The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens
The Mystery of Edwin Drood

I have delayed reading this book knowing there is no conclusion, as I hate it when loose ends aren't tied up, so to deliberately begin reading a book when I know there will never be complete answers, is a little daunting. But I love Dickens' books so I can't not read one of his. Can I deal with not knowing everything at the end though…?!

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I have delayed reading this book knowing there is no conclusion, as I hate it when loose ends aren’t tied up, so to deliberately begin reading a book when I know there will never be complete answers, is a little daunting. But I love Dickens’ books so I can’t not read one of his. Can I deal with not knowing everything at the end though…?!

The story begins with a man regaining consciousness in an opium den, who has been dreaming of cathedral spires. The opium den is owned by a woman, and there is a Chinaman and a Lascar there with the man. Hmmm, I’m not sure what a Lascar is. 

John Jasper appears to be unwell at that evening’s cathedral service and says to his nephew, Edwin Drood, that he’s been taking opium for a pain. Oooh, I’m wondering if the man in the opium den dreaming of cathedral spires was Jasper. I’m also wondering what this pain of his is, could it be the pain of being in love with Rosa Bud (who is betrothed to Edwin), as there is something strange about the way Jasper is around her.

The story is set in the cathedral town of Cloisterham and most of the main characters are connected with the cathedral. Jasper is the Precentor/Choir Master, though he admits to Edwin (to Edwin’s surprise) that he is dissatisfied with the monotony of his life. Mr Tope is the Verger, and Mrs Tope is Jasper’s housekeeper. Mr Crisparkle is the Reverend. Edwin is an engineer and plans to move to Egypt when married, to pursue his career. There is only about six years age difference between Edwin and Jasper (Jasper being 26), and they are close and don’t call each other uncle and nephew, Jasper calling Edwin ‘Ned’, and Edwin calling Jasper ‘Jack’. There is a portrait of Rosa on Jasper’s wall, which Edwin painted. Rosa is also known as Pussy and acts a little like a spoilt childish girl, though is affectionate to her friends. The engagement between her and Edwin has been decided upon by their now-dead fathers, they both like each other but are uncomfortable at their enforced engagement and this makes them uncomfortable with each other. Jasper is Rosa’s music teacher at the local girls’ school where she resides, the school being owned by Miss Twinkleton, who is helped by Miss Tisher. Rosa walks past the cathedral with Edwin and he remarks that Jasper will shortly exit the cathedral, and she seems keen to hurry away. Hmmm, I wonder if it’s Jasper she wants to avoid for some reason. 

Jasper meets with Sapsea, an auctioneer, who has a very high opinion of his own importance, he has devised wording on a memorial for his wife which mentions him far more than her, and Durdles the stone mason will create this memorial. Durdles is regularly teased by a local poor child called Deputy. And Septimus Crisparkle chats to his mother in their home, she is very proud of not needing to wear glasses at her age so he deliberately wears glasses when he doesn’t need to and criticises his own sight to her in order to emphasise her good sight. Tee hee, I think Sapsea will be one of Dickens’ comedy characters that he pokes fun at. And I love Septimus Crisparkle’s relationship with his widowed mother, it’s so lovely. I am also fascinated with her dining-room closet which contains wonderful sounding jams and pickles, and her herb-closet which contains medicinal herbs and dried leaves, it sounds so orderly and practical but at the same time so magical and enticing.

Mrs Crisparkle receives a letter from Mr Honeythunder. He says he is bringing Helena and Neville Landless to them, Neville to be taught by Crisparkle, and Helena to be at Rosa’s school. They are twin orphans who were abused by their stepfather and used to live in Ceylon. Honeythunder is very self-opinionated, described as ‘a very large and very loud excrescence on the party…always something in the nature of a boil on the face of society’, and all members of the little party unite to speed him on his way back to the coach saying the time is later than it is and the walk longer than it is and the weather worse than it is. He belongs to a Philanthropic Society which seems to criticise everyone, rather than helping them, ‘his philanthropy was of that gunpowderous sort that the difference between it and animosity was hard to determine’. Tee hee, the Honeythunder passages made me chuckle, Dickens describes these annoying self-opinionated characters so well, and Honeythunder is such a great name, I do love some of the names Dickens gives his characters

Helena notices Jasper’s intensity around Rosa and asks her about it. Rosa says Jasper has never spoken to her of his love for her but that he seems to imply it in every look he gives her, and he also seems to imply secrecy of this too so she feels almost complicit in his feelings. She says he stares intently at her lips and hands during their music lessons, and she is scared of him but hasn’t said anything to Edwin as he adores his uncle. Helena feels protective towards Rosa and angry at Jasper for scaring her. Hmmm, this is an intriguing picture of Jasper, I had quite liked him and am surprised to see him painted in such a threatening and controlling light.

