David Madden: Completion of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"

To mark the bi­cen­te­nary of the birth of Charles Dick­ens in 2012, Un­thank Books are pub­lish­ing Sir David Mad­den's mas­ter­ful new com­ple­tion of THE MYS­TERY OF EDWIN DROOD, Dick­ens' last, and un­fin­ished novel. In a work of in­cred­i­ble lit­er­ary ven­tril­o­quism David Mad­den ren­ders the great­est homage he can to the great au­thor by cre­at­ing an end­ing as faith­ful to Dick­ens' writ­ten in­ten­tions as pos­si­ble. Close­ly fol­low­ing the clues clear­ly laid down by Dick­ens in his sadly in­com­plete ver­sion, David Mad­den seam­less­ly con­tin­ues the story with a stun­ning­ly sim­i­lar reper­toire of com­e­dy, psy­cho­log­i­cal acu­ity, inim­itable de­scrip­tion and turn of phrase. Pub­lished in one vol­ume with Mad­den suc­ceed­ing the 'mas­ter,' this is at last a com­ple­tion of the mys­tery which proves it to be as much a 'why­dun­nit' as a 'who­dun­nit' and af­fords real plea­sure, fi­nal­ly and fully from start to fin­ish. It is lit­er­al­ly as if Dick­ens has risen from his grave to fin­ish the job.



Chapter 24
Rising above the Grit 

Chapter 25
Why so Pale and Wan? 

Chapter 26
Fair Trading 

Chapter 27
More Confidences 

Chapter 28
Datchery Revealed 

Chapter 29
A Mayor and Two Deans 

Chapter 30
The Terms of the Communication 

Chapter 31
The Tower. Revisited 

Chapter 32
Minor Discord in Minor Canon Corner 

Chapter 33
The Riddle of the Keys 

Chapter 34
The Secrets of the Ring 

Chapter 35
The Gospel Makers 

Chapter 36
Other Listeners 

Chapter 37

Chapter 38
I come, Graymalkin 

Chapter 39
The Condemned Cell 

Chapter 40
Blood will have Blood 

Chapter 41
The Aftermath 

Chapter 42
Cloisterham Weir 

Chapter 43

Chapter 44
New Beginnings 

Chapter 45
The Seeds of Time 

Chapter 46
Another Dawn


Charles Dick­ens' final mas­ter­piece was left un­fin­ished, and none of the sec­ond half was writ­ten.

The book was due to ap­pear in twelve month­ly in­stal­ments be­gin­ning in April 1870. Dick­ens wrote six of these, and pre­pared the first three for pub­li­ca­tion in April-June. The re­main­ing three ap­peared after his death, in Ju­ly-Septem­ber. For Dick­ens died sud­den­ly, on 9th June, the day after writ­ing his fa­mous de­scrip­tion of sun­light: "A bril­liant morn­ing shines on the old city... Changes of glo­ri­ous light... pen­e­trate into the Cathe­dral, sub­due its earthy odour, and preach the Res­ur­rec­tion and the Life... flecks of bright­ness dart into the sternest mar­ble cor­ners of the build­ing, flut­ter­ing there like wings." This helps end the first half of the book on a note of ex­ul­ta­tion.

What Dick­ens has left us is a mar­vel­lous ex­am­ple of the work of his late pe­ri­od. After a strik­ing open­ing, he builds his novel and char­ac­ters with his ac­cus­tomed vigour and imag­i­na­tion, demon­strat­ing that he re­mained at the height of his pow­ers when he died. It is a tragedy that he left it un­fin­ished: but also a chal­lenge. What fol­lows is an at­tempt to com­plete what Dick­ens start­ed, to do so in a way which is true to what can be di­vined of his in­ten­tions, to set the new along­side the old, and thus to offer read­ers a ver­sion which is at least com­plet­ed, al­beit by a sur­ro­gate. Dick­ens was born in 1812; and my hope is to en­cour­age peo­ple to re­turn to this mem­o­rable novel in his an­niver­sary year.

The ap­proach which I have fol­lowed flows from this un­der­ly­ing aim. The first and most ob­vi­ous as­pect is the struc­ture. Pub­li­ca­tion by in­stal­ment im­pos­es its own logic: the sep­a­rate parts have to be round­ed off, and the new ones launched, as is done in the first half, most ob­vi­ous­ly be­tween Chap­ters 16 and 17 (the ends of in­stal­ments are clear­ly de­lin­eat­ed in the text). It also re­quires a cer­tain de­gree of rep­e­ti­tion to keep salient traits and other de­tails in the read­er's mind over the course of a year. Sec­ond­ly, Dick­ens sets his tale in both past and pre­sent, de­pend­ing on chap­ter, con­tent and char­ac­ters (scenes in­volv­ing one of the pro­tag­o­nists in­vari­ably use the pre­sent tense, oth­ers at­tract the past): though cer­tain pas­sages of the novel re­veal that Dick­ens is look­ing back at events which are meant to have hap­pened in the fic­tion­al town of Clois­ter­ham (Rochester) some years pre­vi­ous­ly. Third­ly, there are his bor­row­ings and ref­er­ences. To take just one of many in­flu­ences on the first half, there is a quo­ta­tion from Mac­beth in a title and echoes of the play in the text. The sec­ond half needs to re­flect the for­mat and rhythm and fab­ric of the first.

