Leon Garfield: Completion of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"

Book review by Birgit Brophy


HE bold­est way to sup­ply the miss­ing sec­ond half of Edwin Drood would be in the idiom of the pre­sent time. Such a course would nowa­days come nat­u­ral­ly or at any rate fash­ion­ably to an ar­chi­tect were he re­quired to com­plete a build­ing that had stopped short in 1870. But the mi­ni-vogue among writ­ers (or is it among pub­lish­ers?) for end­ings to fic­tions that their au­thors left un­fin­ished dur­ing the 19th cen­tu­ry has not thrown up a sin­gle mod­ern-dress pro­duc­tion.

In this re­spect, the arts have swopped places. Dur­ing most of Dick­ens’s ma­ture life­time it was ar­chi­tec­ture that versed it­self in pas­tiche and would scarce­ly ven­ture out ex­cept under the veil and jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of some ‘his­tor­i­cal’ style. The nov­el­ists, by con­trast, had the nerve of the devil. On the strength of noth­ing less could they have com­mit­ted them­selves to se­ri­al pub­li­ca­tion in the nerve-stretch­ing form it then took.

In his con­tract for Drood Dick­ens for the first time had a clause in­sert­ed pro­vid­ing for ar­bi­tra­tion on how much of the up-front money (£7,500 to cover the first 25,000 copies) should be re­paid ‘if the said Charles Dick­ens shall die’ or be oth­er­wise in­ca­pac­i­tat­ed ‘dur­ing the com­po­si­tion of the said work’. (Pre­sum­ably noth­ing had, in fact, to be re­paid, since John Forster record­ed that 50,000 copies were sold ‘while the au­thor yet lived’.) The clause shows that Dick­ens knew he might be dying, but it is also wit­ness to his splen­did con­fi­dence that noth­ing short of death or a stroke could stop him com­pos­ing the in­tend­ed dozen month­ly num­bers.

The more plea­sur­able sus­pense that se­ri­al pub­li­ca­tion gen­er­at­ed in the con­sumers (ex­cept Queen Vic­to­ria, who didn’t take up Dick­ens’s offer to dis­close Drood to her ear­li­er than to her sub­jects) has now passed to tele­vi­sion, leav­ing to nov­el­ists the peace of mind and the dif­fi­dence that come from know­ing that thou­sands of read­ers are nothang­ing on your next in­stal­ment.

In the event, Dick­ens wrote six num­bers. The last was two pages short — the sec­ond time, dur­ing Drood, that he was failed by the as it were ‘ring sense’ he had by then re­li­ably cul­ti­vat­ed for writ­ing to an exact length. Leon Garfield has opted for the dif­fi­dent method of com­ple­tion and has pro­duced an hon­ourable and, where style is con­cerned, main­ly plau­si­ble fake. Per­haps at the dic­tate of pub­lish­ing eco­nomics, he falls far short­er than Dick­ens did. To ful­fil Dick­ens’s de­sign, he should have sup­plied the same amount of text (equal to six num­bers) as Dick­ens did. But he runs (in the for­mat of this edi­tion) only to 122 pages, where­as Dick­ens oc­cu­pies 201.

The out­right blots in the Garfield text con­sist of two howlers in syn­tax: ‘His thoughts were still part­ly with Rosa, and with she of whom Rosa was an ev­er-pre­sent re­minder’ and ‘And Rosa, what of she?’ Dick­ens was not an el­e­gant syn­tac­ti­cian, but I don’t think he would have let his nar­ra­tive do that. Else­where Mr Garfield’s nar­ra­tive, in con­trast to his di­a­logue, which is on the awk­ward side, is a forgery good enough, I should guess, to de­ceive. Try these four in a blind­fold test:

As though he had been called into ex­is­tence, like a fab­u­lous Fa­mil­iar, by a magic spell which had failed when re­quired to dis­miss him, he stuck tight to Mr Grew­gious’s stool, al­though Mr Grew­gious’s com­fort and con­ve­nience would man­i­fest­ly have been ad­vanced by dis­pos­sess­ing him.