Neville talks to Crisparkle of his feelings of anger and hatred towards his stepfather, but says he knows that these feelings aren’t good and are due to his lack of education and the bad treatment and neglect he suffered, and he admits he is short-tempered and excitable and asks Crisparkle to help him become a better person. He admires Rosa, and later asks Jasper why Edwin seems proprietorial towards her. Later, Edwin and Neville walk back together after dropping the girls off at the school but they provoke each other, Neville angry at Edwin for being betrothed to Rosa but not seeming to value her as Neville values her, and Edwin angry at Neville for mentioning his betrothal when he himself admires Helena. They are joined by Jasper, who seems to have followed them all to the girls’ school, he calms them both down but then when they return to his rooms he seems to wind them up again by introducing the subject of their argument, Rosa. He gives them wine, which seems to act swiftly on them. Edwin and Neville argue again, and Neville throws the dregs of his wine at Edwin and then throws his glass into the fireplace, and is unable to conceal his angry feelings when taunted by Edwin. Neville storms out, but is upset at how he behaved and immediately goes to Crisparkle admitting what he’s done. Jasper then goes to Crisparkle saying how threatening and dangerous Neville was and that he fears for Edwin’s safety if they were to meet again. Hmmm, I wonder if Jasper overheard Neville and Edwin arguing in the street, and did he create this situation with the wine and resurrect the argument to serve his own ends? I’m even wondering if he put something in the wine to increase their emotions. I am starting to get very suspicious of Jasper, though he seemed nice at the start, or is this change of character supposed to be due to the opium? And I like Neville, with him trying to identify his faults and to rectify them, even going straight to Crisparkle to admit he was at fault for losing his temper with Edwin. I like Edwin less, he seems to think he’s quite a privileged person.

Rosa’s guardian is Mr Grewgious, he is described as having ‘a scanty flat crop of hair, in colour and consistency like some very mangy yellow fur tippet, it was so unlike hair that it must have been a wig but for the stupendous improbability of anyone’s voluntarily sporting such a head…as though Nature had…impatiently thrown away the chisel and said “I really cannot be worried to finish off this man; let him go as he is”‘. Grewgious reminds Rosa that the marriage to Edwin is not obligatory and neither of them will lose their inheritance if they don’t marry, he clarifies that it was only a wish of their fathers’, not an insistence. He later visits Jasper out of courtesy, and Jasper asks if the engagement is obligatory. Tee hee, Grewgious is another great name! And I like him, he seems a genuinely caring man, and I loved the description of him with Nature just not being bothered to finish him off!

Jasper has told the whole town about Neville’s attack on Edwin, and has described Neville as being angry and having an ungovernable temper. Crisparkle admits to his mother that he wishes Jasper hadn’t done this as it has prejudiced the town against Neville. Crisparkle talks to Neville and Helena, he listens to them and gets a promise from Neville that he will shake hands with Edwin, and Crisparkle promises to get Edwin to agree to this too. Neville tells Crisparkle of his love for Rosa, and Crisparkle urges him to try and conquer this, although he acknowledges that it will be hard to do this. Crisparkle goes to Jasper to ask him to get Edwin to agree to shake hands with Neville, but he finds Jasper asleep. On waking, Jasper’s words are ‘What has happened? Who did it?’. Jasper agrees to speak to Edwin, but shows Crisparkle his diary entries stating his foreboding that Neville will harm Edwin. Crisparkle tells Jasper that he has exaggerated his fears in this matter. Oooh, Jasper’s words on waking must be significant, I feel! Is Jasper dreaming of harming Edwin and intending to blame someone else? And I’m wondering if Jasper has written these diary entries, and told the town about the incident between Neville and Edwin, in order to pave the way for everyone to suspect Neville if something happens to Edwin. And I do like Crisparkle, he is so kind and caring, and I like the way he doesn’t patronisingly say that it will be easy for Neville to get over his feelings for Rosa.

