feature seemed to be […] a pair of enormous dark eyes” (Pullman, Ruby 21). She is described similarly when she first meets the main cast of characters which includes Sally; Frederick and Rosa Garland, brother and sister who own a photography shop; Jim, a boy of thirteen; and Theophilus “Trembler” Molloy, a reformed pickpocket who works for the Garlands. On Frederick’s first seeing Adelaide, the narrator describes her as “A child—or not so much a child as a pair of wide eyes surrounded by dirt” (Pullman 123). Though Rosanna’s shoulder and Adelaide’s eyes differ as the former is coded by The Moonstone as a permanent physical disability, these defining attributes position Rosanna and Adelaide in their respective texts as characters whose subjectivities are limited by their physicality. Rosanna’s “crooked shoulder” becomes her identifying feature that restricts her romantic and social prospects and thus self-identity, and Adelaide is reduced to her eyes that betray her youth, terror, and vulnerability (Collins 115). Her eyes stand as a synecdoche for her person. Their darkness, dirtiness, and wideness highlight her poverty, labour, and abuse, emphasing her pitable state. She is not a person but a pair of eyes that reveal her to be a “poor creature” with a “miserable” history like The Moonstone’s Rosanna. Adelaide’s origins are not revealed to the reader, but we do know that she lives in constant fear that Mrs Holland will kill her as “She killed the last little girl she had. She took all her bones out,” Adelaide explains (Pullman, Ruby 53). She further shares with her makeshift family that Mrs Holland has “a knife in her bag what she cut the last little girl open with. […] She’s got a stone for sharpenin’ it and a box to put me in, and a place in the yard to bury me. She showed me where I was going to lie when she’d done cutting me up” (129). Adelaide is too young to be fully reliable, but her description suggests that she has had a traumatic present and not just a miserable past. Much like Rosanna, Adelaide’s vulnerability becomes a defining personality trait. Adelaide does play a significant role in the novel. She introduces Sally and her friends to Matthew Bedwell, an opium addict who reveals that Lockhart was murdered by Van Eeden when Lockhart discovered that his ships were being used to transport opium. Unlike Sally, however, Adelaide is too weak, poor, and young for Pullman to conceptualise her as having a fully-developed subjectivity or the right to either share her story or be granted a non-violent future. And like Rosanna, Adelaide’s story is shaped and limited by those who possess more social capital and thus exert more narrative control.

Both Adelaide’s origin story and her fate remain mysteries at the heart of Pullman’s novel that are never revealed in The Ruby in the Smoke. Adelaide has no community. Despite the fact that Adelaide is not a person of colour, her age and economic precarity render her the type of young girl to whom Burke’s grassroots “Me Too”movement would, today, offer aid. The novel, however, silences Adelaide through a rather brutal erasure. She is lost when Jim and Frederick are forced to contend with the brute strength of one Mr Berry whom Mrs Holland employs specifically for the purpose of murder. Just prior to and at the moment of Adelaide’s disappearance, the narrator is closely aligned with Jim’s perspective:

He [Jim] tasted blood and heard a child’s cry. […] Adelaide was clinging to him, to his jacket, to his hand, to his hair—she was gripping him tight and he couldn’t lift his arms to help her—Mr. Berry was holding her around the neck with one hand and tearing her loose from Jim with the other; she was choking, she was gasping, her eyes were rolling— (Pullman199).

Adelaide is brutally ripped from the safety of Jim’s embrace, an embrace in which she felt safe, wanted, and at home for the first time in her short life. After being torn from him, the narrator explains that “Adelaide was as limp as a doll. Mr. Berry dropped her and Mrs. Holland seized her at once” (Pullman 200). As the narrator details the remainder of Jim and Frederick’s fight with Mr Berry, which results in Mr Berry’s ultimate demise, the narrator loses track of both Mrs Holland and Adelaide such that, when the fight is over, the reader merely learns that “Jim and Frederick were alone. Adelaide had gone” (Pullman 202). Whether she broke from Mrs Holland and “had gone” with Mrs Holland is unclear, and the detail was not disclosed until the publication of the fourth book in the series nine years later. She is sold to a brothel as a child prostitute. Interestingly, in an article in which Pullman talks about how the idea for Adelaide’s character originates, he writes with pride that “the little girl had a name and a history. […] I’m writing about her now in a book called The Tin Princess” (“Daddy” 158). In The Ruby in the Smoke, however, Adelaide has a name but no history, and even her present loss is overshadowed by Sally’s story.

Pullman’s neo-sensation novel focused on Sally’s journey to self-actualisation in a man’s world, positioning Adelaide, as The Moonstone does with Rosanna, as a character in Sally’s story who can be discarded without spoiling the heroine’s happy ending, an ending that results, as is common in young adult (YA) fiction, from Sally’s “successful negotiation of trials and tribulations” such as the loss of Adelaide (Cox, Neo-Victorianism 108).[21] The extent to which Adelaide’s disappearance is addressed during the novel’s denouement begins with a question from Mr (previously Reverend) Nicholas Bedwell, Matthew Bedwell’s twin brother:

           “And the little girl?” [he asked.]

