Mildred Newcomb: The Imagined World of Charles Dickens

Book Ex­cerpts

At all times the river flows fast as it ap­proach­es the sea, but it flows fastest when the tide is ebbing; now of all times and be­tween the tidal bound­aries of all places is a human body like­ly to be found float­ing among the other refuse. Part of the im­pact of the anal­o­gy to life aris­es, as usual, from the fact that the state­ment is lit­er­al­ly true. Mr. Crisparkle, Join­ing the search for Edwin Drood, uses this fact to guide him: "No search had been made up here, for the tide had been run­ning strong­ly down . . and the like­li­est places for the dis­cov­ery of a body, if a fatal ac­ci­dent had hap­pened under such cir­cum­stances, all lay — both when the tide ebbed, and when it flowed again — be­tween that spot and the sea" (MED, ch. 16). If a body ex­ists any­where in the river, most like­ly it will be here. But the mean­ing quick­ly spills over into the ter­ri­fy­ing knowl­edge that a hu­man body in the river is a some­how guilty thing. Who in read­ing of this does not find reen­forced the pre­sen­ti­ment that Edwin Drood has been foul­ly mur­dered?

• • • • • •

In The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood, the read­er grad­u­al­ly comes to re­alize that John Jasper lives in an ugly light­house. Lit­er­al­ly, to be sure, his dwelling is "an old stone gate­house cross­ing the Close, with an arched thor­ough­fare pass­ing be­neath it." But:

Through its lat­ticed win­dow, a fire shines out upon the fast-dark­en­ing scene, in­volv­ing in shad­ow the pen­dent mass­es of ivy and creep­er cov­er­ing the build­ing's front. As the deep Cathe­dral-bell strikes the hour, a rip­ple of wind goes through these at their dis­tance, like a rip­ple of the solemn sound that hums through tomb and tower, bro­ken niche and de­faced stat­ue, in the pile dose at hand. (MED, ch. 2)

Al­ready the de­scrip­tion con­tains oblique al­lu­sions to the lower river in the sug­ges­tion of the arched bridge with a stream flow­ing under it. The fire, barred by the lat­tice, is not cheery, but cre­ates ob­scur­ing shad­ows. The "rip­pling" wind car­ries a hint of the sea, its con­no­ta­tions of death en­hanced by the com­pan­ion rip­ple of sol­emn sound hum­ming through tomb­stones and stone representa­tions of life. But these are only sug­ges­tive wisps. Mid­way through the story, the al­lu­sion be­comes point­ed. Jasper and Dur­dles, about to make a mid­night ex­cur­sion into the crypt of the cathe­dral, pause to glance around them: "The whole ex­panse of moon­light in their view is ut­ter­ly de­sert­ed. One might fancy that the tide of life was stemmed by Mr. Jasper's own gate­house. The mur­mur of the tide is heard be­yond; but no wave pass­es the arch­way, over which his lamp burns red be­hind his cur­tain, as if the build­ing were a Light­house" (ch. 12). Jasper's gate­house, then, stands on the edge of the grave­yard, the bor­der­land be­yond which life does not go. His light­house with its red light and am­bigu­ous mean­ing is of the marsh: an ugly bea­con sur­round­ed by death.

On the evening Edwin will dis­ap­pear, a ter­ri­ble storm aris­es. As it con­tin­ues through the night, John Jasper's gate­house light "burns" re­as­sur­ing­ly.

The red light burns steadi­ly all the evening in the light­house on the mar­gin of the tide of busy life. Soft­ened sounds and hum of traf­fic pass it and flow on ir­reg­u­lar­ly into the lone­ly Precincts; but very lit­tle else goes by, save vi­o­lent rush­es of wind. It comes on to blow a bois­terous gale. (ch. 14)

Fur­ther on:

No such power of wind has blown for many a win­ter night. Chim­neys top­ple in the streets, and peo­ple hold to posts and cor­ners, and to one an­oth­er, to keep them­selves upon their feet. The vi­o­lent rush­es abate not, but in­crease in fre­quen­cy and fury until at mid­night, when the streets are empty, the storm goes thun­der­ing among them rat­tling at ail the latch­es, and tear­ing at all the shut­ters, as if warn­ing the peo­ple to get up and fly with it, rather than have the roofs brought down upon their brains.

Still, the red light burns steadi­ly. Noth­ing is steady but the red light. (ch. 14)

De­spite the re­as­sur­ing light­house, morn­ing re­veals the dev­as­ta­tion all about, while time dis­clos­es that Edwin has van­ished mys­te­ri­ous­ly some­time dur­ing the tem­pes­tu­ous night: the omi­nous steadi­ness of the de­cep­tive red light has sig­naled not safe­ty, but de­struc­tive vi­o­lence.

