Ellen Cavanaugh: Magnetism, Mesmerism, and Murder: The Occult in Edwin Drood

First published: Academia.edu


HE laws of alche­my dic­tate that the philoso­phers' stone con­tains the power to turn in­valu­able met­als into gold and to grant its bear­er im­mor­tal­i­ty. Its pos­ses­sor is guar­an­teed end­less and age­less life un­less they fall vic­tim to two of the paradigm's four pri­ma­ry el­e­ments; fire or water, by ei­ther burn­ing or drown­ing. In the case of Charles Dick­ens's novel, The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood, char­ac­ters use the oc­cult pow­ers of alche­my and an­i­mal mag­netism in at­tempt to ob­tain the philoso­phers' stone, also known as the elixir vitae. This stone is re­put­ed­ly the only ob­ject that con­tains the power to per­ma­nent­ly align one's being with heav­en, grant­ing eter­nal and eu­phoric life. When all oc­cult meth­ods fail to pro­duce the elixir of im­mor­tal­i­ty, the in­di­vid­u­al is left weak­ened by de­feat, and must con­sume a se­cret­ly con­jured elixir to re­store en­er­gy as well as the de­ple­tion of vital forces. These more eas­i­ly ob­tain­able but less po­tent elixirs can be made from hashish, opium, and other nar­cotics and en­able the tem­po­rary trans­mu­ta­tion of the soul. The con­sumer ex­pe­ri­ences fleet­ing ela­tion due to the op­por­tu­ni­ty that the elixir pro­vides for their souls to tran­scend the ma­te­ri­al­ism of Earth, by shed­ding their bod­ies and en­ter­ing a heav­en-like sphere.

Spear­head­ed by the Slav­ery Abo­li­tion Act of 1833, nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Great Britain was char­ac­ter­ized by so­ci­etal dis­or­der. The Act ef­fec­tu­al­ly dis­band­ed the in­sti­tu­tion of slav­ery through­out most of Great Britain with the ex­cep­tion of the Ter­ri­to­ries pos­sessed by The East India Com­pa­ny, which in­clud­ed the is­lands of Cey­lon and Saint He­le­na, Dick­ens's in­spi­ra­tion for form­ing the iden­ti­ties of twin char­ac­ters He­le­na and Neville Land­less. The pub­lic turned to the emerg­ing prophets and re-surg­ing oc­cultism for guid­ance and au­thor­i­ty. Oc­cult ide­als and broth­er­hoods ex­pe­ri­enced a rapid growth in pop­u­lar­i­ty as charis­mat­ic char­la­tans such as Franz Anton Mes­mer and Paschal Bev­er­ly Ran­dolph ex­ploit­ed the nov­el­ty of its doc­trines, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the naive pub­lic's lim­it­ed un­der­stand­ing of sci­ence and medicine, mask­ing their own ego­tis­ti­cal de­sires with il­le­git­i­mate benev­o­lence.

Many, in­clud­ing au­thor Nathaniel Hawthorne, feared the power that oc­cult prac­tices al­lowed men to exert over women. Se­cret and ex­clu­sive Broth­er­hoods such as the Rosi­cru­cian fra­ter­ni­ty sought to achieve eman­ci­pa­tion of the soul from the body large­ly by way of the agen­cy of trances through pas­sive fe­male medi­ums, or in re­al­i­ty, the men­tal and emo­tion­al en­slave­ment of women. In an 1841 let­ter, Hawthorne warns his wife, Sophia Peabody,

Take no part, I be­seech you, in these mag­net­ic mir­a­cles. I am un­will­ing that a power should be ex­er­cised on you of which we know nei­ther the ori­gin nor consequence...Supposing that the power aris­es from the trans­fu­sion of one spir­it into an­oth­er, it seems to me that the sa­cred­ness of an in­di­vid­u­al is vi­o­lat­ed by it; there would be an in­trud­er into the holy of holies...I have no faith what­ev­er that peo­ple are raised to the sev­enth heav­en, or to any heav­en at all, or that they gain any in­sight into the mys­ter­ies of life be­yond death, by means of this strange sci­ence. (Hawthorne, xxi)

Hawthorne's let­ter re­veals his fear of the phal­lic pen­e­tra­tion by oc­cult prac­tices such as an­i­mal mag­netism and mes­merism. Charles Dick­ens fur­ther in­ves­ti­gates the dan­gers of oc­cultism in Edwin Drood through the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of John Jasper. Jasper uses his oc­cult pow­ers to in­flu­ence Rosa Bud against her will, as if by mag­net­ic force. He is mo­ti­vat­ed by the de­sire to al­le­vi­ate the pain caused by the mun­dane medi­ocrity of his life, a pain he must con­tin­u­al­ly sup­press by smok­ing opium, one that he wish­es to per­ma­nent­ly ex­tin­guish by ob­tain­ing the philoso­phers' stone. The pain in­flict­ed by Jasper's mea­ger moral ex­is­tence be­comes so un­bear­able that he self­ish­ly ex­er­cis­es the in­vent­ed pow­ers of Rosi­cru­cian mas­ter, Paschal Bev­er­ly Ran­dalph, which in­clude “sex­u­al magic” (De­ve­ny), alche­my, and an­i­mal mag­netism to ma­nip­u­late oth­ers in order to achieve self ful­fill­ment and earth­ly tran­scen­dence.