Or­di­nar­i­ly this an­i­mal — the prop­er­ty of the watch­man and known, for suf­fi­cient rea­son, as Snap — was of a vo­ra­cious, bit­ing dis­po­si­tion; but in Va­ca­tion time lapsed into a fly-blown ap­a­thy, like the law it­self, as if all un­law­ful ap­petites were but a source of dreamy spec­u­la­tion.

Once in Lon­don, where, as usual, the sum­mer is un­sea­son­ably warm, and lead­en, as if ev­ery­body has breathed out and no­body wants to breathe in, she pro­ceeds ...

There has been rain this af­ter­noon, and a win­try shud­der goes among the lit­tle pools on the cracked, un­even flag-stones, and through the giant elm-trees as they shed a gust of tears.

Mr Garfield is bet­ter at the man­ner (his are the mid­dle two quo­ta­tions above, the first and the fourth being from Dick­ens’s text) than at the plot. We know in ad­vance, from Ed­ward Blishen’s In­tro­duc­tion, that he is not going to do any­thing out­ra­geous. He has not taken space enough to do any­thing deeply com­pli­cat­ed. Above all, he is under the great, re­strict­ing dis­abil­i­ty of the faker: he can­not do any­thing unDick­en­sian. Dick­ens, of course, could and well might have done, it being his priv­i­lege that, the mo­ment he did it, it would be­come Dick­en­sian.

Dili­gent­ly Mr Garfield ex­trap­o­lates from the ob­vi­ous clues in Dick­ens’s text and from some of what Dick­ens dis­closed to friend (Forster), fam­i­ly and il­lus­tra­tor. (Queen Vic­to­ria’s in­cu­rios­i­ty is a small­er loss than crit­ics think. It is in­con­ceiv­able that Dick­ens was of­fer­ing to write her a précis of each num­ber be­fore he wrote the num­ber it­self. He can have been of­fer­ing only to rush her an ad­vance copy. Had she taken him up on it, we should be no bet­ter off.) The Garfield Drood is dead, and the mur­der­er the ob­vi­ous sus­pect, John (or, to Edwin, Jack) Jasper. Some­thing is made of He­le­na Land­less’s ap­ti­tude for dress­ing up and some­thing of ‘that great black scarf’ which, as Dick­ens’s Jasper pulls it off and loops it round his arm, makes his face ‘knit­ted and stern’. Mr Garfield in­vents an amus­ing­ly lightweight Datch­ery, who is not any of the other drama­tis per­son­ae in dis­guise. But when the all-im­por­tant ring is fi­nal­ly re­cov­ered (in the man­ner Forster said Dick­ens meant it to be), he has Mr Grew­gious give it away to Datch­ery, which Dick­ens’s Grew­gious has in­vest­ed far too much emo­tion in it ever to do.

Right­ly, Mr Garfield makes noth­ing of the ‘Sapsea Frag­ment’, no doubt agree­ing with Forster that it was de­signed for an early, not a later, part of the novel and then dis­card­ed by Dick­ens him­self. He takes up Dick­ens’s dis­clo­sure to Forster that the story was to end in the con­demned cell, that the ring was to come un­cor­rod­ed through the lime that de­stroys the corpse, that He­le­na was to marry Crisparkle and that Neville Land­less was to per­ish, but he ig­nores Forster’s rec­ol­lec­tion that Neville was to do so ‘in as­sist­ing Tar­tar fi­nal­ly to un­mask and seize the mur­der­er’.

His is clear­ly meant to be a read­ing ver­sion, spar­ing read­ers the frus­tra­tion of being left in mid-air, and also a giv­ing ver­sion. With a shame­less­ness that is his most deeply Dick­en­sian stroke, Mr Garfield wrench­es his story to a con­clu­sion on an­oth­er, and hap­pi­er, Christ­mas. Like many ob­jects de­signed as Christ­mas pre­sents, it falls at best flat and some­times in­sult­ing­ly light. It scur­ries through the mur­der trial in a light com­e­dy tone (and did judges ac­tu­al­ly put on the black cap?), man­ag­ing not a touch of the grand grotes­querie that would have been forced from Dick­ens by his am­biva­lence to­wards both crime and pun­ish­ment. Nei­ther does the Christ­mas mar­ket dis­charge the pub­lish­er from schol­ar­ly obli­ga­tions. The no­to­ri­ous mis­print of ‘tower’ for ‘town’, twice over, which makes non­sense of Dick­ens’s open­ing words, is re­peat­ed — a lazi­ness that will mere­ly di­rect buy­ers to­wards the Pen­guin edi­tion, which will leave them in mid-air but does give Dick­ens’s text as it stands in his manuscript. Apart from the fact that they il­lus­trate mo­ments in the fake as well as the Dick­ens text and can there­fore run all through the vol­ume, Antony Mait­land’s gen­teel il­lus­tra­tions have no ad­van­tages over the 12 (two to each num­ber) plus fron­tispiece that Luke Fildes drew to Dick­ens’s in­struc­tions, from which they any­way bor­row the char­ac­ters’ clothes.