           “Nothing,” said Rosa. “Not a word. Not a sign. We’ve looked everywhere—we’ve been to all the orphanages—but she’s vanished.”

           She did not voice what they all feared.

           “My poor brother was very fond of her,” said the clergyman. “She kept him alive in that horrible place. …Well, well; we must hope. But as for you, Miss Lockhart—well, should I call you Miss Lockhart? Or Miss Marchbanks?” (Pullman, Ruby 225)

In a novel of two-hundred-and-thirty pages, a mere ten lines is dedicated to addressing Adelaide’s unknown fate. Nicholas’s response to Rosa’s intelligence is revealing. His concern for the child is not for her as a person, but rather for her as one beloved of his dead brother. He moves on quite quickly to a rather inane question in the face of Adelaide’s abduction: his query about how to properly address Sally given his newfound knowledge of her parentage. How might readers interpret such an erasure, not just from the narrative but from the lives of the characters who had taken responsibility for her care? Nicholas’s response, in fact, dramatises what I suggest is one of the novel’s shortcomings: his recognition of Sally’s independence by asking her to identify the family lineage she wishes to claim literally overwrites his concern for Adelaide’s well-being. The horror and importance of Adelaide’s disappearance is diminished by the narrative celebration of Sally’s newly discovered heritage and triumph over Mrs Holland and Van Eeden. Adelaide’s erasure highlights her precarity—she can go missing without impacting Sally’s ability to continue on with her life. While the series as a whole may offer a critique of the “traffic in women and children” as Anca Vlasopolos suggests, in The Ruby in the Smoke all we see of this is Sally’s traumatic origins as a child traded for the Ruby of Agrapur and those of Mrs Holland who traded her body to the Maharajah for the Ruby and ultimately dies trying to reclaim it (309). Women and children who are sold as sex slaves, raped and killed as collateral damage in colonial conquest, and victimised by opium trafficking do not get to tell their stories and are, in fact, erased from the present as they are denied a past.

Erasure: Overwriting the Historical Trauma of Women of Colour

While lots of attention has been paid to gender concerns in criticism on The Moonstone,and scholars such as Ian Duncan and Heller address the Diamond’s significance to the novel’s representation of imperialist panic, little attention has been paid to the bodies of Eastern women who are distinctly absent from the text despite having been victimised by England’s colonial practices in acquiring the Moonstone. Such considerations are similarly absent from scholarship on The Ruby in the Smoke. Accordingly, reading these novels from our present moment encourages us to ask questions about whose stories of sexual trauma remain silenced. Mrs Holland has the chance to share her story of sexual trauma with Sally before jumping into the Thames after the Ruby. Characters of colour are afforded no such opportunity. To return to the point Burke made when she was interviewed in Ebony, “In this instance, the celebrities who popularized the hashtag didn’t take a moment to see if there was work already being done” (Hill; emphasis original). As the contemporary narrative of #MeToo co-opts the “Me Too” movement by sidelining those (especially women of colour) from marginalised, underprivileged communities, both Collins’s novel and Pullman’s neo-Victorian reimagining minimise the historical trauma of sexual violence experienced by colonised female subjects whose bodies, like the jewels of these novels’ titles and the bodies of servants with criminal pasts, were open to plunder and looting.

           The history of the Diamond’s plunder in The Moonstone is related entirely from the perspective of an unnamed male member of the Verinder family who served in the military during the Siege of Seringapatam, which means that the description of the Siege is both culturally determined and gendered. The prologue to The Moonstone is titled “The Storming of Seringapatam (1799)” after an actual historical event. The siege and plunder following the death of Tipu, Sultan of Mysore, is described by this unnamed narrator as having been quite violent:

          We [himself and John Herncastle, his cousin] were each attached to a party sent out by the general’s orders to prevent the plunder and confusion which followed our conquest. The camp-followers committed deplorable excesses; and, worse still, the soldiers found their way, by an unguarded door, into the treasury of the Palace, and loaded themselves with gold and jewels. It was in the court outside the treasury that my cousin and I met, to enforce the laws of discipline on our own soldiers. Herncastle’s fiery temper had been, as I could plainly see, exasperated to a kind of frenzy by the terrible slaughter through which we had passed. (Collins 6; emphasis mine)

Collins and the unnamed narrator of the prologue leave it to readers to extrapolate what those “deplorable excesses” of war might be, and to imagine the bodies that comprise the carnage of the “terrible slaughter.” There is no overt mention of the actual acts of violence that took place or the specific bodies on which they would have been committed. Such stories of (sexual) violence are lost, silenced as they become unspeakable like Rosanna’s “miserable” early history and Adelaide’s traumatic past and future. Much as the “sisters who are diminished” by the predominantly White voices publicly associated with the earliest iterations of #MeToo, the histories of women and children victimised by colonial invasion become nothing more than the “deplorable excesses” that characterise the story of the soldiers’ behaviour following victory in imperial conquest. Let us not forget that the narrator characterises the looting of the Sultan’s treasury as “worse still” without explanation, suggesting that thievery is more problematic than the “deplorable excesses.”