In his novel, Sven­gali's Web, Daniel Pick ar­gues that George Du Mau­ri­er's char­ac­ter, Sven­gali, de­picts the orig­i­nal, archetyp­i­cal, char­la­tan en­chanter. Du Mau­ri­er's novel, Tril­by, was not in fact the first pub­li­ca­tion to in­tro­duce the po­ten­tial evils and dan­gers as­so­ci­at­ed with the pow­ers of an­i­mal mag­netism and mes­merism, how­ev­er, it was the most suc­cess­ful in terms of pub­lic re­cep­tion. Pick at­tributes the novel's suc­cess to the pub­lic's wa­ver­ing view of mag­netism.

He claims, “Hyp­no­tism it­self was on the cusp be­tween tawdy the­atre, mys­ti­cism and the med­i­cal cur­ricu­lum; be­tween erot­ic en­chant­ment, spir­i­tu­al mys­tery and salu­bri­ous sci­en­tif­ic pur­suit” (Pick, 19). Du Mau­ri­er ex­ploits the pub­lic's vary­ing grasp on the pseu­do-sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly based med­i­cal pro­ce­dure just as Edgar Allan Poe did forty years prior with his pub­li­ca­tion of The Facts in the Case of M. Valde­mar. Both of these fic­tion­al tales war­rant­ed ex­treme pub­lic re­ac­tions, as read­ers ex­pe­ri­enced dif­fi­cul­ty dis­tin­guish­ing fact from fic­tion. This am­bi­gu­i­ty led to fear of a sim­i­lar in­stance ma­te­ri­al­iz­ing with­in so­ci­ety. Pick de­scribes this sen­sa­tion as “the meet­ing point of fear and fas­ci­na­tion” (4). The pub­lic be­came fas­ci­nat­ed with the “erot­ic dan­gers” as­so­ci­at­ed with the pseu­do-sci­ence, with “in­ter-per­son­al force” and “the role of oth­ers in shap­ing the self” (5). Sven­gali char­ac­ters ap­pear in lit­er­a­ture im­me­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing the wax­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of an­i­mal mag­netism.

Ear­li­er texts such as Edwin Drood rely on oc­cultism as the sub­text re­spon­si­ble for in­form­ing char­ac­ter mo­ti­va­tion, in­ter­ac­tion, and ex­ploit. Ran­dall Clack sug­gests, “many al­chemists adopt­ed the lit­er­ary con­ven­tion of al­le­go­ry to en­code their al­chem­i­cal op­er­a­tions and hide what they be­lieved to be the se­crets of trans­mu­ta­tion from the pro­fane” (Clack, 2).

Sim­i­lar­ly, Dick­ens, like his char­ac­ter Princess Puffer, pre­sents an elixir-like story, that en­ables the read­er to ex­pe­ri­ence an earth­ly tran­scen­dence, with­out re­veal­ing the se­cret com­po­si­tion of his con­coc­tion. His sub­tle, often in­dis­cern­able im­ple­men­ta­tion of mag­netism, alche­my, and sex­u­al magic, al­lows him to suc­ceed in de­sign­ing an eeri­ly sus­pense­ful tale that be­comes the au­then­tic tem­plate for Du Mau­ri­er's Tril­by. View­ing the mys­te­ri­ous­ly un­fin­ished, often tacit rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the oc­cult in Edwin Drood through the lens of much more ex­plic­it and ex­ploita­tive oc­cult nar­ra­tives such as Tril­by, and also Paschal Bev­er­ly Ran­dolph: A Nine­teenth-Cen­tu­ry Black Amer­i­can Spir­i­tu­al­ist, Rosi­cru­cian, and Sex Ma­gi­cian, will en­hance ap­pre­hen­sion and recog­ni­tion of Dick­ens's in­ten­tions while also pro­vid­ing the miss­ing pieces of the novel, al­low­ing the read­er to ar­rive at a ten­ta­tive con­clu­sion in cor­re­spon­dence with Dick­ens's orig­i­nal in­ten­tions.