More com­pli­cat­ed is the ques­tion of Dick­ens' in­ten­tions: how did he mean to con­tin­ue and fin­ish his story? The ma­te­ri­als for an­swer­ing this ques­tion lie in the ev­i­dence from him­self and also from those who knew him and his work, from the text he has left, the char­ac­ters he has cre­at­ed, and the in­ter­play be­tween them, from the clues con­tained in the first half, and from the loose ends which are left un­tied at the half-way point (though some may have know­ing­ly been left ob­scure).

An im­por­tant caveat is that Dick­ens played his cards close to his chest, and may not have re­vealed to oth­ers his pre­cise or final ideas, and may in­deed have changed his mind; so the tes­ti­mo­ny of his fam­i­ly and as­so­ci­ates can­not be to­tal­ly re­lied on, es­pe­cial­ly on the de­tails: though they ap­pear to pro­vide note­wor­thy point­ers to what was in Dick­ens' mind as he planned his work.

It would, I sup­pose, be pos­si­ble to com­plete Edwin Drood in the mod­ern ver­nac­u­lar, or set in the pre­sent day, or dur­ing the Sec­ond World War - an ap­proach much beloved by those stag­ing Shake­speare and opera. This is not the path I have fol­lowed.

Dick­ens' num­ber plans for the book are ex­tant, and give a fas­ci­nat­ing glimpse into the work­ings of the nov­el­ist's mind (was the Blus­trous Phi­lan­thropist to be Mr Hon­eythun­der or Mr Hon­ey­blast? we fol­low the pro­gres­sion of the epony­mous cen­tral char­ac­ter from James Wake­field to Edwvn Brood to Eduin Brude to Edwvn Drood to Eduin Drude and then fi­nal­ly and con­clu­sive­ly to Eduin Drood: there are al­ready ref­er­ences to scenes and phras­es which play a vital part in the work, es­pe­cial­ly those in­volv­ing Drood's uncle Jasper); but the notes be­come pro­gres­sive­ly thin­ner in con­tent, there are none for the sixth in­stal­ment, and total si­lence on the sec­ond part. The word mur­der is used twice, how­ev­er, once ap­par­ent­ly with ref­er­ence to uncle and nephew; and there are other dark hints about the uncle ("quar­rel, (fo­ment­ed by Jasper)", "Jasper lays his ground", "Jasper's art­ful turn" etc).

Con­tem­po­rary tes­ti­mo­ny is thin but con­sis­tent. There is a record­ed ex­change be­tween Dick­ens and his son Charles Dick­ens, Ju­nior. To the son's com­ment, "Of course, Edwin Drood was mur­dered?" Dick­ens' reply was "Of course; what else do you sup­pose?" John Forster, Dick­ens' lit­er­ary ex­ecu­tor and first bi­og­ra­pher, -wrote of the novel, that "The story... was to be that of a mur­der of a nephew by his uncle." Ac­cord­ing to Charles All­ston Collins, Dick­ens' son-in-law and first de­sign­er of the front cover, "Edwin Drood was never to reap­pear, he hav­ing been mur­dered by Jasper".

The weight of this ac­cu­mu­lat­ed ev­i­dence seems to leave lit­tle doubt that Drood was mur­dered by his uncle Jasper; and since this is so un­am­bigu­ous­ly hint­ed at in what Dick­ens ac­tu­al­ly wTote in his slx in­stal­ments, a fur­ther con­clu­sion is that "The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood" is not an early who­dunit, com­pet­ing with the wTit­ing of Dick­ens' col­league Wilkie Collins, but a novel about the dis­ap­pear­ance and death of Drood, pre­sum­ably to in­clude how Jasper man­aged to earn' it out, how he was dis­cov­ered and pun­ished, and how these cir­cum­stances af­fect­ed both him and the other drama­tis per­son­ae. As Dick­ens' daugh­ter Katey re­minds us, her fa­ther "was quite as deeply fas­ci­nat­ed and ab­sorbed in the study of the crim­i­nal Jasper, as in the dark and sin­is­ter crime that has given the book its title".