Grewgious has Edwin to tea in his chambers, and he gives him Rosa’s mother’s ring that was left in his charge by Rosa’s father, when he died a year after Rosa’s mother died, though Grewgious begins to feel doubtful about Edwin taking the ring and marrying Rosa, after how Edwin seems when he talks about Rosa. Oooh, it seems to be hinted here that Grewgious was secretly in love with Rosa’s mother and that it had meant a lot to him to be responsible for the care of this ring.

Jasper has engaged Durdles to take him up the cathedral tower at night-time. On this tour, Durdles also unlocks the crypt and shows Jasper this, and shows him a pile of quicklime. Jasper brings a bottle for them to consume but leaves Durdles to drink most of it and it seems to affect Durdles more than usual. Durdles falls asleep and dreams that his keys to the crypt have been taken and he is left on his own, but he wakes up later and finds his keys beside him. Eeek, I immediately don’t like where this is going with the crypt and the quicklime, and I’m of course guessing that Jasper did take Durdles’ keys, perhaps to copy them, and I’m suspecting he put something in the bottle that Durdles drank from, as I suspected he did with the wine that Edwin and Neville drank. It’s all getting a bit sinister!

Rosa and Edwin meet, and Rosa suggests that they be like brother and sister instead of husband and wife, she says she feels this is the best plan and that she believes he feels this too, which he admits. Edwin says Jasper will have to know and will be disappointed but he doesn’t know how to tell him, so Rosa suggests that Grewgious tells Jasper, and Edwin agrees to this. They kiss goodbye fondly, but Edwin notices that Jasper is watching and following them. I like Rosa more after this, she seems mature and sensible and wise and firm now, not the silly emotional childish girl she seemed before. But although it seems sensible for Grewgious to tell Jasper about this development, it worries me that this will cause a delay and things may happen in the meantime.

Neville tells Crisparkle and Helena that he has decided to go on a walking tour for two weeks over Christmas, after the arranged meeting with Edwin on Christmas Eve, as he is determined to conquer his feelings for Rosa and believes he can do this better by being away from the town and avoiding seeing Edwin and Rosa together, and he says he has bought a new heavy walking stick for his walking tour. Oh dear, I feel foreboding with the emphasis on this walking stick!

Edwin mulls over the end of his engagement and feels sad about it, and he wonders whether they may have made a success of it if he had been more in earnest about it from the start, though he still has fond hopes of knowing Helena better. He visits a jeweller to wind his watch, and comments that the only jewellery he wears is a watch and shirt-pin, and the jeweller says that Jasper was there a few days ago and commented on the same thing. Edwin meets a decrepit old lady, who shakes in a similar way to how Edwin remembers Jasper shaking, and he is kind to her. She says she has come to the town looking for a needle in a haystack but hasn’t found it. She asks Edwin his name which he tells her is Edwin, and she says he should be grateful it’s not Ned as that’s a threatened and dangerous name. Edwin is amused by this but not fearful, and reflects that only Jack calls him Ned. Oooh, I’m guessing this woman is the owner of the opium den, has she heard Jasper muttering this name of Ned? I’m feeling a real sense of foreboding building in this book, it’s very cleverly done, just hints given here and there, and emphasis on certain things (like walking sticks!) that wouldn’t usually be emphasised. 

Jasper has bought food and drink for the evening with Edwin and Neville, and has told people they are meeting to resolve their issues. Hmmm, I wonder why Crisparkle isn’t going to this meeting too, I wish he was. Maybe he felt that for Neville to go there without him demonstrates that he has confidence in Neville, but I feel strongly that it would be better if Crisparkle was there, potentially as a witness, as I feel something will happen. I also note that we, the readers, don’t witness this meeting either, which is strange and potentially suspicious. 

The following morning, Jasper bangs on Crisparkle’s door asking if Edwin is there, as he says Edwin and Neville went down to the river the previous night to look at the storm. Crisparkle says that Neville had left early that morning on his walking tour. Neville is then searched for and is taken captive by eight men, he fights with one and hits him with his stick and both men are bloodied. Neville is taken back to the town and to Sapsea, who is now the Mayor and already thinks badly of Neville due to what Jasper has told him. Edwin is searched for along the river but not found. Omg, noooo, it’s happening!