Dick­ens re­lies on the Rosi­cru­cian order of alche­my to pro­vide the novel's sub­text. De­vel­oped early in the 17th cen­tu­ry, Rosi­cru­cian­ism is the se­cret creed of an ex­clu­sive fra­ter­ni­ty of oc­cultists “built on es­o­ter­ic truths of the an­cient past...concealed from the av­er­age man...[pro­vid­ing] in­sight into na­ture, the phys­i­cal uni­verse and the spir­i­tu­al realm”. Rosi­cru­cians pro­fessed “an in­ter­est and mas­tery of Spir­i­tu­al or Men­tal Alche­my, not to be con­fused with Phys­i­cal Alche­my”. Their in­ter­est laid in trans­mut­ing the soul rather than base met­als in order to ame­lio­rate the qual­i­ty of life upon earth. Al­though Dick­ens does not di­rect­ly en­dorse Rosi­cru­cian­ism, and never ex­plic­it­ly aligns him­self with the frat­ner­i­ty, he in­ex­tri­ca­bly links Edwin Drood to the order by in­sert­ing oth­er­wise ob­scure al­lu­sions through­out the text. Dick­ens names “the pet pupil of the Nuns' House” (24) Rosa Bud.

Her name al­ludes to Rosi­cru­cian doc­trine. The term Rosi­cru­cian was de­rived from the Latin “rosae” and “crux”, trans­lat­ed to “rose cross”. The sym­bol of the Rosi­cru­cian fra­ter­ni­ty de­picts a rose­bud, con­se­quent­ly Rosa's pet-name, mount­ed on a gold­en cross. Gary L. Stew­art points out that “'ros' is Latin for 'dew' and in al­chem­i­cal terms, 'dew' is the pu­ri­ty of essence re­fined through tran­scen­dent pro­cess­es of work­ing the power of vit­ri­ol in its high­est state. Ros is the per­fect re­sult of gross­er ex­is­tence”, or the equiv­a­lent to the elixir of life. After Rosa and Edwin mu­tu­al­ly agree to end their en­gage­ment, the nar­ra­tor no­tices “Rosa, laugh­ing, with the dew-drops glis­ten­ing in her bright eyes” (185). Dick­ens ma­nip­u­lates Rosi­cru­cian dis­course em­pha­siz­ing both the eyes; es­sen­tial to trance and mes­merism, and also dew, the con­cept es­sen­tial to spir­i­tu­al alche­my. If Rosa had mar­ried Edwin, her name would be­come Rosa Drood. By omit­ting the “d” in Drood, her name would then be Rosa Rood, a slight vari­a­tion of “rose cross”. The en­gage­ment fails and there­fore the trans­mu­ta­tion of Rosa's name never hap­pens. This fail­ure sym­bol­izes the in­evitable fail­ure to ob­tain the philoso­phers' stone and to achieve eter­nal tran­scen­dence and re­fine­ment pre­scribed by Rosi­cru­cian doc­trine. When dis­charg­ing Rosa's moth­er's wed­ding ring to Drood, Grew­gious tells him, “Your plac­ing it on her fin­ger will be the solemn seal upon your strict fi­deli­ty to the liv­ing and the dead” (154). Drood's ten­ta­tive be­stow­al of the ring upon Rosa's fin­ger would con­firm the an­drog­y­nous uni­fi­ca­tion of their souls, “in which the polar and eter­nal­ly co-ex­is­tant halves of the soul must seek each other out in this world or in the next to achieve whole­ness and com­ple­tion” (De­veney, 12). Their mar­riage would re­sem­ble a mi­cro­cosm of the union of the sun and the moon, of earth and heav­en, and of the dead and the liv­ing; how­ev­er, the two con­tin­ue to repel rather than at­tract one an­oth­er and there­fore can­not com­mit to mar­riage. Rosa and Drood are de­terred by the pres­sures of the liv­ing and the dead. They are sat­is­fied with the ma­te­ri­al­ism of their world­ly ex­is­tences and there­fore have no de­sire to tran­scend.

Jasper, how­ev­er, ex­press­es ex­treme dis­sat­is­fac­tion with his oc­cu­pa­tion. He re­veals to Drood in a self-sac­ri­fi­cial warn­ing that, “The cramped monotony of my ex­is­tence grinds me away by the grain” (16). He pro­ceeds to ex­plain, “even a poor monotonous cho­ris­ter and grinder of music— in his niche — may be trou­bled with some stray sort of am­bi­tion, as­pi­ra­tion, rest­less­ness, dis­sat­is­fac­tion, what shall we call it” (17). He ad­mits to Drood after suc­cumb­ing to an in­ward trance that he has “been tak­ing opium for a pain — an agony — that some­time over­comes” (15) him. Opium pro­vides for Jasper “com­fort for the long­ings left un­sat­is­fied by oc­cultism” (De­veney, xxvi). Al­though Drood promis­es that his uncle's “con­fi­dence shall be sa­cred­ly pre­served” (17), Jasper must with­hold the more se­cre­tive de­tails re­gard­ing his mem­ber­ship to the oc­cult fra­ter­ni­ty; his de­sire to un­cov­er the “true se­cret of the philoso­phers' stone, and the mys­tic Elixir Vitae,...the all-om­nipo­tent and re­sist­less power of the Will...[which] may be cul­ti­vat­ed by ex­er­cise” (De­veney 43). This will allow Jasper to achieve “com­plete lib­er­a­tion of the soul from the chains of ma­te­ri­al­ism” (De­veney, 43).