In the last pages of the novel, left in­com­plete but clear­ly ap­proaching its cri­sis, Mr. Datch­ery, one of Dick­ens's in­de­fati­ga­ble blood­hounds, has ap­peared mys­te­ri­ous­ly on the scene. Con­vinced of Jasper's guilt in the dis­ap­pear­ance of his nephew, Datch­ery has his own in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the light­house: "John Jasper's lamp is kin­dled, and his light­house is shin­ing when Mr. Datch­ery re­turns alone to­wards it. As Mariners on a dan­ger­ous voy­age, 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" (ch. 23). The "warn­ing light" has no power to de­ceive Datch­ery with its steadi­ness. Its warn­ing for him is dif­fer­ent as he war­i­ly seeks a way past it to the "haven" that is sure ev­i­dence of Jasper's guilt, the end of the case.

• • • • • •

Hart­house, then, is seen to be a type of mon­ster re­lat­ed to the marsh — cold, rigid, and monotonous. He is a rel­a­tive­ly uncompli­cated an­ces­tor of John Jasper, the com­plex and guilt-rid­den char­acter who dom­i­nates The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood.

With­out any prepa­ra­tion, Dick­ens plunges the read­er di­rect­ly into the con­scious­ness of John Jasper in the bril­liant as­so­ci­a­tion­al para­graph that in­tro­duces the novel. This para­graph de­scribes an opium dream­er's slow re­turn to con­scious­ness:

An an­cient En­glish Cathe­dral Town? How can the an­cient En­glish Cathe­dral Town be here! The well-known mas­sive grey square tower of its old Cathe­dral? How can that be here! There is no spike of rusty iron in the air, be­tween the eye and it, from any point of the real prospect. What IS the spike that in­ter­venes, and who has set it up? Maybe it is set up by the Sul­tan's or­ders for the im­pal­ing of a horde of Turk­ish rob­bers, one by one. It is so, for cym­bals clash, and the Sul­tan goes by to his palace in long pro­ces­sion. Ten thou­sand scim­i­tars flash in the sun­light, and thrice ten thou­sand danc­ing-girls strew flow­ers. Then, fol­low white ele­phants ca­parisoned in count­less gor­geous colours, and in­fi­nite in num­ber and at­ten­dants. Still the Ca­thedral Tower rises in the back­ground, where it can­not be, and still no writhing fig­ure is on the grim spike. Stay! Is the spike so low a thing as the rusty spike on the top of a post of an old bed­stead that has tum­bled all awry? Some vague pe­ri­od of drowsy laugh­ter must be de­vot­ed to the con­sid­er­a­tion of this pos­si­bil­i­ty. (MED, ch. 1)

An un­ori­ent­ed read­er grop­ing for foot­ing in this con­fu­sion must strug­gle along with the dis­ori­ent­ed con­scious­ness of the dream­er to find some sem­blance of re­al­i­ty in the im­ages flash­ing past ap­par­ent­ly chaot­i­cal­ly, though ac­tu­al­ly in a pat­tern of beau­tifully syn­the­sized dream logic. Bed­post, tower (spire), spike, and scim­i­tar merge to­geth­er with­out quite co­a­lesc­ing. Why has the bed­post be­come the spike? Why does the spike with the sug­ges­tion of an im­paled human fig­ure hover be­fore the Cathe­dral tower? They are all drawn to­geth­er by the am­bigu­ous guilt with­in the dream­er. The im­ages in­ter­play from three dif­fer­ent lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence. In the im­me­di­ate sit­u­a­tion, Jasper is aware that he has per­vert­ed his ca­pac­i­ty to dream into the guilty jour­ney of the opium dream, whose "East­ern" at­trac­tion is yet so pow­er­ful that he can­not re­sist it. In the larg­er world of Clois­ter­ham, he knows he con­ducts a hypo­critical and guilty re­la­tion­ship to the Cathe­dral, which should lead to sal­va­tion but for him leads only to the grave­yard. And in be­tween, the glam­orous, guilty Sul­tan flash­es past in re­splen­dent col­ors at once al­lur­ing and re­pel­lent. Thus, in its in­ter­pre­ta­tion of ex­pe­ri­ence, the dream con­scious­ness has hooked ex­ter­nal re­al­i­ty to­geth­er with two con­fig­u­ra­tions — the marsh and the fairy tale — on the point of a shared image. The iron­ic, drowsy laugh­ter ac­knowledges the power of the mind to con­struct so much from the rusty spike on the old bed­stead — as Proust would later mar­vel at the con­jur­ing pow­ers in a bit of madeleine and a cup of tea.

