Johanne Kristiansen: Who is Dick Datchery?

A Discussion of the Primary Enigmas in The Mystery of Edwin Drood

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hen Charles Dick­ens died in 1870, he left his last novel The Mys­ter­ies of Edwin Drood un­fin­ished. Be­cause the novel was never con­clud­ed, a large field of study has emerged, where so called “Drood­i­ans” de­bate how Dick­ens in­tend­ed to end his novel. These de­bates cen­ter on three main enig­mas, which need to be an­swered in order to es­tab­lish how the plot will de­vel­op. In this essay, I will dis­cuss these enig­mas. I will begin with a short ac­count of what an enig­ma is, based on the the­o­ries of the French crit­ic Roland Barthes, and fur­ther sug­gest why the enig­ma is of par­tic­u­lar im­por­tance in this novel. Fol­low­ing this short ac­count, I will pro­ceed with a dis­cus­sion of the three fun­da­men­tal enig­mas we find in the novel, name­ly whether Edwin is ac­tu­al­ly mur­dered, and by whom, as well as es­tab­lish­ing the iden­ti­ties of Dick Datch­ery and the opium woman, and their func­tion in the plot. The first enig­ma has re­ceived most at­ten­tion in the early pe­ri­od of spec­u­la­tions, but has even­tu­al­ly be­come the least ob­scure mys­tery of the three. There­fore, I will not de­vote much time to the dis­cus­sion of this enig­ma. The weight of my dis­cus­sion will be on the sec­ond enig­ma, on the iden­ti­ty of Datch­ery, and will pri­mar­i­ly be based on the the­o­ries of Richard M. Baker. The third enig­ma, con­cern­ing the opium woman, will be dealt with in a fur­ther dis­cus­sion of a pos­si­ble res­o­lu­tion of the enig­mas. This dis­cus­sion will be based on the es­tab­lish­ment of Datch­ery's iden­ti­ty, and his role in the plot. After iden­ti­fy­ing the three main enig­mas, I will give my own ac­count of how Dick­ens might have in­tend­ed to solve them, based on trends in his ear­li­er works. My ar­gu­ment is that the per­son be­hind “Dick Datch­ery” is the hero of the story. He steps forth as “the man of jus­tice”, a typ­i­cal Dick­en­sian trait, in­tent on re­solv­ing the mys­tery, and bring­ing the case to a close.

The idea of the enig­ma was de­vel­oped in a work by Roland Barthes en­ti­tled S/Z, and elab­o­rat­ed in later works. Barthes links the enig­ma to two codes be­long­ing to the cat­e­go­ry of plot, which are the driv­ing forces that cre­ate sus­pense in a story. The codes are the proairet­ic and hermeneu­tic codes. These two op­er­ate in dif­fer­ent ways to cre­ate sus­pense. Where­as the proairet­ic code is con­cerned with ask­ing what hap­pens next in a chain of events, the hermeneu­tic code asks how the dif­fer­ent clues are linked to­geth­er to form so­lu­tions (Pur­due Uni­ver­si­ty). In The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood, both of these codes are par­tic­u­lar­ly im­por­tant. Be­cause Dick­ens died be­fore the com­ple­tion of the novel, the read­er is never given an an­swer to what hap­pens next, and this strength­ens our focus on the hermeneu­tic code: try­ing to link to­geth­er dif­fer­ent clues, to find a so­lu­tion to the enig­mas.
 The years im­me­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing Dick­ens' death in 1870 did not spark many spec­u­la­tions on how the novel would end. It seemed quite ob­vi­ous that Edwin is killed by his jeal­ous uncle Jasper, who then tries to blame the mur­der on Neville Land­less.1 There was sim­ply no “mys­tery” to be de­tect­ed that could in­cite spec­u­la­tions on a large scale. Later, how­ev­er, new sug­ges­tions were pro­posed: could Edwin be alive? Had he gone to Egypt with­out telling any­one? Did he sur­vive his uncle's vi­cious at­tack? These ques­tions dis­rupt­ed the given fact of Edwin's sup­posed mur­der some­what, but the gen­er­al ten­den­cy has still been to con­sid­er the first enig­ma of the novel as quite straight­for­ward: Edwin is killed by Jasper. In­stead, focus has been di­rect­ed to­wards the sec­ond enig­ma, and the ques­tion: who is Dick Datch­ery?