When Jasper appears back at his rooms, Grewgious is waiting for him and tells him that Rosa and Edwin are no longer betrothed, and at this news Jasper shrieks and faints. When Jasper comes round, he states that this news has given him hope that Edwin perhaps didn’t want to face the gossips when the news of the broken engagement went around the town, so has instead taken himself off for a while. Jasper admits to Grewgious, in Crisparkle’s presence, that he had been prejudiced against Neville, and Crisparkle feels he also needs to be honest and so admits that Neville had expressed angry words against Edwin after their first encounter and this was because he was in love with Rosa. Jasper says Edwin’s and Neville’s meeting was amicable. Oooh, Jasper’s response to Grewgious’ news was very dramatic, I’m wondering if Jasper has realised that whatever action he may have taken the night before (which was what…?!) was not actually necessary. And I’m thinking that nothing harmful could have happened to Edwin in Jasper’s rooms, as Neville said that he and Edwin went down to the river to watch the storm and then parted at Neville’s door. But Jasper seems to have a habit of following people, so did he follow them to the river and then to Neville’s door, and then…?! 

Crisparkle finds Edwin’s watch and shirt-pin in the water at the weir, so he then searches more but finds no body. He goes to the Mayor with these items, and takes along Neville, who is then detained. The items are identified as Edwin’s by Jasper. It is presumed that Edwin has been killed and the murderer had taken the jewellery off the body as they were easily identifiable. No body is found though, so Neville is released but is shunned by the town and has to leave, even though Crisparkle states he is certain that Neville is innocent. Oh god, so it looks like Edwin is dead! And is there significance in Jasper earlier going to the jewellers and talking about Edwin’s watch and shirt-pin, was it to emphasise that the watch and shirt-pin found must belong to Edwin, in order to make people think that Edwin had been killed (could I be hopeful therefore that Edwin may not be dead? But then where is he?)? I was wondering if Jasper had had identical jewellery made for some reason, but surely the jeweller would have commented on this.  

Six months go by. Crisparkle visits Honeythunder who is convinced of Neville’s guilt and accuses Crisparkle of supporting a murderer by supporting Neville. Crisparkle visits Neville in London, he is living in a small flat in Grewgious’ building, studying for the law, and despondent that he can’t clear himself and is living under the shadow of guilt, as he feels himself looked at and judged and only goes out at night for a walk and lives a very secluded life. Crisparkle is helping to teach him, and has advised that he doesn’t change his name or move to a distant place, as that would make him look guilty. Crisparkle talks to Grewgious, who keeps an eye on Neville, and he reports that Jasper frequently watches Neville. They then see Jasper watching from a flat across the street. Grewgious says he will keep an eye on Jasper as well as Neville. Oooh, Jasper just gets more and more sinister!

Mr Tartar introduces himself to Neville as his neighbour, he says he has noticed that Neville shuts himself away a lot but that he seems to enjoy Tartar’s garden, so he offers to train some beans and flowers across the balcony to Neville. Tartar says he is a former Lieutenant in the Navy who inherited some money. Meanwhile in Cloisterham, a stranger called Datchery arrives, he has a military demeanour and tells people he was in the Diplomatic Service and that he is a ‘single buffer’. He has an abundance of white hair and black eyebrows and a large head. He seems keen to live near Jasper, as he takes a grimy dark apartment let by the Topes, however he struggles to find the apartment when he is directed to it. Hmmm, this Datchery character seems a bit strange, I wonder why he is being introduced.