With re­turn­ing con­scious­ness, the man moves about the opium den, while the read­er moves out­side to ob­serve him. The dream world is much on the man's mind as he un­steadi­ly con­tem­plates the sleep­ing Chi­na­man, the Las­car, and the hag­gard woman, who has lapsed again into un­con­scious­ness after per­form­ing her du­ties as host­ess. "'What vi­sions can she have,'" he muses. She mut­ters; he lis­tens. '"Un­in­tel­li­gi­ble,"' he com­ments. When the Chi­na­man and the Las­car also give in­di­ca­tions of some kind of in­ter­nal ac­tiv­i­ty, he re­gards them with equal baf­fle­ment and the re­peat­ed ob­ser­va­tion; "Un­in­tel­li­gi­ble." He thus re­as­sures him­self with the re­minder that no­body can pen­e­trate the dream world of an­oth­er to vi­o­late his pri­vacy: a source of "gloomy sat­is­fac­tion in this guilt-rid­den world of per­vert­ed opium dreams. The read­er, too, feels the ex­clu­sion, not only from them, but, more im­por­tant­ly, from Jasper.

Now, at the end of the chap­ter, comes a break in the print­ed page be­fore the last para­graph. This break em­pha­sizes the with­drawal from the per­son­al view of John Jasper to the dis­tant per­spec­tive of the nar­ra­tor, whose in­ter­pre­ta­tion co­in­cides with and le­git­imizes that of the char­ac­ter.

That same af­ter­noon, the mas­sive grey square lower of an old cathe­dral rises be­fore the sight of a jaded trav­eller. The bells are going for daily ves­per ser­vice, and he must needs at­tend il, one would say, from his haste to reach the open cathe­dral door. The choir are get­ting on their sul­lied white robes, in a hurry, when he ar­rives among them, gets on his own robe, and falls into the pro­ces­sion fil­ing in to ser­vice. Then, the Sac­ristan locks the iron-barred gates that di­vide the sanctu­ary from the chan­cel, and all of the pro­ces­sion hav­ing scut­tled into their places, hide their faces; and then the in­toned words, "WHEN THE WICKED MAN — " rise among groins of arch­es and beams of roof, awak­en­ing mut­tered thun­der. (ch. 1)

For the ob­serv­er, too, the tower of the old cathe­dral is omi­nous as, with­out sug­gest of sanc­tu­ary, it re­ceives the "jaded trav­eller" re­turning from the Lon­don opium den. The ser­vice is one he "must needs at­tend" as he has­tens to join the choir (with its rhyming echo of spire)" get­ting on their "sul­lied" white robes "in a hurry," like pris­on­ers falling tardi­ly into a pro­ces­sion "fil­ing" into ser­vice, while the Sac­ristan "locks the iron-barred gates" be­hind them. The jaded trav­eller, among the other fig­ures of guilt, like them hides his face while the ac­cus­ing words echo through the threat­en­ing arch­es.

With­in the course of the three pages of chap­ter 1, the point of view has moved pro­gres­sive­ly away from the anony­mous man whose view we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, from the com­plete­ly sub­jec­tive to the com­plete­ly ob­jec­tive. In the first para­graph, we peer out through this man's eyes; in the last para­graph, we have moved far out to be­come de­tached and un­ac­quaint­ed ob­servers — strangers to the man through whose con­scious­ness we en­tered the world of the novel. In be­tween, we hover in­ti­mate­ly over this man to ob­serve close­ly his every move, but with­out the power to enter again the se­cret re­cesses of his con­scious­ness.

This pro­cess in­vests John Jasper with deep mys­tery be­cause the read­er re­mem­bers his com­plex and enig­mat­ic in­ter­nal world and is now ex­clud­ed from it. The total ef­fect of this in­tro­duc­to­ry chap­ter en­larges the mean­ing of the mys­te­ri­ous man, whose anonymi­ty is pre­served through­out, to in­clude oth­ers as well. John Jasper there­fore be­comes an al­le­gor­i­cal fig­ure pro­ject­ing the read­er into a world where one must at­tempt self-rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. What­ev­er the in­dividual guilt of John Jasper, it looks ba­si­cal­ly to be the guilt of Ev­eryman, torn be­tween the un­lim­it­ed dream and the cir­cum­scribed re­al­i­ty, and with a propen­si­ty to cor­rupt both.

As Jasper hur­ries from the sor­did episode in the Lon­don opium den to the evening ser­vice in Clois­ter­ham cathe­dral, he be­gins to shift am­bigu­ous­ly be­tween good and evil, the an­gel­ic and the de­monic. While he is mas­ter of the choir, he dons a "sul­lied robe."