           Significantly, there is no direct mention of either women or children in The Moonstone’s prologue. While it acknowledges the violence of the Siege and removal of the Diamond, the bodies of not just the royal female members of Tipu’s family but of the working-class women who may have lived or worked in the area are erased. In Writing Under the Raj: Gender, Race, and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1830-1947 (1999), Nancy Paxton points out that much criticism about sexual violence in colonial spaces “erase[s] at least one of the four possible participants in the colonial rape script that they analyze”: the female colonised subject (4). As an illustration, “rape” is mentioned only a handful of times in Christopher Herbert’s War of No Pity: The Indian Mutiny and Victorian Trauma (2008), and each instance analyses the rupture of Victorian gender norms that resulted from attempts to validate the veracity of accounts of Englishwomen’s victimisation by colonised men following the Mutiny, as Herbert calls it (60, 160, 263). Rape of colonised women as a feature of war is not mentioned. As Paxton explains, translation of the term “rape” and complicated legal structures in British India made records of the sexual assault of Indian women by British men hard to come by.[22] As a result, Paxton focuses her analysis on the Victorian-era politis inherent in the circulation of the traditional rape script—an Englishwoman’s rape by a colonised man. Paxton explains her project thus: “I hope […] that this analysis will raise awareness about the ways that literature has lent, and continues to lend, itself to the circulation of the most pernicious ‘scripts’ that conflate power, sex, and reproduction and so make rape seem to be an excusable crime in times of peace as well as in war” (271).[23]Much like #MeToo, Paxton makes visible the mass silencing of sexual violence common in colonial spaces. However, unlike the initial iteration of #MeToo and in line with Burke’s project, Paxton identifies the historical systems of oppression that collude to erase female colonised subjects’ stories of sexual trauma. Feminist scholars prior to #MeToo worked to raise awareness that sexual assault is a common tool of war, not just a byproduct.[24] Thus, in the absence of narrative details, I suggest that the “deplorable excesses” mentioned by Collins’s narrator likely refer to the sexual acts that the narrator cannot name and that the women are never given the opportunity to share. In his book, Kaushik Roy offers a more concrete history of the actual Siege of Seringapatam on which Collins based this historical portion of his novel. Roy tells the story this way: “Seeing Tipu falling dead, the dispirited Mysore soldiers surrendered. Screams and shouts filled the fortress as the victorious ran amok, looting the palace and assaulting the women” (117–18; emphasis mine).[25] Collins’s narrator never represents such assaults.

Interestingly, there is no mention of such crimes in the 2016 BBC miniseries version of The Moonstone either. The miniseries portrays this violent history during the opening credits using paper puppets (see figs. 1–4), and in doing so, it minimises (both historically and visually) the brutality of the combat and likely violent acts of celebration—looting and sex crimes the historical accounts mention—in honour of Britain’s victory. The figures illustrate what the prologue becomes in its contemporary television adaptation. The puppets depict the three brahmins tasked with protecting the stone (fig. 1) and John Herncastle’s theft of it (figs. 2 and 3). The military party’s “deplorable excesses,” plundering, and murdering as well as the bloody bodies left in their wake are neither represented nor referenced in this modern retelling (Collins 6). Instead, the dramatisation involving cartoonish illustrations proves almost comical as John Herncastle is transformed from a murderous plunderer to a mischievous thief (see fig. 4 in particular).

Figure 1. Author’s own screengrab from the opening credits of BBC’s The Moonstone (2016)

Figure 2. Author’s own screengrab from the opening credits of BBC’s The Moonstone (2016)

Figure 3. Author’s own screengrab from the opening credits of BBC’s The Moonstone (2016)

Figure 4. Author’s own screengrab from the opening credits of BBC’s The Moonstone (2016)

Working with the visual representation of events to rewrite the violent history, the voice-over narration alters the gruesome events of the Siege into a simple story of theft and the mystery it results in:

In the last year of the eighteenth century, Colonel John Herncastle plundered from India a priceless and most sacred yellow Diamond. Vishnu the Preserver laid his curse on the thief, commanding three priests to search forever for his Moonstone. But the wicked Colonel smuggled the stone to England. In his will, he bequeathed the Diamond to his beautiful, young niece, Miss Rachel Verinder. Rachel’s gallant cousin, Mr. Franklin Blake, was charged with the gem’s delivery. […] (00:00:14–00:00:51)

