Miss Clack – The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins

Now I haven’t finished The Moonstone, so I don’t want anyone on here discussing the plot. I just wanted to discuss a few aspects related to Miss Clack.

Miss Clack is the second narrator in The Moonstone, a book composed of alternate points of view. One of my interests in reading it was to see what modern(ist) notions we could see in the book’s structure – about which I don’t suppose I’ve come to any particular view yet. Certainly Gabriel Betteridge (the 1st narrator) and Miss Clack have very different views of the character of Rachel, the possessor and loser of the Moonstone of the title, which might in time lead us easily enough to the general theory of relativity.

I may have mentioned before that I think one of the main things we moderns have against Victorian literature is the sheer virtuousness of some of its characters. Such unblemished goodness annoys our aesthetic sensibilities; we like people a little more flawed. Collins’ narrators, I was thinking, were a bit like this. I was in particular remembering the incredibly virtuous and annoying narrator of his novella The Dead Alive, which I read fairly recently. At first, perhaps I was thinking of Miss Clack along the same lines. Yet, of course, Wilkie Collins doesn’t present Miss Clack as at all a sympathetic character: a proselytising Christian, ever trying to impress her opinions and her religion on everyone – even when it may not be appropriate – I can’t help believe Collins wants us to feel anything other than hatred towards her. She also has something about her of the unreliable narrator: she professes to act virtuously at all time, but this is constantly undercut by our author with the suggestion of an ulterior motive; which is perhaps nicer than your average unreliable narrator, aimed as it is at a certain kind of religious hypocrisy.

That’s the good side of the construction of the character of Miss Clack. One wonders though about Wilkie Collins’ usage of her as a plot device. She is brought in to tell a certain portion of the story, yet she is such an outsider that, as a 1st-person narrator, she has to be forced into scenes where she shouldn’t be. Indeed, in almost every scene involving her, Wilkie Collins seems to have to apologise for her presence, recognising that it’s neither necessary nor appropriate. It’s almost as if he’s writing a parody. In one scene, while secretly planting religious pamphlets in a room she shouldn’t be in, she has to hide behind a curtain when other characters enter, just so that she can overhear their crucial conversation.


4 thoughts on “Miss Clack – The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins

  1. I won’t reveal the plot although I have read this but can’t remember it.
    I have a feeling her name should tell us something. weren’t Victorians using names very deliberately (something I do not like at all), like a signal, sort of.
    Is she very unsubtle – clack- there you go- slap in the face like (maybe I associate too much with the French word la claque- the slap in the face)

  2. Yes, she is very unsubtle – and yes, I think Clack is chosen for its negative-sounding qualities, though perhaps not necessarily its meaning.

    Betteridge is also a very Victorian name. No one these days would call a character Betteridge. – Mind you, absurd comic names are a highlight of many a contemporary light comedy.

  3. Yes, agreed – the presence of Miss Clack in various scenes is certainly cotrived, but perhaps we can allow for a bit of plot contrivance in a work such as this. But as for the character herself – I found her hilarious! Wilkie Collins must really have hated teh Miss Clacks of this world!

  4. Rather like a lot of Dickens’ characters, they are exaggerated, yet we recognise them in the people around us far more than the nondescript characters of other novels.

    At the weekend I went to my father’s and discovered he was busy reading everything Wilkie Collins has ever written; he was in the middle of Armadale.

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