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, I hate when loose ends aren't tied up, so to deliberately begin reading a book I know there will never be answers to 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 Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens available on Amazon

I have delayed reading this book knowing there is no conclusion, I hate when loose ends aren’t tied up, so to deliberately begin reading a book I know there will never be answers to 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, he has been dreaming of cathedral spires. The opium den seems to be owned by a woman, there is a Chinaman and a Lascar there with him. 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 about the way Jasper is around her.

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, who is aged 26, and they are close and don’t call each other uncle and nephew, Jasper calls Edwin ‘Ned’, and Edwin calls Jasper ‘Jack’. There is a portrait of Rosa on Jasper’s wall that Edwin painted. Rosa is also known as Pussy and seems a spoilt childish girl, though is affectionate to her friends. The engagement between her and Edwin has been decided 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 and aided by Miss Tisher. When Rosa is walking past the cathedral with Edwin and he remarks that Jasper will shortly exit the cathedral, she seems keen to hurry away. Hmmm, I wonder if it’s Jasper she wants to avoid for some reason. 

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. 

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 that mostly mentions him more than her, and Durdles the stone mason will create this memorial. I think Sapsea will be one of Dickens’ comedy characters that he pokes fun at. Durdles is regularly teased by the local poor child called Deputy. 

I love Septimus Crisparkle’s relationship with his widowed mother, it’s so lovely. 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. 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. Tee hee, such a great name, I do love some of the names Dickens gives his characters. 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 an amusing character, very large and self-opinionated and loud, described as ‘a very large and very loud excrescence on the party’ and ‘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 who seem 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.

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 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 seems to feel very 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 be a better person. He seems possibly to admire Rosa, and asks Jasper why Edwin seems proprietorial towards her. 

Edwin and Neville walk back together after dropping the girls off at the school, they provoke each other, Neville angry at Edwin for being betrothed to Rosa but not seeming to value her as Neville clearly does, 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. Hmmm, I wonder if he overheard them arguing in the street. He gives them wine which seems to act swiftly on them. Hmmm, is this deliberate, did he doctor the wine to increase its effect. Edwin and Neville argue again, and Neville throws the dregs of his wine at Edwin and throws his glass into the fireplace, and is unable to conceal his angry feelings when taunted by Edwin. Neville storms out and immediately goes to Crisparkle admitting what he’s done and is upset at himself. 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, did Jasper create this situation with the wine and resurrect the argument to serve his own ends, 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.

Rosa’s guardian is Mr Grewgious. Tee hee, another great name! He seems a genuinely caring man, and 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’ and ‘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”‘. I love this description of him. He 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 visits Jasper out of courtesy, and Jasper asks too if the engagement is obligatory. 

Jasper has told the whole town about Neville’s attack on Edwin and Neville’s anger and ungovernable temper, Crisparkle admits to his mother that he wishes Jasper hadn’t done this as it has prejudiced the town against Neville. I’m wondering if Jasper has done this in order to pave the way for everyone to suspect Neville if something happens to Edwin. Crisparkle talks to Neville and Helena and listens to them and gets a promise from Neville that he will shake hands with Edwin, 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 this will be hard and doesn’t patronisingly say it will be easy to get over. I do like Crisparkle, he is so kind and caring. Crisparkle goes to Jasper to ask him to get Edwin to agree to shake hands with Neville, he finds Jasper asleep and on waking his words are ‘What has happened? Who did it?’. Oooh, this is significant, I feel, is Jasper thinking thoughts of harming Edwin and blaming someone else. Jasper agrees to speak to Edwin, but shows Crisparkle his diary entries stating his foreboding that Neville will harm Edwin. Crisparkle tells Jasper he has exaggerated his fears in this. 

Grewgious has Edwin to tea in his chambers, 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. It is hinted that Grewgious was secretly in love with Rosa’s mother and it has meant a lot to him to be responsible for the care of this ring. Grewgious also seems to have some doubts about Edwin taking the ring and about him marrying Rosa, doubts perhaps increased by how Edwin seems when he talks about Rosa. 