The final lines of the introduction change each episode, highlighting the mystery at the heart of each episode’s narrative arc. The word “plunder” is the closest the 2016 adaptation comes to representing the violence that preceded and followed the Siege and that was committed on behalf of the Diamond itself. Additionally, it erases completely any suggestion (however vague) of the gender-based violence—the sexual assault of colonised women by British men—that might have occurred as a part of the violent event. Yet the absence of Brown female bodies in both the adaptation’s opening sequence and the novel’s prologue does not mean that they were not present or do not exist in the backdrop of the narrative itself. Rather, the erasure of Brown female bodies from the novel reflects a lack of importance attributed to the violence that likely was committed on those bodies during Collins’s own time, just as their erasure from the miniseries reflects a similar lack of concern within popular culture for recuperating such histories in our own. Colonised women’s historical trauma is taken for granted and disappears from these narratives as the novel focuses instead on the domestic trauma that results from John Herncastle’s bloodlust, madness, and greed. That disappearance then becomes part of the literary history that contemporary novels influenced by Collins’s The Moonstone must contend with. The prevalence of such gender- and race-based violence but lack of mainstream representation is what Burke’s critique of #MeToo’s initial Twitter movement addresses. As Paxton shows, sexual violence has a long history as an aspect of imperial oppression, a history not always acknowledged in literature.

           In contrast to their noticeable absence in The Moonstone,there are three references to non-British women of color in The Ruby in the Smoke that throw their otherwise invisible presence into relief. The first is the appearance of the character, Madame Chang. She is the older, female owner of an opium den in the East End, and while she has a voice, she never shares her history. Madame Chang’s function in the narrative is to provide Sally with the knowledge of opium that she needs in order to access her own history, which Sally can only remember under the influence of the smoke. Madame Chang’s origin story is unimportant to the narrative events focused on recovering Sally’s history and thus goes unshared. The narrative distinguishes Madame Chang from other opium den proprietors by pointing out that she “‘takes care of her customers and keeps the place clean’” (Pullman, Ruby 96). Aside from her connection to opium, Madame Chang is marked as Chinese by her physical description. She wears “a richly embroidered robe. Her hair [is] severely pinned back, and she [has] black silk trousers under the robe, and red slippers on her tiny feet” (Pullman, Ruby 98; emphasis mine). Her “tiny feet” are a significant detail given the practice of foot-binding that associated Chinese femininity with dainty feet. Further, she is described as having “a voice [that] was low and musical, and quite without any accent” (Pullman, Ruby 60). Her soft-spoken, musical voice reinforces the femininity signified by her small feet and luxurious fabrics. Interestingly, however, Madame Chang’s accent is never addressed. While it suggests, perhaps, that she may have been born or have grown up in England, readers are never made privy to that backstory. Instead, her lack of accent works to de-Other her by rendering her familiar despite her visible racial difference. Madame Chang’s attire and trade distinguish her from traditional English subjects but her cleanliness, femininity, and English accent distinguish her from more conventionally Chinese characters like the “old Chinaman. […] dressed in a loose black silk robe […] [with] a skullcap and pigtail” who bows to Sally and Frederick without speaking (98). Madame Chang is a nonthreatening fount of knowledge. She remains a supporting character whose role in the narrative is limited primarily to her eponymous chapter. And, while she is represented as an intelligent, respectable businesswoman (to the extent that she can be as someone dealing opium), her physical representation is limited by certain traditional Orientalist tropes and her movement is restricted to the opium den.

The novel does acknowledge and critique Britain’s role in the Opium Wars: “‘The Chinese objected to English merchants smuggling opium into the country and tried to ban it; so we went to war and forced them to take it. They grow it in India, you see, under government supervision,’” Frederick explains to Sally who is unaware of this history (Pullman, Ruby 97). However, it does not offer any indication of the way those wars impacted individuals or, in this case, Madame Chang herself. Readers, along with Sally and Frederick, never learn where Madame Chang was born, what her life has been like, why she has no accent, or how she came to own and operate an opium den in London. She may exist as a character in the story, but her voice is severely restricted by the novel’s focus on Sally’s narrative—and the recovery of her origin story. Burke’s commentary about how #MeToo risks overwriting already marginalised voices illustrates the importance of not just querying representation but assessing how that representation happens. Like Adelaide, Madame Chang is a character in Pullman’s novel, but what she does not get a chance to share is as significant as the information that she does offer. 

           The second implied allusion to colonised female subjects occurs during Major George Marchbanks’s account of the Ruby of Agrapur in a reference very similar to that found in the prologue to Collins’s The Moonstone. The Ruby, George explains, “had been responsible for deaths too many to list […] and once it had been the cause of war in which the population of an entire province had been put to the sword” (41). Like the “deplorable excesses” of the Siege of Seringapatam, the specifics of this war are not given. However, an entire population implies the presence of both women and children. Given the prevalence of rape scripts in literature associated with the 1857 uprising as Paxton shows, sexual violence is an unnamed though likely aspect of any such siege. Towards the end of The Ruby in the Smoke, when Mrs Holland reveals how her story of sexual service relates to the Siege of Lucknow and the murder of the Maharajah, Mrs Holland explains that Matthew Lockhart left George Marchbanks guarding the Maharajah in “The Residency cellars […] With the women—some of ‘em. And the children—some of ‘em” (Pullman, Ruby 209). While the reference to “the Residency” likely refers to the rooms kept by those of the British army (which sometimes included the wives and children of the soldiers), the narrative never makes the location or inhabitants clear for any readers not steeped in nineteenth-century British and Indian history.[26] In fact, the lack of certainty in the reference to women and children is an example of Pullman’s glossing over women of colour’s experiences of imperial violence even as his narrative reminds readers that the Maharajah was not the only victim of the siege. Collins’s influence can be seen in the way the historical siege is fictionally described by George Marchbanks in his journal and by Mrs Holland towards the novel’s close. Colonial violence is acknowledged, but the plight of the women and children, the unnamed victims of such conquest, is never narrated despite Mrs Holland’s discussion of her own. Though the narrative describes Madame Chang’s physical presence but not history, those women who were casualties of the siege receive neither such description. They are the ghosts—the colonial spectres— who haunt the novel’s events.[27] Theirs are the voices that are “diminished and erased.”

