Andrei Baltakmens: The Mysterious Finality of Edwin Drood

Nar­ra­tive, Drood­ists, Mind and Prov­i­dence

Published: University of Canterbury

"You have only this be­gin­ning and would like to find the con­tin­u­a­tion, is that true? The trou­ble is that once upon a time they all began like that, all nov­els. There was some­body who went along a lone­ly street and saw some­thing that at­tract­ed his at­ten­tion, some­thing that seemed to con­ceal a mys­tery, or a pre­mo­ni­tion; then he asked for ex­pla­na­tions and they told him a long story...."

— Italo Calvi­no, If on a Win­ter's Night a Trav­eller.

End­ing The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood

Patti Cohenour and Howard McGillin
in The Mystery of Edwin Drood

At the end of his ca­reer Dick­ens be­gins but is un­able to com­plete The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood. The mys­tery so con­tained is unas­sail­able. Mor­tal fa­tal­i­ty in­ter­venes and de­feats crit­i­cism, It is not my in­ten­tion to argue, there­fore, that Edwin Drood is in any artis­tic sense a cul­mi­na­tion of the de­vel­op­ment of Dick­ens's art. It was not the point where Dick­ens's de­vel­op­ment of mys­tery tech­niques was al­ways lead­ing to, rather, sim­ply the place where this de­vel­op­ment was brought to an ar­bi­trary halt, and mere­ly an­oth­er point in the con­tin­u­um of Dick­ens's writ­ing. Thus, by be­gin­ning at the end of Dick­ens's ca­reer, I hope to evade the covert tele­ol­o­gy that can come to in­form any study of the treat­ment of an idea in the work of one au­thor. My aim is to at­tempt to un­pick the thread of Dick­en­sian mys­tery by be­gin­ning with the work which is, even to its title, most overt­ly a mys­tery novel. The sin­gu­lar­i­ty of mys­tery in this case al­lows us to con­cen­trate ini­tial­ly on is­sues of nar­ra­tive, yet at the same time Edwin Drood is, as I have al­ready in­di­cat­ed, in one sense a sig­nif­i­cant de­par­ture from Dick­ens's old urban and in­sti­tu­tion­al con­cerns. In Edwin Drood the psy­che of Jasper is at the cen­tre of the mys­tery, and a read­ing for mys­tery in the novel must be a read­ing of the ca­reer of the trou­bled mind of the mur­der­er. It is in the next chap­ter on Our Mu­tu­al Friend that the mul­ti­plic­i­ty of mys­ter­ies in the urban nar­ra­tive will be­come ap­par­ent. In Edwin Drood, we do see the point where the sprawl­ing urban mys­ter­ies have given way to the fo­cused mys­tery of de­tec­tive fic­tion.

Edwin Drood was pub­lished in 1870, two years after Wilkie Col­llins's The Moon­stone, which is wide­ly con­sid­ered as per­haps the first work of de­tec­tive fic­tion in En­glish, and cer­tain­ly did much to form the gener­ic con­ven­tions of clas­si­cal de­tec­tive fic­tion (Pe­ters 304). Wilkie Collins and Dick­ens were friends, work­mates and col­lab­o­ra­tors of long stand­ing, and The Moon­stone ap­peared in All the Year Round, the Dick­ens-edit­ed pe­ri­od­i­cal. In fact, the suc­cess of The Moon­stone raised the cir­cu­la­tion of All the Year Round to a level greater than that which it had reached dur­ing the se­ri­al pub­li­ca­tion of Great Ex­pec­ta­tions (Pe­ters 310-311). Ini­tial­ly, Dick­ens was en­thu­si­as­tic about The Moon­stone, but later he wrote that "the con­struc­tion is weari­some be­yond en­durance, and there is a vein of ob­sti­nate con­ceit in it that makes en­e­mies of read­ers" (qtd. in Pe­ters 311). What Dick­ens drew from The Moon­stone and in­cor­po­rat­ed in Edwin Drood was that promi­nent sin­gu­lar­i­ty of mys­tery, the case (the Drood dis­ap­pear­ance) that is fore­ground­ed early in the text and solved (though not, of course, in Edwin Drood) by the end of the text, that is also char­ac­ter­is­tic of the de­tec­tive novel. In this, Dick­ens makes a strong claim on the ori­gins of the genre, but, as his com­ment on The Moon­stone (what­ev­er his mo­tives) and my ar­gu­ment will show, what Dick­ens would have re­ject­ed is the elab­o­ra­tion of plot and clues that turns the read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence into a kind of con­test be­tween read­er and writ­er. In Edwin Drood it is still the sug­ges­tive mys­tery, and not the pro­cess of de­tec­tion, that is es­sen­tial. The Moon­stone, in its sub­ver­sion of Sen­sa­tion fic­tion, also marks the end of that genre, as the logic of de­tec­tion erod­ed the im­pulse of melo­dra­ma. Both Edwin Drood and The Moon­stone, though in dif­fer­ent ways, exert a for­mal and for­ma­tive in­flu­ence on early de­tec­tive fic­tion. Thus Edwin Drood is the first ob­vi­ous point of entry for an ex­cur­sion into Dick­en­sian mys­tery.

This ret­ro­spec­tive pro­cess is, of course, akin to the ret­ro­spec­tive pro­cess­es of de­tec­tive fic­tion — we begin at the end in order to un­cov­er the hid­den con­nec­tions link­ing this ef­fect to an un­known cause. This can lead to the bind of the "dou­ble logic" which Mar­tin Kay­man warns against: "the lit­er­ary schol­ar may be tempt­ed by an anal­o­gy with the de­tec­tive gath­er­ing ma­te­ri­al ev­i­dence and propos­ing a ret­ro­spec­tive the­o­ry which sit­u­ates every event in its ap­pro­pri­ate place in an or­der­ly and to­tal­iz­ing nar­ra­tive" (3). This is not the logic of the dou­ble-nar­ra­tive, but the logic of an as­sumed anal­o­gy be­tween de­tec­tive and crit­ic, in which the crit­ic un­der­takes to as­sem­ble and pre­sent the so­lu­tion: that is, the crit­ic's ver­sion of a pre-ex­ist­ing read­ing. By pur­su­ing this anal­o­gy open­ly, I hope to avoid any tele­ol­o­gy that as­sumes that Edwin Drood is the nat­u­ral de­vel­op­ment of Bleak House, but in­stead un­cov­er those links, some buried, some con­tin­ued and some abrupt­ly cut-off, which con­nect the one with the other with­in a com­plex web of Dick­en­sian texts. Thus, I hope also to avoid the Dar­wini­an evo­lu­tion­ary metaphor al­ready dis­cussed with re­spect to the de­vel­op­ment of de­tec­tive fic­tion (see sec­tion 1.4). Texts do not evolve to­wards some de­ter­mined end through a se­ries of dis­crete, lin­ear em­bod­i­ments, though this is not to say that they do not some­times ex­press def­i­nite lin­eages. To re­sort to the "dou­ble logic" out­lined above, my pro­ject is more akin to that of a Dick­en­sian de­tec­tive than a mod­ern one, one that avoids a sup­posed mas­ter­ing pro­cess: clos­er to In­spec­tor Buck­et, who is a guide with­in the maze, than Sher­lock Holmes, who shows only the defini­tive way through.

To work back­wards from ef­fects to caus­es is an apt pro­ject in the con­text of Edwin Drood, since in the ab­sence of an end­ing we pos­sess only the ef­fects of a pro­ject­ed plot that the au­thor could not com­plete. Only the mys­tery, and not its so­lu­tion, re­mains be­fore us. How­ev­er, the par­tic­u­lar risk of in­ter­pret­ing Edwin Drood is to fall into the trap of de­tec­tion. That is, the crit­ic be­comes a lit­er­ary de­tec­tive, sift­ing through the ex­tant text, the manuscripts, the plans, the tes­ti­mo­ny of wit­ness­es (those who knew Dick­ens, or claimed in­sight into his in­ten­tions) and every other chance clue, in order to dis­cov­er the na­ture of the un­writ­ten con­clu­sion. To the pure­ly tex­tu­al crit­ic, this in­tru­sion of the au­thor's in­ten­tion is high­ly em­bar­rass­ing. On the other hand, these ef­forts are pe­cu­liar­ly war­rant­ed by the na­ture of the nar­ra­tive, the dou­ble-nar­ra­tive, since as read­ers of mys­tery we know that a so­lu­tion ex­ists, but that its overt ex­pres­sion is ab­sent from the frag­ment we pos­sess. These at­tempts at spec­u­la­tive con­clu­sions fall with­in a cat­e­go­ry of writ­ing about Edwin Drood that I will call "Drood­ist." If the Drood­ists are, in part, ex­em­plary read­ers — they re­spond ea­ger­ly to every clue and hint — they are also mo­ti­vat­ed by a ten­den­cy to read Edwin Drood as more than it is, to seek out a so­lu­tion more cir­cuitous and cun­ning than the one Dick­ens in­di­cat­ed. There is a sense be­hind their ef­forts that Edwin Drood is in­suf­fi­cient­ly mys­te­ri­ous: that the part of it we have is too ob­vi­ous to con­tain the real an­swer. They tend to force on the text a ret­ro­spec­tive ap­pli­ca­tion of the gener­ic rules of de­tec­tive fic­tion. Be­hind the ques­tion of the dis­ap­pear­ance of Edwin Drood, then, lies the ques­tion of what the "real" mys­tery of Edwin Drood is. The re­al­i­ty of this mys­tery is not in the con­ven­tions of de­tec­tive fic­tion that the text an­tic­i­pates, but in Dick­ens's fas­ci­na­tion with crim­i­nal­i­ty and mys­ter­ies of the mind which had al­ways been part of his mys­tery tech­nique. The in­no­va­tion here is in the in­ten­si­ty of Dick­ens's con­cep­tion, his ar­gu­ment that the crim­i­nal mind is in­deed a "hor­ri­ble won­der apart" (233), be­yond con­ven­tion­al ex­pla­na­tion. This chap­ter will at­tempt to trace some of these mys­ter­ies of apart­ness. This mys­tery must sure­ly lie not in the act but the con­scious­ness of the mur­der­er, but there must also be grounds on which the com­plex­i­ties of the mys­tery plot can be seen to en­gage with the com­plex­i­ties of the crim­i­nal mind. Through Dick­ens's pro­cess of sub­sti­tu­tion, we can see how the em­pir­i­cal mur­der gives into meta­phys­i­cal spec­u­la­tion. How­ev­er, a lurch to­wards psy­cho­log­i­cal in­ter­est is in dan­ger of fur­ther ob­scur­ing ques­tions of plot­ting. For plot­ting, in the con­text of the mur­der­ous prepa­ra­tions of John Jasper, is sure­ly an issue in Edwin Drood, even if it is ul­ti­mate­ly de­feat­ed by the sim­ple fact of its na­ture as frag­ment. John Jasper plots mur­der, but a greater force, prov­i­dence, plots against John Jasper. The final mys­tery of Edwin Drood is a mys­tery of prov­i­dence, and that prov­i­den­tial struc­ture gives Edwin Drood a kind of end­ing that it would not oth­er­wise pos­sess. In this man­ner, know­ing that evil will be de­feat­ed, the read­er feels a sense, through the dou­ble-nar­ra­tive, that Edwin Drood is fin­ished. Though it re­mains ir­re­vo­ca­bly in­com­plete, there is a kind of end­ing.