Some of the char­ac­ters, like his nephew Edwin, great­ly re­spect him; oth­ers, like Rosa, are ter­ri­fied of him. In an early scene, Edwin speaks ad­mir­ing­ly of the place of honor his uncle has earned for him­self by his good work in the church. He finds his uncle's re­sponse be­wil­der­ing: '"I hate it. The cramped monotony of my exis­tence grinds me away by the grain.'" The ser­vice, which to Edwin sounds "quite ce­les­tial," to Jasper seems "dev­il­ish." He ex­plains:

"I am so weary of it. The echoes of my own voice among the arch­es seem to mock me with my daily drudg­ing round. No wretched monk who droned his life away in that gloomy place, be­fore me, can have been more tired of it than I am. He could take for re­lief (and did take) to carv­ing demons out of the stalls and seats and desks. What shall I do? Must I take to carv­ing them out of my heart?" (ch. 2)

In Jasper, as in the Coke­town pop­u­la­tion, the crav­ing grows for "some phys­i­cal re­lief — which crav­ing must and would be sat­is­fied aright, or must and would in­evitably go wrong." Ask­ing his nephew to "'take it as a warn­ing,'" Jasper ex­plains that "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?'" Here are the fore­warn­ings of the po­ten­tial ex­plo­sive out­let.

His as­so­ci­a­tion with the stone­ma­son Dur­dles iden­ti­fies Jasper more specif­i­cal­ly with the crim­i­nal-mar­tyr of the marsh. More than a hint of anal­o­gy glances be­tween the name of the one and the oc­cupation of the other. What could a stone­ma­son have to do with "Jasper," ex­cept per­haps in a carv­ing way? Around the per­son of Dur­dles, Dick­ens has as­sem­bled a fan­tas­tic array of stone im­ages and as­so­ci­a­tions. He is chiefly "in the grave­stone, tomb, and monu­ment way, and whol­ly of their colour from head to foot."

He is an old bach­e­lor, and he lives in a lit­tle an­ti­quat­ed hole of a house that was never fin­ished:'^ sup­posed to be built, so far, of stones stolen from the city wall, lb this abode there is an ap­proach, an­kle- deep in stone chips, re­sem­bling a pet­ri­fied grove of tomb­stones, urns, draperies, and bro­ken columns, in all stages of sculp­ture. Here­in two jour­ney­men in­ces­sant­ly chip, while other two jour­ney­men, who face each other, in­ces­sant­ly saw stone; dip­ping as reg­u­lar­ly in and out of their shel­ter­ing sen­try-box­es, as if they were me­chan­i­cal fig­ures em­blematical of Time and Death, (ch. 4)

Dur­dles, known among the urchins of the town as "Stony," has hired one of them for the un­usu­al oc­cu­pa­tion of ston­ing Dur­dles home on any oc­ca­sion the urchin catch­es him out "arter ten." Jasper is cu­ri­ous enough about the sig­nif­i­cance of his friend's nick­name to drag the ques­tion into a con­ver­sa­tion quite gra­tu­itous­ly. '"There was a dis­cus­sion the other day among the Choir,'" he ob­serves, '"whether Stony stood for Tony; . . or whether Stony stood for Stephen; or whether the name comes from your trade. How stands the fact?'" (ch. 4). Al­though he gets no an­swer from his un­com­mu­nica­tive and ap­par­ent­ly un­hear­ing com­pan­ion, the var­i­ous pos­si­bil­ties have been sug­gest­ed, promi­nent among them the name of the stoned mar­tyr. Lest the point be missed, how­ever, Dick­ens labors it fur­ther a short time later when Jasper and Dur­dles are ac­cost­ed by a group of stone-throw­ing urchins.

"Stop, you young brutes,' cried Jasper an­gri­ly, "and let us go by!"

This re­mon­strance being re­ceived with yells and fly­ing stones, ac­cord­ing to a cus­tom of late years com­fort­ably es­tab­lished among po­lice reg­u­la­tions of our En­glish com­mu­ni­ties, where Chris­tians are stoned on all sides, as if the days of Saint Stephen were re­vived, Dur­dles re­marks of the young sav­ages, with some point, that "they haven't got an ob­ject," and leads the way down the Lane. (ch. 5)

Jasper, like Quilp with the am­phibi­ous boy, feels a kind of kin­ship with "The Stony One," a feel­ing given some ob­jec­tiv­i­ty in this shared ston­ing. He rec­og­nizes that both live a "cu­ri­ous ex­is­tence" in­asmuch as their "lot is cast in the same old earthy, chilly, nev­er-chang­ing place,' though he con­sid­ers that Dur­dles has a much more mys­te­ri­ous and in­ter­est­ing con­nec­tion with the Cathe­dral than his own. On the mid­night ex­cur­sion made into the crypt by the pair, Dur­dles falls un­ac­count­ably asleep after im­bib­ing from his com­pan­ion's wick­er bot­tle, while Jasper him­self comes and goes shad­ow­ily through the night on some undis­closed busi­ness. In Dick­ens's total de­pic­tion, Dur­dles re­mains enig­mat­ic, but he seems to be a fig­ure of al­le­go­ry, part­ly iden­ti­fy­ing Jasper ever more un­mistakably with the crim­i­nal-mar­tyr of the marsh, pardy personify­ing some kind of neme­sis op­er­ant in Jasper's life.