There are many the­o­ries on the iden­ti­ty of the white-haired stranger who comes to lodge across the street from Jasper. In the fol­low­ing, I will base this dis­cus­sion on the the­o­ries of Richard M. Baker, be­cause his ar­ti­cle on Dick Datch­ery sums up some dom­i­nant the­o­ries on this ques­tion, as well as pro­vid­ing a strong ar­gu­ment for who Datch­ery re­al­ly is. What most the­o­ries seem to agree on is the fact that Datch­ery is not who he claims to be. The em­pha­sis on his big white hair, con­trast­ing stark­ly with his black eye­brows, and the way he toss­es it around and for­gets to wear a hat, def­i­nite­ly sug­gest that he is wear­ing a wig. How­ev­er, be­yond this agree­ment the the­o­ries are man­i­fold. One sug­ges­tion ties in with the first enig­ma. It has been claimed that Edwin him­self has come out of hid­ing to spy on his uncle (Baker 205). Baker dis­miss­es this the­o­ry by stat­ing that Jasper, with his fine ear for the in­tri­ca­cies of sound­s2, cer­tain­ly would rec­og­nize Edwin's voice. Fur­ther­more, Baker ar­gues that Edwin has shown him­self to be an hon­or­able and trust­wor­thy young man, and that he con­se­quent­ly would not let his friends suf­fer in vain over his sup­posed death. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, he would have ful­filled his promise to re­turn a spe­cial ring to Grew­gious3 (Baker 207). All in all, Baker pro­vides con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ments to prove that Edwin is not Datch­ery.

An­oth­er the­o­ry is that Datch­ery is an en­tire­ly new char­ac­ter, in­tro­duced late into the plot. Baker dis­re­gards this the­o­ry by claim­ing that Dick­ens did not usu­al­ly in­tro­duce a char­ac­ter at such a late stage in the plot. There are other the­o­ries about Datch­ery's iden­ti­ty in Baker's ar­ti­cle, sug­gest­ing that Tar­tar or Neville could be the white-haired stranger, but Baker shows par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion to one strik­ing the­o­ry by J. Cum­ming Wal­ters, who claims that Datch­ery is no one other than He­le­na Land­less, Neville's beau­ti­ful sis­ter (Baker 209). Wal­ters sug­gests that she has both mo­tive and op­por­tu­ni­ty to trans­form her­self into Datch­ery. She would want to in­crim­i­nate Jasper in order to clear her broth­er's name, and also save her friend Rosa from Jasper's ag­gres­sive courtship. Re­gard­ing op­por­tu­ni­ty, Wal­ters points to the fact that she used to dress like a boy, and had even tried to chew off her hair in an en­deav­or to es­cape from a vi­o­lent step­fa­ther (Baker 211). She cer­tain­ly has the fire and drive to pull off the the act of Datch­ery, and Wal­ters also shows how her pres­ence in Clois­ter­ham (as Datch­ery) cor­re­sponds with her ab­sence in Lon­don, and vice versa. Wal­ters backs up his the­o­ry with a phys­i­cal de­scrip­tion of He­le­na, for in­stance her black eye­brows, long hair be­neath the big wig, her fem­i­nine air cor­re­spond­ing to Datch­ery's toss­ing of hair and fem­i­nine curt­sy to the Mayor, etc. What Wal­ters seems to have ne­glect­ed, how­ev­er, is the im­prob­a­bil­i­ty of Dick­ens po­si­tion­ing a woman as the main agent of re­solv­ing the mys­tery. Dick­ens had come a long way in his por­tray­al of women with his char­ac­ter Bella Wil­fer in Our Mu­tu­al Friend, but the leap from Bella to He­le­na as the hero of The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood seems an im­prob­a­ble, though com­pelling, no­tion. Fur­ther­more, Baker dis­miss­es He­le­na as a can­di­date part­ly based on her lack of in­sight into the legal pro­fes­sion, which Datch­ery shows great con­trol over. Over the course of his ar­ti­cle, Baker ar­rives at the con­clu­sion of Mr Grew­gious as Datch­ery. Grew­gious has the in­sight into the law that He­le­na lacks, and his legal pro­ceed­ings re­sem­ble those of Datch­ery. One ex­am­ple is that in the course of the novel, both Datch­ery and Grew­gious need to rent ac­com­mo­da­tion, and their ap­proach is very sim­i­lar. Fur­ther­more, they both keep score, check­ing off from a list in a me­thod­i­cal way. Also, Grew­gious has a mo­tive: he wants to pro­tect his ward Rosa, who he loves al­most as a daugh­ter, and to re­trieve his beloved ring, which he had asked Edwin to give to Rosa. Grew­gious is char­ac­ter­ized as a man of jus­tice, and thus it is fair to as­sume that he would want the mur­der case to be re­solved. He does not be­lieve Neville to be guilty, but is in­stead sus­pi­cious of Jasper, be­cause he had faint­ed in front of him when re­al­iz­ing that he had killed Edwin for no rea­son.4 Thus, as a man of jus­tice, he can­not allow an in­no­cent man to be hanged for a crime com­mit­ted by an­oth­er. Based on strik­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Datch­ery and Grew­gious, Baker pro­vides a valid sug­ges­tion to the so­lu­tion of the sec­ond enig­ma.