Nar­ra­tive: Be­gin­ning and End in Edwin Drood

Among Dick­ens's notes and num­ber plans for Edwin Drood we find a list of pos­si­ble ti­tles for the pro­ject­ed work. The list has led to some con­jec­ture about Dick­ens's in­ten­tions for the out­come of the novel. Be­fore set­tling on "mys­tery," Dick­ens also con­sid­ered "loss," "flight" and "dis­ap­pear­ance" as op­er­a­tive terms, as well as "Edwin Drood in hid­ing" (Work­ing Notes 381). Drawn to the sug­ges­tive­ness of loss and flight, as well as the more neu­tral dis­ap­pear­ance, crit­ics have spec­u­lat­ed that Edwin Drood may yet be been alive and is pre­pared to re­turn to con­front his uncle at the con­clu­sion of the novel. The ap­pend­ed ques­tion in the notes seems to sup­port this: "Dead? Or alive?" (Work­ing Notes 381). Of course, this final ques­tion may refer to the other char­ac­ters' cen­tral dilem­ma, not the res­o­lu­tion of the novel, and mur­dered per­sons and then bod­ies may be said to be lost, too. The in­nocu­ous "Edwin Drood in hid­ing" may con­ceal a grim pun in the no­tion of the body being pur­pose­ful­ly hid­den by an­oth­er agent. Even so, re­cent crit­ics Robert Raven and Elsie Kar­bacz, in 1994, have ar­gued that Edwin Drood sur­vived his uncle's at­tempt on his life and will re­turn, and there are many prece­dents for this con­tention, David Park­er, in "Drood Redux: Mys­tery and the Art of Fic­tion," is only the lat­est in the line of crit­ics who argue that the char­ac­ter of Edwin is being groomed by Dick­ens for a later res­ur­rec­tion. What Dick­ens's pro­ject­ed ti­tles out­line more clear­ly than ex­act­ly what would have hap­pened is that, for the au­thor, some de­ci­sive no­tion of the out­come of his nar­ra­tive must have been in his mind when he began to write. Whether Drood has mere­ly dis­ap­peared, or been mur­dered, pos­si­bil­i­ties in­her­ent in his play­ing with ti­tles, mat­tered to Dick­ens when he began.

That the end is in some way in­her­ent in the be­gin­ning is a car­di­nal as­pect of the struc­ture of mys­tery plots: the dou­ble-nar­ra­tive. The crime pre­cedes the in­ves­ti­ga­tion but is only ex­plained at the end of the text. Nat­u­ral­ly, Dick­ens did not have the de­tailed en­tire­ty of Edwin Drood in mind when he began, and his notes are not exact plans but more often aides mem­o­ries and records of what he had done and in­tend­ed to do.

Nev­er­the­less, the "very cu­ri­ous and new idea" (qtd. in Forsyte, De­cod­ing 28) that was to mo­ti­vate Edwin Drood was an es­sen­tial point of de­par­ture, and, as the trial ti­tles show, it was also an idea about which there was to be some un­cer­tain­ty. It was a mys­tery whose ul­ti­mate so­lu­tion and res­o­lu­tion would have come out only at the end. As Dick­ens wrote, he de­vel­oped his ini­tial idea, and sub­sidiary prob­lems and mys­ter­ies arose. In each case, how­ev­er, the read­er must be­lieve that the au­thor has an an­swer. The text prompts these ques­tions, but the text will also an­swer these ques­tions at the end of the nar­ra­tive. The dou­ble-nar­ra­tive would be at play. We would pos­sess an ini­tial story, the story of a "dis­ap­pear­ance" in which a young man has gone miss­ing in a way we can­not de­ter­mine, and we ob­serve the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and un­cer­tain­ty sur­round­ing this. At the end of the text we would gain an in­sight into the sec­ond story, the true story lo­cat­ed at that vital point of eli­sion on Christ­mas Eve when Edwin Drood went miss­ing, whether it were that of a young man who vol­un­tar­i­ly went into hid­ing, or who had been mur­dered. At all times we as­sume that Dick­ens knew both sto­ries but only in­ter­pret­ed to us the one through the other. And yet, six num­bers into a se­ries of twelve, Dick­ens died and left Edwin Drood un­fin­ished.

It is the par­tic­u­lar force of the dou­ble-nar­ra­tive with­in the mys­tery story that brings a strange sense of fi­nal­i­ty to Edwin Drood. Since the nar­ra­tive is dou­ble, we know that the end in some way in­forms the be­gin­ning. The clues are all in place, but the so­lu­tion that would con­tex­tu­alise the clues is ab­sent. Work­ing mere­ly with the clues, count­less read­ers and crit­ics have pre­sumed to for­mu­late and pro­ject end­ings for Edwin Drood. As the title of the com­ple­tion by Charles Forsyte, The De­cod­ing of Edwin Drood, shows, the end­ing of Edwin Drood does not in­volve an act of com­plete cre­ation but an act of de­cod­ing, of un­rav­el­ling the covert ac­tion which is only hint­ed at by the ex­tant por­tion. Edwin Drood is un­fin­ished, but it is com­plete — we need only dis­cern in the shape of the first part the con­clud­ing part to know how Edwin Drood would have looked in its en­tire­ty. Thus, Dyson ex­press­es his sense in The Inim­itable Dick­ens that the last few para­graphs are "a not un­fit­ting con­clu­sion to the novel" (272). In those few dis­qui­et­ing ac­tions — Princess Puffer's threat­en­ing wave of a fist. Datch­ery's con­fi­dent mark­ing up of the score — we pro­ject the en­tire con­clu­sion of the work.

In this, the writ­ers of con­clu­sions to Edwin Drood do no more than any read­er does. Um­ber­to Eco ob­serves the ex­ten­sion­al op­er­a­tions that the read­er un­der­takes (see sec­tion 1.6). We ha­bit­u­al­ly look for­ward in a text, build­ing per­son­al spec­u­la­tion into ex­pec­ta­tion. These ex­pec­ta­tions are not nec­es­sar­i­ly based on the so­lu­tion of the mur­der — we also ex­pect that Rosa will marry Tar­tar, or that He­le­na Land­less will yet have some sig­nif­i­cant role to play in the ap­pre­hen­sion or un­cov­er­ing of Jasper — but they are all func­tion­al in our ori­en­ta­tion to­wards the end­ing where we an­tic­i­pate the dis­cov­ery of the mur­der plot. In this man­ner, Drood­ist crit­ics who seek to an­swer the man­i­fold ques­tions raised by Edwin Drood, and then dis­pute among them­selves the va­lid­i­ty of their so­lu­tions, are ex­em­plary read­ers, all the more so be­cause their pro­jec­tions are mere­ly more so­phis­ti­cat­ed ver­sions of the ex­ten­sion­al op­er­a­tions that any or­di­nary read­er un­der­takes.

Drood­ists are dif­fer­ent from other crit­ics, how­ev­er, be­cause in their read­ing they seek al­ways a defini­tive so­lu­tion rather than in­ter­pre­ta­tions, but the work that at­tach­es to Edwin Drood under the ban­ner of Drood­ist is in­ter­est­ing not only in its con­tent but as a phe­nomenon it­self. In the first case, the in­ge­nious va­ri­ety of so­lu­tions, and the sense that Edwin Drood can be solved if we were only wise enough and at­ten­tive enough to ah of the clues, in­di­cates the im­ma­nence of the dou­ble-nar­ra­tive, the way such a struc­ture is pre­sump­tive­ly com­plete. It shows up how spec­u­la­tive­ly we are drawn into the Dick­en­sian mys­tery text by the very en­er­gy and va­ri­ety of the sug­gest­ed so­lu­tions. But Drood­ist crit­i­cism also con­tains a trap, since the va­ri­ety of con­tentious and un­set­tled is­sues in­volved leads us not only into spec­u­la­tion, but into thick­ets of spec­u­la­tion from which it is ex­treme­ly dif­fi­cult to be ex­tri­cat­ed.

Drood­ist Crit­i­cism

The Drood­ist is driv­en to "solve" the mys­tery of Edwin Drood by com­plet­ing the trun­cat­ed text. Often, this is averred as an act of lit­er­ary de­tec­tion, a seek­ing out of cun­ning­ly con­cealed clues. Drood­ists sift through the text, treat those who knew, or claimed to know, of Dick­ens's in­ten­tion as wit­ness­es, and un­der­take foren­sic ex­am­i­na­tions of the whole of his canon and cul­tur­al mi­lieu. Charles Forsyte, a pseudonym for pub­lished writ­ers of de­tec­tive fic­tion, is drawn to these prob­lems in the very sense of de­tec­tion: The De­cod­ing of Edwin Drood was pub­lished under the Gol­lancz De­tec­tion im­print. The va­ri­ety of Drood­ist re­spons­es points to the fe­cun­di­ty of read­er­ly imag­i­na­tion but also, as clear­ly, to how force­ful and var­i­ous Dick­en­sian sug­ges­tion can be, for pro­ject­ed so­lu­tions range over a great many pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Drood­ist spec­u­la­tion gen­er­al­ly falls around a few spe­cif­ic prob­lems: Is Edwin Drood dead, or alive and in hid­ing? Is Jasper, his uncle, guilty of his mur­der? And if not, who is guilty? And, fi­nal­ly, what is the iden­ti­ty of the mys­te­ri­ous Datch­ery? The fol­low­ing com­ments deal only with the most promi­nent of these ques­tions, and ig­nore the mat­ter of Datch­ery.

Con­ser­va­tive crit­ics, such as John Thack­er and Richard Baker, tend to agree that Jasper is re­spon­si­ble for the mur­der of his nephew, and has sub­se­quent­ly con­cealed the body in the crypt of the cathe­dral. There are more ex­ot­ic ex­pla­na­tions. Howard Duffield fol­lows the con­jec­ture that Jasper is the mur­der­er, but pro­pos­es that Jasper is a mem­ber of the In­di­an sect the thuggee, or thugs, who mur­dered then vic­tims by stran­gu­la­tion. A sim­i­lar­ly ex­ot­ic so­lu­tion is that of Felix Aylmer, who holds that Jasper is in­no­cent of his nephew's death, and that Edwin has fled Eng­land in order to avoid the re­sults of a com­plex fam­i­ly feud in­volv­ing an Egyp­tian sect. Other crit­ics, per­suad­ed that Edwin is alive, have sug­gest­ed ei­ther that Jasper botched his killing of Edwin in a haze of opium or killed some hith­er­to un­known rel­a­tive luck­less enough to be called in at the crit­i­cal junc­ture. Proc­tor con­jec­tures thus from the com­mon Dick­en­sian motif of an in­di­vid­u­al who is thought to be dead re­turn­ing to ob­serve the liv­ing. Robert Raven and Elsie Kar­bacz have in­vent­ed an en­tire­ly new per­son for Jasper to kill more than a year be­fore the ac­tion of Edwin Drood, a lost half-broth­er who stands be­tween Jasper and a lega­cy.

More mar­vel­lous and ab­surd con­clu­sions exist with­in Drood­ist lit­er­a­ture, such as that of Benny R. Reece, who ar­gues from an elab­o­rate (and large­ly ground­less) par­al­lel with Greek mythol­o­gy that He­le­na Land­less is the true cul­prit. Un­for­tu­nate­ly for Reece, the pas­sage which he ad­vances as key to his in­ter­pre­ta­tions was marked for and then per­ceived from dele­tion in Dick­ens's proofs (Claren­don 160). This is hard­ly the treat­ment Dick­ens would have given an es­sen­tial clue, though a truly cun­ning Drood­ist could argue that this was a sly piece of mis­di­rec­tion.