Soon after the mid­night ex­cur­sion comes Christ­mas Eve — the night Edwin Drood is to dis­ap­pear. Three men are to meet in the gate­house/light­house on this night: Jasper, Neville, and Edwin. Dur­ing his prepa­ra­tions for this oc­ca­sion, John Jasper be­gins to emerge clear­ly as a marsh mon­ster with marked sim­i­lar­i­ty to Rogue Rid­er­hood. It has been a good day for the singing mas­ter. He has never sung bet­ter; his time is per­fect. "These re­sults are prob­ably at­tained through a grand com­po­sure of the spir­its. The mere mech­a­nism of his throat is a lit­tle ten­der," for he wears, both with his singing-robe and with his or­di­nary dress, a large black scarf of strong close-wo­ven silk, slung loose­ly round his neck" (ch. 14). Jasper has been out on chores of hos­pi­tal­i­ty. Now he hur­ries to get home be­fore his guests ar­rive, singing del­i­cate­ly in a low voice as he goes. "It still seems as if a false note were not with­in his power tonight, and as if noth­ing could hurry or re­tard him. Ar­riv­ing thus under the arched en­trance of his dwelling, he paus­es for an in­stant in the shel­ter to pull off that great black scarf, and hang it in a loop upon his arm." Like Rid­er­hood, this man pur­sues some unswerv­ing and cat­a­clysmic course. Look­ing "as if noth­ing could hurry or re­tard him," he too might be com­pared to an ugly fate, or be de­scribed as im­per­vi­ous to im­pla­ca­ble weath­er. At­ten­tion is drawn to the scarf to reen­force its anal­o­gy as he hangs it "in a loop upon his arm."

As Jasper ap­proach­es the postern stair, he meets Mr. Crisparkle, the Minor Canon, who has been con­cerned of late about the choir mas­ter's "black hu­mours." Jasper is un­ac­count­ably buoy­ant and cheer­ful. He tells Crisparkle that he plans to burn his diary at year's end be­cause he has been "out of sorts, gloomy, bil­ious, brain- op­pressed, what­ev­er it may be." As he ex­plains: "A man lead­ing a monotonous life ... and get­ting his nerves, or his stom­ach, out of order, dwells upon an idea until it loses its pro­por­tions." Crisparkle ex­press­es his pleased sur­prise at the im­prove­ment in his col­league. As David Cop­per­field's Martha drew at­ten­tion to her sim­i­lar­i­ty to the river, Jasper ex­plains him­self to Crisparkle in a re­lat­ed anal­o­gy: "'Why, nat­u­ral­ly,'" he re­turns. '"You had but lit­tle rea­son to hope that I should be­come more like your­self. You are al­ways train­ing your­self to be, mind and body, as clear as crys­tal, and you al­ways are, and never change; where­as I am a muddy, soli­tary, mop­ing weed.'" De­spite Jasper's ap­par­ent re­cov­ery of spir­its, his self- de­scrip­tion re­minds us of his "muddy" na­ture on this stormy and de­struc­tive night when "noth­ing is steady but the red light" in the gate­house. His metaphor­i­cal com­ment also fore­shad­ows his physi­cal con­di­tion as he later search­es through the muddy land around the river for signs of the van­ished Edwin.

On one night when Jasper re­turns home from this search, Mr. Crew­gious, Rosa's guardian, is wait­ing for him. Jasper has ar­rived ex­haust­ed, look­ing rather like Mag­witch or Gaffer Hexam: "Un­kempt and dis­or­dered, be­daubed with mud that had dried upon him, and with much of his cloth­ing torn to rags" (ch. 15). Grew­gious tells Jasper that Rosa and Edwin are not in fact en­gaged to be mar­ried. Al­though Grew­gious does not know it, this is cru­cial informa­tion for Jasper. In the case against him that Dick­ens is build­ing in the mind of the read­er, Jasper has pre­sum­ably dis­posed of Edwin as his rival for the af­fec­tions of Rosa. Now, as Grew­gious ful­fills his er­rand by de­liv­er­ing a mes­sage that ren­ders this act mean­ing­less, a startling trans­for­ma­tion takes place: "Mr. Grew­gious heard a ter­rible shriek, and saw no ghast­ly fig­ure, sit­ting or stand­ing; saw noth­ing but a heap of torn and miry clothes upon the floor." Thus has Jasper, the "muddy weed," by steps been re­duced into a heap of muddy residue, his human char­ac­ter fall­en com­plete­ly away from him. And here the un­fin­ished novel leaves John Jasper.