In the fol­low­ing, I will give an ac­count of how I an­tic­i­pate the enig­mas to be solved. Here, the third enig­ma of the opium woman will also be dis­cussed. I base my as­sump­tions on prob­a­bil­i­ty; on the ex­pec­ta­tion that Dick­ens to a large ex­tent would have fol­lowed the pat­tern of his ear­li­er works. Much re­search on Drood take as a given fact that the res­o­lu­tion of the enig­mas must be based on ear­li­er ten­den­cies in his writ­ing. As we have al­ready seen, Baker's dis­missal of Datch­ery as an en­tire­ly new char­ac­ter rests on this very as­sump­tion. How­ev­er, it is im­por­tant to keep in mind that it is not a given fact that the plot will de­vel­op ac­cord­ing to ear­li­er struc­tures. We see an ex­am­ple of this in the “Bof­fin-twist” in Our Mu­tu­al Friend, where Dick­ens tricks his read­ers into be­liev­ing that Bof­fin has be­come evil (Mund­henk 41-42). This twist was some­thing new; Dick­ens did not usu­al­ly trick his read­ers in such a way. In any case, what­ev­er we may claim is only spec­u­la­tion, be­cause we will never know how Dick­ens in­tend­ed the plot to un­rav­el. Nev­er­the­less, in this essay I write from the as­sump­tion that Dick­ens had in­tend­ed to fol­low old pat­terns of con­struc­tion. Work­ing from this as­sump­tion, it is im­por­tant to look at ear­li­er nov­els to find cen­tral themes and plot de­vel­op­ments that are typ­i­cal of Dick­ens. From these I have cho­sen to focus on Dick­ens' later ten­den­cy to­wards the struc­ture of the mys­tery novel, and the pos­i­tive focus on ma­ture, often ec­cen­tric, char­ac­ters with a high­ly de­vel­oped sense of jus­tice.