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. Eeek, I’m not liking where this may be going! Jasper brings a bottle for them to consume but leaves Durdles to consume most of it and, as with the alcohol that Edwin and Neville drank, it seems to affect Durdles more than usual. Durdles falls asleep and dreams that his keys to the crypt are taken and he is left on his own, he wakes up later and his keys are beside him. Oooh, I’m wondering if Jasper had taken the keys for some reason, perhaps to copy them.

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

Neville tells Crisparkle and Helena he has decided to go on a walking tour for two weeks over Christmas, after the meeting with Edwin on Christmas Eve, as he is determined to conquer his infatuation and believes he can do this by being away from the town and avoiding seeing Edwin and Rosa together, he has bought a new heavy walking stick for the purpose. 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, he wonders if he perhaps had been more in earnest about it from the start whether they may have made a success of it, 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, the jeweller says 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 that Edwin remembers Jasper shaking. I wonder if this is the owner of the opium den. She says she has come there 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. Oooh, has she heard Jasper muttering this name. Edwin is amused by this but not fearful, and reflects that only Jack calls him 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 treats for the evening with Edwin and Neville, and has told people they are meeting to make things up. I wonder why Crisparkle isn’t going to the meeting too, maybe to show Neville he has confidence in him and doesn’t need to accompany him, but it would be better if he was a witness. I also note the reader isn’t privy to the meeting either, which is strange. 

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 Neville had left early on his walking tour. Neville is searched for and 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 Jasper’s influence over him. Edwin is searched for along the river but not found. 

When Jasper appears back home, Grewgious is waiting for him and gives him the news of Rosa and Edwin no longer being betrothed, Jasper shrieks and faints at this news. Oooh, that’s a bit dramatic, I’m wondering if Jasper has realised that whatever action he may have taken was not actually necessary. 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 went round 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. I’m thinking that nothing harmful could have happened to Edwin in Jasper’s apartment, as Neville says he and Edwin went down to the river to watch the storm and then parted at Neville’s door. 

Crisparkle finds Edwin’s watch and shirt-pin in the water at the weir, he searches but finds no body. He goes to the Mayor with these items, and takes along Neville who is detained. The items are identified as Edwin’s by Jasper. Hmmm, is there significance in Jasper earlier going to the jewellers and talking about Edwin’s watch and shirt-pin, or is it purely to emphasise that the watch and shirt pin found must belong to Edwin, I can’t really imagine that Jasper had identical jewellery made for some purpose as the jeweller would have remarked on this. It is presumed the murderer took the jewellery off the body as they were easily identifiable. However, as no body is found, Neville is released but is shunned by the town and has to leave, even though Crisparkle states he is certain that he is innocent. 

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 poky flat in Grewgious’ building, studying for the law, quite despondent that he can’t clear himself and is living under the shadow of guilt, 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 up a lot but that he seems to enjoy Tarter’s garden and he offers to train some beans and flowers across the balcony to Neville, he is a former Lieutenant in the Navy who inherited money. 

A stranger called Datchery with an abundance of white hair and black eyebrows and a large head appears in Cloisterham, he says he was in the Diplomatic Service. Hmmm, I’m wondering if he is one of our other characters disguised. He frequently describes himself as a ‘single buffer’ and is of a military aspect. He seems keen to live near Jasper as he puts up with a grimy dark apartment let by the Topes, but he struggles to find the place. I’m thinking this is therefore presumably not someone who has been to Cloisterham often or ever. 

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 outdoors, she feels he is intimidating and menacing and 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 and made her unhappy and forced her to keep his pursuit of her a secret from Edwin, she tells him he was a bad bad man. He goes on to declare his feelings passionately and says he ‘loves her madly’, that she is beautiful in her anger, he says his love is mad and that no other admirer will love her and live, and threatens her that if she refuses him he will get Neville hanged even if he is innocent of Edwin’s death as he knows Neville admires her, he says Neville ‘stands in deadly peril’, and the threat of the gallows will break Helena’s heart and he knows how she cares for Helena. He says, ‘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 she isn’t to tell anyone of this or he will act to bring down Neville. 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 is so passionate and fanatical and determined and menacing, he is almost Heathcliff-like and also reminds me of Bradley Headstone from Our Mutual Friend with his intensity. I also worry how he’s so clever in keeping up appearances, 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, she believes him capable of it though is horrified at the thought that it would be because of his feelings for her, but she wonders why, if he was guilty, he didn’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 believes Edwin is dead, she also wonders why he would present his commitment to the vengeance of Edwin at her feet as a sacrifice if again he was guilty. 