           The third and final reference made to Eastern female bodies happens after Mrs Holland’s suicide when Sally is confined in a carriage by Van Eeden who proposes to let her keep her life in exchange for sexual access to her body: “You are brave and resourceful,” Van Eeden says, “You would be useful to me. Also, you are beautiful. Not as beautiful as a Chinese woman, of course, but sufficiently good-looking to give me pleasure” (Pullman, Ruby 217). This sentence provides the only direct reference in the narrative to the bodies of non-British women of color who suffered sexual abuse as a result of colonial exploitation. It at least gestures at the trauma experienced by some women as a result of the East India Trading Company’s foothold in the East. If this is the offer that Van Eeden makes to Sally, readers are left to imagine for themselves the abuse that those “beautiful” “Chinese women”—clear victims of sex trafficking—suffered at his hands and body more generally. In “Sexastion and the Neo-Victorian Novel,” Kohlke identifies a “new Orientalism” in neo-Victorian fiction “signaled by a striking repression or relegation of the Orientalist trope to the textual unconscious” (Kohlke 67, 69).[28] Further, she notes the conspicuous absence of non-Western characters in neo-Victorian fiction, arguing that it replaces traditional Victorian Orientalist tropes with “nineteenth century backstreets, brothels, […] bedrooms,” and, we might suggest, places like Madame Chang’s opium den (Kohlke 69). Elizabeth Ho notes something similar about neo-Victorianism: “its agenda includes ‘writing back’ to empire—a reinterpretation of canonical Western texts and a critique of entrenched master narratives—as an act of revision. However, neo-Victorian texts simultaneously give voice to feelings of regression and return that manifest themselves in often noncontestatory, even celebratory evocations of the nineteenth century” (11). Sexual slavery and abuse in Pullman’s novel are linked with the opium trade and Britain’s global economic impact but little time is spent on characters who were or might have been colonised subjects that suffered directly from them. Similarly, the narrator makes no mention of Adelaide’s fate and its association with such sexual exploitation. Van Eeden’s reference to “beautiful” “Chinese women” affords readers the chance to ask broader questions about the colonial backdrop of the novel and the way the suggested global economic and gender concerns intersect with racial ones if we read with twenty-first century eyes attuned to the legacy left by Collins’s The Moonstone: silence about the ubiquity of trauma suffered by female characters from marginalised communities.

           What Van Eeden calls the beauty of the Chinese women is not a compliment to East Asian women but rather a horrifying reference to sexual slavery that exists in the background of the story. While Pullman’s novel “acknowledges and reckons with colonial brutality and atrocities” that Ho associates with Postcolonial neo-Victorian fiction, it does not extend such consideration to the sexual violence that such “colonial brutality and atrocities” likely included (Ho 11). Sally may escape Van Eeden’s clutches, but she escapes a fate that many women who lived in colonised parts of the globe in the nineteenth century could not. While jewels, as William Cohen and Albert D. Hutter have shown, are most commonly linked to the female body and sexuality, it is important for us to ask to whose bodies in particular they are linked. While the Moonstone’s theft may call Rachel’s purity into question and the Ruby is overtly linked with Mrs Holland’s sexual favours, the narrative significance of these jewels extends farther into the novels’ backgrounds. The plundering of the stones—their theft from India—directly correlates with histories of sexual trauma experienced by Asian women who were casualties of war during the Victorian period and who remain the unseen victims of war in neo-Victorian rehashings of such events. Additionally, the role of the Diamond and the Ruby as objects of inheritance gifted by English military men to English women highlights the poverty and precarity of women and girls born without family or a legacy in the form of inheritance to rely on.

Looking at these novels from a contemporary vantage point requires that those of us looking ask questions not just about the violence that is rendered but also about the violent histories that continue to go unrepresented in neo-Victorian fiction. Even novels such as The Ruby in the Smoke that reimagine traditional Victorian heroines into more forward-thinking, modern young heroines that today’s readers can relate to can fail at other aspects of the neo-Victorian project as Kohlke and Gutelben define it. Despite the increased representation that popular movements like #MeToo and popular fiction may bring to the fore, those participating in such movements or reading such fiction need to remember to ask an important question: whose narratives get subsumed by those that get public, mainstream representation?