Helena has finished school and goes to be with Neville in London. Jasper then turns up at the school, knowing Rosa is on her own as all the other girls have left for the school break. Rosa doesn’t want to meet him but agrees to do so outside. She immediately feels intimidated by him, and that he feels that he has power and control over her movements. She tries to be firm with him, and when he says he had concealed his love for her she retorts that he was false to Edwin with these feelings and made her unhappy and forced her to keep his pursuit of her a secret from Edwin, and tells him he is a bad man. He goes on to declare his feelings passionately and says he ‘loves her madly’, and that she is beautiful in her anger. He says his love for her is mad and that no other admirer will love her and live, and threatens that if she refuses him he will ensure that Neville is hanged, even if he is innocent of Edwin’s death, as he knows that Neville admires her, and says that Neville ‘stands in deadly peril’, and also says that the threat of the gallows will break Helena’s heart and he knows how she cares for Helena. He continues, ‘There is my past and my present wasted life. There is the desolation of my heart and soul. There is my peace, there is my despair. Stamp them into the dust, so that you take me, were it even mortally hating me…I love you, love you, love you. If you were to cast me off now, but you will not, you would never be rid of me. No one should come between us. I would pursue you to the death’. He says all this while maintaining a casual stance so to anyone looking at them there is no hint of the real nature of their conversation. He says he will wait for her answer but that she isn’t to tell anyone of this or he will act to cause Neville harm. She escapes him and faints on the way to her room, which is put down to the heat. Omg, that was really quite disturbing and uncomfortable to read! Jasper was so passionate and fanatical and determined and menacing, he is almost Heathcliff-like and also reminds me of Bradley Headstone (from Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend) with his intensity. I also worry with how clever he is in keeping up appearances, with being so intense but outwardly so calm, so no-one would suspect what he was saying to Rosa. I don’t see how Rosa on her own can withstand him. And, omg, there’s not many pages left before the book will no doubt abruptly end, I am almost wishing I’d not started reading it as I fear I am going to be distraught and frustrated and forever left wondering what happens to all the characters!! 

Rosa decides to flee Cloisterham and go to her guardian, Grewgious, for advice. She feels that Jasper permeates the walls of the school and she isn’t safe from him, and she daren’t say anything to Helena for fear of bringing about Jasper’s threats to Neville. She reflects on her previous suspicions that Jasper may have killed Edwin, as she believes him capable of it, though it horrifies her that this would have been because of his feelings for her. But she then wonders, if Jasper had killed Edwin, why he hadn’t let the theory of Edwin’s running away from gossips be the reason for his disappearance, instead of constantly telling the town that he believed Edwin was dead. She also wonders, if he had killed Edwin, why he would present his commitment to the vengeance of Edwin at her feet as a sacrifice. Hmmm, these are all good points, it does seem strange for Jasper to act this way if he had killed Edwin. But he just looks so suspicious! And where can Edwin be, if not dead? 

Rosa reaches Grewgious, and tells him what Jasper had said to her. He is angry on her behalf and swears to protect her from Jasper. He distracts her by relating the story of his clerk, Bazzard, who is a farmer’s son who has written a play, and had begged Grewgious for the job of his clerk as he said his father would disown him if he found out he had written a play, but that his play, a tragedy called The Thorn of Anxiety, has been consistently rejected for publication/performance, and he is discontented as Grewgious’ clerk as he believes he should be a successful playwriter and he looks down on Grewgious as he isn’t able to write a play himself. Grewgious takes Rosa to an apartment nearby and provides her with a maid, assuring her that Jasper can’t get in, and he strolls back and forth outside the gate for an hour afterwards. Oh dear, I worry that Jasper may already be there watching them and will have seen where Grewgious took Rosa. But awww, I do adore Grewgious, he’s like a hero! He was so lovely lovely lovely when Rosa arrived, and bless him, I was touched that he said he thought for a second when she walked in the door that she was her mother, who he clearly loved very much. And Grewgious’ tale about Bazzard is interesting, and makes me wonder if these are actually Bazzard’s feelings, or Grewgious’ perception of Bazzard’s feelings.

Crisparkle arrives at Grewgious’ the next morning, as Miss Twinkleton had come to him worrying about Rosa. Rosa’s story is then shared with Crisparkle. They puzzle how to put Rosa and Helena together so Rosa can tell Helena about the threat to her brother, with the fear that Jasper may be watching Neville’s flat or have set someone to watch it in his absence and will then act on his threat to harm Neville if he sees Rosa has gone against his instruction to not tell anyone. Tartar then knocks at the door, asking Crisparkle if he recognises him, as Tartar was a pupil of Crisparkle’s and saved his life when Crisparkle was drowning. They fill Tartar in on Neville and Rosa, as Grewgious has the idea that Rosa and Helena could meet unobserved in Tartar’s flat, which he is happy to agree to. Rosa seems to admire Tartar greatly. Rosa fills Helena in on all that has happened and their suspicions that Jasper is spying on Neville. Helena suggests having Tartar openly visit Neville, in order to see if Jasper or another spy he has employed tries to turn Tartar against Neville, thereby giving them a hint of Jasper’s methods and associates. Rosa is concerned that her refusal of Jasper’s advances has further heightened his revengeful plans for Neville and asks for forgiveness for this from Helena and Neville, but Helena assures her that she couldn’t have done anything but refuse him. Grewgious arranges for Miss Twinkleton to stay with Rosa, and finds accommodation for them with Bazzard’s cousin, Mrs Billickin. Mrs Billickin and Miss Twinkleton immediately take a dislike to each other, both refusing to acknowledge the other’s presence, and they end up talking via Rosa. Tartar takes Rosa and Grewgious on a sailing trip up the Thames, with his man Mr Lobley steering. Tee hee, I did chuckle at Mrs Billickin, she seems another of Dickens’ wonderfully odd characters, with her pointing out all the deficiencies of the accommodation, rather than praising it.