I love Grewgious, he is so lovely lovely lovely when she finally reaches him. He says he thought for a second when she walked in the door that she was her mother. She tells him all, and 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, he had begged Grewgious for a job as his clerk as he said his father would disown him if he found out he had written a play, that his play, a tragedy called The Thorn of Anxiety, has been consistently rejected for publication/performance, 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. Hmmm, I wonder if these are actually Bazzard’s feeling or Grewgious’ perception of Bazzard’s feelings. Grewgious takes her to an apartment nearby and provides her with a maid, he assures her Jasper can’t get in. Oh dear, I worry Jasper may already be there watching there. Grewgious strolls back and forth outside the gate for an hour afterwards. I adore Grewgious, he’s like a hero. 

Crisparkle arrives there the next morning, after Miss Twinkleton has gone to him in worry about Rosa. Rosa’s story is shared with Crisparkle. They are puzzling how to put Rosa and Helena together so Rosa can tell Helena the threat to her brother, with the fear that Jasper may be watching Neville’s place 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. Tarter then knocks on the door asking Crisparkle if he recognises him, he was a pupil of Crisparkle’s and Tarter saved his life when he was drowning. They fill Tarter in on Neville and Rosa, as Grewgious has the idea that Rosa and Helena could meet unobserved in Tarter’s flat, which he is happy to agree to. Rosa seems to admire Tarter greatly. Rosa fills Helena in on all that has happened and their suspicions that Jasper is spying on Neville. Helena suggests having Tarter openly visit Neville in order to see if Jasper or another spy he has employed tries to turn Tarter 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 revenge on Neville and asks for forgiveness for this from her and Neville, but Helena assures her she couldn’t have done anything but refuse him. Grewgious finds accommodation for Rosa and Miss Twinkleton with Bazzard’s cousin Mrs Billickin, who is a strange character in that she points out all the deficiencies of the accommodation, and Mrs Billickin and Miss Twinkleton go into battle with each other in the end refusing to acknowledge each other’s presence and talking via Rosa. Tarter takes Rosa and Grewgious on a sailing trip up the Thames, with his man Mr Lobley steering. 

Crisparkle sees Jasper daily at the cathedral and wonders if Jasper suspects that Rosa has told him about the threats Jasper made, he presumes Jasper must be aware of Rosa’s abrupt departure but he has never asked Crisparkle about it. Crisparkle and Neville and Helena never mention any suspicion to Rosa that Jasper may have harmed Edwin, neither does Grewgious even though he is open in his dislike of him. There is a mention of Grewgious remembering ‘a heap of torn and miry clothes’ on Jasper’s floor. Hmmm, I think this must have been when Jasper fainted at the news that Edwin and Rosa were no longer engaged, I guess these clothes could have just been dirtied from Jasper’s search for Edwin, or it is perhaps the memory of Jasper’s dramatic reaction to the news that Grewgious is thinking back on.

Jasper goes to the opium den in London, the woman there, nicknamed Princess Puffer, remarks he’s not been for a long time, he says on his previous visits there he had something on his mind that he was going to do and that he would go over this hundreds of thousands of times while under the influence of opium, he says when he finally did it, it almost seemed not worth the doing as it was done so soon, that he did it in the same way he’d always imagined it in the den, he 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, she seems keen for details and it appears she heard his plans even though he thinks his mutterings were unintelligible to anyone. 

She then follows him to Cloisterham and 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 was in Cloisterham before on Christmas Eve and spoke to Edwin who gave her some money, this news seems to make Datchery startled and he later opens a cupboard in his apartment and makes a stroke with a piece of chalk which seems to indicate a scoring system. He goes to the cathedral the next day and sees Princess Puffer hidden behind a pillar shaking both fists at Jasper, unseen by him. He makes another score inside his cupboard. Hmm, what does this scoring system mean. 