Henry James famously defined Victorian sensation novels as revealing “Those most mysterious of mysteries, the mysteries that are at our own doors”—a definition that we might extend to neo-sensation novels (594). Burke’s critique of the #MeToo movement encourages us as modern readers to recognise and grapple with the fact that the mysteries that these novels place at our doors—the doors of majority culture, that is—are the stories of marginalised and oppressed communities of women and girls whose trauma continues to be overwritten, sidelined, and silenced by those with the access, wealth, and status to make their voices heard. The recent globalization of #MeToo has made visible how pervasive sexual violence is in our present, but those of us who read neo-Victorian fiction must search for Moonstones in the smoke in order to highlight how far-reaching that history of mass silencing in literature actually is.


I would like to thank Nathaniel Doherty for reading countless drafts and helping me bring together such seemingly disparate lines of thought, and Christine Fullerton for helping me access the sources that I needed amid the pandemic.

Works Cited

@Alyssa_Milano. “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Twitter, 15 Oct. 2017, 1:21 p.m.,

Boyle, Karen. #MeToo, Weinstein and Feminism. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

Briefel, Aviva. “Tautological Crimes: Why Women Can’t Steal Jewels.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, vol. 37, no. 1/2, 2003–04, pp. 135–57.

Burke, Tarana. “History & Inception.” me too., Accessed August 2020.

Butts, Dennis. “Tis a Hundred Years Since: G. A. Henty’s With Clive in India and Philip Pullman’s The Tin Princess.” In the Presence of the Past in Children’s Literature, edited by Ann Lawson Lucas, Praeger, 2003, pp. 81–87.

Cohen, William A. “Trollope’s Trollop.” Sex Scandal: The Private Parts of Victorian Fiction. Duke Univerity Press, 1996, pp. 159–190.

Collins, Wilkie. The Moonstone. Modern Library Classics, 2001 [1871].

Cox, Jessica. “Canonization, Colonization, and the Rise of Neo-Victorianism.” English: Journal of the English Association, vol. 66, no. 253, 2017, pp. 101–123.

—. Neo-Victorianism and Sensation Fiction. Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

Duncan, Ian. “The Moonstone, the Victorian Novel, and Imperialist Panic,” Modern Language Quarterly: A Journal of Literary History, vol. 55, no. 3, 1994, pp. 293–319.

Free, Melissa. “‘Dirty Linen’: Legacies of Empire in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 48, no. 4, 2006, pp. 340–371.

Heilmann, Ann and Mark Llewellyn. “Introduction: Neo-Victorianism and Post Authenticity: On the Ethics and Aesthetics of Appropriation.” Neo-Victorianism: The Victorians in the Twenty-First Century, 1999–2009, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, pp. 1–32.

Heller, Tamar. Dead Secrets: Wilkie Collins and the Female Gothic. Yale Univerity Press, 1992.

Herbert, Christopher. War of No Pity: The Indian Mutiny and Victorian Trauma. Princeton Univerity Press, 2008.

Hicks, Megan. “Empire of the Imagination: Imperialism and the Child Reader of Victorian and Neo-Victorian Children’s Literature.” Accessed August 2019.

Hill, Zahara. “A Black Woman Created the ‘Me Too’ Campaign Against Sexual Assault 10 Years Ago.” Ebony, 18 Oct. 2017, Accessed August 2019.

Ho, Elizabeth. Neo-Victorianism and the Memory of Empire. A&C Black, 2012.

Holmes, Martha Stoddard. “‘Bolder with Her Lover in the Dark’: Collins and Disabled Women’s Sexuality.” Reality’s Dark Light: The Sensational Wilkie Collins, edited by Don Richard Cox and Maria Bachman, University of Tennessee Press, 2003, pp. 59–93.

Hutter, Albert D. “Dreams, Transformations and Literature: The Implications of Detective Fiction.” Victorian Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 1975, pp. 181–209.

James, Henry. “Miss Braddon.” The Nation, 9 Nov. 1865, p. 594.

Kaplan, Cora. “Fingersmith’s Coda: Feminism and Victorian Studies.” Journal of Victorian Culture, vol. 13, no. 1, 2008, pp. 42–55.

—. Victoriana: Histories, Fictions, Criticism. Columbia Univerity Press, 2007.

Kohlke, Mary-Louise. “Sexation and the Neo-Victorian Novel: Orientalising the Nineteenth-Century in Contemporary Fiction.” Negotiating Sexual Idioms: Image, Text, Performance, edited by Kohlke, Rodopi, 2008, pp. 53–77.

Kohlke, Mary-Luise and Christian Gutleben. “Introduction: Bearing After-Witness to the Nineteenth Century.” Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma: The Politics of Bearing After-Witness to Nineteenth-Century Suffering, edited by Kohlke and Gutleben, Rodopi, 2010, pp. 1–34.

Llewellyn, Mark. “What Is Neo-Victorian Studies?” Neo-Victorian Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, 2008, pp. 164–185.

