Extraordinary Heroines: Finding the Body in Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone
Author(s)Parks, Ann Wheeler
Contributor(s)Pfordresher, John C.
British literature; Irish literature; English literature
British and Irish literature
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Why does Wilkie Collins create two disabled (or "deformed") young women characters in his 1868 detective novel The Moonstone? Building on the arguments that scholars have made in related areas of nineteenth-century literature and in disability studies, I assert that Collinsa physically imperfect and unmarried lawyer who was sympathetic to women's issuesis presenting the two disabled women, who do not marry, as a positive alternative to the traditional, married Victorian "angel in the house." Collins appears to follow convention in creating the disabled Rosanna Spearman, who suffers unrequited love and dies alone, in contrast to the physically attractive Rachel Verinder who marries in the end. Yet on a deeper level, Collins shatters that convention by creating a second disabled woman character (Lucy Yolland) whose extraordinary body frees her from marriage, in contrast to a nondisabled heroine whose attractions effectively leave her with no other choice. With the character of Lucy, Collins explores what Robert McRuer now calls "crip theory" "how bodies and disabilities...might be understood and imaged as forms of resistance to cultural homogenization" (33) and what he calls the link between "compulsory able-bodiedness" and "compulsory heterosexuality" (2).
Besides giving Lucy a strong voice as a woman and a disabled woman, Collins gives both his "extraordinary" women characters a strong but realistic work ethic (in response to Charles Dickens's excessively busy disabled women characters) and relative freedom to act and move. In The Moonstone, Collins shows that it is the traditional heroine Rachelidle and confined to the homewho is, in fact, the more disabled.