A sat­is­fy­ing com­ple­tion of Drood will have to await a writ­er who can match Dick­ens’s con­fi­dence by a con­fi­dence on his own part of hav­ing un­der­stood not just Dick­ens’s style but Dick­ens’s mind. The use of mod­ern lan­guage might help, by forc­ing the writ­er to de­cide what he thinks struc­tural and what dec­o­ra­tive in Dick­ens’s text. Pas­tiche can fudge it by using an idiom as am­bigu­ous on that point as Dick­ens’s own. The writ­er des­tiny has up its sleeve, who can­not be ap­point­ed but must mes­sian­i­cal­ly recog­nise him­self, will be con­fi­dent not only that he can pro­vide a plau­si­ble so­lu­tion to the mys­tery of Edwin Drood but that he has solved the deep­er mys­tery of The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood — name­ly, what sort of book it was to be: mere­ly, if mag­nif­i­cent­ly, an­oth­er Dick­ens novel or a true mys­tery in the genre clas­si­cal­ly es­tab­lished by Wilkie Collins with The Moon­stone, which Dick­ens had pub­lished two years ear­li­er in All the Year Round?

Ei­ther an­swer points to con­sid­er­able com­plex­i­ty of plot in the sec­ond half. Forster’s rec­ol­lec­tion that the story was to con­cern ‘the mur­der of a nephew by his uncle’ seems to leave no doubt that Edwin is killed. Yet Dick­ens’s notes, skele­tal and in­con­clu­sive though they are (and bro­ken off at the same point in the story as his text), sug­gest more em­pha­sis on the un­cer­tain­ty of Drood’s fate than he in­cor­po­rat­ed in the text be­fore he left it. As well as in­quir­ing ‘Dead? Or alive?’, his pre­lim­i­nary notes in­clude ‘The flight of Edwin Drood’ and ‘Edwin Drood in hid­ing’. Per­haps the sec­ond half was to re­vive and pro­long the un­cer­tain­ty or per­haps it was to dis­close that Drood did in fact stay alive a lit­tle longer than the first half im­plies. His death need not co­in­cide with his dis­ap­pear­ance. Three days elapse be­fore Crisparkle finds his watch in the weir. If Jasper’s be­haviour has alarmed him, he might pass them ‘in hid­ing’ and in ‘flight’. And in­deed, al­though Dick­ens rec­on­ciles Edwin and Rosa after they have agreed not to marry, his moral­ism might well keep Edwin alive long enough to visit on him some iron­ic re­morse for hav­ing mis­prized Rosa.

Cer­tain­ly, com­plex­i­ty in the sec­ond half is ar­gued by Dick­ens’s title for the chap­ter of the Christ­mas Eve meet­ing be­tween Jasper, Neville and Edwin, after which Edwin dis­ap­pears. I do not think he would have called it ‘When shall these three meet again?’ had he not planned that there should be a meet­ing again be­tween Jasper, Neville and at least the corpse of Edwin — which may be what is de­pict­ed in the bot­tom cen­tre vi­gnette in the Fildes fron­tispiece.