Clear­ly, Reece is an ex­treme ex­am­ple of Drood­ist ex­cess. He has crossed some limit of in­ter­pre­ta­tion, though, like all Drood­ists, his ev­i­dence rests with­in the text. Nev­er­the­less, the Reece "so­lu­tion" comes to im­pose a spu­ri­ous trans­for­ma­tive logic of its own upon the text — Minor Canon Comer must be­come a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Ursa Major in order to fit the Reece the­sis. Reece has, like his fel­low Drood­ists, ex­cept in a more ex­ag­ger­at­ed fash­ion, be­come lost in a labyrinth of his own spec­u­la­tion — a Drood­ist labyrinth. His labyrinth is not with­in the text but a kind of re­dun­dant elab­o­ra­tion of the text. Yet Pansy Pack­en­ham has also ob­served that Edwin Drood was "not a rid­dle, but a labyrinth" (qtd. in Beer 183)19. How then, are we to in­ter­pret Drood, with­out falling into the me­an­der­ings of Drood­ist spec­u­la­tion? Every crit­i­cal read­ing in some sense must pre­sume upon a non-ex­is­tent end­ing, or rather, the ghost of an end­ing, a ghost which is at once an ab­sence, be­cause un­writ­ten, and yet felt as a pres­ence be­cause of the force of the dou­ble con­struc­tion of the mys­tery nar­ra­tive. From where can we de­rive a con­scious­ness of an end­ing which would allow us to deal with the ex­tant frag­ment with­out suc­cumb­ing to the lure of Drood­ism?

It is tempt­ing to read Edwin Drood as com­plete: to treat the text as if it re­quired no act of ex­ten­sion at all. This is what Ger­hard Joseph ar­gues in "Who Cares Who Killed Edwin Drood?" Draw­ing at­ten­tion to the cu­ri­ous for­mal sym­me­try achieved at the end of the frag­ment, which lends it a kind of com­plete­ness, he notes that there is no need for the novel to be fin­ished at all. Thus, all its mys­ter­ies re­main mys­ter­ies with­out any sort of ir­ri­ta­ble reach­ing after facts. This is not fea­si­ble, since many of the cen­tral is­sues of a read­ing of Edwin Drood go straight to the heart of the so­lu­tion to the mys­tery. Even Joseph makes the di­rect as­sump­tion that Jasper is guilty. Our read­ing of the frag­ment must en­gage in some form of sup­po­si­tion, some read­ing of sur­face facts as if they con­tain more than they rep­re­sent. If we do not in some way as­sume mur­der­ous in­tent in Jasper, his plot­ting be­comes whol­ly in­ex­pli­ca­ble, and his cu­ri­ous psy­chol­o­gy be­comes un­in­ter­est­ing. We can­not leave the frag­ment in­com­plete; we must imag­ine some kind of so­lu­tion. The most straight­for­ward sup­po­si­tion is that Jasper did it.

This is, of course, part of the sim­ple an­swer to the mys­tery of Edwin Drood: that Jasper killed his nephew and sub­se­quent­ly con­cealed his body with­in the precincts of Clois­ter­ham Cathe­dral. But it is this sim­ple an­swer against which Drood­ist crit­i­cism re­acts and op­er­ates. That is, it seems too ob­vi­ous to be sat­is­fac­to­ry, too straight­for­ward for the mas­tery of Dick­ens to sat­is­fy the de­mands of a work of mys­tery which would prove even more elab­o­rate and cun­ning than Wilkie Collins's The Moon­stone. To the Drood­ist, this so­lu­tion is not elab­o­rate enough to jus­ti­fy the po­si­tion of the Dick­en­sian ge­nius in the canon of early de­tec­tive fic­tion.

There are many rea­sons for pre­fer­ring this ob­vi­ous ex­pla­na­tion: the tes­ti­mo­ny of Forster, in­ter­nal ev­i­dence and manuscript ev­i­dence, Dick­ens's work­ing notes link "the mur­der to come out" and "lay­ing the ground" (Work­ing Notes 387); Jasper is the only char­ac­ter who is seen lay­ing the ground. If this is truly the so­lu­tion, how­ev­er, the Drood­ist ob­jec­tion must still be ad­dressed: what is the real mys­tery of Edwin Drood, if events seem to be as any read­er of av­er­age in­tel­li­gence would fore­see? But the an­swer is not an over-elab­o­ra­tion of the so­lu­tion, not in the Drood­ist ef­forts to find an out­come more cun­ning and de­cep­tive than be­fore. The mys­tery is not to be lo­cat­ed in the con­ven­tions of de­tec­tion, in the elab­o­rate con­ceal­ment of the truth and the need for the guilty party to be the "least like­ly" sus­pect. This would be the sort of me­chan­i­cal ex­ag­ger­a­tion that Dick­ens would re­sist. The real mys­tery of Edwin Drood is not, in fact, the fate of Edwin Drood, but lies, con­cealed, in the con­scious­ness of his killer.

Mys­ter­ies of the Mind in Edwin Drood

The novel draws on those mys­ter­ies of the mind that we can see in Dick­ens's ear­li­er work, al­ways con­nect­ed with the con­sti­tu­tion of the in­di­vid­u­al, the enig­ma of psy­chol­o­gy. John Jasper shares in the mur­der­ous vi­o­lence of Bradley Head­stone and the dou­bled, se­cre­tive per­son­al­i­ty of Alexan­dre Manette. The mys­ter­ies of Edwin Drood lie not only in ac­tion but in con­scious­ness, not in guilt but in mo­ti­va­tion. In read­ing for mo­ti­va­tion, the Drood­ists are seek­ing a kind of psy­cho­log­i­cal in­sight, but they tend to di­vine ma­te­ri­al mo­tives, which is why they ha­bit­u­al­ly in­vent unan­tic­i­pat­ed in­her­i­tances and wills that would drive Jasper to mur­der. The me­chan­i­cal or em­pir­i­cal mys­ter­ies which fas­ci­nate Drood­ist anal­y­sis them­selves con­tain a deep­er mys­tery, the meta­phys­i­cal mys­tery not of con­spir­a­cy but of psy­chol­o­gy. Nat­u­ral­ly, the two are close­ly linked. We can­not guess at how John Jasper thinks ex­cept by ob­serv­ing how he be­haves; thus, the mys­tery of his ac­tions elic­its this dou­ble read­ing — the hor­rors which op­er­ate in the mind of the mur­der­er are shad­owy se­crets en­act­ed only in the sus­pi­cion that Jasper is the mur­der­er. If we ac­cept that Jasper is the killer of his nephew, we must not mere­ly know how he did it but how he could do it. How to be kins­man and killer, so so­lic­i­tous and slaugh­ter­ous, how lov­ing and mur­der­ous.

At the very first, Edwin Drood in­vites this sort of in­sight, lead­ing us into the text through the drugged and drowsy con­scious­ness of John Jasper. The open­ing promis­es us a world of psy­cho­log­i­cal per­spec­tives. Yet there­after, though the thoughts and mo­tives of Jasper con­tin­ue to fas­ci­nate us, this in­sight is no longer grant­ed us. The first lines are paradig­mat­ic of mys­tery and per­cep­tion: a re­it­er­at­ed ques­tion, a mys­tery both of iden­ti­ty of place (the ap­par­ent dou­bling of here and there) and of the ob­serv­ing con­scious­ness — "An an­cient En­glish Cathe­dral Town? How can the an­cient En­glish Cathe­dral town be here! The well-known mas­sive grey square tower of its old Cathe­dral? How can that be here!" (37). As Joseph O'Mealey points out, the open­ing scene, in its shifts be­tween vi­sions and re­al­i­ty, the fan­tas­tic palace and the ac­tu­al bed­stead, de­fines John Jasper's psy­cho­log­i­cal state, the split be­tween his as­pi­ra­tions and the re­al­i­ty of his sit­u­a­tion (131). The fud­dled vi­sion al­ter­nates be­tween scenes of sen­su­ous aban­don­ment and scenes of vi­o­lence: "ten thou­sand danc­ing-girls strew flow­ers" while the sul­tan is "im­pal­ing a horde of Turk­ish rob­bers, one by one" (37). De­sire and vi­o­lence are both mul­ti­plied and drawn to­geth­er: "Ten thou­sand scim­i­tars flash in the sun­light, and thrice ten thou­sand danc­ing-girls strew flow­ers" (37). These scenes, in the metaphor­i­cal mode of dreams, point to Jasper's sub­merged vi­o­lence against his nephew com­pound­ed by his pos­ses­sive love of Rosa. Yet this is the last di­rect in­sight we have into Jasper's con­scious­ness. From then on he must be viewed ei­ther from the out­side, or, if we are given clues to his in­te­ri­or­i­ty, it is an in­sight sanc­tioned by Jasper him­self: his own words, en­tries from his diary, the rav­ings of delir­i­um prompt­ed by Princess Puffer. The ex­te­ri­or view which we have of Jasper after this will al­ways be taint­ed by this open­ing. We con­tin­ue to search in his out­ward be­haviour for the traces of his in­ward vi­sions. Of course, Dick­ens could not let us look into the con­scious­ness of the man who was to mur­der his own nephew, but we are of­fered fur­ther in­sights into the prob­lem of mind and dou­bled per­sonas.

John Jasper, lay pre­cen­tor, oc­cu­pies an over­worked and un­der­paid — and lit­tle re­gard­ed — post with­in the hi­er­ar­chy of the Cathe­dral. A man of artis­tic abil­i­ties, he pre­sumes, de­spite his lowly if re­spectable state, to dream greater dreams than the com­mon mass. "What vi­sions can she have... Vi­sions of many butch­er's shops and pub­lic hous­es and much cred­it? What can she rise to, under any quan­ti­ty of opium, high­er than that! — Eh?" (38). John Jasper, we know, has more baroque dreams than this. Yet he is trapped in the stul­ti­fy­ing at­mo­sphere of Clois­ter­ham: "no meet dwelling place for any one with han­ker­ings after the noisy world. A monotonous, silent city, de­riv­ing an earthy flavour through­out" (51). Si­lence and monotony are even more poi­sonous for the pro­fes­sion­al maker of music. Why Jasper is trapped, why he does not make some­thing of his am­bi­tions, we do not know. He may be lim­it­ed by eco­nom­ic cir­cum­stances; it is more like­ly that his in­er­tia is pait of his psy­chic sick­ness.

Cer­tain­ly he sub­li­mates his de­sire for change in opium driv­en fan­tasies, which may even­tu­al­ly dis­charge them­selves as mur­der­ous im­pulse. It is deal' that under the stric­tures of Clois­ter­ham life some neg­a­tive im­puls­es must emerge in new and grotesque forms:

'The echoes of my own voice among the arch­es seem to mock me with my daily drudg­ing round. No wretched monk who droned his life away in that gloomy place, be­fore me, can have been more tned of it than I am. He could take for re­lief (and did take) to carv­ing demons out of the stalls and seats and desks. What shall I do? Must I take to carv­ing them out of my own heart?' (48)

The im­per­a­tive "must" has the feel of an ap­peal against ex­ist­ing cir­cum­stances. Jasper carves out a gar­goyle-like alter ego which seeks ex­pi­a­tion for his in­ac­tion in opium tak­ing. This, the John Jasper who at­tends the shab­by opium den, and shud­ders in "un­clean... im­i­ta­tion" (39) of the oth­ers, is an alien to the fig­ure that Edwin sees: "your being so much re­spect­ed as Lay Pre­cen­tor, or Lay Clerk, or what­ev­er you call it, of this Cathe­dral; your en­joy­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of hav­ing done such won­ders with the choir; your choos­ing your so­ci­ety, and hold­ing such an in­de­pen­dent po­si­tion" (48). It is pre­cise­ly this image of Edwin's that Jasper re­acts against. But his out­burst is mere­ly a su­per­fi­cial kind of con­fes­sion. Edwin sees it as whol­ly open: "your painful­ly lay­ing of your inner self bare, as a warn­ing to me" (49), but at this phase Jasper halts his breath­ing, fear­ing ab­so­lute dis­cov­ery, and only breathes again when Edwin moves on. Jasper's tran­si­tion is ex­traor­di­nary: "Mr Jasper, be­com­ing a breath­ing man again with­out the small­est stage of tran­si­tion be­tween the two ex­treme states" (49). Not mere­ly breath­ing again, but be­com­ing a dif­fer­ent man mov­ing swift­ly be­tween ex­treme states. The image of ex­treme states with­in per­sons ad­heres not only to Jasper, who is the most sin­is­ter ex­am­ple of this, but to other char­ac­ters through­out Edwin Drood (Forsyte, 'De­cod­ing' deals ex­ten­sive­ly with this theme).