It is tempt­ing to try to solve at least one part of the mys­tery of Edwin Drood by ex­trap­o­lat­ing from an anal­y­sis of Jasper's de­piction as a marsh mon­ster: what would have been the truth ul­timately re­vealed about John Jasper? Ac­tu­al­ly, there could be no im­por­tant truth not al­ready in­her­ent in his por­tray­al. Whether he was guilty of the death of his nephew is al­most in­ci­den­tal, like the fate of Brown­ing's duchess. He has made it clear that he feels driv­en by the bor­ing monotony of his ex­is­tence to any kind of re­lieving ac­tion. Does his de­sire for Rosa fol­low or pre­cede his weari­ness and bore­dom? In ei­ther event, it is a guilty de­sire, as was Lady Ded­lock's wish for Tulk­inghorn's death. It seems most prob­a­ble that his guilty de­sire for his nephew's fiancée helped turn his life into the "cramped monotony' from which he must seek re­lief. Under sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances, Lady Ded­lock seeks re­lief in flight. Where can he seek it? In the wish-ful­fill­ment dreams of the opium den? ("Take it as a warn­ing,' he has said to Edwin.) A sim­i­lar­ly wretched an­cient monk, he says, could have found re­lief "carv­ing demons out of the stalls and seats and desks. What shall I do? Must I take to carv­ing them out of my heart?" Where Lady Ded­lock be­comes frozen­ly de­hu­man­ized, Jasper be­comes a sav­age mon­ster. And yet not a mon­ster like Sikes or Rid­er­hood, nor a sav­age like Gaffer, nor even quite a suave devil like James Hart­house. Though sav­age, he is ca­pa­ble of human thought and feel­ing; though bored, he is not in­dif­fer­ent.

After Edwin's dis­ap­pear­ance, Jasper once more makes his way to the Lon­don opium den after a long ab­sence. The hag­gard woman who sup­plies him with his pipe sus­pects him of some vil­lain­ous act and prods him to re­veal his se­cret to her. As the opium takes ef­fect, he be­comes con­fi­den­tial while she in­ter­mit­tent­ly fur­nish­es sym­pa­thet­ic en­cour­age­ment. '"Look here,'" he says,

"Sup­pose you had some­thing you were going to do. ... But had not quite de­ter­mined to. ... Might or might not do, you un­der­stand. ... Should you do it in your fancy, when you were lying here doing this?"

She nods her head. "Over and over again."

"Just like me! I did it over and over again. I have done it hun­dreds of thou­sands of times in this room."

"It's to be hoped it was pleas­ant to do, deary.'

"It was pleas­ant to do!" (ch. 23)

The sav­age air with which he makes the final com­ment demon­strates that the wish-ful­fill­ing power of the opium dream ob­vi­ous­ly sat­is­fies the crav­ing for phys­i­cal re­lief. In fact, strange­ly enough, it was once bet­ter than the ac­tu­al­i­ty has proven to be: '"I did it so often, and through such vast ex­pans­es of dme, that when it was re­al­ly done, it seemed not worth the doing, it was done so soon.'" The im­pli­ca­tion is clear­ly that Jasper is guilty of fi­nal­ly mak­ing in ac­tu­al­i­ty the Jour­ney so often taken in dream; but the im­pli­ca­tion is al­most too clear. Dick­ens is not to be trust­ed here: for Jasper to say "when it was re­al­ly done' is not quite equiv­a­lent to say­ing "when I did it." One is re­mind­ed of the vague false sus­pi­cion cast upon Gaffer, of the trick played on good Mr. Bof­fin by the al­li­ga­tor in Venus's spe­cial­ty shop, or of the elab­o­rate cir­cum­stan­tial case built against Lady Ded­lock only to be ex­plod­ed.'

The same scene in the opium den that im­plies guilt pre­pares equal­ly well for the op­po­site con­clu­sion — that he is in­no­cent of the deed. The hag­gard woman is prim­ing the pump for fur­ther rev­e­la­tions.

"I see now. You come o'pur­pose to take the jour­ney. Why, I might have known it, through its stand­ing by you so.'

