First publisched: katrinayoung.wordpress.com
ICKENS published “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” in segments, then left this world before he could do us the favor of writing the second half, or at least notes on the rest of the story. A shroud of mystery surrounds the solutions Dickens had in mind; ample studies, theories, and proposals, all differing on one point or many points, prove finishing a Dickens mystery novel to be a significant undertaking. After reading a collection of mystery novels from different sub-genres and times throughout their history, this was my favorite. It was agonizing to know the intricate story’s second half will never be (at least not at the caliber of Dickens’ own first half), not to mention the fact that the mystery will remain a mystery. John Forster, who was close to Dickens and read through many of his manuscripts and proofs, wrote this about Dickens’ last novel, “Discovery of the murder 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, not, only the person murdered was to be identified, but the locality of the crime and the man who committed it....” (Gadd). With all discovery left for the end, a sudden close in the middle leaves readers in an eternal mystery for which peace of mind requests a solution. More mysterious elements are left uncovered than I will attempt to explain; however, a few of the key mysteries in the book are worth looking into. The first and obvious question is whether or not Drood was actually murdered, but this question must be addressed last. The other questions are primarily people rather than events. Who is Datchery? Princess Puffer? How does the array of characters come together into a cohesive whole? Durdles, Sapsea, Honeythunder, Grewgious, Deputy, Bazzard: all demand further explanation.
First is the question of Datchery, because I believe the answer holds an important answer to the bigger question of what happened to Edwin Drood. Datchery enters the story at the beginning of Chapter 18. He proclaims to be a newcomer, a settler, and “an idle dog who lived upon his means” and requests lodging that is “architectural”, then specifically “anything Cathedraly” (202-203). After two pages, when Deputy is walking him to the cathedral, he somehow knows the identity of Jasper when Deputy names him. Datchery immediately feels it necessary to visit Jasper to ask his advice, then leaves with Sapsea, whose pompous way Datchery already seems adept at handling. His thick white hair is also stressed heavily, and he strangely forgets his hat off while the two men walk outside. “All this time Mr Datchery had walked with his hat under his arm, and his white hair streaming. He had an odd momentary appearance upon him of having forgotten his hat, when Mr Sapsea now touched it; and he clapped his hand up to his head as if with some vague expectation of finding another hat upon it” (208). Gadd claimed that Datchery must have worn a wig, he was simply unaccustomed to wearing one and I believe that to be the case. This list of details, not even exhaustive, suggests Datchery is someone besides who he claims to be. Helena, Drood, and Tartar have all been suggested as candidates for the true identity, but I believe it to be Tartar. Helena is a woman and although Dickens told us she used to dress up as a boy, I think that detail is meant for a different scene and situation. Drood and Tartar, however, are likely possibilities. Gadd draws striking parallels between Tartar and Datchery, and I agree with this opinion. I initially pinned Datchery as Drood while I read the book, but I used primarily the evidence I already placed before you for that opinion. One must also consider that chapters 17 through 21 are not told chronologically but by place, Datchery is described to have a military air and Tartar is a military man, the two men have both placed themselves immediately near the lodgings of the two suspects in the murder, and the two men are never brought together to meet. Gadd quotes two segments of the story to finish his article of comparing the two characters. “As mariners approaching an iron-bound coast may look along the beams of the warning light to the haven lying beyond it that may never be reached, so Mr. Datchery's wistful gaze is directed to this beacon, and beyond,” and “’Rosa thought... that [Tartar’s] far-seeing eyes looked as if they had been used to watch danger afar off, and to watch it without flinching, drawing nearer and nearer.’ The parallel is complete” (Gadd).
Dickens uses the phrase, “at about this time” at the beginning of Datchery’s first chapter to avoid clarification. “The Tartar theory has had one, and only one, serious objection brought against it. That objection is the sequence of the chapters” (122), wrote Percy Cardin. He projects a plausible story line but gives no reason for his arrangement of the events: he simply states them. I agree that the plot is intentionally arranged outside of time; we can see how well that simple strategy maintains the mysteries of this book, even to this day. However, he failed to explain why Datchery/Tartar would know of the mystery or be interested in it. I will return to this point later.