Other char­ac­ters in Edwin Drood seem to ex­press, in dif­fer­ent ways, split or al­ter­na­tive per­sonas. More often than not pre­sent­ed light­ly, they are a kind of par­o­dy of the ex­trem­ism in the char­ac­ter of John Jasper. At the same time, they often ex­press a kind of in­se­cu­ri­ty or frus­trat­ed as­pi­ra­tion that is in keep­ing with the stul­ti­fy­ing at­mo­sphere of Clois­ter­ham. In Clois­ter­ham iden­ti­ty be­comes mys­te­ri­ous, or in the case of Miss Twin­kle­ton, se­cre­tive, a dou­bling through which one side of the per­son­al­i­ty con­ceals an­oth­er: "Miss Twin­kle­ton has two dis­tinct and sep­a­rate phas­es of being. Every night, the mo­ment the young ladies have re­tired to rest, does Miss Twin­kle­ton smarten up her curls a lit­tle, bright­en up her eyes a lit­tle, and be­come a spright­ly Miss Twin­kle­ton, whom none of the young ladies have ever seen" (53). Miss Twin­kle­ton, in her noc­tur­nal so­cial ex­cur­sions, is a par­o­dy of Jasper's more sin­is­ter im­mer­sion in the Lon­don opium hous­es. Some char­ac­ters mere­ly as­pire to be other than they are, as Mr Sapsea, bore and "Tory Jack­ass," pre­sumes to a high po­si­tion in the ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal ranks: "Mr Sapsea 'dress­es at' the Dean; has been bowed to for the Dean, in mis­take; has even been spo­ken to in the street as My Lord, under the im­pres­sion that he was the Bish­op come down un­ex­pect­ed­ly" (62).

Other char­ac­ters liv­ing such dou­bled roles are not pre­sent­ed so hu­mor­ous­ly. The Land­less­es, broth­er and sis­ter, twins, are sim­i­lar in ap­pear­ance, and seem to em­phat­i­cal­ly share their thoughts. There is an un­set­tling du­al­i­ty in their man­ner: "some­thing un­tamed about them both; a cer­tain air upon them of hunter and huntress: yet with­al a cer­tain air of the ob­jects of the chase" (85). Alien and un­set­tled, in a for­eign so­ci­ety, they are both in­trud­ers and vic­tims, colonis­er and colonised, male and fe­male, poised to at­tack or flee. As both hunter and hunt­ed, it is pos­si­ble that they will ful­fil both roles — Neville hound­ed to death by Jasper, He­le­na his avenger. Their du­al­i­ty is a func­tion of their sta­tus in so­ci­ety. Only Miss Twin­kle­ton, who holds her iden­ti­ties in strict ig­no­rance of each other — "Every night... does Miss Twin­kle­ton re­sume the top­ics of the pre­vi­ous night, com­pre­hend­ing the ten­der­er scan­dal of Clois­ter­ham, of which she has no knowl­edge what­ev­er by day" (53) — en­joys a kind of sta­bil­i­ty in her du­al­i­ty. Yet it is John Jasper and his se­cret life whom these other dou­blings re­flect and par­o­dy, and his di­vid­ed self­hood which is the most ex­treme.

In Clois­ter­ham, with its con­tin­u­al hints of a sub­con­scious world and dou­bled char­ac­ter, Dick­ens was point­ing to­ward "the trag­ic se­crets of the human heart" (qtd. in O'Mealy 129). No heart in Edwin Drood is more se­cre­tive, or mys­te­ri­ous, than that of Jasper. Sim­i­lar­ly, no state of con­scious­ness is more po­ten­tial­ly con­tentious. Adding to a long line of the­atri­cal mur­der­ers, from Jonas in Mar­tin Chuz­zle­wit to the more deeply re­alised Bradley Head­stone of Our Mu­tu­al Friend, in Jasper the fig­ure of the mur­der­er is sure­ly pre­sent­ed in an even more com­plex fash­ion than be­fore. And yet the na­ture of his mad­ness and ad­dic­tion is un­known. Is he a con­scious killer, a know­ing hyp­ocrite, or does Jasper suf­fer from an ab­so­lute form of dou­bling, in which one self does not know of the ac­tions of the other? What are the mo­ti­va­tions of his some­times er­rat­ic be­haviour? How can his lov­ing as­pect to his nephew be rec­on­ciled with his mur­der­ous ac­tions? Such ques­tions as­sail the mind of Rosa when she con­sid­ers the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Jasper is the mur­der­er of her fiancé, yet she can only con­clude, "he was so ter­ri­ble a man" (233). Dick­ens adds in an aside: "for what could she know of the crim­i­nal in­tel­lect, which its own pro­fessed stu­dents per­pet­u­al­ly mis­read, be­cause they per­sist in try­ing to rec­on­cile it with the av­er­age in­tel­lect of av­er­age men, in­stead of iden­ti­fy­ing it as a hor­ri­ble won­der apart" (233). The read­er, like Rosa, is im­mersed in these ques­tions. We are, like Dick­ens, who had a long in­ter­est in crim­i­nals, their pun­ish­ment and ed­u­ca­tion, drawn to and re­pulsed by the pos­si­bil­i­ty of in­sight into the crim­i­nal in­tel­lect. Crim­i­nal­i­ty im­plies the sub­sti­tu­tion of the prob­lem of evil with the sec­u­lar fear of a cer­tain pathol­o­gy. Like Rosa, the read­er's anx­i­ety about the con­sti­tu­tion of the crim­i­nal in­tel­lect dis­clos­es this in­quiry: what are the hor­ri­ble won­ders of such a mind?

Per­haps Jasper's "hor­ri­ble won­der apart" can be ac­count­ed for by a hor­ri­ble form of apart­ness, a split self that an­tic­i­pates not only Doc­tor Jekyll and Mis­ter Hyde but mul­ti­ple per­son­al­i­ty dis­or­ders. So ar­gues Charles Forsyte in The De­cod­ing of Edwin Drood, an­tic­i­pat­ing also the ar­gu­ment that Jasper is a clin­i­cal schizophrenic (Comyn, using as the title of her essay, "John Jasper, Schizophrenic," would agree with this in­ter­pre­ta­tion, though her read­ing of Jasper's schizophre­nia is lit­er­ary rather than clin­i­cal). Forsyte ob­serves that there are char­ac­ter­is­tic dif­fer­ences in the na­ture of the fits en­dured by the opium tak­ers Princess Puffer and the Las­car" and those at­tacks en­dured by Jasper. Jasper turns rigid; his fits are in­tense and of short du­ra­tion. The oth­ers shake, and re­cov­er much more slow­ly. This dif­fer­ence, Forsyte con­cludes, is cov­ered by a sub­tle piece of mis­di­rec­tion. Re­fer­ring to Dick­ens's skills as a stage-ma­gi­cian, and the im­por­tance in stage-mag­ic of mis­di­rec­tion, Forsyte ar­gues that the open­ing of the novel, which pre­cedes Jasper's first at­tack, cues us to mis­tak­en­ly in­ter­pret all of Jasper's fits as if they are opi­um-in­duced, where­as in re­al­i­ty they have a dif­fer­ent func­tion. Jasper's fits, which are symp­tomat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from those of other opium users, are in fact a form of trans­fer­ence be­tween two dis­crete per­sonas, one of which Forsyte calls the "in­no­cent" Jasper and the other the Mur­der­er. No less than three such trans­for­ma­tions occur in the first chap­ter. Like the cab­i­net in Minor Canon Cor­ner, where slid­ing pan­els ob­scure one half of the clos­et while the other is open, both sides of Jasper's per­son­al­i­ty are in com­plete ig­no­rance of each other, or, at least, Jasper is ig­no­rant of the Mur­der­er (Forsyte, De­cod­ing 98). This con­di­tion is a sim­i­lar, if more ad­vanced, form of that as­cribed to Jasper by many Drood­ists who argue that Edwin is still alive. If, under the in­flu­ence of opium, Jasper has a sim­i­lar­ly split per­son­al­i­ty, then it is pos­si­ble that the opi­um-driv­en side of Jasper botched the mur­der of his nephew while the other side knows noth­ing of this. Re­gard­less of this, the split-per­son­al­i­ty the­o­ry has a basis in the de­scrip­tion of Miss Twin­kle­ton:

As, in some cases of drunk­en­ness, and in oth­ers of an­i­mal mag­netism, there are two states of con­scious­ness which never clash, but each of which pur­sues its sep­a­rate course as though it were con­tin­u­ous in­stead of bro­ken (thus, if I hide my watch when I am drunk, I must be drunk again be­fore I can re­mem­ber where), so Miss Twin­kle­ton has two dis­tinct and sep­a­rate phas­es of being. (53)

Thus, whether the spit is ab­so­lute and psy­cho­log­i­cal, or opium in­duced, the con­tention is that Jasper has two sep­a­rate and dis­con­tin­u­ous states of mind which never meet. The hor­ri­ble won­der apart of this crim­i­nal mind is, in fact, the ab­so­lute apart­ness of the good and lov­ing self from the mur­der­ous self.

This so­lu­tion is at­trac­tive, since it is cer­tain­ly an ex­treme form of du­al­ism and a di­rect ex­pla­na­tion for the mys­ter­ies of the Jasper mind, but, as John Thack­er has point­ed out, it is moral­ly un­com­fort­able (58). If one Jasper is truly good and in­no­cent, while the other is a to­tal­ly cor­rupt­ed mur­der­er, then the good Jasper will die a wrong­ful death as an in­no­cent man while being moral­ly ex­on­er­at­ed, freed of blame, thanks to the ac­tiv­i­ties of his dark­er half. In ef­fect, this kind of bi­na­rism is a sim­pli­fi­ca­tion; though com­pli­cat­ed in its ex­e­cu­tion, it is re­duc­tive in its ethics, re­liev­ing Jasper of his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as kins­man, host and human being. Fur­ther­more, as Thack­er, among oth­ers, has point­ed out (135), the Twin­kle­ton de­scrip­tion is a gen­tle par­o­dy of the cen­tral me­chan­i­cal de­vice of Wilkie Collins's The Moon­stone, in which the jewel is "stolen" by Franklin Blake while under the in­flu­ence of opium, after which he for­gets his in­volve­ment. Dick­ens ap­proved of The Moon­stone at first, but later wrote that: "The con­struc­tion is weari­some be­yond en­durance, and there is a vein of ob­sti­nate con­ceit in it that makes en­e­mies of read­ers" (qtd in Pe­ters 311). If, as al­ready dis­cussed, Dick­ens pre­tend­ed sug­ges­tion and sur­prise to ob­sti­nate mis­di­rec­tion (sec­tion 1.6), what was the char­ac­ter of Jasper to sug­gest, if not ab­so­lute bi­na­rism? What was the idea — "a very cu­ri­ous and new idea for my new story. Not a com­mu­ni­ca­ble idea (or the in­ter­est of the book would be gone) but a very strong one, though dif­fi­cult to work" (qtd in Forsyte, De­cod­ing 28) — that seemed to lodge in the per­son­al­i­ty of John Jasper? If it was not to be like Miss Twin­kle­ton's "two dis­tinct and sep­a­rate phas­es of being," (53) what was it?