And that’s the end! Arrrgggh, it’s incredibly frustrating that the book isn’t complete, not just for the explanations of what happened to Edwin and who the possible murderer was and who Datchery is, but also because there are so many other interesting characters that 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 could there be something more significant with Mrs Crisparkle’s wonderful herb closet, never mind all the other characters that would have no doubt been developed more fully. I can tell I will be obsessed by what could have happened.

I see from other reviews that some people think Datchery is Edwin, or even Helena, hmmm, those suggestions don’t really grab me. I wondered if Tarter was Datchery, but then I thought not as Tarter seems to know nothing of the situation and his blue eyes and sunburnt skin are much remarked on so they seem a distinctive identifiable feature of his and hard to disguise. Hmmm, I’m leaning towards Datchery being Bazzard, sent to watch Jasper by Grewgious. Bazzard would be aware of Neville’s situation and Grewgious’ keenness to help Neville, and maybe writing a play would enable Bazzard to act out a part, I even wonder if he could have used Tartar, who lives in the same building, as a military character to base his portrayal of Datchery on, and wasn’t Bazzard away from Grewgious when Datchery appeared in Cloisterham. I feel Bazzard has perhaps been introduced for a reason and there is perhaps more to be revealed about him. Bazzard is described as pale and puffy faced and with dark tangled locks of hair, so perhaps the false sounding white hair of Datchery is sufficiently opposite to this to be considered a good disguise, and the abundance of this white hair would hide the tangled locks of Bazzard. The things that bother me about Bazzard being Datchery is that he is described as having big dark eyes so I wonder if these would then be hard to conceal but perhaps Datchery’s ‘black eyebrows’ help to hide these, and also Grewgious’ subservient behaviour around Bazzard does make it seem a little unlikely that he would give Bazzard a task like this, but I guess their relationship towards each other could be an act on both Grewgious’ and Bazzard’s parts.

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 he 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 else you never suspected. But the Dickens’ twist may be with other characters, such as Datchery’s real identity, or the Dickens’ twist may be (as Dickens’ friend says below) 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 twist of a whodunnit. But I do wonder at Rosa’s questions about Jasper constantly telling the town that he believes Edwin is dead, rather than letting the theory of Edwin’s running away from gossips be the reason for his disappearance, why he would do this if he was in fact guilty himself as he is only then encouraging the search for a body and a murderer where he would surely want to reduce attention on these things if he was the guilty one. Or is Jasper wanting Neville to be found guilty for these crimes in order to punish him for daring to admire Rosa, so he pursues Edwin being murdered in order to achieve this. 

And I can’t help wishing Edwin isn’t actually dead and somehow survived the murderous attack. I know others have thought this and based their belief Edwin is Datchery on the assumption he 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?

Is it significant that both Jasper and Edwin are known by nicknames,‘Jack’ for John Jasper and ‘Ned’ for Edwin Drood, does this demonstrate they almost have two identities?

Is it significant that Edwin still had Rosa’s mother’s ring on him when he disappeared? His watch and shirt pin was presumably taken from his body by the murderer so as to hinder identification of the body, but I’m guessing the murderer wouldn’t have known that Edwin had the ring in his pocket. Was this ring to be used later to identify Edwin’s body?

Why did Jasper visit that crypt? And Durdles shows him a pile of quicklime there, so was Edwin’s body put here to destroy it?

Why is the opium lady so keen to follow Jasper and know more about him, what did she overhear Jasper say, apart from the name Ned, in his opium stupor?

Dickens’s friend, John Forster, said Dickens shared details of the story with him: “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”.

Wikipedia lists suspicions of Jasper as the murderer as being:

‘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’.

This is a great read, a proper mystery story full of menace and intrigue and potential twists. And prime for obsession about how Dickens would have ended it!

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens available on Amazon

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

More Charles Dickens Book Reviews

Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens
Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens

Latest Book Reviews

The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett
Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Bible in Spain by George Borrow
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey
The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by EW Hornung
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe
State of Terror by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny
The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes
St Ronan’s Well by Sir Walter Scott
Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne
The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling
The Appeal by Janice Hallett
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x