Ben Fisher: A couple of matters about Drood

J

OHN Niemins­ki's let­ter puts into words one of my own opin­ions: I al­ways come away from the lat­est "end­ing," "so­lu­tion," "new light" piece with feel­ings of ad­mi­ra­tion for some­body else's in­ge­nu­ity. Ungrate­ful, John, though, to ad­vo­cate the He­le­na-as-Datch­ery idea — and at the same time bit the hand that feeds him! (Maybe I mis­un­der­stand, and he isn't a high school teach­er as his let­ter seems to imply. [You do; he isn't.)) He's right about the Drood­i­ans, or Drooids as they used to style them­selves; there are plen­ty of them. In­ci­den­tal­ly, an in­ter­est­ing essay on John Jasper, as a Hero-Vil­lain, no less, is com­ing out in a jour­nal I edit: Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­sis­sip­pi Stud­ies in En­glish, new se­ries, I, due, we hope, by late March or April. To look ahead, the sec­ond vol­ume (this is an an­nu­al, but the 1980 and 1981 num­bers will be out with­in this cal­en­der year) will run an ar­ti­cle on the Dover reprints of Wilkie Collins's nov­els and sto­ries. Sub­scrip­tions are $5.00 a year, and can come to me or the Busi­ness Man­ag­er, En­glish De­part­ment, Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­sis­sip­pi, Uni­ver­si­ty, MS 38677. Add one more pub­li­ca­tion to your li­brary, fans; I ex­pect to pub­lish someti­hing in "our line" each issue. Frank Floyd's en­thu­si­asm for Poe re­minds me, too: the 1982 issue of UMSE will be a Poe issue, and sev­eral items under con­sid­er­a­tion cen­ter on Poe's de­tec­tive tales.

Back to Drood­i­ana. Carl Larsen's let­ter com­ment­ing on Mr. Grew­gious' name re­minds me to re­mind him that Robert F. Fleiss­ner has re­cent­ly pub­lished some pieces con­cern­ing names and nam­ing in Drood. This is a sub­ject that needs lots more work; in fact, the much broad­er sub­ject of names in Dick­ens's work is open for such read­ings. After all, in just about all his major, and in all the minor, fic­tion, Dick­ens plays games with names. How about the name "He­le­na," in Drood? It means "light," and one of my ob­ser­va­tions has been that this novel pro­vides a pret­ty con­sis­tent pat­tern of im­agery (dare I re­mark that by such means we might fore­see a con­clu­sion, even though we may not be able to ham­mer down each de­tail of that end­ing?), if we know-that such con­sis­ten­cy in lit­er­ary tech­nique/art ap­pears in Dick­ens's other nov­els. Light for He­le­na is im­por­tant be­cause of the wicked Jasper's ex­ist­ing in "shad­ow," whether it be in his skulk­ing under trees, in the opium den dingi­ness, or in the shad­ow cre­at­ed by Grew­gious' stand­ing be­tween him and the hearth's — do­mes­tic, pos­i­tive, hu­mane — light when he im­parts news of the bro­ken en­gage­ment? Enough on this sub­ject.

Ev Bleil­er's let­ter is in­ter­est­ing, al­though I'd like to make a lit­tle clear­er one point. Just be­cause Grew­gious, and we mustn't for­get Edwin him­self (oth­re­wise some­body is sure to re­mind Mssrs. Bleil­er and Fish­er what silly jack­ass­es they are), are pre­sent when Baz­zard is shown the ring does not mean that any­body but Baz­zard — in my opin­ion — be­comes Datch­ery. Diekens does make it a point to let us know that the whole show­ing of the ring has con­se­quences, both in the text it­self and in his re­marks to Forster, his bi­og­ra­pher and con­fi­dante. Why, then, show the ring to Baz­zard if he will play no fu­ture role, re­lated to that lit­tle "rose" of a gem? I agree with Bleil­er's ideas about the orig­i­nal cover (it is re­pro­duced in the Pen­guin of Drood) hav­ing am­bi­gu­i­ties — al­though, strange to say, the cen­ter de­picts roses, with just as many, or more, thorns as flow­ers, shaped like a ring, or crown of thorns. Since Dick­ens, much more so than, say, George Mered­ith, among Vic­torian nov­el­ists, was par­tic­u­lar about the graph­ic work in his books, I'd in­cline to think this cover is of im­por­tance. I must say, too, I dis­agree with Bleil­er's no­tion that "Datch­ery hates Jasper." The text doesn't say that, al­though Datch­ery ie hot on Jasper's trail — for just what we don't know. Or we don't know how many de­tails there would have been to mount up charges against Jasper — as the un­fin­ished text does not give them to us with ex­ac­ti­tude. I'm not sure, though, that if "hate" is the right at­ti­tude for Datch­ery, that it would be in­con­sis­tent in Baz­zard. He is in­ter­est­ed in dra­mat­ics (and it is iron­ic that Bleil­er uses words like "char­ac­ter" and "role" in dis­miss­ing Baz­zard as a can­di­date for Datch­ery), and if signs of "hate" do come across to us as we watch Datch­ery's pur­suit of Jasper they may re­sult from Baz­zard's act­ing abili­ties. To say that Baz­zard could not be Datch­ery be­cause that is "cer­tain­ly no part of his pro­posed role as agent of Grew­gious" is to fall into the pro­ce­dures of so many pre­vi­ous read­ers of Drood: elim­i­nate pos­si­bil­i­ties be­cause you don't see them your­self! To con­clude here: I have writ­ten a much longer piece on Drood that night clar­i­fy cer­tain mat­ters, at least as they would be con­sis­tent with Dick­ens's ear­li­er meth­ods, were it to see print. One word more: if Bleil­er wished that he had em­pha­sized Datch­ery's "emo­tion­al sit­u­a­tion" more, I thor­ough­ly con­cure — but re­mind him that that sit­u­a­tion may be am­bigu­ous be­cause of the el­e­ment of dis­guise and role-play­ing in­her­ent in it.