What we tend to over­look in that phrase, even when read­ing it as a satir­i­cal swipe at The Moon­stone, is the iron­ic tone, for Miss Twin­kle­ton is mere­ly likened to the drunk­ard, and in both her so­cial states she is per­fect­ly well aware of the other. Like other dou­bled char­ac­ters in Dick­ens, such as Wem­mick (at Wal­worth and at Lit­tle Britain) or Sairey Gamp (and her pro­ject­ed dou­ble, Mrs Har­ris), the di­vi­sions are di­vi­sions of habit, not ab­so­lute di­vi­sions of the psy­che. Miss Twin­kle­ton is but one per­son, ex­ist­ing in two sep­a­rate modes, but the bar­ri­er be­tween them is an el­e­gant men­tal fic­tion. So, the mind of Jasper, though drawn be­tween the two ex­tremes of lov­ing uncle and killer, is yet one en­ti­ty, con­tin­u­ous and self aware. As A.E Dyson in "Edwin Drood: A hor­ri­ble won­der apart" ar­gues, "The 'split' in [Jasper] is not be­tween two per­son­al­i­ties but two de­lib­er­ate per­son­ae — the re­spectable pub­lic self of Clois­ter­ham and the ex­ot­ic pri­vate self of the Lime­house den. At all times in his 'nor­mal' life Jasper com­mands both per­son­ae" (153). The cu­rios­i­ty and the dif­fi­cul­ty of Dick­ens's idea, then, lay in its very sim­plic­i­ty, for Jasper was not to be a psy­chot­ic dou­ble per­son, of whom one half never knew the work­ings of the other, but in­stead one per­son, one per­son­al­i­ty which would swing, some­times wild­ly, be­tween two ex­tremes of mind. The com­plex­i­ty of the pre­sen­ta­tion of this idea lies be­yond sim­ple bi­na­rism, since Jasper is at one and the same time killer and con­ven­tion­al man, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween the two poles of his being, and yet al­ways with the seed of self- aware­ness with­in him. To hu­man­ise such a state of mind would be a task wor­thy of Dick­ens's art, far more com­plex and de­mand­ing than Forsyte's Jasper and Mur­der­er so­lu­tion. To pre­sent the move­ments, the tides of Jasper's dou­bled but un­di­vid­ed mind as they flowed along the com­plex poles of pas­sion, love, ha­tred, long­ing and ob­ses­sion, would in­deed be "very dif­fi­cult to work." The logic of such a mind, mur­der­ous, know­ing it­self mur­der­ous, re­sist­ing mur­der and yet un­able or un­will­ing to change, is not the com­mon logic of the self which could be solved by the sim­ple con­ceit of psy­cho­log­i­cal or opi­um-in­duced split per­son­al­i­ties. It is, in­deed, "a hor­ri­ble won­der apart" which Dick­ens wished to com­mu­ni­cate. With­out a close read­ing of this mys­tery, the most promi­nent of all the mys­ter­ies of the mind in Edwin Drood, as an on­go­ing pro­cess, our un­der­stand­ing of the novel is in­com­plete. In the ex­tant half of Edwin Drood we can see the sub­tle and com­plex pro­cess in mo­tion, not as a sim­ple du­al­ism but a hor­ri­ble ca­reer.

"A Hor­ri­ble Won­der Apart": The Ca­reer of the Mur­der­er

Edwin Drood opens with­in the con­scious­ness of John Jasper, a be­gin­ning both il­lu­mi­nat­ing and de­cep­tive. His fan­tasies of vi­o­lence and sen­su­ous ful­fil­ment are sub­tle clues to his inner de­sires, but, as Charles Forsyte has point­ed out in "How Did Drood Die?", these vi­sions are only the con­clu­sion, the last part of a grim­mer sce­nario: the long jour­ney un­der­tak­en in the opium trance, which we later learn is noth­ing less than the re­hearsal of mur­der (268-271). John Jasper's opium dreams, it seems, are not so much cathar­tic as a means of bol­ster­ing his re­solve. If, at first, they were a way of harm­less­ly liv­ing out his dark­est de­sires, even­tu­al­ly they be­come a pre­fig­ure­ment of and goad to ac­tion.

Fol­low­ing this open­ing, and Jasper's re­turn to Clois­ter­ham, is Jasper's first meet­ing with his nephew, an in­ter­view which is both alarm­ing and ten­der. In this scene we see Jasper's love for his nephew, but we also come clos­est to a kind of con­fes­sion or ad­mis­sion of his deep­est de­sires — even a warn­ing. John Jasper's cham­bers, som­bre, shad­owed, with the por­trait of Rosa Bud in a cen­tral po­si­tion, hold clues to his char­ac­ter, if only Edwin could per­ceive them. At fust, how­ev­er, Jasper is deeply, per­haps even over­ly, af­fec­tion­ate: '"My dear Jack, I am as dry as a bone. Don't mod­dley-cod­dley, there's a good fel­low'" (44). Dick­ens em­pha­sis­es twice in the chap­ter, in two fits, one re­port­ed and one ac­tu­al­ly seen, the ef­fect that Jasper's opium tak­ing has on him. In Jasper's phys­i­cal re­ac­tions to opium we see the close prox­im­i­ty of his dreams of mur­der. At the same time, the uncle who ob­serves his nephew with such "hun­gry, ex­act­ing, watch­ful and yet de­vot­ed at­ten­tion" (44) comes close to con­fess­ing, or jus­ti­fy­ing, his mur­der­ous fan­tasies and his opium tak­ing. Edwin Drood is too shal­low to recog­nise any of this, and so the scene pro­ceeds be­tween Jasper's oblique con­fes­sions and Edwin's cheer­ful and su­per­fi­cial mis­un­der­stand­ing of him. When Edwin bursts out that, "You can choose for your­self. Life, for you, is a plum with the nat­u­ral bloom on; it hasn't been over-care­ful­ly wiped off for you" he does, in fact, de­scribe the very sense of con­straint that Jasper feels. That his out­burst refers in the main to his planned mar­riage to Rosa Bud mere­ly adds to the un­con­scious in­jury. It is dur­ing this speech that Jasper has a fit. Edwin won­ders if he has hurt his uncle's feel­ings. Jasper speaks vague­ly of a pain. When the fit has passed, Jasper tells his nephew, "There is said to be a hid­den skele­ton in every house; but you thought there was none in mine, dear Ned" (47) and goes on to de­scribe his sense of en­clo­sure and frus­tra­tion at Clois­ter­ham life. Com­plex im­puls­es are at work here: on the one hand, Jasper is think­ing of mur­der and vi­o­lence (in the MS a ref­er­ence to knives was delet­ed (Claren­don 10-11)), yet the po­ten­tial mur­der­er also tries to de­flect the vi­o­lence, to make an oblique con­fes­sion of the very forces which are driv­ing him. The part of Jasper which is ten­der and lov­ing seeks to con­fess, yet his mur­der­ous in­tent ob­scures this de­sire and holds him back from full dis­clo­sure. When Jasper speaks "he lays a ten­der hand upon his nephew's shoul­der, and, in a tone of voice less trou­bled than the pur­port of his words — in­deed with some­thing of raillery or ban­ter in it — thus ad­dress­es him" (47). In the gaps be­tween his ten­der ges­ture, the dark im­port of his words and the dis­guis­ing tone of his words, lie the com­plex stress­es and con­flicts with­in John Jasper. Edwin mis­un­der­stands these sig­nals, or rather, reads only their sur­face im­port. Jasper com­mu­ni­cates in a pro­found­ly mys­te­ri­ous man­ner — his every word is a clue to his mur­der­ous in­tent and frus­tra­tion but also con­tains a su­per­fi­cial and less omi­nous truth. Iron­i­cal­ly, Edwin thanks him: "I have some­thing im­press­ible with­in me, which feels — deeply feels — the dis­in­ter­est­ed­ness of your painful­ly lay­ing your inner self bare, as a warn­ing to me" (49). He mis­in­ter­prets both the inner self and the warn­ing. John Jasper con­cludes on an omi­nous note: "You won't be warned?" (50). Edwin will not be warned — he has not the ma­tu­ri­ty or the in­sight to see the deep clash of im­puls­es with­in his uncle. In an­oth­er grim fore­shad­ow­ing, the chap­ter ends with the two men de­cid­ing to walk in the church­yard.

The Cathe­dral and its en­vi­rons are the grounds with­in which Jasper plots his mur­der. Those Drood­ists who debar Jasper as the mur­der­er have an in­tense­ly dif­fi­cult task in dis­miss­ing his as­sid­u­ous prepa­ra­tion for the mur­der: cul­ti­vat­ing Sapsea, tour­ing the crypt with Dur­dles, fo­ment­ing the quar­rel be­tween Edwin and Neville Land­less. In all of this he ex­hibits a cal­cu­lat­ing and ma­li­cious com­mand of cir­cum­stances. If the John Jasper of the sec­ond chap­ter scru­ples enough at mur­der to in some way re­veal his in­ward im­puls­es, then the Jasper of "A Night with Dur­dles" con­scious­ly plots to com­mit a mur­der. There is no other ex­pla­na­tion for this out­ing which even Dick­ens names "the un­ac­count­able ex­pe­di­tion" (160). The ar­rival of Neville Land­less in Clois­ter­ham is, to Jasper, for­tu­itous; it is also un­ex­pect­ed, yet with­in the space of hours he has begun to pre­pare Land­less for the role of scape­goat for the mur­der by en­cour­ag­ing a quar­rel be­tween the two young men. This side of Jasper plots cold­ly, swift­ly and ef­fi­cient­ly.

Land­less could not be more apt to Jasper's plans. The very qual­i­ties which Land­less pos­sess­es are those with­in Jasper which si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly he re­press­es and drive him to mur­der. Land­less ad­mits that he is "se­cret and re­venge­ful. I have al­ways been tyran­ni­cal­ly held down by the strong hand. This had driv­en me, in my weak­ness, to the re­source of being false and mean" (90). Jasper, also se­cre­tive and venge­ful, has in Land­less a per­fect sur­ro­gate for his dark­er self. Like Bradley Head­stone im­i­tat­ing Rogue Rid­er­hood in dress, but in a more elab­o­rate fash­ion, Jasper finds a ves­sel to­wards which he di­rects sus­pi­cion. The dou­bled mur­der­er has a phys­i­cal shad­ow through which he forces a kind of apart­ness, the as­crip­tion of his own homi­ci­dal im­puls­es to an­oth­er. The very terms of com­plaint with which the ar­gu­ment be­tween Land­less and Drood is en­cour­aged, in­clud­ing sex­u­al jeal­ousy, are those re­sent­ments which Jasper bears to­wards his nephew. Jasper, then, be­gins to rep­re­sent his own grudges through Neville.

As Neville Land­less is groomed by Jasper to act out the part of mur­der­er, the bet­ter part of John Jasper may re­coil in fear from the very role that he has cre­at­ed for Neville out of his own de­sires. John Jasper is re­pulsed by his sub­sti­tute self, deep­en­ing his men­tal par­ti­tion. Of course, these ad­mis­sions fur­ther his plans, build­ing a role for Neville, but as Land­less rep­re­sents the vi­o­lent part of Jasper's per­son­al­i­ty even to him­self, his con­fes­sions of fear are gen­uine con­fes­sions. Where Jasper com­mu­ni­cates his fear to Crisparkle he does so, cu­ri­ous­ly, through his diary. The diary, which is nor­mal­ly an in­ti­mate and per­son­al doc­u­ment, be­comes, in a lim­it­ed way, pubic be­cause Jasper can ex­press his inner evil only by in­dict­ing an­oth­er:

After what I have just now seen, I have a mor­bid dread upon me of some hor­ri­ble con­se­quences re­sult­ing to my dear" boy, that I can­not rea­son with or in any way con­tend against. All my ef­forts are vain. The de­mo­ni­a­cal pas­sion of this Neville Land­less, his strength in his fury, and his sav­age rage for the de­struc­tion of its ob­ject, appal me. (132)

Re­place 'Neville Land­less' with 'John Jasper' in this pas­sage, and we have an ac­count of the state of af­fairs of the mind of its au­thor. The diary entry is both self-anal­y­sis and de­cep­tion. John Jasper, in his dou­bled self, cre­ates a sur­ro­gate fig­ure, a ves­sel for his own sup­pressed re­sent­ment. This fur­thers his plans, but the psy­cho­log­i­cal logic of it — a logic which is both ra­tio­nal and ir­ra­tional to our or­di­nary un­der­stand­ing — ex­ac­er­bates his men­tal split, though we must re­mem­ber that this split is never ab­so­lute but part of a tur­bu­lent po­lar­i­ty. This men­tal state is both "a hor­ri­ble won­der apart" from the norms of be­haviour and a state of apart­ness. Though cold­ly plan­ning a mur­der, Jasper is also a fear­ful on­look­er to his own plans, as per­son­i­fied by him in Neville Land­less. It may be that sub­ject to these di­vi­sive pres­sures he can only seek to close the breach in his psy­che by going through with the plan, fi­nal­ly unit­ing him­self with the mur­der­er's role he has pro­ject­ed on to Neville Land­less. It is Dick­ens's dark­est in­sight that the ful­fil­ment of his care­ful prepa­ra­tions only deep­ens the con­fu­sion with­in John Jasper. By be­com­ing a mur­der­er he is moral­ly set apart from hu­man­i­ty by the very act that sought to cor­rect his apart­ness.

In the af­ter­math of the mur­der John Jasper im­me­di­ate­ly pur­sues Neville Land­less in order to con­front him with the dis­ap­pear­ance of Edwin Drood and tire­less­ly search­es the banks of the river for some sign of his nephew (189). He plays the ac­cus­er and the dis­traught uncle to per­fec­tion, and it may be that this is more than sim­ple act­ing. Like Mac­beth, for whom to be thus is noth­ing, but to be safe­ly thus, ev­ery­thing, Jasper now de­pends on the guilt of Neville and his own in­no­cence — these things are not mere­ly acted but de­vout­ly be­lieved. And yet with­in hours he is con­front­ed with a dev­as­tat­ing rev­e­la­tion, and suf­fers his most ex­treme fit so far. The en­tire fu­til­i­ty of his plan­ning and the mur­der is thrown in his face by Grew­gious, who re­veals that Rosa and Edwin had called off their en­gage­ment. Jasper col­laps­es, un­con­scious; the killing of Edwin Drood has been su­per­flu­ous, for noth­ing. Though Jasper has as­sumed the part of the out­raged uncle, he has also been con­scious of his own guilt, and this con­scious­ness is brought heav­i­ly upon him by the re­al­i­sa­tion of the fu­til­i­ty of his ac­tions. It is Dick­ens's supreme artistry that Jasper, like Shake­speare's Mac­beth, is driv­en only to greater and greater ex­tremes by the very act he be­lieved would bring him se­cu­ri­ty. A di­vid­ed char­ac­ter be­fore the mur­der, though no sim­ple Jekyll and Hyde au­toma­ton, after the mur­der he is driv­en to even more ex­traor­di­nary and con­tra­dic­to­ry be­haviour.

Jasper's first im­pulse is de­nial. He can­not deny his com­plic­i­ty in mur­der, since no one has ac­cused him yet; hence, he can only deny the pos­si­bil­i­ty of mur­der it­self. He in­sists that the dev­as­tat­ing news that has come to him gives him hope that Edwin may yet be alive. He ad­mits open­ly to a prej­u­dice against Neville Land­less, since a be­lief that Neville is his nephew's killer would con­tra­dict his new-found hope. Yet sup­pressed guilt will find a way out, and Jasper's sur­ro­gate ves­sel for his guilt and de­nial is Neville. Fur­ther­more, he soon learns that Neville is a po­ten­tial rival for Rosa's af­fec­tions. This is an­oth­er mo­tive to per­se­cute the youth (Forsyte, De­cod­ing 200). Edwin's per­son­al ef­fects are found at Clois­ter­ham weir. It is gen­er­al­ly un­der­stood that Crisparkle is led to them by some sug­ges­tion plant­ed by Jasper, though the ev­i­dence for this is sketchy to non-ex­is­tent. In one sense, Jasper has planned too well: de­spite his ef­fort to deny the pos­si­bil­i­ty of mur­der, the sus­pi­cion of guilt fas­tens on Neville even more pow­er­ful­ly. Once again, Jasper ex­e­cutes an ex­traor­di­nary re­ver­sal of be­haviour. He now firm­ly be­lieves in Edwin's mur­der. Yet he can­not, now that he knows how fu­tile that mur­der is, admit his own com­plic­i­ty. His apart­ness be­comes a need to as­sume a va­ri­ety of dra­mat­ic parts. He is a tor­tured fig­ure, both know­ing and will­ing­ly un­know­ing, des­per­ate to play the role of lov­ing uncle and avenger, yet driv­en to re­veal­ing his own com­plic­i­ty. Once again the pub­lic-pri­vate diary entry, the lie that con­tains a strange kind of truth, ex­press­es this:

My dear boy is mur­dered.... All the delu­sive hopes I have found­ed on his sep­a­ra­tion from his be­trothed wife, I give to the winds. They per­ish be­fore this fatal dis­cov­ery. I now swear and record the oath on this page, That I nev­er­more will dis­cuss this mys­tery with any human crea­ture, until I hold the clue to it in my hand. That I never relax in my se­cre­cy or in my search. That I will fas­ten the crime of the mur­der of my dear dead boy upon the mur­der­er. And That I de­vote my­self to his de­struc­tion. (201)

This oath con­tains a kind of psy­cho­log­i­cal util­i­ty. On the one side, the iron­ic counter-mean­ing con­tains the seeds of Jasper's de­struc­tion. On the other, to pin the crime ul­ti­mate­ly on Neville is, for Jasper, to rid him­self of guilt and, in­di­rect­ly, to lead to his ul­ti­mate aim. But it en­tails even more bizarre con­tor­tions of his char­ac­ter.

In the gar­den of Miss Twin­kle­ton's ("Shad­ow on the Sun­di­al"), Jasper plays the lover and vil­lain to ex­ag­ger­at­ed lengths. His words are wild and over-dra­mat­ic, his ac­tions con­strained. Jasper is act­ing out two parts for sep­a­rate yet si­mul­ta­ne­ous au­di­ences. In its jux­ta­po­si­tion of the melo­dra­mat­ic ac­tions of the vil­lain and do­mes­tic set­ting, the in­ter­val has a Sen­sa­tion fic­tion flour­ish. The en­tire scene is ex­treme, but this is be­cause Jasper now op­er­ates in an ex­treme state where his wild fan­tasies in­trude on his day­light be­haviour. In his protes­ta­tions of love to Rosa, Jasper veers per­ilous­ly close to an out­right con­fes­sion of guilt: "I have made my con­fes­sion that my love is mad. It is so mad that, had the ties be­tween me and my dear lost boy been one silken thread less strong, I might have swept even him from your side when you favoured him" (229). This is not the con­fes­sion of a cold and cal­cu­lat­ing killer, this near ad­mis­sion of guilt. It rises out of the mas­sive frac­tures in John Jasper's mind: his knowl­edge of his own guilt and his des­per­ate de­sire not to be guilty. The same need is ev­i­dent in his de­ter­mi­na­tion to pin the crime on Neville, along with the iron­ic coda that it is Jasper who, in fact, pur­sues him­self:

'I have de­vot­ed my­self to the mur­der­er's dis­cov­ery and de­struc­tion, be he who he might, and that 1 de­ter­mined to dis­cuss the mys­tery with no one until I should hold the clue in which to en­tan­gle the mur­der­er as m a net. I have since worked pa­tient­ly to wind and wind it about him; and it is slow­ly wind­ing as we speak.' (229)

His apart­ness is man­i­fest again, as Jasper must be both sus­pect and ac­cus­er. There is an­oth­er rea­son why Jasper must make Neville guilty. Only if this is so can he per­haps find the emo­tion­al lever­age with which to force Rosa to ac­cept him, and only in win­ning her can he jus­ti­fy the oth­er­wise fu­tile mur­der of his nephew. His com­pli­cat­ed and ex­ces­sive threats against Neville, meant to in­flu­ence Rosa, are the only means by which he can win. Of course, Jasper is once again in the grip of fan­ta­sy, the same place he en­tered and re-en­tered under the in­flu­ence of opium, but, as he lived out his fan­tasies in the mur­der of his nephew, now he must try to live out his fan­tasies of re­venge and ex­pi­a­tion in order to win through to an ec­stat­ic tri­umph.

Nat­u­ral­ly, the ter­ri­fied Rosa can un­der­stand none of this. If there is any index to the com­plex­i­ty of the mys­ter­ies in the mind of John Jasper, it is the list of des­per­ate ques­tions in­spired by his ac­tions in the thoughts of Rosa Bud:

If he were afraid of the crime being traced out, would he not rather en­cour­age the idea of a vol­un­tary dis­ap­pear­ance? He had even de­clared that if the ties be­tween him and his nephew had been less strong, he might have swept 'even him' away from her side. Was that like his hav­ing re­al­ly done so? He had spo­ken of lay­ing his six months' labours in just vengeance at her feet. Would he have done that, with the vi­o­lence of pas­sion, if they were a pre­tence? Would he have ranged them with his des­o­late heart and soul, his wast­ed life, his peace, and his de­spair? (233)

Only by rang­ing back­wards over these ques­tions can the read­er gain in­sight to these mys­ter­ies, which show the com­plex and dy­nam­ic pat­terns in the di­vid­ed mind of John Jasper. Dick­ens care­ful­ly re­minds the read­er in this very pas­sage that the crim­i­nal in­tel­lect is "a hor­ri­ble won­der apart" which can­not, as Rosa tries to, be rec­on­ciled with the "av­er­age in­tel­lect of av­er­age men" (233). In the ter­ri­fy­ing ex­cess­es and re­ver­sals of Jasper's be­haviour, we see this af­firmed. Jasper is not com­pre­hen­si­ble as a sim­ple stock vil­lain or as a stat­ic split per­sona. Nei­ther of these ex­pla­na­tions an­swers to the com­plex­i­ty of the ques­tions his be­haviour elic­its. Per­haps in the end­ing that we do not pos­sess, yet which ev­ery­thing hints at, only a fur­ther kind of dou­bling and won­der apart can en­able John Jasper to see him­self as he is, and close the fatal breach in his per­son­al­i­ty. Forster wrote that Edwin Drood would end with "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" (qtd. in Thack­er 60).

Such a res­o­lu­tion is com­pat­i­ble with the psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tions so far out­lined in John Jasper's mur­der­ous ca­reer, but it de­pends not mere­ly on the dis­po­si­tion of char­ac­ter but the res­o­lu­tion of a com­plex plot.

The Mur­der­er's Plot­ting and the Prov­i­den­tial Plot

O'Mealy ex­press­es the more com­mon at­ti­tude to Dick­ens's plot­ting when he writes that, "Dick­ens's plots rarely rep­re­sent more than a minor facet of the ge­nius we call Dick­en­sian" (129). While char­ac­ter is a pow­er­ful con­sid­er­a­tion in read­ing Edwin Drood, we are not read­ing co­her­ent­ly with­out read­ing for the plot. For our un­der­stand­ing of Jasper's mo­tives de­rives from the clues of his ac­tions, and his ac­tions are clear­ly di­rect­ed to­wards one end. John Jasper is, fun­da­men­tal­ly, a crea­ture of plot: he is a char­ac­ter who plots (in the mur­der­ous and plan­ning sense) and it is his plot­ting, and the con­se­quences of his plot­ting, which com­mand much of the fas­ci­na­tion of the novel. But there is, nonethe­less, an agen­cy that works against John Jasper, a coun­ter­plot that op­er­ates against the grain of his plot­ting. There are points of re­sis­tance, of course, in all the char­ac­ters who work against John Jasper, from the de­tec­tive fig­ure Datch­ery to Rosa Bud (who evades Jasper by run­ning away from him). These form the moral core of good char­ac­ters who even­tu­al­ly come to sus­pect and then op­pose him. In the novel's last, omi­nous ges­tures, we can but as­sume that Jasper will ul­ti­mate­ly be cap­tured and de­feat­ed. Some greater force than these char­ac­ters also op­er­ates in Edwin Drood. This is the force of prov­i­dence. As Sapsea ob­serves, '"Man pro­pos­es. Heav­en dis­pos­es'" (66). The sen­ti­ment may seem pompous in the mouth of this comic fig­ure, but the phrase is for­mu­la­ic, vir­tu­al­ly a tru­ism to the Vic­to­ri­an frame of mind, and this in­di­cates the preva­lence of what Var­gish called the "prov­i­den­tial aes­thet­ic" in Vic­to­ri­an fic­tion. Jasper rebels against the moral order and as­sid­u­ous­ly plans his mur­der, but a greater power than he plans against him, and so cre­ates the cir­cum­stance of his de­struc­tion. Prov­i­dence, plot­ting and psy­cho­log­i­cal ne­ces­si­ty are close­ly aligned here.

John Jasper, pre-em­i­nent­ly, plots. Seek­ing the trans­for­ma­tion of fan­ta­sy into re­al­i­ty, first through opium vi­sions and then through ac­tion, he plans and ar­ranges mat­ters to­wards this end. No Drood­ist "so­lu­tion" which seeks to ex­on­er­ate Jasper can con­vinc­ing­ly deal with the range of his ef­forts: he fo­ments a quar­rel be­tween Neville and Edwin, cul­ti­vates the aid and in­flu­ence of Sapsea, and care­ful­ly re­con­noi­ters the scene of the mur­der-to-be, Clois­ter­ham Cathe­dral, from its crypt to its tower. Such ges­tures are enig­mat­ic. For the read­er at first read­ing, they are both omi­nous and strange­ly in­ex­pli­ca­ble — it is only the com­ple­tion of the dou­ble-nar­ra­tive which will place the full­ness of their mean­ing in om hands. As Dick­ens wrote in his notes for the chap­ter "A Night with Dur­dles," the aim was to "Lay the ground for the man­ner of the Mur­der, to come out at last" (Work­ing Notes 387). In the first place, it is Jasper who care­ful­ly pre­pares for mur­der, se­cur­ing his ac­cess to the tower and a hid­ing place for the body, and going so far as to part­ly enact the mur­der it­self by half throt­tling the street-imp Deputy. The pre­ced­ing chap­ter is "Smooth­ing the Way," that is, as Dick­ens writes in his notes, "for Jasper's plan" (Work­ing Notes 387). But the phrase "Lay the ground" is now fa­mil­ial": Dick­ens used the same words when speak­ing of the plot­ting for A Tale of Two Cities, in a rather dif­fer­ent con­text. "The busi­ness of art is to lay all that ground care­ful­ly, not with the care that con­ceals it­self... but only to sug­gest until the ful­fill­ment comes. These are the ways of Prov­i­dence, of which all art is but a lit­tle im­i­ta­tion" (Let­ters to Wilkie Collins 95). Yet where Alexan­dre Manette's se­crets are pre­pared for and re­vealed, so too was the pur­pose and mean­ing of Jasper's plot­ting to be even­tu­al­ly un­cov­ered. In a novel in which the char­ac­ter plots, the au­thor cre­ates a nar­ra­tive plot, and this plot­ting is con­ceived of in con­scious im­i­ta­tion of prov­i­dence. In­form­ing the nar­ra­tive is prov­i­dence, God's plot­ting. The novel of mys­tery and de­tec­tion is com­mon­ly thought of as being pre-em­i­nent­ly con­cerned with plot, but the plot that Dick­ens plays with here is not mere­ly the en­closed plot of John Jasper, but the greater di­vine plot that en­com­pass­es him, and this is a prov­i­den­tial plot.

The mys­te­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship be­tween human choice and di­vine or­der­ing is a com­plex one. Sapsea may fear hav­ing ad­vanced his wife's demise through over-stim­u­lat­ing her, but Jasper replies that "he 'sup­pos­es it was to be'" (66). In some cases, chance seems to ad­vance the mur­der­er's course. Jasper has no way of an­tic­i­pat­ing the Land­less's ar­rival, or that Neville will be a per­fect scape­goat. The storm which pro­vides cover for his mur­der is pure­ly for­tu­itous (for him). On the other hand, human in­ten­tion is pro­found­ly cir­cum­scribed by cir­cum­stances. Jasper, for all of his abil­i­ties, has an in­ad­e­quate ca­reer. The fam­i­ly his­to­ries of the Buds and Droods are mar­ried by tragedies, drown­ing, ac­ci­den­tal deaths. Their in­ten­tions, in terms of the pro­posed en­gage­ment be­tween Edwin and Rosa, are not ful­filled. Human be­ings enjoy free­dom of choice, even the free­dom to mur­der, but the out­come is not de­ter­minable. The vic­tim is given an op­por­tu­ni­ty to save him­self, in the form of a warn­ing (179), yet he choos­es to ig­nore or mis­in­ter­pret this, and so goes to his death. To this com­plex mesh of choice, chance and prov­i­dence, there are no ap­par­ent an­swers. Like Grew­gious ob­serv­ing the stars, we can­not in­ter­pret that fu­ture that is de­signed by God's prov­i­dence:

his gaze wan­dered from the win­dows to the stars, as if he would have read in them some­thing that was hid­den from him. Many of us would, if we could; but none of us so much as know our let­ters in the stars yet — or seem like­ly to, in this state of ex­is­tence — and few lan­guages can be mas­tered until the al­pha­bets are mas­tered. (216)

The fixed pat­tern of the stars is the fixed pat­tern of prov­i­dence, but that pat­tern is not leg­i­ble to the human ob­serv­er in this stage of ex­is­tence. Thus, both chance and choice can seem to be part of a wider de­sign. Though it is pos­si­ble nei­ther to pre­dict nor en­force the fu­ture, it is pos­si­ble to dis­cern with­in the novel the work­ing of a di­vine prov­i­dence.

Out of the trag­ic cir­cum­stances of the older gen­er­a­tion comes the planned en­gage­ment be­tween Edwin and Rosa, and the ring which is a token of that pact. Though the in­ten­tion of the en­gage­ment is, per­haps, a fu­tile at­tempt to con­trol the fu­ture, it is con­ceived of not puni­tive­ly (as the Har­mon Will is) but as a hope­ful pro­ject, with no ab­so­lute bind­ing power. Nev­er­the­less, the ring rep­re­sents the char­ac­ters' faith in prov­i­dence. It is a sym­bol of the trust that Grew­gious re­peat­ed­ly em­pha­sis­es, and a sym­bol of fi­deli­ty be­tween the liv­ing and the dead. '"Your plac­ing it on her fin­ger,' said Mr Grew­gious, 'will be the solemn seal upon your strict fi­deli­ty to the liv­ing and the dead'" (145). By putting their faith in the past and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the fu­ture, the char­ac­ters put their faith in a ben­e­fi­cial de­sign. It is the trust im­plic­it in the giv­ing and hold­ing of this ring which brings out the best in both Rosa and Edwin. Oth­er­wise im­ma­ture char­ac­ters, who tend in their re­la­tion­ship to child­ish ar­gu­ments, the de­ci­sion en­gen­dered by the ring, the se­ri­ous choice not to marry, brings out the bet­ter, more ma­ture as­pects of their char­ac­ters: "The re­la­tions be­tween them did not look wil­ful, or capri­cious, or a fail­ure, in such a light; they be­came el­e­vat­ed into some­thing more self-deny­ing, hon­ourable, af­fec­tion­ate, and true" (165). So Edwin, re­tain­ing the ring to re­turn to Grew­gious, para­dox­i­cal­ly holds to the trust be­tween past and fu­ture, and shows his fi­deli­ty to prov­i­dence.

The ring is among his per­son­al ef­fects when he is mur­dered, but it is not one of those items so ex­act­ly cat­a­logued by Jasper. Nor is it found by Crisparkle at the weir. It still ac­com­pa­nies the body and thus, as a unique ob­ject, it will iden­ti­fy the corpse. Hav­ing al­ready emerged un­scathed from the death by drown­ing of one owner, it will sim­i­lar­ly emerge, un­cor­rupt­ed, from the quick­lime which now con­ceals Edwin Drood's re­mains (Though Dick­ens's be­lief that quick­lime will de­stroy a human corpse is, in fact, er­ro­neous). Edwin's keep­ing of the ring is a prov­i­den­tial choice and the cul­mi­na­tion of a com­plex chain of cir­cum­stances. Its power, in this case, is ab­so­lute­ly de­ci­sive.

Edwin's de­ci­sion is the choice of a mo­ment, but also laden with the en­tire­ty of his re­spon­si­bil­i­ty to the past:

Let them be. Among the mighty store of won­der­ful chains that are for­ev­er forg­ing, day and night, in the vast Iron­works of time and cir­cum­stance, there was one chain forged in the mo­ment of that small con­clu­sion, riv­et­ed to the foun­da­tions of heav­en and earth, and gift­ed with in­vin­ci­ble force to hold and drag. (169)

Dick­ens's view of prov­i­dence is pro­found and uni­ver­sal. This "small con­clu­sion" is set among a "mighty store of won­der­ful chains." Triv­ial of it­self, it is a vital point in the plot, a chance de­ci­sion which is not mere­ly chance but driv­en by a mys­te­ri­ous prov­i­dence. Minor, yet of mon­u­men­tal im­por­tance, it ex­press­es the para­dox of God's mys­tery, His in­fi­nite care for the slight­est de­tail. Its po­ten­tial force is a gift which, like grace, can­not be earned but is di­vine­ly given. Its power to "hold and drag" is equal to the strength of di­vine jus­tice, and its ob­ject will be John Jasper.