First of all, I think the plot will de­vel­op fur­ther into be­com­ing a de­tec­tive, or mys­tery, novel. Some crit­ics have sug­gest­ed that The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood is not a mys­tery novel, but rather a sort of psy­cho­log­i­cal novel, on the lines of Dos­to­evsky's Crime and Pun­ish­ment. Ac­cord­ing to this view, the focus in the rest of the novel will be on Jasper and the study of the crim­i­nal mind, and not pri­mar­i­ly on the so­lu­tion of the mur­der case. How­ev­er, tak­ing into ac­count the title of the novel and the dom­i­nant mys­tery el­e­ment in nov­els like Bleak House and Our Mu­tu­al Friend, it is high­ly prob­a­ble that The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood in fact is a mys­tery novel. In fact, the sec­ond half of Bleak House is struc­tured as a de­tec­tive plot, where in­spec­tor Buck­et tries to solve the mys­tery of Tulk­inghorn's death. Ar­guably, the sec­ond half of The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood is also struc­tured as a de­tec­tive plot.

If I am cor­rect in sup­pos­ing the sec­ond half of the novel to de­vel­op as a de­tec­tive plot, my fur­ther ar­gu­ment is that Datch­ery will solve the crime. As Baker, I pro­pose that Hiram Grew­gious is be­hind the mys­te­ri­ous Dick Datch­ery, and as such he is also the hero of Dick­ens' last novel. His sta­tus as hero is based on the fact that he is the driv­ing en­gine, the ac­tive agent, who makes sure that the wicked Jasper is con­vict­ed for his crimes, in­stead of the in­no­cent Neville Land­less. I have so far dis­cussed two im­por­tant enig­mas, and come to the con­clu­sion that Edwin is mur­dered by Jasper, that Grew­gious is Datch­ery, and that he will solve the mys­tery. What I have not sug­gest­ed is how he will solve the case, which could be said to be a con­di­tion­al enig­ma, based on the sup­po­si­tion that I have come to the right con­clu­sion re­gard­ing the first two enig­mas. This fourth enig­ma ties in with the third enig­ma, which I have not yet dis­cussed, name­ly the role of the opium woman.5 She has at­tract­ed at­ten­tion from crit­ics, who won­der what role she has to play in the con­tin­u­a­tion of the plot. My ar­gu­ment is that she func­tions as a key wit­ness to Jasper's crime, and that she will pro­vide an im­por­tant clue to Datch­ery in solv­ing the mys­tery. In the end of the first half of the novel Datch­ery comes into con­tact with her, and shows her much at­ten­tion. It is prob­a­ble that she will re­late to him the fact that Jasper has threat­ened to kill some­one called “Ned”. Datch­ery, being Grew­gious, will know that “Ned” is Jasper's nick­name for Edwin. Thus, the third enig­ma is solved: the opium woman is a wit­ness who will pro­vide in­for­ma­tion for Datch­ery, in the cen­tral fourth enig­ma: how Datch­ery will solve the mur­der case.

An­oth­er wit­ness who is im­por­tant in this case is Deputy, a young boy who lurks around the Clois­ter­ham cathe­dral. Datch­ery in­ci­den­tal­ly comes into con­tact with him, and it is prob­a­ble that Deputy will lead him to Dur­dles, an al­co­holic who knows ev­ery­thing there is to know about the cathe­dral and its crypt. To un­der­stand the im­por­tance of Datch­ery talk­ing to Dur­dles, I will give a short ac­count of an im­por­tant scene in the novel. One night, Jasper asks Dur­dles to give him a tour of the cathe­dral. He is es­pe­cial­ly in­ter­est­ed in the crypt. How­ev­er, on their way to the crypt, Dur­dles points out a pit of quick­lime. This is only com­ment­ed briefly on, and not much elab­o­rat­ed upon. How­ev­er, it is of cru­cial im­por­tance. In the Vic­to­ri­an pe­ri­od it was a com­mon thought that quick­lime would dis­solve all other ma­te­ri­als than metal. In other words, it is high­ly prob­a­ble that Jasper has dumped Edwin's body in the limepit after the mur­der, and ex­pect­ed all traces of him to dis­ap­pear. After Edwin's dis­ap­pear­ance, his watch and metal pin are found in the river. Jasper must have known that metal would not be dis­solved by the quick­lime, and did not want any clues to trace Edwin to the limepit. How­ev­er, he has over­looked one cru­cial thing: Edwin was still car­ry­ing the ring he had re­ceived from Grew­gious, when he was mur­dered. In the light of all this, the so­lu­tion to the mys­tery emerges. When Datch­ery makes con­tact with Dur­dles, he will be told about the night when Dur­dles showed Jasper the limepit. His sus­pi­cions to­wards Jasper will in­crease, and when in­ves­ti­gat­ing the pit he will find the ring. Be­cause Datch­ery is in re­al­i­ty Hiram Grew­gious, he will of course rec­og­nize the ring, and know that Edwin was car­ry­ing it on the night of his mur­der. This will ul­ti­mate­ly tie Jasper to the mur­der of Edwin Drood.