Jasper, the mas­ter Rosi­cru­cian­ist, ob­ses­sive­ly wor­ships Rosa, the novel's per­son­i­fied sym­bol of Rosi­cru­cian re­fine­ment. Dick­ens wrote Edwin Drood twen­ty years be­fore the pub­li­ca­tion of Du Mau­ri­er's Tril­by, pos­si­bly con­ceiv­ing Jasper as a car­i­ca­ture of the fa­ther of mes­merism, Franz Anton Mes­mer. As Daniel Pick pro­pos­es, Du Mau­ri­er's orig­i­nal de­pic­tion of Sven­gali was por­trayed as the con­niv­ing an­tag­o­nist. This char­ac­ter was a mes­meris­er, mu­si­cian, and a Jew with “bold bril­liant black eyes... [and] long heavy lids” (Pick, 1). Anal­o­gous­ly, Dick­ens de­scribes Jasper as

a dark man of some six-and-twen­ty, with thick, lus­trous, well-ar­ranged black hair and whiskers. He looks older than he is, as dark men often do. His voice is deep and good, his man­ner is a lit­tle som­bre, and may have had its in­flu­ence in form­ing his man­ner. It is most­ly in shad­ow. Even when the sun shines bril­liant­ly, it sel­dom touch­es the grand piano in the re­cess...(Dick­ens, 9).

While Jasper is not of Jew­ish af­fil­i­a­tion, his name is of Semitic ori­gin. De­rived from the He­brew, “yashep­heh”, Jasper sig­ni­fies “a kind of pre­cious stone...an opaque cryp­tocrys­talline va­ri­ety of quartz, of var­i­ous colours, usu­al­ly red, yel­low, or brown, due most­ly to the ad­mix­ture of iron oxide” (oed.com). Jasper's name rep­re­sents the syn­the­sis of mag­netism and alche­my; the two pow­ers that he most de­sires to mas­ter in order to achieve ul­ti­mate po­ten­cy. The word “Jasper” sig­ni­fies a pre­cious stone, sim­i­lar to the philoso­phers' stone, cen­tral to his al­chem­i­cal quests. As the pres­ence of iron en­ables the trans­mu­ta­tion of color, sub­scribers of an­i­mal mag­netism be­lieved that iron wands could mag­net­i­cal­ly at­tract iron in the blood­stream and re­store bod­i­ly har­mo­ny and equi­lib­ri­um. Mes­mer pos­tu­lat­ed that “sick­ness oc­curred where there was an ob­sta­cle to the flow of fluid through a sys­tem” (Pick, 46). In order to cure ail­ments such as “delir­i­um, mania, black­outs and nau­sea” (46) among oth­ers, “Mes­mer ini­tial­ly used metals...to bring the pa­tient's mag­net­ic flu­ids back into har­mo­ny” (46). This prac­tice was soon re­placed by “phys­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion [to] re­store equi­lib­ri­um in the suf­fer­er” (46). Jasper's name im­plic­it­ly con­notes his po­ten­cy, and links him with his pro­to­type, Mes­mer, who claimed pro­fi­cien­cy in mag­netism and alche­my (Pick, 45).

Like Jasper, Mes­mer was deemed a “tal­ent­ed mu­si­cian” (45), and was at­tract­ed to young fe­male mu­si­cians. Pick dis­cuss­es the theme of music and mes­merism in re­la­tion to the Tirl­by tale. He out­lines one of the “more no­to­ri­ous episodes” (46) in Mes­mer's ca­reer; the case of Maria-There­sa Par­adis, a “young pi­anist, sight­less from early child­hood” (46). Pick de­scribes Mes­mer as “a swoop­ing emo­tion­al kid­nap­per” and Par­adis as “the vul­ner­a­ble mu­si­cal proxy” (47). These pro­to­types recur in both Edwin Drood and Tril­by sug­gest­ing that the fac­tu­al bi­og­ra­phy of Mes­mer should be at­tribut­ed as in­spi­ra­tion for the tales. Su­per­fi­cial­ly, Mes­mer ap­pears to be pro­fes­sion­al­ly mo­ti­vat­ed as “he promised to cure her blind­ness as well as the melan­choly which re­duced her at times to a state of delir­i­um” (47). How­ev­er, crit­ics such as Pick argue that his in­ten­tions were “mon­strous” (46) and that the his­to­ry serves as “an ad­vance copy of the nar­ra­tives of sug­gestibil­i­ty, sex­u­al­i­ty, mu­si­cal re­cov­ery and phys­i­cal se­ques­tra­tion dis­sem­i­nat­ed in later years” (47).