Al­ready we have seen Jasper's re­peat­ed as­ser­tions of his de­ter­mi­na­tion to track down the killer, as in the oath he shows to Grew­gious. The oath has an overt value as part of his cha­rade as lov­ing and out­raged uncle, but it also has a psy­cho­log­i­cal util­i­ty in the in­sight it af­fords to his guilty and haunt­ed con­scious­ness. There is also a dra­mat­ic irony in this oath, for in the end Jasper will hold the es­sen­tial clue, the ring, in his hands, and at that mo­ment the en­tire truth will emerge. As he him­self fore­shad­ows, he will not cease "until I should hold the clue in which to en­tan­gle the mur­der­er as in a net" (229). This pro­jec­tion is, of course, mere­ly spec­u­la­tive, but the weight given to the ring and Jasper's oath in the text jus­ti­fy the read­er's ex­pec­ta­tions. At one point, with this ob­ject, some­one, prob­a­bly He­le­na Land­less, will elic­it a con­fes­sion from John Jasper. The mur­der­er will prove to have hound­ed down and trapped him­self. Prov­i­dence will con­tain and over­mas­ter all of his ef­fort, co-opt­ing Jasper in his own con­fes­sion. Like Bradley Head­stone, who in his des­per­a­tion to se­cure all forms of pos­si­ble dis­cov­ery un­con­scious­ly leaves one route to his guilt open, Jasper's very in­ten­si­ty in the chase will prove his de­struc­tion. (The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the plot, Prov­i­dence and Bradley Head­stone in Our Mu­tu­al Friend will be dealt with fully in the next chap­ter). This end­ing ex­ists only spec­u­la­tive­ly, in the read­er's imag­i­na­tion, and there is no op­por­tu­ni­ty here to de­lin­eate its de­tails, even if that were pos­si­ble, but our con­scious­ness that some­thing like this must hap­pen, a sense that is ground­ed in our read­er­ly un­der­stand­ing of the im­per­a­tives of nar­ra­tive, is un­de­ni­able. In the end, then, de­spite the suprema­cy of his mur­der plot, it is prov­i­dence which plots against John Jasper and de­feats him. John Jasper, seek­ing free­dom by cor­rupt means, only man­ages to en­snare him­self with­in a web of choic­es and cir­cum­stances which he will not be able to es­cape. Prov­i­dence is not al­ways ex­pli­ca­ble, but there is a moral in­evitabil­i­ty in the forces that will even­tu­al­ly close around the mur­der­er.

This may be the mo­ment fore­shad­owed in the open­ing and marked by Dick­ens in his work­ing notes as the "key note 'When the Wicked Man'---" (383). The keynote, as in a theme in music, sug­gests Jasper's even­tu­al con­fes­sion and re­demp­tion, the con­fes­sion that may be the only way out of the fear­some, self im­posed bi­na­rism, the apart­ness, of lov­ing uncle and killer. Just as the ring sur­vived the cor­rup­tion of the body to re­turn to the hand of the mur­der­er as a token of an in­erad­i­ca­ble truth, so too the in­nate good­ness of Jasper (whose name, after all, de­notes a kind of pre­cious stone) may sur­vive the evil that he com­mits — the ring be­comes a sym­bol of his im­mor­tal soul, and the lov­ing prov­i­dence that re­deems it. Fusco has sug­gest­ed that John Jasper will not re­pent (69-70, 79), yet there is al­ready a trace of re­gret or com­pas­sion in his re­al­i­sa­tion of the true na­ture of mur­der m his last visit to the opium den, that sug­gests a pos­si­ble re­pen­tance, or at least com­pas­sion for his vic­tim: '"Look what a poor, mean, mis­er­able thing it is! That must be real" (271). Whether Jasper refers to the corpse or the act of mur­der it­self, his com­ment im­plies sor­row and recog­ni­tion of its final fu­til­i­ty. Com­par­i­son with ear­li­er Dick­ens nov­els may be il­lu­mi­nat­ing, but just as Jasper is a more sen­si­tive char­ac­ter than Bradley Head­stone, we might rea­son­ably an­tic­i­pate some new de­vel­op­ment in Dick­ens's pat­tern­ing. In the "keynote" Dick­ens sug­gests that Jasper may re­pent, and near' the end of the novel he be­gins to see the truth of his ac­tions. With the ring in hand, this re­al­i­sa­tion may be­come com­plete.

John Thack­er has sug­gest­ed that the ring also rep­re­sents the im­mutable truths of Chris­tian be­liefs, sub­merged in but not de­stroyed by the dis­tort­ing body of dogma: "There may well have been an in­tend­ed and sym­bol­ic par­al­lel be­tween the jewel on Drood's body sur­viv­ing buri­al and the eter­nal truth of (Dick­ens's) Chris­tian­i­ty sur­viv­ing men's ef­forts to bury it under lay­ers of dogma, rit­u­al, sect and so on, the buri­al place of each being the Cathe­dral" (111). The sug­ges­tion is en­light­en­ing, but Thack­er is right to see the re­li­gious theme as only one thread in the en­tire tapestry of the work. The Cathe­dral, though an im­por­tant set­ting for the novel, is not de­vel­oped as a mys­te­ri­ous in­sti­tu­tion as, for in­stance, the Court of Chancery and the Cir­cum­lo­cu­tion Of­fice are. The ring's value as a clue, or sym­bol, of a buried truth is more than its sta­tus as a token of Chris­tian doc­trine, for the very eter­ni­ty of the ring and the truths it rep­re­sents are also, as Grew­gious notes, a bit­ter com­ment on the shal­low tem­po­ral­i­ty of life: "1 might imag­ine that the last­ing beau­ty of these stones was al­most cruel'" (144).

The prov­i­dence in­vest­ed in the ring can bring about jus­tice but not pre­vent mur­der. In its al­most cruel per­sis­tence, the ring rep­re­sents an un­easy point of ne­go­ti­a­tion be­tween the pro­cess­es of life and death. And thus the ring also demon­strates the dis­plac­ing ef­fect of sec­u­lar­i­sa­tion, since the mo­ment of prov­i­den­tial­ly de­ter­mined in­sight will also be the in­stant that the sec­u­lar mur­der plot is solved. The en­gage­ment ring is both a token of love and clue to a mur­der. Its re­dis­cov­ery in the Sapsea crypt may sym­bol­i­cal­ly enact the re­vival of truth in the Cathe­dral from be­neath the weight of dogma and cant, but its sig­nif­i­cance is broad­er based than this.

Through­out Edwin Drood, the pro­cess­es of life and death, eter­ni­ty and tem­po­ral­i­ty, the di­vine and sec­u­lar, sit un­easi­ly to­geth­er. The Cathe­dral, like Clois­ter­ham, rests upon the world of the dead. Thus, city and Cathe­dral be­come sti­fling, and good char­ac­ters must flee the tiny town to es­cape its stric­tures or else, like Jasper, be­come prey to their own evil im­puls­es. Yet Dick­ens also pow­er­ful­ly sug­gests that a re­sump­tion of nat­u­ral pro­cess­es can rec­on­cile these op­po­si­tions, and that life can arise out of death. The just­ly fa­mous pas­sage, writ­ten only a few hour's be­fore the au­thor's death, il­lus­trates this:

A bril­liant morn­ing shines on the old city. Its an­tiq­ui­ties and ruins are sur­pass­ing­ly beau­ti­ful, with the last­ing ivy gleam­ing in the sun, and the rich trees wav­ing in the balmy an*. Changes of glo­ri­ous light from mov­ing boughs, song of birds, scents from gar­dens, woods, and fields — or, rather, from the one great gar­den of the whole cul­ti­vat­ed is­land in its yield­ing time — pen­e­trate into the Cathe­dral, sub­due its earthy odour, and preach the Res­ur­rec­tion and the Life. The cold stone tombs of cen­turies ago grow warm, and flecks of bright­ness dart into the sternest mar­ble com­ers of the build­ing, flut­ter­ing there like wings. (278)

The light still strikes on tombs, and the air mere­ly sub­dues, and does not oblit­er­ate, the earthy odour of death. The gar­dens out­side are still filled with the dust of lost ab­bots and abbess­es. But in the pro­cess­es of na­ture, in move­ment and in change, rest the eter­nal truths of prov­i­dence, im­mutable as a jewel. Mys­tery il­lu­mi­nates where it dark­ens, and some­times forms shad­ows where it is il­lu­mi­nat­ed. The final mys­tery at work through the plot of Edwin Drood is the mys­tery of prov­i­dence.

Con­clud­ing a Mys­tery

A faith in prov­i­dence and di­vine jus­tice re­sem­bles the read­er's faith that, in the un­writ­ten end to Edwin Drood, all will be well and the mur­der­er dis­cov­ered. In the last ges­tures of the novel, as light pen­e­trates the Cathe­dral, dark­er forces, ob­served by Datch­ery, close in around John Jasper:

Mr Datch­ery looks again to con­vince him­self. Yes, again! As ugly and with­ered as one of the fan­tas­tic carv­ings on the under brack­ets of the stall seats, as ma­lig­nant as the Evil One, as hard as the big brass eagle hold­ing the sa­cred books upon his wings... [Princess Puffer] hugs her­self in her lean arms, and shakes both fists at the lead­er of the choir. (279)

The demon that John Jasper has carved out of his own soul takes form in order to threat­en and in­crim­i­nate him. Like Datch­ery, the read­er feels in this ges­ture the be­gin­ning of rev­e­la­tion, the edge of truth. But Edwin Drood stops here; there is noth­ing more. We sense that at this point, if we could only in­ter­pret, put all the clues in their place, we would know how the novel ends. Thus, Edwin Drood is un­fin­ished but com­plete, and thus the Drood­ist im­pulse to root out all die clues and place them in then-con­text is only an ex­ag­ger­at­ed form of the cer­tain­ties and spec­u­la­tions of all pos­si­ble read­ers of Edwin Drood. But Drood­ist crit­i­cism also at­tempts to draw Edwin Drood into the com­plex of de­tec­tive fic­tion with­out con­sid­er­ing Dick­ens's re­sis­tance to over­ly elab­o­rate con­struc­tion, his pref­er­ence for sug­ges­tion over con­ceal­ment, and his in­ter­est in the con­sti­tu­tion of the crim­i­nal in­tel­lect. We can, in the power of the dou­ble-nar­ra­tive, see the novel as in­flu­en­tial in the de­vel­op­ment of de­tec­tive fic­tion. Edwin Drood, fol­low­ing from The Moon­stone, in its de­vel­op­ment of a sin­gu­lar crime or enig­ma, marks the point of ter­mi­na­tion of the sprawl­ing, mul­ti­ple mys­ter­ies of the novel of urban mys­tery. Yet we must set aside the elab­o­ra­tion of me­chan­i­cal mys­ter­ies to peer into the meta­phys­i­cal mys­ter­ies of the crim­i­nal mind. When Edwin Drood is fin­ished, we may at last win through to an un­der­stand­ing of the fas­ci­nat­ing, baf­fling con­scious­ness of John Jasper, a mind which 1 have ar­gued is both dou­bled and uni­fied, torn apart and self-con­scious, a su­perb rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the psy­chol­o­gy of the mur­der­er as some­thing be­yond nor­mal human un­der­stand­ing. John Jasper, out of his dark im­puls­es, plots. Though the weight of in­ter­est is in the com­plex pre­sen­ta­tion of this char­ac­ter, we can­not ig­nore the de­pen­den­cy of this rep­re­sen­ta­tion on con­sid­er­a­tions of plot. As John Jasper plots mur­der, prov­i­dence plots against John Jasper, iron­i­cal­ly lay­ing the ground for his cap­ture and re­pen­tance. That ground is vis­i­ble to us only as a sug­ges­tion, as ter­ri­to­ry sensed rather than seen. It is a mark like that which Datch­ery makes: "he opens his com­er-cup­board door; takes his bit of chalk from its shelf; adds one thick line to the score, ex­tend­ing from the top of the cup­board-door to the bot­tom" (280). If we could only de­ci­pher that enig­mat­ic score, know what it rep­re­sents, then we would know the end­ing of Edwin Drood. Like the ring, it is ev­i­dence of an eter­nal truth, wait­ing to be re­cov­ered, a clue which is not the truth it­self but only its token, de­mand­ing that it be read with fi­deli­ty. With this am­bigu­ous sign. The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood ends.