Crisparkle sees Jasper daily at the cathedral and wonders if Jasper suspects that Rosa has told him about the threats he made to her, as he presumes that Jasper must be aware of Rosa’s abrupt departure from Cloisterham, but Jasper has never asked Crisparkle about Rosa. Crisparkle and Neville and Helena are careful not to mention any suspicion to Rosa that Jasper may have harmed Edwin, neither does Grewgious, even though he is open in his dislike of Jasper. Hmmm, there is a mention of Grewgious remembering ‘a heap of torn and miry clothes’ on Jasper’s floor, is this significant? I imagine Grewgious noticed this when Jasper fainted at the news that Edwin and Rosa were no longer engaged, which would have been the morning after Edwin disappeared. But is this suspicious? I thought first of all that Jasper’s clothes had just got dirty when he was searching for Edwin, but I guess they could have got dirty from something he potentially did to Edwin, or somewhere he secretly was with Edwin. Or are they possibly not Jasper’s clothes and are actually Edwin’s clothes?

Jasper goes to the opium den in London, and the woman there, nicknamed Princess Puffer, remarks that he’s not been for a long time. Jasper goes into a drugged stupor and mumbles about his previous visits there when he had had something on his mind that he was going to do and that he would go over this action hundreds of thousands of times while under the influence of opium, but that when he finally did it, it almost seemed not worth the doing as it was done so soon. He adds that he did it in the same way he’d always imagined it happening when he thought about it in the den. He also talks of a fellow-traveller, and that there was no struggle or consciousness of peril or entreaty. The woman keeps stirring him from his stupor to talk more. Hmmm, she seems very keen for more details from Jasper, and it also seems like she had heard these plans of his when he talked about them before, even though he thought his mutterings were unintelligible to anyone. And presumably it is plans for Edwin he was talking about, it does seem like he has definitely done something to poor Edwin then, eeek!

Princess Puffer then follows Jasper to Cloisterham. She sees Datchery and asks him about Jasper, and is told she can see him singing in the cathedral tomorrow. She mentions to Datchery that she has been in Cloisterham before, on Christmas Eve, and she spoke then to Edwin who gave her some money. This news startles Datchery, and he later opens a cupboard in his apartment and makes a stroke with a piece of chalk, like a scoring system. Datchery goes to the cathedral the next day and sees Princess Puffer hidden behind a pillar shaking both fists at Jasper, unseen by him. Datchery makes another score inside his cupboard. Hmm, what does this scoring system mean?! And we need to know more from her what Jasper said he’d do to ‘Ned’! 

But that’s the end! Arrrgggh, it’s incredibly frustrating that the book isn’t complete, not just for the explanation of what happened to Edwin and who the possible murderer was, but also because there are so many other interesting characters who had lives to be told. I’m thinking, for instance, that Mrs Tope (as Jasper’s housekeeper and the landlady of Datchery) would surely have a bigger part to play than we’ve already seen, and I am sure that Princess Puffer would be crucial to the plot, and could there be something more significant with Mrs Crisparkle’s wonderful herb closet (maybe Jasper got the drugs from there which he used in the drinks?), as well as all the other characters that would have no doubt been developed more fully, such as Tartar and Bazzard, etc. I can tell I will be obsessed by what could have happened, and I feel cheated knowing how wonderful his other books are and that he surely had such creative ideas for these characters that we will never now know or be able to appreciate, sigh!