MacKinnon, Catherine. Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues. Harvard Univerity Press, 2006.

“Manifesto of the V21 Collective: Ten Theses.” V21: Victorian Studies for the 21st Century, 2015, Accessed August 2019.

Morey, Anne and Claudia Nelson. “The Secret Sharer: The Child in Neo-Victorian Fiction,” Neo-Victorian Studies, vol. 5, no. 1, 2012, pp. 1–13.

Mossman, Mark. “Representation of the Abnormal Body in ‘The Moonstone.’” Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 37, no. 2, 2009, pp. 483–500.

Munich, Adrienne. Empire of Diamonds: Victorian Gems in Imperial Settings. University of Virginia Press, 2020.

Paxton, Nancy. Writing Under the Raj: Gender, Race, and Rape in the British Colonial Imagination, 1830–1947. Rutgers Univerity Press, 1999.

Pullman, Philip. “Billie Piper and Julie Walters Head All-Star Cast in Philip Pullman’s The Ruby In The Smoke.” Press Office BBC, 12 Aug. 2006, Accessed August 2019.

—.  “Daddy, or Serendipity.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 23, no. 3, 1992, pp. 157–165.

—. The Ruby in the Smoke. Alfred Knopf, 1985.

—. The Tiger in the Well. Alfred Knopf, 1990.

Rees, Jasper. “Moonstone (BBC One): Wilkie Collins’s proto-detective yarn remake is a welcome fillip – review.” The Telegraph, 31 Oct. 2016, Accessed August 2019.

Roy, Kaushik. India’s Historic Battles From Alexander the Great to Kargil. Permanent Black, 2004.

Rutherford, Lara. “Victorian Genres at Play: Juvenile Fiction and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Neo-Victorian Studies, vol.5, no. 1, 2012, pp. 125–151.

Sayers, Dorothy. Introduction. The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1944, pp. v–xi.

Schaub, Melissa. “Middlebrow Feminism and the Politics of Sentiment: From The Moonstone to Dorothy L. Sayers.” Modern Language Studies, vol. 43, no. 1, 2013, pp. 10–27.

Seifert, Ruth. “The Second Front: The Logic of Sexual Violence in Wars.” Women’s Studies International Forum, vol. 19, no. 1/2, 1996, pp. 35–43.

Siemann, Catherine. “‘But I’m grown up now’: Alice in the Twenty-First Century.” Neo-Victorian Studies, vol. 5, no. 1, 2012, pp. 175–201.

Stoler, Ann Laura. Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule. University of California Press, 2002.

Strapp, Robin. “Philip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke.” British Theatre Guide, Aug. 2016, Accessed August 2019.

Thierauf, Doreen. “NAVSA 2019 Panel on Sexual Violence and Rape.” Received by VICTORIA-list, 5 Jan. 2019.

Vlasopolos, Anca. “Family Drama and Reconfigured Families: Philip Pullman’s Neo-Victorian Detective Series.” Neo-Victorian Families: Gender, Sexual and Cultural Politics, edited by Marie-Luise Kohlke and Christian Gutleben, Rodopi, 2011, pp. 297–319.

[1] See Butts (p. 85), Cox (Neo-Victorianism Ch. 4), and Hicks (p. 57) for several direct comparisons of these novels; Cox is the only one to compare them at length. The Sally Lockhart series (1985–94), more generally, has received only passing reference in one article published in Neo-Victorian Studies; see Morey and Nelson, p. 5. Pullman’s His Dark Materials series and Spring-Heeled Jack (1989) are referenced in two other articles, but, again, only in passing as examples illustrative of larger claims about other neo-Victorian texts; see Siemann and Rutherford. Vlasopolos treats The Ruby in the Smoke at length in her chapter but does not mention The Moonstone’s influence.

[2] Collins also adapted The Moonstone into a play as he did many of his novels. Collins and Pullman share an affinity for stage production.

[3] See Strapp and Rees.

[4] In 2019, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies put out a call for a special issue on “Victorian Literature in the Age of #MeToo” that was published in August 2020. The North American Victorian Studies Association (NAVSA) Gender Caucus also sponsored a panel on “Sexual Violence and Rape” at the 2019 conference, which the CFP described as “aim[ing] to conceptualize approaches to sexual violence and rape in Victorian studies in the wake of the #MeToo movement” (Thierauf).

[5] See Hill and also Boyle, particularly pp. 4–8, for a discussion of this history. See also Burke’s website: Burke’s original “Me Too” movement has claimed a place on Twitter with the handle @MeTooMVMT.

[6] See Hill’s article for an in-depth discussion of how Black women’s experiences were marginalised by both the hashtag and Rose McGowan’s open rejection of solidarity.

[7] A criticism levied at mainstream feminism since the second-wave has been its focus on the struggles of predominantly upper-middle-class White women and the continued marginalization of women of color and women who identify as queer, trans, and differently abled.