After now hav­ing es­tab­lished the fact that the novel is a mys­tery novel, and spec­u­lat­ed on how Datch­ery will solve the crime, I will argue why I think Grew­gious is the one who will solve the mys­tery. Grew­gious' char­ac­ter­is­tics – his sham­bling walk, an­gu­lar form et cetera – have been held against him as proof that he can­not be the man be­hind Datch­ery, who seems to be in full con­trol of him­self. If he is not Datch­ery, then he is not the hero ei­ther. Datch­ery is the hero, be­cause he is the one who will bring jus­tice to Neville, and pun­ish­ment to Jasper. How­ev­er, based on Baker's strong ar­gu­ments, I argue that Grew­gious is in­deed Datch­ery, and he is also the un­con­di­tion­al hero of the novel. His ec­cen­tric­i­ty, which was put for­ward as a rea­son why he is not the hero, only strength­ens the claim that he is Datch­ery and, by ex­ten­sion, the hero of the story. I base this on a dom­i­nat­ing theme in Dick­ens' au­thor­ship, name­ly the fa­vor­ing of older and ec­cen­tric heroes, ex­em­pli­fied by John Jarndyce in Bleak House. Dick­ens has a ten­den­cy to pro­mote ma­ture char­ac­ters of high moral val­ues and an out­stand­ing sense of jus­tice. We find this in char­ac­ters such as Bet­sey Trot­wood and Mr Brown­lowe, who both could be said to be the heroes of David Cop­per­field and Oliv­er Twist, re­spec­tive­ly. What makes Jarndyce stand out in this re­spect is that he, in ad­di­tion to being of high moral char­ac­ter, is quite ec­cen­tric. He talks about the “East wind” when he is dis­tressed, and throws a piece of cake out of the win­dow when we first meet him. He is nonethe­less the clear hero of the novel, show­ing morals, self-sac­ri­fice, and op­er­at­ing like a mea­sure of right con­duct to guide those around him. The fact that he is ec­cen­tric only seems to in­crease his charms, and when he re­al­ly needs to be stead­fast he steps up to the plate. Ar­guably, this can be said of Grew­gious as well. Por­trayed out­ward­ly as ec­cen­tric, this only adds to his charms of being an hon­or­able man seek­ing jus­tice, and wish­ing to pro­tect a girl he holds dear. Grew­gious and Jarndyce share many char­ac­ter­is­tics, and it seems that Dick­ens fa­vored such char­ac­ters. This points strong­ly to a con­clu­sion that Hiram Grew­gious is is Dick Datch­ery, and that he is the hero of the story, by solv­ing the mys­tery and se­cur­ing jus­tice.

Works Cited

1) Baker, Richard M. “Who was Dick Datch­ery? A study for Drood­i­ans. Part One.” Trol­lop­i­an, 01.06 (2012): 201-222. Jstor. Web. 01 June 2012.
2) Mund­henk, Rose­mary. “The Ed­u­ca­tion of the Read­er in Our Mu­tu­al Friend.” Nine­teenth-Cen­tu­ry Fic­tion, 01.06 (2012): 41-58. Jstor. Web. 01 June 2012.
3) Fel­lu­ga, Dino Fran­co. "Hermeneu­tic and Proairet­ic Codes." In­tro­duc­to­ry Guide to Crit­i­cal The­o­ry. Pur­due Uni­ver­si­ty, 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 1 June 2012.