Il­lus­trat­ing Hawthorne's deep­est con­cern, Jasper, like Mes­mer and Sven­gali, pen­e­trates his vic­tim's life and mind, vi­o­lat­ing her pri­vate in­ter­ac­tions, thoughts, and emo­tions; forc­ing her against her will to per­form with him. His voyeuris­tic ten­den­cies metaphor­i­cal­ly rep­re­sent sex­u­al abuse, a ra­tio­nal ex­pla­na­tion for Rosa's faint­ing spell, con­stant anx­i­ety, and ex­treme fear of his pres­ence. Mem­bers of the Rosi­cru­cian fra­ter­ni­ty com­mon­ly as­sumed cryp­tic pseudonyms to con­ceal their true iden­ti­ties. For in­stance, one mem­ber who felt com­pelled by “the over­whelm­ing de­sire to re­al­ize the mar­velous” (De­veney, xvii) as­sumed the name “sedir”, an ana­gram of desir that con­not­ed an ori­en­tal sen­ti­ment. Per­haps Dick­ens fol­lowed this trend in cre­at­ing a name for his voyeuris­tic oc­cult mas­ter. Per­haps the name Jasper is an ana­gram of rape, sig­ni­fy­ing his men­tal and emo­tion­al pen­e­tra­tion of Rosa. The Rosi­cru­cians be­lieved that “woman and sex­u­al­i­ty are al­ter­na­tive­ly the cause of the im­pris­on­ment of the di­vine in mat­ter and the path to re­demp­tion from mat­ter” (De­veney, 227). Mu­tu­al or­gasm, be­tween man and woman, they be­lieved would pro­vide “the en­er­gy that con­nect­ed the human soul with the power of the ce­les­tial spheres” (29).

Jasper, how­ev­er, un­able to ob­tain Rosa's con­sent, must force­ful­ly pen­e­trate her mind, using his pow­ers to in­flict a mu­tu­al en­chant­ment, or earth­ly tran­scen­dence par­al­lel to that of an or­gasm. The om­ni­scient nar­ra­tor ob­serves a scene in which Jasper flaunts Rosa's mu­si­cal tal­ent. He de­scribes the scene, 

Mr. Jasper was seat­ed at the piano as they came into his draw­ing-room, and was ac­com­pa­ny­ing Miss Rose­bud while she sang. It was a con­se­quence of his play­ing the ac­com­pa­ni­ment with­out notes, and of her being a heed­less lit­tle crea­ture, very apt to go wrong, that he fol­lowed her lips most at­ten­tive­ly, with his eyes as well as his hand; care­ful­ly and soft­ly hint­ing the key-note from time to time (Dick­ens, 75).

This ob­ser­va­tion em­pha­sizes both the at­ten­tive na­ture of a strict and de­tail-ob­sessed in­struc­tor, and also his un­quench­able de­sire to ex­ploit her for his own tem­po­rary sex­u­al sat­is­fac­tion. Not only does he fol­low her mov­ing lips with his eyes, but also with his hands. Al­though it is ap­par­ent that on one level, Dick­ens im­plies that Jasper's hands se­lect ap­pro­pri­ate tones, to mimic her voice, as they touch the keys of the piano; it also con­notes the un­re­quit­ed sex­u­al feel­ings that he pos­sess­es for Rosa. Rosa's re­ac­tion to Jasper's in­ten­si­ty re­flects the lat­ter im­pli­ca­tion. The nar­ra­tor ob­serves,

The song went on. It was a sor­row­ful strain of part­ing, and the fresh young voice was very plain­tive and ten­der. As Jasper watched the pret­ty lips, and ever and again hint­ed the one note, as though it were a low whis­per from him­self, the voice be­came less steady, until all at once the singer broke into a burst of tears, and shrieked out, with her hands over her eyes: 'I can't bear this! I am fright­ened! Take me away!'” (Dick­ens, 75).

Mo­ments later, Rosa faints from the un­bear­able com­bi­na­tion of fear and ex­cite­ment. Drood tries to jus­ti­fy her con­di­tion, blam­ing Jasper for his con­sci­en­tious and de­mand­ing prac­tices as He­le­na Land­less mon­i­tors Rosa's con­di­tion, and re­stores her to health. Rosa re­sponds to Jasper's in­ti­mate ad­vances and psy­cho­log­i­cal en­slave­ment of her with over­whelm­ing fear. The in­ten­si­ty of his pen­e­tra­tion trau­ma­tizes Rosa, as it would any girl “in the first bloom of wom­an­hood” (oed.com) as her name sug­gests. Rosa is drawn to the con­fi­dence and courage of He­le­na Land­less, who as­sures her that she wouldn't fear Jasper “under any cir­cum­stances” (Dick­ens, 76). The two form an ex­traor­di­nary bond that tran­scends the co­he­sive­ness of any other bond seen through­out the novel.