Forster pro­vides other in­di­ca­tors of el­e­ments to fea­ture in the sec­ond half of the novel. He de­scribes Dick­ens' in­ten­tion to in­clude "the re­view of the mur­der­er's ca­reer by him­self at the close", and to set the final chap­ters in the con­demned cell. The il­lus­tra­tor for the book, Luke Fildes, con­firms a plan to visit Maid­stone Gaol for an il­lus­tra­tion: never un­der­tak­en, be­cause Dick­ens was dead and Drood left un­fin­ished.

Fildes also of­fers an­oth­er de­tail. He records Dick­ens as telling him for a pic­ture of Jasper: "I must have the dou­ble neck­tie! It is nec­es­sary, for Jasper stran­gles Edwin Drood with it." And in­deed it ap­pears in Dick­ens' text. In chap­ter 14, Jasper is wear­ing, on the evening of Drood's dis­ap­pear­ance, "a large black scarf of strong close-wo­ven silk." This would seem to es­tab­lish Jasper's in­ten­tion to stran­gle Drood: but later Jasper, drugged by opium, mut­ters "No strug­gle, no con­scious­ness of peril, no en­treat}7". Might Dick­ens have had a fur­ther trick up his sleeve? My ear­li­er cau­tion about the ev­i­dence of the col­lab­o­ra­tors is par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant on this kind of point.

Next are the clues left by Dick­ens in his text. There is one big one. When Edwin de­cides not to show the en­gage­ment ring to Rosa after they have ended their be­trothal by mu­tu­al con­sent, but to keep it se­cure in his in­side pock­et, Dick­ens wx­ites: "...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." I think that we can safe­ly as­sume that this is an im­por­tant mo­ment, and that the ring is des­tined to play a fur­ther part in the story; and in­deed that the cir­cum­stances of its reap­pear­ance will be di­rect­ly re­lat­ed to the dis­ap­pear­ance of Drood. And, again, tes­ti­mo­ny from Forster seems to con­firm this: "dis­cov­er 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," the per­sons of mur­der­er and mur­dered were to be iden­ti­fied.

An­oth­er un­ex­plained de­tail seems sig­nif­i­cant. The stone­ma­son Dur­dles walk­ing among the grave­stones, "sur­round­ed by his works, like a pop­u­lar Au­thor", points out to Jasper the sar­coph­a­gus of "your own broth­er-in-law". There is no ref­er­ence to Jasper's sis­ter, though we know that she also is dead; just to the broth­er-in-law.

There are other words or phras­es which may give an inkling of what Dick­ens had in store. The re­peat­ed ref­er­ences in the open­ing lines to the tower and the spike ap­pear telling. The var­i­ous keys in the pos­ses­sion of Dur­dles re­ceive spe­cial at­ten­tion, es­pe­cial­ly when Jasper is pre­sent. The tower in par­tic­u­lar re­mains a reg­u­lar theme, for ex­am­ple in the case of Jasper's night ex­cur­sion with Dur­dles (in Dick­ens' words, "an un­ac­count­able sort of ex­pe­di­tion"). Then, on the night of the great storm and of Drood's dis­ap­pear­ance ("No such power of wind has blown for many a win­ter-night. Chim­neys top­ple in the streets... the vi­o­lent rush­es abate not..."), the tower is still at the cen­tre of events: "some stones have been dis­placed upon the sum­mit of the great tower." The scene seems to be set for some cat­a­clysmic event or events in­volv­ing the tower.

In­ti­ma­tions of mes­merism are scat­tered about the text: Jasper's "look of in­tent­ness and in­ten­si­ty" in look­ing at Drood, his "strange power of sud­den­ly in­clud­ing the sketch [of Rosa] over the chim­ney­p­iece" in their di­a­logue. Rosa's "old hor­ri­ble feel­ing of being com­pelled by him". It is hard to avoid the con­clu­sion that these pow­ers may have played a role in the killing of Drood by Jasper: or at least that Dick­ens was giv­ing him­self the op­por­tu­ni­ty to use this theme when the mo­ment came to de­scribe the mur­der.

Some "clues" are more ques­tion­able. Forster wrote of Neville Land­less "who was him­self. I think, to have per­ished in as­sist­ing... fi­nal­ly to un­mask and seize the mur­der­er". Some have seen a hint of an un­time­ly end in Dick­ens' text: Crisparkle says to Neville "I wish your eyes were not quite so large and not quite so bright". But large and bright eyes are hard­ly a sig­nal that some­one is to per­ish in un­mask­ing and seiz­ing a mur­der­er; while they are quite con­sis­tent with a lengthy pe­ri­od of en­forced iso­la­tion and study away from the world, and ac­com­pa­ny­ing men­tal tur­moil as a re­sult of being un­just­ly sus­pect­ed of Drood's mur­der. Dick­ens de­scribes Neville as hav­ing a pris­onous look.