Whether or not Dick­ens was writ­ing a pos­i­tive who­dunit, he was prompt­ed, I think, to ex­per­i­ment with nar­ra­tive method by the dove­tailed first-per­son nar­ra­tives, the one fill­ing in the ig­no­rance and baf­fle­ment of the oth­ers, in The Moon­stone. Per­haps he con­tem­plat­ed, though mo­men­tar­i­ly, a trans­plant of The Moon­stone method, crude. The ‘Sapsea Frag­ment’ con­sists, like the nar­ra­tives in The Moon­stone, of a doc­u­ment writ­ten (by Mr Sapsea) in the first per­son. But what I sus­pect he was re­al­ly after is a vari­a­tion, less me­chan­i­cal and more psy­cho­log­i­cal, on Collins’s in­ge­nu­ity.

Reread­ing Dick­ens’s text, I was as­ton­ished to no­tice that its first five chap­ters are in the pre­sent tense. They in­clude Jasper’s open­ing opium dream and his in­tro­duc­tion to Deputy’s job of ston­ing the drunk­en Dur­dles’s home. In Chap­ter Eight, where Neville and Edwin quar­rel at the in­sti­ga­tion of Jasper and Jasper’s drink, the nar­ra­tive is again in the his­toric pre­sent. So it is in Chap­ters Twelve (Jasper’s night ex­pe­di­tion to the tombs and Dur­dles’s ‘dream’ of Jasper ab­stract­ing the key), Four­teen (the cru­cial ‘When shall these three ...?’) and Nine­teen (Jasper’s dec­la­ra­tion to Rosa). Chap­ter Twen­ty-Two opens in the past tense with a round-up of what has hap­pened mean­while, but quick­ly moves into the pre­sent tense and stays there for Jasper’s opium ses­sion and Datch­ery’s de­tec­tion.

Some­thing very near half of Dick­ens’s text (ten chap­ters out of 22) is writ­ten in the his­toric pre­sent. Apart from Chap­ter Twen­ty-Two, which comes from a num­ber where there was a mix-up, both in Dick­ens’s notes and in some edi­tions, about the num­ber­ing and the di­vi­sion of chap­ters, each of Dick­ens’s chap­ters is ei­ther whol­ly in the past or whol­ly in the pre­sent tense. In other books, Dick­ens uses the pre­sent hap­haz­ard­ly, when it strikes him as apt. In Drood I think his switch­es of tense are sys­tem­at­ic.

I can­not name an exact sig­nif­i­cance for each of the pre­sent-tense chap­ters (though I’d like an ac­knowl­edg­ment, please, if some other crit­ic can), and in some cases the sig­nif­i­cance may be de­signed to emerge only in the sec­ond half. The ef­fect of Wilkie Collins’s sys­tem­at­ic jig­saw of nar­ra­tives is that, for in­stance, Rachel Verinder can ac­tu­al­ly see Franklin Blake steal the moon­stone and yet, of course, re­al­ly see no such thing, since not only is his mo­tive non-thiev­ing but he is un­aware of his own ac­tions, being, un­known to him­self, drugged by opium. My hy­poth­e­sis is that, by a re­fine­ment on Collins. Dick­ens used the pre­sent tense in Drood for chap­ters where some­thing is seen to hap­pen and can be vouched for in good faith by the nar­ra­tive and yet is not what re­al­ly hap­pens.

It is ob­vi­ous how this could come about in the pre­sent-tense chap­ters where Jasper is drugged and in those where Edwin, Neville and Dur­dles are, on their var­i­ous oc­ca­sions, drunk (and some­times, con­ceiv­ably, drugged as well, by Jasper). More­over, some dou­ble vi­sion of this sort on Jasper’s part, a fac­ul­ty for see­ing what hap­pens cor­rect­ly yet not see­ing what re­al­ly hap­pens, must, I think, be the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the most im­por­tant but the most ne­glect­ed of the clues Dick­ens gave Forster — name­ly, that ‘the orig­i­nal­i­ty’ of the story ‘was to con­sist in the re­view of the mur­der­er’s ca­reer by him­self at the close, when its temp­ta­tions were to be dwelt upon as if, not he the cul­prit, but some other man, were the tempt­ed’.

Thus the fears Jasper ex­press­es, even be­fore Edwin dis­ap­pears, that Neville will do him vi­o­lence are, I think, though not true to the facts, sin­cere: he is ex­press­ing his own temp­ta­tion as Neville’s. The same is true of his stat­ed con­vic­tion, after Edwin’s dis­ap­pear­ance, that it is Neville who has mur­dered him. Jasper’s dou­ble vi­sion has, so to speak, mis­tak­en Neville’s in­fat­u­a­tion with Rosa for his own, which, as he avows to Rosa, ‘is so mad that, had the ties be­tween me and my dear lost boy been one silken thread less strong, I might have swept even him from your side when you favoured him’.

Those silken ties be­tween Jasper and his dear lost nephew are stronger than crit­ics have al­lowed. The true and des­per­ate mad­ness in Jasper’s love for Rosa seems to me to lie in his not being sure which of the be­trothed pair, Rosa or Edwin, he is more in love with. Is he tempt­ed to kill Edwin in order to take Rosa for him­self, or tempt­ed to keep Edwin for him­self (or at least in the fam­i­ly) by killing Rosa — who is, quite right­ly, scared of him to the point of run­ning away to Mr Grew­gious’s cus­tody? In choos­ing to kill Edwin, a deed he can plau­si­bly see, through his dou­ble vi­sion, as done by Neville, Jasper may even seem to him­self to make the right choice, since he there­by sup­press­es the more cul­pa­ble of his two sex­u­al pas­sions.

The dis­cov­ery, which makes Jasper faint, of what Forster calls ‘the utter need­less­ness of the mur­der for its ob­ject’, since Rosa and Edwin were not going to marry in any case, per­haps re­flects Dick­ens’s sense of per­son­al irony in hav­ing wound­ed his fam­i­ly and risked his re­spectabil­i­ty for the sake of a mis­tress with whom he was then not happy. The sur­name of He­le­na and Neville Land­less is in­ter­pret­ed by Mr Garfield when he makes He­le­na ex­claim: ‘We are Land­less; we are home­less!’ Yet, apart per­haps from Hon­eythun­der, the names in Drood (in­clud­ing Drood it­self) are not of such Restora­tion Com­e­dy trans­paren­cy, and they have more to do with Dick­ens’s feel­ings about the peo­ple con­cerned than with those peo­ple’s na­tures. Drood is not a per­son to in­spire ei­ther brood­ing or dread. Nei­ther could one guess that Mr Grew­gious, that amal­gam of­greed, screw and egre­gious, is, be­sides an­gu­lar, good. Land­less, which was changed in Dick­ens’s notes from ‘Heyridge or Hey­fort’, owes some­thing, I sus­pect, to the un­usu­al mid­dle name of Dick­ens’s mis­tress, Ellen Law­less Ter­nan, and the Law­less it­self must, I think, have sound­ed in Dick­ens’s thoughts as an in­dict­ment of his own be­haviour on her ac­count. Jasper at­tributes his own guilt to Neville Land­less, whose sur­name sig­ni­fied for Dick­ens, I think, both the law­less­ness and the out­landish­ness of Jasper’s de­sires.

Dick­ens’s nar­ra­tive could never have stat­ed Jasper’s sex­u­al love for Edwin, but it can and does show it even more ex­plic­it­ly than Our Mu­tu­al Friend shows the ho­mo­sex­u­al­i­ty of Eu­gene and Mor­timer. In­deed, in Drood Dick­ens makes his point by de­lib­er­ate con­trasts. A dis­con­so­late Neville, touched on the shoul­der by Crisparkle, ‘took the for­ti­fy­ing hand from his shoul­der, and kissed it’ — once, and in any case Neville is marked­ly not En­glish. What Dick­ens ex­pect­ed of the En­glish he makes clear when Crisparkle is re-unit­ed with his res­cuer from drown­ing, Tar­tar: ‘The two shook hands with the great­est hearti­ness, and then went the won­der­ful length — for En­glish­men — of lay­ing their hands each on the other’s shoul­ders, and look­ing joy­ful­ly each into the other’s face.’