The conversation between him and Princess Puffer provides further insight into Datchery’s identity. Datchery’s countenance suddenly changes when Puffer mentions opium. After that point Datchery fumbles with his change, stops to recount it, and even drops it when the woman mentions the name Edwin and describes her encounter with him. Saunders, to my excitement, acknowledged my own theory, even though he preferred to believe otherwise. “If Datchery is not Edwin, he can only have heard of this meeting from one of two persons, the woman herself or Edwin; about that there can be no question” (104). This was my opinion when I read this scene, and I maintain it now. Datchery can be Tartar or Edwin himself, but if he is Tartar he has spoken with an alive Edwin, who informed him of the situation. Saunders believes Datchery to be a lawyer and a friend of Grewgious, through whom he learns the nature of the mystery and Jasper’s opium habit. Grewgious is supposed to have learned of the habit through some unknown way. Saunders supports his hypothesis with Grewgious’ statement in chapter 21, “it is a business principle of mine, in such a case, not to close up any direction, but to keep an eye on every direction that may present itself. I could relate an anecdote in point, but that it would be premature” (231). I have to admit this statement intrigued me to the point of discomfort because I knew I would never learn what his anecdote would be. However, many other directions could be taken with this statement and I prefer the first option: that Datchery knows about this meeting from Edwin. Datchery is wearing a wig, too similar to Tartar for coincidence, and Grewgious acts to new to the situation in the rest of the scene to believe that he is a mastermind behind the operation. “It was by no mean apparent that Mr Grewgious knew what he said, though it was very apparent that he meant to say something highly friendly and appreciative” (232) and “’I don’t wish to be complimented upon it, I thank you, but I think I have an idea,’ Mr Grewgious announced, after taking a jog-trot or two across the room, so unexpected and unaccountable that they had all stared at him, doubtful whether he was choking or had the cramp” (233). This is not the way a man would act if he had planned the coming of Datchery, who we believe to also be Tartar.
Edwin must have lived, then, which was my hypothesis from the start. I looked at Dickens’s ideas for titles and decided too many of them centered on Drood not actually being murdered. Loss, disappearance, and flight were the words he considered before choosing the Mystery of Edwin Drood. One choice was even “Edwin Drood in hiding.” I only saw this mystery being explored in the titles, but in fact a second mystery is hiding in the titles.
“I have a very curious and new idea for my new story; not a communicable idea (or the interest of the book would be gone) but a very strong one, though difficult to work,” Dickens wrote to Forster (Saunders 2). Using this quote as his foundation, Saunders takes a different approach to solving Dickens’s mystery. Instead of swimming through the bountiful details and blinders, he determined Dickens’s purpose and intent for a lens through which to view the story. Saunders was not satisfied that the existing theories satisfied the words Dickens used to describe his idea. After discussing other theories and the ways they fail to be curious, new, not communicable, or difficult to work, Saunders presented his theory: “the idea of a murderer attempting and intending to fasten his crime on to another, but in reality tracking himself, and involuntarily putting the noose round his own neck” (7-8)! I had not originally framed the story in quite this way, but I embrace it now. I thought Honeythunder was involved from the start, bringing the Landless siblings into town so Jasper could frame Neville. Jasper pounced on his first opportunity to pit the two against each other, drug them, and ignite suspicion in others. He reports the incident immediately, keeping the guilt off of himself but clearly establishing the problem between the other two. The whole town knows of it think it is best if they make up, playing right into Jasper’s plan. Saunders’s ideas supported this idea. He believed that Honeythunder and Jasper were both at Crisparkle’s dinner so the characters could be introduced naturally to the readers without suspicion or attention being drawn to their relationship.
This idea for a story resonates through the other title options: “Flight and pursuit” takes on new meaning and “Sworn to Avenge it,” “One Object in Life,” “A Kinsman’s Devotion,” and “The Two Kinsman” suddenly convey a new complexity I had missed before.