He an­swers first with a laugh, and then with a pas­sion­ate set­ting of the teeth: "Yes, I came on pur­pose. When I could not bear my life, I came to get the re­lief, and I got it. It WAS one! It WAS one!" This repe­tition with ex­traor­di­nary ve­he­mence, and the snarl of a wolf (ch. 23)

The pre­sent jour­ney he is tak­ing, how­ev­er, is less than re­liev­ing. It is slow in com­ing ("Is it as po­tent as it used to be?'" he asks regard­ing the pipe). In ad­di­tion, the event of which he dreams has pre­sumably now taken place in re­al­i­ty, and "when it comes to be real at last, it is so short that it seems un­re­al for the first time." Further­more, the re­al­i­ty some­how does not equal the dream, being disap­pointing and un­sat­is­fy­ing by com­par­i­son. And, fi­nal­ly, now that "it" is real, the re­lief of the dream is need­ed at least as much as it was. Jasper laments:

"It has been too short and easy. I must have a bet­ter vi­sion than this; this is the poor­est of all. No strug­gle, no con­scious­ness of peril, no en­treaty — and yet I never saw that be­fore." With a start.

"Saw what, deary?"

"Look at it! Look what a poor, mean, mis­er­able thing it is! That must be real. It's over." (ch. 23)

The mean­ing of "that" and "it" re­mains shroud­ed in am­bi­gu­i­ty," but it clear­ly has not fi­nal­ly brought re­lief to Jasper: it also pre­vents his achiev­ing re­lief in the for­mer­ly to­tal­ly sat­is­fy­ing way. The wicked de­sire for Edwin's death, like the wicked re­lief felt by Lady Ded­lock, be­comes ad­di­tion­al cause for Jasper to carve demons out of his heart: "What was his death but the key-stone of a gloomy arch re­moved?" Al­though it is of course pos­si­ble — per­haps prob­a­ble — that Jasper could have proved to be a mur­der­er, yet I be­lieve it more con­sis­tent with Dick­ens's prac­tice that he would have been found guilty only as Lady Ded­lock was guilty of the mur­der of Mr. Tulk­inghorn: in will, but not in deed. The dif­fer­ence, how­ev­er, is neg­li­gi­ble for the dif­fer­ence made in the ef­fect upon him. Whether he did the deed or not, he is self-con­demned by guilt.

With the cre­ation of John Jasper, the last of the mon­sters to be sum­moned forth by Dick­ens, the warn­ing of the marsh nec­es­sar­i­ly re­ceives its final it­er­a­tion. He is a sub­tle mon­ster. Into his na­ture enter the re­fine­ment and so­phis­ti­ca­tion that make of the "drift­ing ice­bergs" like James Hart­house a "very Devil," much more fear­ful and dan­ger­ous than the "roar­ing lions by which few but sav­ages and hunters are at­tract­ed." He, how­ev­er, is not pro­tect­ed by indif­ference: rather, like Pip and Lady Ded­lock, he is ca­pa­ble of a sen­sitive in­ter­nal tor­ment much sub­tler than that prim­i­tive­ly mani­fested by Gaffer and Sikes in their fear­ful looks over their shoul­ders. De­spite their dif­fer­ences from one an­oth­er, each of the marsh crea­tures sounds the death-in-life warn­ing: Peo­ple who think or feel like these crea­tures, who will or act like them, might as well live in the marsh, for they bring the marsh with them wher­ev­er they go. They may live and die as am­phib­ians, as un­awak­ened human be­ings; tramp mud through the draw­ing rooms of Lon­don; fly into the marsh mi­as­ma even while flee­ing in bore­dom from it; or trans­form a count­ing/gate­house into an ugly light­house. Sub­hu­man or de­hu­man­ized, vic­tims or per­pe­tra­tors, they are liv­ing re­minders that there are many kinds of self-im­posed death. Peo­ple may turn both them­selves and those they touch into mon­sters through for­getting their hu­mane links with oth­ers.

The dou­ble guilt felt by Pip can be echoed in the heart of any sen­si­tive per­son. Every marsh mon­ster to be en­coun­tered in human af­fairs re­minds us that "All about this was quite fa­mil­iar knowl­edge down in the slime, ages ago." Of what ac­count is our great myth of human progress if we still per­mit our fel­lows to re­main sub­hu­man or cause them to be de­hu­man­ized, or if we our­selves can re­vert so read­i­ly to the mon­ster? This, or some­thing very like it, is the warn­ing of the marsh, al­le­gor­i­cal­ly rep­re­sent­ed in the two jour­ney­men of Stony Dur­dles, in­ces­sant­ly saw­ing stone in a pet­ri­fied grove of tomb­stones "as if they were me­chan­i­cal fig­ures em­blem­at­i­cal of Time and Death.'

• • • • • •

In his last years, as the events in Dick­ens's life must have deep­ened his per­son­al feel­ings of guilt and non-ful­fill­ment and fail­ure, there are cer­tain­ly grounds for de­scrib­ing a dark­ened out­look in his final nov­els. Nonethe­less, there is like­wise ev­i­dence in The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood that his faith in the Weltan­schau­ung he had devel­oped re­mained un­shak­en. He still could muster the per­spec­tive to see be­yond his own di­min­ished ac­tu­al world to reaf­firm the real sig­nificance of human dreams and val­ues.