I’ve been busy googling madly for what other people think happened in the book, and I see that Dickens’ friend, John Forster, said that Dickens had shared details of the story with him. He says, ‘The story, I learnt immediately afterward, was to be that of the murder of a nephew by his uncle; the originality of which was to consist in the review of the murderer’s career by himself at the close, when its temptations were to be dwelt upon as if, not he the culprit, but some other man, were the tempted. The last chapters were to be written in the condemned cell, to which his wickedness, all elaborately elicited from him as if told of another, had brought him. Discovery by the murderer of the utter needlessness of the murder for its object, was to follow hard upon commission of the deed; but all discovery of the murderer was to be baffled till towards the close, when, by means of a gold ring which had resisted the corrosive effects of the lime into which he had thrown the body, not only the person murdered was to be identified but the locality of the crime and the man who committed it. So much was told to me before any of the book was written; and it will be recollected that the ring, taken by Drood to be given to his betrothed only if their engagement went on, was brought away with him from their last interview. Rosa was to marry Tartar, and Crisparkle the sister of Landless, who was himself, I think, to have perished in assisting Tartar finally to unmask and seize the murderer”.

And wonderful Wikipedia (always my go-to for information) says, ‘Although the killer is not revealed, it is generally believed that John Jasper, Edwin’s uncle, is the murderer. There are three reasons: John Forster had the plot described to him by Dickens: “The story…was to be that of the murder of a nephew by his uncle.” Luke Fildes, who illustrated the story, said that Dickens had told him, when they were discussing an illustration, “I must have the double necktie! It is necessary, for Jasper strangles Edwin Drood with it.” Dickens’s son Charles stated that his father had told him unequivocally that Jasper was the murderer. The book gives other hints: it describes a nightly scene in which Jasper goes secretly with Durdles to the graveyard. Jasper sees quicklime, at that time believed to hasten the decomposition of bodies. A day before he disappears, Edwin talks with Princess Puffer in the graveyard. She tells him “Ned” is in great danger. Later it turns out she has been following John Jasper from London, as he told her something in his state of intoxication. And, Jasper is the only one who refers to Edwin Drood as “Ned”. On the day Edwin is reported missing, Jasper is informed by Grewgious, Rosa’s guardian, that she and Edwin had broken off their engagement. Jasper collapses in a state of shock: could it be because of a murder that was unnecessary? Rosa Bud has always been afraid of John Jasper, and in the afternoon of a warm day, half a year after Edwin’s disappearance, he tells her his love for her might be enough to get even his beloved nephew out of the way. Princess Puffer tries to follow Jasper, she suspects him of something because of what he said during his opium intoxication. Jasper says to Puffer at the end of what exists of the book: “Suppose you had something in your mind; something you were going to do…Should you do it in your fancy, when you were lying here doing this?…I did it over and over again. I have done it hundreds of thousands of times in this room.” The very first hint (Mr. Jasper being concerned about what he may say while in an opium stupor) occurs in the first pages when Mr. Jasper listens to other opium users and says “unintelligible!”. On his last opium trip, Puffer says to him, while he sleeps: “‘Unintelligible’ I heard you say, of two more than me. But don’t ye be too sure always; don’t ye be too sure, beauty!” Lastly, on the day of Edwin’s disappearance, Jasper was in an ebullient state of mind all day, performing in the choir with great self-command’.

I see from other reviews that some people think Datchery is Edwin, or even Helena, but those suggestions don’t really grab me, mostly because Datchery seemed not to know his way around Cloisterham so presumably it’s not someone who had been there before (although I would like to think that Edwin wasn’t dead). I’m tempted to think that Datchery is either Tartar or Bazzard, them having been asked by Grewgious to watch Jasper in order to help Neville. Tartar’s sunburnt skin is much remarked on though and seems a distinctive identifiable feature of his, which made me think he may not be Datchery as surely a sunburnt skin would be noted, but then perhaps make-up could be used (did they have make-up then?) and would it be a good disguise to be so completely opposite in looks to who you are pretending to be? Or Bazzard, as maybe him writing a play would enable him to act out a part (and give him satisfaction and self-confidence by doing so, which he seems to lack in his current roles of clerk and unsuccessful play-writer), and I even wondered if he could have based the character of Datchery on Tartar, who lives in the same building, replicating his military aspect, and wasn’t Bazzard away from Grewgious when Datchery appeared in Cloisterham? Bazzard is described as pale and puffy faced and with dark tangled locks of hair, so (as with Tartar) perhaps the white hair of Datchery is sufficiently opposite to Bazzard’s hair to be considered a good disguise, and the abundance of this white hair would hide the tangled locks of Bazzard. I did wonder if Grewgious’ subservient behaviour around Bazzard made it unlikely that he would give Bazzard a task like this, but I guess their relationship towards each other could just be an act, for some reason we don’t know (and there is soooo much we don’t know!).