If Saunders is correct, Jasper’s words are craftily written almost as prophecy of his own doom, and can be read literally. Saunders mentioned Jasper’s journal entries and conversations, my favorite of which is in the garden scene with Japer and Rosa. “I have devoted myself to the murderer’s discovery and destruction, be he whom he might, and that I determined to discuss the mystery with no one until I should hold the clue in which to entangle the murderer in a net. I have since worked patiently to wind and wind it round him; and it is slowly winding as I speak” (Dickens 215-216). I love this quote because it can be taken exactly as he says it. The net is winding around Jasper as he speaks because he is beginning a deadly chain of events against himself by making Rosa afraid, then suspicious of him.
Saunders also positioned Sapsea and Bazzard on Jasper’s side, working to convict Neville but trapping Jasper in their web. I agree with this analysis as it was obvious Sapsea was working with Jasper, and Bazzard was too mysterious and dark to not be included. Not only Saunders but also Carden and several others, including Forster himself, believe the conclusion of the story is to come about by way of the ring in Edwin’s possession when he disappeared. Some of these theorists have suggested Bazzard to be the tool through which Jasper learns of the ring and the conclusion is set in motion, intentionally or otherwise. I believe Jasper does learn of the ring through Bazzard, who Dickens so carefully made witness to the transfer of the ring from Grewgious to Edwin. I also believe it was intentional. Saunders suggests Bazzard has a mystery of his own that we will never learn of or imagine. “Why [else] was it necessary for the reader to be informed that Bazzard’s father was a Norfolk farmer” (145)? Dickens made Grewgious seemingly aware, but yet tolerant of Bazzard’s behavior. He stops himself from describing him on one occasion and later claims Bazzard has taken care of him. “No, I haven’t,” Bazzard replies, but Grewgious laughs and decides he must have taken care of himself without being aware of it. These scenes make Grewgious a suspicious character as well, but I will not venture into that much depth for this paper.
Sapsea’s involvement with Jasper explains the significance of the Eight Club segment. Though I have no explanation for the event of the Eight Club itself, I have my own hypothesis about the scene and how it fits into the plot. We have already established Datchery as a disguised character, and a convenient placement of he and Tartar near both Jasper and Neville. Whether Tartar is near Neville to keep an eye on him or to possibly elicit a help or a testimony out of him I do not know, though I suspect the latter. Regardless, mysterious new characters conveniently place themselves near the important characters and I believe Sapsea to be a crucial character. He recently buried his wife in the graveyard, he recently became mayor, and he is convinced of Neville’s guilt. I believe the new character introduced as Poker to be another disguise of our Tartar. Also, I do not believe Tartar to be working alone, especially not as time goes on. I project that he began the task alone on Edwin’s request, but eventually drafted at least Crisparkle to his side, if not Grewgious. I hesitate to include Grewgious, though, because I feel that it is no coincidence he employs Bazzard and that he made certain Bazzard knew of the ring. If Dickens wanted to make something of this disguise theme, he could even make Jasper or Sapsea to be disguised as Bazzard. Grewgious cared for Rosa’s mother and therefore would have a fascinating conflict of interests, but this paper has neither the space nor the scope to explore this in detail.
Now we can continue to the other characters. Already critical in the story is Princess Puffer, but we have not explored yet the critical details she reveals to the story. No doubt she would have revealed even more had the story continued, but already in the first half she has shown us the only honest look, however brief or vague, into Jasper’s psyche. “’What visions can she have?’ the waking man muses… ‘Visions… of an increase of hideous customers, and this horrible bedstead set upright again, and this horrible court swept clean? What can she rise to, under any quantity of opium, higher than that! – Eh?’” In the first scene Jasper discounts Puffer’s potential and for that reason I believe she will amount to more than he expects. She already would surprise him if he were aware of her role in all that happened. He goes to her, unsuspecting, but we learn that she has an interest in him that rises far above that of any other hideous customer. She follows him twice, the first time unknowingly warning “Ned” and the second time giving an important clue or two to Datchery, worth a chalk mark in his cabinet. When he comes to her the second time for opium in her den, he gives away significant details found nowhere else in the book. He dreams of killing Edwin every time he uses opium and he believes he succeeded in killing him this time, even though it failed to fulfill him. Puffer is supremely interested in his tale, and is already familiar with what he is telling her about. Saunders asserts that she must have a strong motive to follow him, which he claims can only be hatred and desire for revenge. He brings the shriek Durdles mentioned from earlier in the story to explain the situation. “The stretch of imagination necessary to enable us to connect together Jasper, the midnight death shriek, and the opium woman with her strong hatred of him, is not a very great one, and … I … hazard a guess that she suspected him strongly of a crime already committed in which some relative or connexion of hers had figured as the victim” (115). Much to my excitement, Saunders claimed that Dickens would not create a character if he or she did not hold an important place in the story. Each must have a reason, a role. “I very much doubt whether Dickens would have brought the boy on the scene without connecting him closely with some of the principal personages” (117). In the case of Deputy I had no further involvement for him in my own theory, but Saunders used Dickens’s notes about a child and a boy that are never mentioned in the story to propose an involvement between Deputy and the Puffer woman and Jasper. Jasper could have killed Deputy’s mother, a possible relation to the Puffer woman. Jasper could have been the father. Deputy also is established to throw stones at Durdles if he is out after ten because Dickens wants it to be natural for Deputy to be out that late to witness something. We know Deputy is against Jasper by his speech to Datchery on their walk. Deputy refuses to go near Jasper. Dickens could easily use Deputy to testify against Jasper to convict him and bring out Puffer’s motivation for her hatred.