[8] Since the hashtag went viral in 2017, survivors of sexual assault from around the globe have come to utilise it. India has seen the rise of #MeTooIndia; France, #MoiAussi; China, #MiTu and #RiceBunny (the English translation of the Mandarin phrase “mi tu”); and these are but a few examples of the mainstream network of shared experience that #MeToo has led to in the last three years.

[9] Kaplan includes Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargaso Sea (1966) in her critique.

[10] In her reading of the Moonstone’s remasculinization, Munich reminds readers that “Diamond” is always capitalised in the novel, “giv[ing] it prominence as a character” (see Ch. 2). While “ruby” does appear lower case throughout Pullman’s novel, when Major Marchbanks calls it by its full title—“Ruby of Agrapur”—it too is capitalised, suggesting that it holds more significance than a standard gem. I will capitalise both throughout since they refer to very specific jewels.

[11] While I will use both male and female characters’ first names after their initial mention throughout, Van Eeden and Lockhart are the two male characters to whom I will refer by their last names alone. The text itself refers to Van Eeden thusly and Lockhart will allow us to distinguish between Matthew Lockhart and Matthew Bedwell. After their first mention, I will refer to all authors by their last names.

[12] See Cox, Neo-Victorianism;Heller; Sayers; Schaub; and Vlasopolos who note Collins’s and Pullman’s subversion of traditional gender norms.

[13] Adelaide is abducted by Mrs Holland in the last third of the novel, and readers do not learn what has become of her until Pullman’s publication of The Tin Princess in 1994, almost a decade after the publication of The Ruby in the Smoke. There are four novels in the Sally Lockhart Mysteries series: The Ruby in the Smoke (1985), The Shadow in the North (1986), The Tiger in the Well (1990), and The Tin Princess (1994). Adelaide is mentioned only once after her initial erasure: while looking reminiscently at the stereoscopic pictures she had made with Fred, Rosa, Jim, Tumbler, and Adelaide, Sally thinks of “the little girl Adelaide, whom they’d rescued from a dismal lodging house in Wapping, sitting on the knee of Frederick’s assistant Tembler Molloy to illustrate a sentimental song. […] Adelaide had vanished. She must be somewhere in London now, but they’d never found her. The city had swallowed her up in a moment” (Pullman, Tiger 62). Readers waited five years for this minimal reminiscence and then an additional four for the mystery to finally be revealed.

[14] The Moonstone has multiple narrators. It is comprised of a series of documents narrated by various characters who were directly involved in the events of the story they narrate. Rachel never narrates.

[15] See Briefel pp. 136–140 for a full discussion of the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882.

[16] See Cox, Neo-Victorianism, p. 123, for a reading of what the fates of each stone symbolise for the female characters who owned them.

[17] Sally does become romantically involved with Frederick in The Shadow in the North and eventually bears his child though Frederick dies before they are able to marry. That said, my interest in this article resides solely in the parallels between The Moonstone and The Ruby in the Smoke.

[18] For example, Adelaide’s last name is not revealed until The Tin Princess.

[19] Franklin too refers to Rosanna’s as a “miserable story” (Collins 340).

[20] In fact, all of the disabled characters have either died or disappeared by the novel’s end. Ezra Jennings, a mixed-race character who is an opium addict and the one who solves the mystery of the Moonstone’s theft, has also died.

[21] See Cox, particularly Ch. 4 in Neo-Victorianism, for a detailed exploration of the conventions that YA and sensation fiction share.

[22] In her discussion of rape in colonial spaces, Stoler explains that “colonial accounts of the rebellion in India in 1857 detailed descriptions of the sexual mutilation of British women by Indian men although no rapes were recorded” (58-59). Stoler similarly notes the complicated history of rape law in Britain’s colonies: “rape laws were race-specific. Sexual abuse of black women was not classified as rape and therefore was not legally actionable, nor did rapes committed by white men lead to prosecution” (58).

[23] Stoler notes something similar in her chapters that detail the interviews she did with colonised women who had suffered sexual exploitation at the hands of colonisers; see p. 180 in particular.

[24] See MacKinnon and Seifert.    

[25] Women also appeared in popular visual renditions of the event. Thomas Stothard’s c.1799 oil painting The Surrender of the Children of Tippoo Sultaun is one example; the print by Charles Turner is held by the British Museum.

[26] In his chapter on the Siege of Lucknow, Roy explains that the officers’ spouses and children would have resided in the residencies as, “From the 1850s, white women began arriving in India in large numbers” (147). He further explains “That the 1857 campaign was characterized by unprecedented brutality towards [British] women” (148). See Herbert and Stoler for a discussion of the questionable veracity of such accounts. Similarly, the presence of British women and children is supported by the conventional rape script that both Paxton and Herbert discuss: British women being raped by Indian men.

[27] See Ho who reads “Neo-Victorianism as an expression of such colonial hauntings in which the international reappearance of the nineteenth century works as a kind of traumatic recall” (11).

[28] Kohlke’s characterization of “new Orientalism” draws on Edward’s Said’s foundational work in Orientalism (1978).

Please follow and like us: