Camilla Hoel: The Completion of Edwin Drood: Endings and Authority in Finished and Unfinished Narratives

Copyright: University of Edinburgh, 2012

Abstract

Through an analysis of the reception of Charles Dickens’ unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood this thesis establishes the centrality of the figure of the author as the perceived sanction for the completed text. Through an initial analysis of completed narrative, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories, it shows that the ending is of particular importance as the point at which the reader can look back over the whole and confirm or disconfirm the provisional interpretations which have been made during the reading. It only makes sense to talk of unfinished texts or unfinished narratives in the context of a creative authority, generally identified as the author. An analysis of the reception of unfinished serial narratives of the late Victorian period, specifically the unfinished works of William M. Thackeray and Robert Louis Stevenson, confirms the centrality of the figure of the author in attempts to reconstruct the missing ending.

The main body of the thesis provides a period-based analysis of Droodiana, the completions of and speculations about Dickens’ unfinished novel. In the analysis of the strategies employed to justify completions, and the responses to these, it establishes not only that the attempts to take on the authorial authority are perceived as sacrilegious, but that the perception of the completion-writers’ lack of the authority to posit an ending affects whether completions are read as able to complete the story: the willingness to submit to the ending (and revise provisional readings in light of it) is dependent on the perception of the authorial authority of the writer. The analysis shows that while the author-function develops over time, there is some continuity from the late Victorian period towards the present. The analysis of Droodiana speculations trace their origin and development through a series of periods, showing that the variety of plots proposed masks a common concern with arriving at Dickens’ intended plot: a desire to identify the creative intention with the plot that would provide the most satisfying ending produces an increased variety over time.