I see from the notes to my Pen­guin ver­sion of Drood that a ref­er­ence to Neville's sis­ter He­le­na run­ning away from home in Cey­lon when young "dressed as a boy" has on oc­ca­sion been used to sug­gest that the pro­to-de­tec­tive Datch­ery is re­al­ly He­le­na in dis­guise; but the tim­ing does not fit, for after Datch­ery takes up res­i­dence in Clois­ter­ham, He­le­na de­parts from the city to at­tend her broth­er's for­tunes in Hol­born, where Rosa duly finds her when she flees to Lon­don short­ly af­ter­wards. It is ob­vi­ous that Datch­ery wears a white wig, pre­sum­ably to make him­self look older; but there is not much else in the way of hid­ing iden­ti­ty, and he in­vari­ably wears a "tight­ish blue surtout". An­oth­er note in my same guide com­ments that this was a frock­coat worn tight­ly but­toned to show off the fig­ure: hard­ly ideal con­ceal­ment for He­le­na, whose ap­pear­ance would seem pret­ty- un­mis­take­able both in Dick­ens' text and in Fildes' il­lus­tra­tions.

Then there is the dog. About a year be­fore the 'un­ac­count­able sort of ex­pe­di­tion" up the Tower, the pre­vi­ous Christ­mas Eve, Dur­dles had been woken from drunk­en sleep by "the ghost of one ter­rif­ic shriek, which shriek was fol­lowed by the ghost of the howl of a dog: a long dis­mal woe­ful howl, such as a dog gives when a per­son's dead." Being told this, Jasper is abrupt, fierce, scorn­ful and im­pa­tient. Clear­ly this episode sug­gests some kind of pre­mo­ni­tion, since Drood dis­ap­peared the fol­low­ing Christ­mas Eve. But is it a clue, or a loose end, or a de­vice to help build the at­mo­sphere, or sim­ply an il­lus­tra­tive de­tail de­signed to tell us more about Jasper?

There is also the "Sapsea Frag­ment". The re­la­tion­ship of these few manuscript pages (about an in­ci­dent re­lat­ed by Sapsea in the first per­son) to the book re­mains un­cer­tain; but since there are par­al­lels be­tween Sapsea's ac­count of his con­ver­sa­tion with a char­ac­ter named Poker, and the first meet­ing in the fifth in­stal­ment be­tween Sapsea and Datch­ery (of whom Poker may have been an early ver­sion), it seems rea­son­ably clear- that it was not in­tend­ed in this form for the sec­ond part, and it does not there­fore fea­ture in my ver­sion.

Fi­nal­ly, the char­ac­ters. Dick­ens has as­sem­bled and pre­sent­ed his usual rich gallery: they are also clues, in­deed they are the chief ones, for it is their per­son­al­i­ties, and the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween them, which will con­tin­ue to carry the story for­ward, and tell us how it is like­ly to end, if we read them aright.

The char­ac­ters have to act and speak and think (and de­vel­op) in the sec­ond part; and they have to do so in a way which is con­sis­tent with the style of the first part. This is the final el­e­ment of the chal­lenge of com­plet­ing Drood: to re­flect some­thing of the voice of Dick­ens with­out sound­ing like a par­o­dy or a pas­tiche or even a re­ject­ed script for a Monty Python sketch. One pos­si­ble ad­van­tage I had was my ex­pe­ri­ence as a diplo­mat. Diplo­mats are pro­tean fig­ures who have to learn to ven­tril­o­quise, to as­sume the aura and au­thor­i­ty of their gov­ern­ments, but also to un­der­stand other coun­tries, to sound dif­fer­ent notes as nec­es­sary in ar­gu­ing a case, to play a va­ri­ety of roles and see sit­u­a­tions from a va­ri­ety of view­points, to lis­ten to oth­ers, to de­vel­op ac­cess and fa­mil­iar­i­ty while re­main­ing ob­jec­tive ob­servers, and above all to nar­rate a com­pli­cat­ed story in­volv­ing many char­ac­ters. So I at­tempt­ed to make use of this ex­pe­ri­ence in this work of re­con­struc­tion (a term I use, be­cause it is a rea­son­able as­sump­tion that on 8/9 June 1870 Dick­ens had a fair­ly clear view of how he would end the book, even if he did not com­mit it to paper).

Out of this jig­saw, I have tried to cre­ate and pre­sent a cred­i­ble con­clu­sion to the novel. I am by no means an ex­pert on Dick­ens or the bib­li­og­ra­phy on Drood; but I hope that it will in­ter­est those who are, and give plea­sure to oth­ers. I in­tend it as a trib­ute to Charles Dick­ens, and to his un­matched and undimmed abil­i­ty to in­volve, ex­cite and en­ter­tain.

David Mad­den