Helena Landless remains to be understood. Her character was given tremendous respect and potential: strength, intelligence, self-control, and the ability to dress up like a man. Crisparkle was aware that he was teaching her while he was teaching Neville, and Neville tells us of their background that displayed Helena’s strength and determination. While I doubt Dickens would make her dress up to be Datchery, she could be Poker if she was working together with Tartar. We know little about Poker but his character seems weaker but still intelligent and crafty than that of Datchery or Tartar. However, Carden presents another fascinating possibility. Walters emphasizes that Helena promised Rosa aid in chapter seven and he affirms that she would keep her word. I agree, and Carden’s explanation is a plausible way for that to take place. Jasper learns of the ring and returns to the tomb to retrieve it, to plant it in Neville’s belongings. However, Helena is aware of this (in my theory because she is working with Tartar and, in particular, Poker) and decides the only way to convict Jasper instead of her brother is for Jasper to confess. She dresses up as Edwin and meets him in the tomb to upset him and force the confession. This is how Carden’s story came to a conclusion and I enjoyed it as a way to tie it up regardless of Dickens’s intentions. This also explains the illustration of the two in the tomb at the bottom of the cover. If you look at the character on the left, it looks impressively feminine for a man, and others besides Carden have noted that.
I have cited Saunders several times because he supported a majority of my theory and presented some ideas that I loved and added to my own version of the ending. However, many others have made excellent arguments against what I have presented thus far. I want to mention J. Cuming Walters in particular. He presented his own theory together with the work of several other theorists, or “Droodists,” and made a strong case. He quotes Dickens’s daughter in support of the fact that Drood must have died.
He goes on to include another statement by family of Dickens that he would never have kept such a secret from Forster or led him to believe something he actually had no intention of carrying out. Forster would have advised him poorly without an understanding of what was to happen. One of the theorists Walters describes is William Archer. In his theory, Drood escaped from Jasper’s attack and returned as Datchery. Drood was attacked while drugged and was unsure of who his assailant was. Drood made contact with Grewgious and they agreed to keep silent and trap Jasper at the tomb with the ring. However Jasper killed Neville, in a rage over being confronted, and was condemned to a cell for his murder of Neville. Without Neville and Grewgious, this is my original theory so I was interested to see what Walters would say in answer to it. His argument is a good one, so I will include a piece of it here. “Drood, if attacked, could not so easily have escaped from the scene; … there was no evidence he was disfigured; [and] neither he nor Grewgious could humanly and honourably have kept silence for months when they discovered the further plots of Jasper against Rosa and Neville” (240). Other theories and arguments in this book are also fascinating but I will limit this paper to this. My response to this particular argument is that Datchery is instead Tartar, thus no need for disfigurement in him, and Edwin did not go to Grewgious, although he could have. Edwin could be Bazzard! But it is unlikely that this should be the solution. More of a hint in this direction probably would have been given.