Com­pet­ing with Jasper for ul­ti­mate su­per­nat­u­ral po­ten­cy are the tele­path­ic twins, Neville and He­le­na Land­less,. Dick­ens con­notes their oc­cult power through ob­scure al­lu­sions as well.

The twins hail from Cey­lon which is re­put­ed for hav­ing “the best ru­bies in the world—sap­phires, topazes, amethysts, and other gems” (Kerr, 382) and is there­fore also known as “the gem is­land” (Fin­lay, 237). Ex­plor­er Marco Polo re­counts his ex­pe­ri­ence on Cey­lon, and the promi­nence of valu­able gem­stones. He states,

the king is said to have the very finest ruby that was ever seen, as long as one's hand, and as big as a man's arm, with­out spot, shin­ing like a fire, not to be bought for money. Cublai-khan sent and of­fered the value of a city for it; but the king an­swered he would not give it for the trea­sures of the world, nor part with it, be­cause it had been his an­ces­tors (Kerr, 382).

The his­to­ry of the Land­less twins' ob­scure, ori­en­tal ori­gin al­ludes to their al­chem­i­cal affin­i­ty. They come from a so­ci­ety that val­ues gem­stones, and their pri­ma­ry goal in Clois­ter­ham is to ob­tain the one of great­est value; the philoso­phers' stone. In ad­di­tion to the eco­nom­ic na­ture of Cey­lon, its so­cial com­po­si­tion fur­ther links the twins to alche­my. Ran­dall Clack ex­pli­cates in his novel, The Mar­riage of Heav­en and Earth, that alche­my orig­i­nat­ed in Egypt. He writes,

“Ac­cord­ing to her­met­ic leg­end, Her­mes Tris­megis­tus, the fa­ther of alche­my and the au­thor of the sa­cred al­chem­i­cal text Tab­u­la Smarag­di­na (Emer­ald Tablet), was said to have im­part­ed the se­cret of trans­mu­ta­tion to the Egyp­tians” (Clack, 1). 

The art, ru­mored to have caused the Egyp­tian in­flux of wealth, spread through­out Greece and the Mid­dle East. Clack claims, “Al­though the early Chris­tian Church at­tempt­ed to suppress... alchemy... hermetic sci­ence was pre­served by the Arabs” (Clack, 2). Cey­lon was orig­i­nal­ly pop­u­lat­ed by Arab gem-mer­chants, there­fore it is pos­si­ble that He­le­na and Neville Land­less rep­re­sent Arab youths, flu­ent in the art of alche­my.

Dick­ens's char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the twins also al­ludes to their mas­tery of oc­cult arts. Crisparkle in­ti­mates, after ob­serv­ing them upon their ar­rival, “An un­usu­al­ly hand­some lithe young fel­low, and an un­usu­al­ly hand­some lithe girl; much alike; both very dark, and very rich in colour; she of al­most the gipsy type; some­thing un­tamed about them both; a cer­tain air upon them of hunter and huntress...” (Dick­ens, 65). Crisparkle again makes note of He­le­na's “lus­trous gip­sy-face” (80) after Rosa's faint­ing spell. His com­par­i­son of He­le­na to a gipsy al­ludes to her oc­cult pow­ers. Not only do gip­sies pos­sess the skill of read­ing al­chem­i­cal tarot cards, but as Rosi­cru­cian­ist An­drew Jack­son Davis sug­gests, “The peo­ple en­trust­ed with the trans­mis­sion of oc­cult doc­trines from the ear­li­est ages were the Bo­hemi­an or Gypsy race” (Davis, 8).

Neville and He­le­na's iden­ti­ty as twins also bears strong rel­e­vance to their re­la­tion­ship to alche­my. In her novel, Alche­my: The Great Se­cret, An­drea Aro­mati­co claims that in ad­di­tion to the quest for the philoso­phers' stone,

The prin­ci­pal goal of the Great Work of alche­my is the union of op­po­sites, the har­mo­nious res­o­lu­tion of anti­nom­ic pairs into a third thing that both par­takes of their orig­i­nal na­tures and is some­thing new. The adepts called this en­ti­ty Rebis, the dou­ble: ma­te­ri­al that is at once twofold and uni­fied. The Rebis...is often rep­re­sent­ed as a hermaphroditic fig­ure, a new being cre­at­ed by the con­junc­tion of art and spir­it (Aro­mati­co, 29).

Neville and He­le­na rep­re­sent the Rebis. Prior to birth, they shared one womb and formed an in­ex­tri­ca­ble bond which per­sists dur­ing their stay in Clois­ter­ham, and re­veals it­self through their abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate tele­path­i­cal­ly. Al­though Neville and He­le­na are two dis­tinct char­ac­ters, their minds are so in­ter­de­pen­dent that it seems as if they are re­al­ly one. Upon mak­ing ac­quain­tance with Mr. Crisparkle, Neville re­veals his abil­i­ty to read his sis­ter's mind. He says,

You don't know, sir, yet, what a com­plete un­der­stand­ing can exist be­tween my sis­ter and me, though no spo­ken word—per­haps hard­ly as much as a look—may have passed be­tween us. She not only feels as I have de­scribed, but she very well knows that I am tak­ing this op­por­tu­ni­ty of speak­ing to you, both for her and for my­self (Dick­ens, 74).