Edwin — not Jasper — be­comes the ve­hi­cle for putting the dis­mal Clois­ter­ham world into per­spec­tive. In this Clois­ter­ham, the nar­ra­tor has ear­li­er ob­served: "Even its sin­gle pawn­bro­ker takes in no pledges, nor has he for a long time, but of­fers vain­ly an unre­deemed stock for sale, of which the costli­er ar­ti­cles are dim and pale old watch­es ap­par­ent­ly in a cold per­spi­ra­tion, tar­nished sug­ar- tongs with in­ef­fec­tu­al legs, and odd vol­umes of dis­mal books" (MED, ch. 3). The "pale old watch­es,' the "in­ef­fec­tu­al legs,' and the "vol­umes of dis­mal books" are em­blems of a nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry human com­mu­ni­ty that for the dme being has lost its way.

On a later oc­ca­sion, after Rosa and Edwin have de­cid­ed to go their sep­a­rate ways, Edwin de­cides to re­turn to Mr. Grew­gious the "sor­row­ful jew­els" he had planned to give Rosa as his fiancée. He ex­plains his de­ci­sion to Grew­gious:

They were but a sign of bro­ken joys and base­less pro­jects; in their very beau­ty they were . . al­most a cruel satire on the loves, hopes, plans, of hu­man­i­ty, which are able to fore­cast noth­ing, and are so much brit­tle dust. Let them be. He would re­store them 10 her guard­ian when he came down; he in his turn would re­store them to the cab­i­net from which he had un­will­ing­ly taken them; and there, like old let­ters or old vows, or other records of old as­pi­ra­tions come to noth­ing, they would be dis­re­gard­ed, until, being valu­able, they were sold into cir­cu­la­tion again, to re­peat their for­mer round, (ch. 13)

The note struck here is a sad one be­cause at the mo­ment the hu­man dream seems bankrupt, with­out value on the mar­ket. De­spite the bi­o­graph­i­cal ev­i­dence to sug­gest that Dick­ens's view at the end was a "dark" one, this idea might have ap­peared any­where in Dick­ens. Its im­pli­ca­tions go be­yond ei­ther the op­ti­mistic or the pes­simistic: they may be viewed as pre­dom­i­nant­ly ei­ther sad or happy de­pend­ing on the cur­rent state of the dream; on which part of the total al­le­go­ry one is ex­plor­ing at the mo­ment and how it is being woven. Yet whichev­er is pre­dom­i­nant, the op­po­site possi­bility lingers in the back­ground to com­mu­ni­cate the bit­ter­sweet in­ter­pre­ta­tion of life. In the world about him, Dick­ens found an in­ex­haustible sup­ply of vari­a­tions on his al­le­go­ry of life. The bus­ding speci­fici­ty of his nov­els may some­times ob­scure the uni­ver­sal rep­re­sen­ta­tion; yet the uni­ver­sal, once seen, is there­after clear­ly vis­i­ble through the cir­cum­stan­tial.

Rec­og­niz­ing the uni­fied mode of ex­pe­ri­ence con­trol­ling and sta­bi­liz­ing the rich­ly var­ied ma­te­ri­als of life that burst from his nov­els leads fi­nal­ly to a new re­spect for the mind of Charles Dick­ens. His in­ter­pre­ta­tion of life re­mains strik­ing­ly valid, un­sen­ti­men­tal, and rel­e­vant a cen­tu­ry and more after its in­cep­tion. He shared with Shake­speare and Arnold's Greeks one fun­da­men­tal qual­i­ty of spir­it; the ca­pac­i­ty to see life steadi­ly and see it whole. Life is tragedy, but it is also com­e­dy. If it is sad that human dreams and as­pi­ra­tions come to noth­ing, it is a joy­ous mir­a­cle that they can and will be sold into cir­cu­la­tion again to re­peat their for­mer rounds. Again as in Shake­speare, the world of Dick­ens's nov­els, though per­vad­ed by mys­te­ri­ous forces over which hu­man­i­ty has lit­tle or no con­trol, is the world of time, bustling with the things and ac­tiv­i­ty of this life, and find­ing the mean­ing of life in the qual­i­ty an in­di­vid­u­al brings to its liv­ing. The fact that dreams can be re­vi­tal­ized for every on­com­ing human being en­sures that human life can con­tin­ue to be ex­is­ten­tial­ly in­vest­ed with the qual­i­ties nec­es­sary to give it sig­nif­i­cance.