Those ex­cep­tion­al in­ci­dents throw into con­spicu­ity the very dif­fer­ent con­duct of the din­ner Jasper gives Edwin in Chap­ter Two, which be­gins with Jasper watch­ing Edwin ar­rive and take off his outer clothes with ‘a look of hun­gry, ex­act­ing, watch­ful, and yet de­vot­ed af­fec­tion’ and con­tin­ues with Edwin’s flir­ta­tious­ly bid­ding Jasper take him in to din­ner, in pur­suit of which ‘the boy’, as Edwin now sig­nif­i­cant­ly be­comes, ‘lays a hand on Jasper’s shoul­der, Jasper cor­dial­ly and gaily lays a hand on his shoul­der, and so Mar­seil­laise-wise they go in to din­ner’ — in the course of which Jasper lays ‘an af­fec­tion­ate and laugh­ing touch on the boy’s ex­tend­ed hand’, present­ly suf­fers one of his glazed spells, after which Edwin ‘gen­tly and as­sid­u­ous­ly tends him’, re­cov­ers and ‘lays a ten­der hand upon his nephew’s shoul­der’ and then as­ton­ish­es Edwin by say­ing he hates his job, pro­vok­ing Edwin first to bend ‘for­ward in his chair to lay a sym­pa­thet­ic hand on Jasper’s knee’, next to the dec­la­ra­tion ‘you love and trust me, as I love and trust you’ and thus to the de­mand ‘Both hands, Jack,’ which leads to uncle and nephew each stand­ing ‘look­ing into the other’s eyes’ and hold­ing (both) hands through five ex­changes of di­a­logue.

It is this chap­ter that is, I think, des­tined even­tu­al­ly, through the dis­clo­sures of the sec­ond half, to make clear to the read­er, though not nec­es­sar­i­ly, given its pre­sent-tense nar­ra­tive, to the par­tic­i­pants, why the mur­der is in­evitable. Rosa is one of the par­tic­i­pants by proxy, by means of the much-looked-at am­a­teur por­trait of her by Edwin that hangs on Jasper’s wall. Edwin elects him­self vic­tim by flirt­ing with Jasper and yet not telling Jasper that his heart is not truly en­gaged to Rosa.

I think the same din­ner dis­clos­es the method and the im­me­di­ate oc­ca­sion of the mur­der. Luke Fildes’s rec­ol­lec­tion (in 1905) was that Dick­ens had told him the ‘se­cret’ that Jasper’s ‘dou­ble neck­tie’ was an in­dis­pens­able prop­er­ty be­cause Jasper was to stran­gle Drood with it. So far as I can see, Fildes didn’t draw a Jasper with a dou­ble neck­tie. No doubt com­men­ta­tors are right in think­ing that Dick­ens re­placed the neck­tie by ‘that great black scarf’ which Jasper takes to the cru­cial Christ­mas Eve meet­ing. All the same, Dick­ens’s thoughts must have con­tin­ued, in par­al­lel, along the neck­tie groove. At his rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Rosa, Edwin ex­plains to her: ‘with me Jack is al­ways im­pul­sive and hur­ried, and, I may say, al­most wom­an­ish’. In the next chap­ter, be­fore he goes to the Christ­mas Eve meet­ing he re­flects: ‘Dear old Jack! If I were to make an extra crease in my neck-cloth, he would think it worth notic­ing!’

Both thoughts are fore­shad­owed at the Chap­ter Two din­ner, where, while Edwin takes off his top­coat, hat and gloves, Jasper fuss­es: ‘Your feet are not wet? Pull your boots off. Do pull your boots off.’ Edwin replies: ‘Don’t mod­dley-cod­dley, there’s a good fel­low. I like any­thing bet­ter than being mod­dley-cod­dleyed.’

Whether the mur­der was to have taken place dur­ing the Christ­mas Eve storm or on one of the three en­su­ing win­ter nights, I am con­vinced in my lit­er­ary bones that it was des­tined to begin as an act of pro­tec­tive ten­der­ness. Orig­i­nal­ly, per­haps, Jasper was to tight­en Edwin’s neck­tie for him against the cold and Dick­ens re­placed that by an in­deed more plau­si­ble ges­ture where Jasper wound his own great black scarf round Edwin’s throat. Edwin, I think, was to re­sist being mod­dley-cod­dleyed; and only then was Jasper to make an ‘im­pul­sive and hur­ried’ de­ci­sion (de­signed, how­ev­er, to re­fute and sup­press all im­pu­ta­tions of the ‘wom­an­ish’) to kill him in­stead.

London Review of Books, 1980