I feel fairly certain that the evidence points to Jasper murdering Edwin, but then again, Dickens did often put a twist and surprise into his tales at the end, so would his twist in this one be that it wasn’t Jasper as the murderer? And most detective stories (and Dickens seems to have been trying his hand at a detective story here) lead you to one person as the murderer, only to twist and surprise you at the end by revealing that it was actually someone you never suspected. But the usual Dickens’ twist may be with other characters, such as Datchery’s real identity, or it may be (as Dickens’ friend said) that Jasper is guilty but doesn’t realise this himself. After all, Dickens isn’t a detective story writer so perhaps he wouldn’t attempt a full-on detective story with the usual twists of a whodunnit. But I do wonder at Rosa’s puzzling about Jasper constantly telling the town that he believed that Edwin was dead (rather than letting the theory of Edwin’s running away from gossips be the reason for his disappearance), as why would he do this if he was in fact guilty himself, as he is only then encouraging the search for a body and a murderer when he would surely want to reduce attention on these things if he was the guilty one, but it could be that Jasper was so desperate for Neville to be found guilty for the murder in order to punish him for daring to admire Rosa that he decided to spread the idea of Edwin being murdered in order to achieve this, feeling confident that he himself wouldn’t be suspected. 

And I can’t help wishing that Edwin isn’t actually dead and somehow survived the murderous attack. I know others have thought this and based their belief that Edwin is Datchery on the assumption that Edwin survived. I don’t see Edwin as Datchery, but I would like to think he survived, and this would be a good Dickens’ twist in the story to have him appear at the end and name his murderer. And is it significant that the title of the book is ‘mystery’ rather than ‘murder’, does this imply Edwin isn’t actually dead?

I was interested in Dickens’ friend saying about Jasper not seeming to be aware he’d done the murder until the end, and I wondered if this would link in with Jasper and Edwin being known by nicknames (Jack for Jasper, and Ned for Edwin), would this enable Jasper to kind of fool himself that he (as Jasper) didn’t kill Edwin, but that Jack killed Ned, that he could perhaps separate out the two personalities of himself in this way?

And I was very interested in the possible significance of Edwin still having Rosa’s mother’s ring on him when he disappeared, and how that could lead to his identification, and presumably if it was found in the quicklime this would point to Jasper having killed him as Durdles would say that he had shown Jasper the quicklime. But of course, Dickens may not have said these plot ideas to his friend (or am I just getting deeper and deeper into conspiracy here, would Dickens’ friend really lie?!)

Omg, it is soooo frustrating that we’ll never know the story fully and properly, although I guess I am tempted to think the plot is what Dickens said to his friend. But even though it’s (very very annoyingly!) not complete, it is a great read, a proper mystery story full of menace and intrigue and potential twists. And, although Dickens clearly didn’t intend to, he couldn’t have done any better with ensuring his book lived on in people’s obsessive imagination, with there being no ending! I almost feel like I can’t move on from this, and I am very tempted to read a book that popped up on my searches, called The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Charles Dickens Unfinished Novel and our Endless Attempts To End It by Pete Orford, just to see if there are any more possible solutions. Ooooh, and I’ve just found a book by GK Chesterton (I’m reading another book of his at the moment) called Trial of John Jasper for the Murder of Edwin Drood, eeek, that sounds fascinating, I will have to get that one! And as Jasper reminded me a little of Bradley Headstone, then I am tempted to re-read Our Mutual Friend, not just for the satisfaction of reading a story with an ending (!) but also because that is one of my favourite of Dickens’ books. And Heathcliff came to my mind too, when thinking about Jasper, and it has been a while since I’ve read Wuthering Heights so I think a re-read of that would be good too. Anything, really, to move me on from this obsession with Edwin Drood!

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens available on Amazon
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