Crisparkle ob­serves this phe­nomenon later when the twins re­unite in his pres­ence. As he ob­serves He­le­na, he sees, or thinks he sees, “an in­stan­ta­neous recog­ni­tion” (Dick­ens, 75) be­tween the sib­lings. Un­like Jasper's forced pen­e­tra­tion of Rosa, the twins will­ing­ly admit each other into their minds by means of telepa­thy. This con­sen­su­al pen­e­tra­tion and join­ing of the souls rep­re­sents the mu­tu­al or­gasm that Jasper in­ces­sant­ly pur­sues but fails to at­tain.

Sim­i­lar to the mag­net­ic con­nec­tion that He­le­na shares with her broth­er, she at­tracts Rosa at first en­counter. Un­like that of Jasper, this at­trac­tion is also mu­tu­al. Rosa is at­tract­ed to He­le­na's fear­less­ness, and He­le­na is at­tract­ed to the “fas­ci­na­tion” (77) in Rosa, one that Rosa wish­es that Edwin could feel. Rosa ad­mits to He­le­na that she and Edwin are “a ridicu­lous cou­ple” (78). They repel one an­oth­er and when they are forced to be to­geth­er under the con­di­tions es­tab­lished by their de­ceased par­ents, they con­stant­ly quar­rel. Rosa and He­le­na, un­like she and Edwin, are at­tract­ed to one an­oth­er as if by mag­net­ic force. He­le­na ex­er­cis­es an­i­mal mag­netism to draw Rosa in, as a friend and con­fi­dant. The nar­ra­tor ob­serves, “He­le­na's mas­ter­ful look was in­tent upon her face for a few mo­ments, and then she im­pul­sive­ly put out both her hands and said: 'You will be my friend and help me?'” (78). He­le­na calls upon Rosa's “will,” the “true se­cret of the philoso­phers' stone, and the mys­tic elixir vitae” (De­veney, 43).

He­le­na's ques­tion and Rosa's an­swer con­firms the unity of their souls through the power of will. Sim­i­lar to the mag­net­ic hold that Jasper uses to in­flu­ence Rosa, mu­si­cal­ly, He­le­na uses mag­netism to gain Rosa's con­fi­dence and to in­quire about Jasper. She takes hold of Rosa and in­quires about the mes­merist, his in­ten­tions, and her feel­ings to­ward him. Rosa re­sponds, “He ter­ri­fies me. He haunts my thought, like a dread­ful ghost. I feel that I am never safe from him. I feel as if he could pass in through the wall when he is spo­ken of” (79). He­le­na con­tin­ues to pry until Rosa re­veals all. She con­fides in He­le­na se­crets that she pre­vi­ous­ly kept to her­self. She al­leges,

He has made a slave of me with his looks. He has forced me to un­der­stand him, with­out say­ing a word; and he has forced me to keep si­lence with­out his ut­ter­ing a threat. When I play, he never moves his eyes from my hands. When I sing, he never moves his eyes from my lips. When he cor­rects me, and strikes a note, or a chord, or plays a pas­sage, he him­self is in the sounds, whis­per­ing that he pur­sues me as a lover, and com­mand­ing me to keep his se­cret. I avoid his eyes, but he forces me to see them with­out look­ing at them. Even when a glaze comes over them (which is some­times the case), and he seems to wan­der into a fright­ful sort of dream in which he threat­ens most, he obliges me to know it, and to know that he is sit­ting close at my side, more ter­ri­ble to me than ever” (79-80)

In order to eman­ci­pate him­self, Jasper must en­slave Rosa. Rosa rec­og­nizes his height­ened power dur­ing trance state, those mo­ments when “a strange film” re­places the clar­i­ty of his eyes.

After Drood's dis­ap­pear­ance, Jasper con­fronts Rosa, and fur­ther ex­press­es his in­ten­tions.