Whether or not Edwin died is not the question, though it has been argued as if it was the only mystery in the book. The frame of the story, a murderer convicting himself unknowingly, creates a clearer vision of the characters and the drama. After considering this hypothesis and the many theories that exist about the outcome of the story, I care much less about whether or not Edwin died because he is not the interesting part of this book. His disappearance only started the unraveling of much greater things that we unfortunately miss out on. I prefer to believe Edwin lived because it makes the most sense to me in how I read the book, and I would like to see Jasper convict himself of a crime he didn’t even commit. He is guilty of something else if not that, such as something on the previous Christmas Eve.
Throughout the semester of reading mystery novels I have preferred the ones that give unexpected endings and involve several twists and connections that have been hinted at but never established before. Dickens has created a fantastic combination of characters and amazing plot potential. Without an ending it is still my favorite book of the semester. “Fire Sale” was too obvious in the ending, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Smith’s book was my least favorite, even though parallels could be drawn between it and the Dickens piece. Dickens has an overarching theme and inserts details and diversions that do not have an obvious connection until the end. However, Dickens could have been a model to Smith because it accomplished his far better, even with half a story. “The Woman in White,” though was the closest in comparison. In addition to being written at a similar time and the two authors knowing each other, these stories are on a similar level of complexity and intrigue that I did not get from the rest. These two books drew me in better than any of the rest. “The Woman in White” did not end when we learned the identity of the woman in white or the mysteries that initially intrigued us. I feel the same would have been true of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” Edwin’s mystery is only the beginning, and that’s what I love about it.
Jasper drugged both Neville and Edwin on Christmas Eve, and he also indulged in some opium. The evening events were unclear for them all, but Jasper remembers “killing” Edwin just like in his drug-induced dreams, Edwin remembers being attacked by someone but he is unsure who, and Neville remembers making amends with Edwin then leaving on his journey. Edwin, when he realizes the significance of the event, decides to flee to the East. We all know Edwin was never a hero of a character. On his way he meets Tartar who has decided to settle down from his naval life. They spend some time together, realize their connection through Crisparkle, and Edwin entrusts the mystery to Tartar. Tartar moves into the apartment next to Neville, then goes to Cloisterham to keep an eye on Jasper as Datchery. Later on, when it is obvious that Jasper is not working alone, he also dresses up as Poker to learn what he needs to from Sapsea.
Datchery is able to gain valuable information from Puffer, who hates Jasper because he murdered her sister, Deputy’s mom, the previous year to keep the secret of his child quiet. His ultimate plan is to be with Rosa and no previous relationship or children can get in the way of that. Puffer has already wanted to catch Jasper in the act of murdering someone else, so she is happy to work with Datchery.
Grewgious and Bazzard are mysterious characters until the very end because they jump back and forth between the good and bad. Grewgious badly wants to care for Rosa but generally is not a respectable man so he finds it difficult to escape previous engagements and relationships. Bazzard is more evil, working closer with Jasper and betraying to Jasper that Edwin had been carrying the ring.
Crisparkle, Neville, Helena, Rosa, and even Miss Twinkleton in some small ways, work together to fit clues together. Grewgious is occasionally present but seems to be more trouble than help to the group. Helena is convinced that the only way to vindicate her brother is to force a confession from Jasper.
Jasper begins to close in on Rosa, and eventually alienates Grewgious from his group of supporters because of this. In a dramatic scene in which Grewgious relives a scene of his past with Rosa’s mother, Grewgious leaves Jasper, Bazzard and Sapsea to tell Rosa of Jasper’s fear about the ring. Helena dresses as Edwin and meets him in the tomb, where Tartar knows is the suspected burial place for Edwin because of Sapsea’s inability to keep from bragging and visits with Durdles. Jasper is frightened by the ghost and the truth is revealed, condemning Jasper to a cell for the murder of Edwin Drood. When they investigate the tomb they discover the body of Deputy’s mother instead of Sapsea’s wife. Sapsea’s wife was stashed away in another tomb by Jasper the night he was with Durdles, in anticipation for the murder of Edwin. However, in Jasper’s state he was able to mistake the woman’s body, preserved in quick-lime, for Edwin’s and Edwin was able to escape. Throughout the end of the story, particularly the last chapters in which Jasper is locked in his cell, Jasper declines into madness and guilt – without the aid of opium. The end!