He re­veals his love for her, claim­ing that he has for­ev­er loved her “madly” (272) in reclu­sive se­cre­cy. Al­though Jasper's power en­ables him to force Rosa to sit and lis­ten to his tes­ti­mo­ny, he can­not con­trol her re­ac­tion. Rosa blames Jasper for the demise of her en­gage­ment to Drood, and for Drood's dis­ap­pear­ance. Jasper re­sumes, “I don't ask you for your love; give me your­self and your ha­tred; give me your­self and that pret­ty rage; give me your­self and that en­chant­ing scorn; it will be enough for me” (273). It isn't Rosa's love that he de­sires, it is the abil­i­ty to unite his soul with hers and achieve ul­ti­mate tran­scen­dence. His un­in­vit­ed and un­re­quit­ed de­sire is met by Rosa's de­sire to flee his com­pa­ny. Her face be­comes “in­flamed” as she at­tempts to leave. Jasper threat­ens, “I told you, you rare charmer, you sweet witch, that you must stay and hear me, or do more harm than can ever be un­done. You asked me what harm. Stay, and I will tell you. Go, and I will do it!” (274). Jasper's ul­ti­ma­tum en­chants Rosa. The nar­ra­tor ob­serves, “A film comes over the eyes she rais­es for an in­stant, as though he had turned her to faint” (274). Jasper pro­ceeds to re­veal his plan to trap Neville Land­less in a Sven­gali-type web by fram­ing him for the dis­ap­pear­ance and mur­der of Drood. He ex­plains to Rosa, “I de­ter­mined to dis­cuss the mys­tery with no one until I should hold the clew in which to en­tan­gle the mur­der­er as in a net. I have since worked pa­tient­ly to wind and wind it round him; and it is slow­ly wind­ing as I speak” (274).

Jasper's scheme to re­move Neville will ef­fec­tu­al­ly re­duce the al­chem­i­cal power of He­le­na and di­min­ish the mag­net­ic in­flu­ence that she ex­er­cis­es to at­tract Rosa. In doing so, the suc­cess of Jasper's plan will foil the al­chem­i­cal pow­ers of the twins, al­low­ing him to have sole in­flu­ence over Rosa.

Al­though it is dif­fi­cult to spec­u­late Dick­ens's exact in­ten­tions for the novel's end­ing, as­tound­ing ev­i­dence links Jasper to the mur­der of Edwin Drood. As Jasper ad­mits to Rosa, Edwin ob­structs his path to ob­tain­ing her soul. With him in the way, Jasper must coun­ter­feit sup­port and spu­ri­ous­ly as­sume the role of chap­er­one in order to get close enough to Rosa to pur­sue his true de­sires. The role of chap­er­one en­ables Jasper to idol­ize Rosa's por­trait, stalk her in pub­lic, and act as her music mas­ter. These ac­tions would ap­pear un­ortho­dox if it weren't for his con­nec­tion to Edwin and his seem­ing­ly gen­uine emo­tion­al in­vest­ment in their en­gage­ment.

Jasper's chal­lenge in­creas­es ex­po­nen­tial­ly when the twins ar­rive in Clois­ter­ham, and when He­le­na and Rosa form such a co­he­sive bond. Jasper must elim­i­nate both Edwin and the twins in order to ob­tain Rosa. In order to do so, he plots to frame Neville for Drood's mur­der. This will allow him to elim­i­nate Drood and Neville. He­le­na will be guilty by as­so­ci­a­tion to Neville as they are one in the same, and there­fore will be forced out of Rosa's life as well leav­ing her soul va­cant for Jasper to pen­e­trate.

Al­though Jasper suc­ceeds in elim­i­nat­ing Drood, it seems from the de­tails that Dick­ens pro­vides, that he will not suc­ceed in the novel's end. Princess Puffer's cur­rent con­di­tion fore­shad­ows Jasper's fu­ture fate. When she en­coun­ters Drood, she tells him that she was orig­i­nal­ly from Lon­don but, “came here, look­ing for a nee­dle in a haystack, and I ain't found it” (201). Like Jasper, her quest for the philoso­phers' stone brought her to Clois­ter­ham. Plagued by dis­heart­en­ing fail­ure, she smokes opium for the same rea­son as Jasper; to achieve tem­po­rary tran­scen­dence from the ma­te­ri­al world.

Edwin Drood serves as a so­cial warn­ing. Just as Hawthorne warns his wife of the dan­gers as­so­ci­at­ed with the oc­cult pow­ers, Dick­ens uses the novel as a medi­um by which he trans­mits his con­cerns for women and so­ci­ety in the face of oc­cultism. Edwin Drood suc­ceeds in prov­ing that tran­scen­dence can be achieved with­out drugs, trance, or ac­qui­si­tion of the philoso­phers' stone. He pro­pos­es that nov­els such as this one can serve as por­tals al­low­ing read­ers to es­cape the world and its ma­te­ri­al­ism and to enter into un­fa­mil­iar realms. Nov­els pro­vide the op­por­tu­ni­ty for read­ers to as­sume roles as voyeurs to pen­e­trate the minds and inner con­scious­ness­es of char­ac­ters with­out their knowl­edge. Un­like opium use, mes­merism, or mag­netism, this prac­tice is de­struc­tive to nei­ther char­ac­ter nor read­er, yet it also en­ables the read­er to ex­pe­ri­ence a tem­po­rary re­lief from the mun­dan­i­ty and monotony of ev­ery­day life.