3. The Genesis of “Edwin Drood”

THIS is the last night I have to live, and I will set down the naked truth with­out dis­guise. I was never a brave man, and had al­ways been from my child­hood of a se­cret, sullen, dis­trust­ful na­ture. I speak of my­self as if I had passed from the world; for while I write this, my grave is dig­ging, and my name is writ­ten in the black-book of death.

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HE fore­go­ing quo­ta­tion might well have been taken from the end of the sec­ond part of The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood — that nev­er- to-be-writ­ten por­tion of the novel that Charles Dick­ens car­ried with him to the grave. It sug­gests also the be­gin­ning of the re­view of John Jasper’s ca­reer as out­lined briefly by John Forster in his re­marks con­cern­ing the nov­el­ist’s dis­clo­sure to him of the plot for his last un­fin­ished work. Ac­tu­al­ly, how­ev­er, the sen­tences form the sec­ond para­graph of a short story ap­pear­ing in Mas­ter Humphrey’s Clock.

Pub­lished as a se­ri­al in eighty-eight week­ly is­sues from April 4, 1840, to Novem­ber 27, 1841, this less­er-known col­lec­tion of sketch­es and sto­ries served as a frame­work for The Old Cu­rios­i­ty Shop and Barn­a­by Rudge. The short story in ques­tion bears the title, “A Con­fes­sion found in a prison in the time of Charles the Sec­ond”; it is worth con­sid­er­ing be­cause it has so many re­sem­blances to the frag­ment left by the nov­el­ist at his death. And these re­sem­blances are so strik­ing that I am forced to the con­clu­sion that “A Con­fes­sion” was the germ that ul­ti­mate­ly de­vel­oped into the story we know today as The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood.

John Jasper, Edwin Drood’s uncle and prob­a­ble mur­der­er, is not un­like the un­known au­thor of “A Con­fes­sion,” whom I shall call the Nar­ra­tor, and who de­scribes him­self as “of a se­cret, sullen, dis­trust­ful na­ture” Dick­ens, paint­ing on a broad­er can­vas with greater de­tail when he came to his last cre­ative work, says of Jasper: “im­pas­sive, moody, soli­tary, res­o­lute, so con­cen­trat­ed on one idea, and on its at­ten­dant fixed pur­pose, that he would share it with no fel­low-crea­ture, he lived apart from human life.” Jasper was a lone wolf on a larg­er scale than the Nar­ra­tor of “A Con­fes­sion”; that is the only es­sen­tial dif­fer­ence be­tween the two men.

Both be­came guardians of their nephews, and the nephew of each was an or­phan. The Nar­ra­tor held a trust over a child of four; Edwin Drood was a young man ap­proach­ing his ma­jor­i­ty.

Be­cause the boy re­sem­bled his de­ceased moth­er, whom the Nar­ra­tor hated, the lat­ter grad­u­al­ly con­ceived a plan for mur­der­ing him. This plan, as he ex­plains, com­ing by slow stages “to be part and par­cel — nay near­ly the whole sum and sub­stance — of my daily thoughts, and re­solv­ing it­self into a ques­tion of means and safe­ty; not of doing or ab­stain­ing from the deed,” grew in the Nar­ra­tor’s mind to the pro­por­tion of an idée fixe. John Jasper might in like fash­ion have echoed these words when he fi­nal­ly re­vealed his care­ful­ly ma­tured de­sign to do away with his “dear Ned,” the only ob­sta­cle stand­ing be­tween him and Rosa Bud, the ob­ject of his pas­sion.

“I never could bear that the child should see me look­ing at him, and yet I was under a fas­ci­na­tion which made it a kind of busi­ness with me to con­tem­plate his slight and frag­ile fig­ure and think how eas­i­ly it might be done. Some­times I would steal up­stairs and watch him as he slept.” Thus wrote the Nar­ra­tor, med­i­tat­ing upon his pro­ject­ed mur­der. John Jasper was equal­ly fas­ci­nat­ed by Edwin Drood, for whom he had what his nephew termed an al­most wom­an­ish con­cern. Once for all, a look of in­tent­ness and in­ten­si­ty — a look of hun­gry, ex­act­ing, watch­ful, and yet de­vot­ed af­fec­tion — is al­ways, now and ever af­ter­wards, on the Jasper face when­ev­er the Jasper face is ad­dressed in this di­rec­tion.” And the Nar­ra­tor’s habit of steal­ing up­stairs to watch the boy in slum­ber is per­fect­ly matched by Jasper when he re­turns from the home of Minor Canon Crisparkle on the night of the fa­mous quar­rel be­tween Edwin Drood and Neville Land­less. “His nephew lies asleep, calm and un­trou­bled. John Jasper stands look­ing down upon him, his un­light­ed pipe in his hand, for some time, with a fixed and deep at­ten­tion.”

The Nar­ra­tor of “A Con­fes­sion” mur­ders his nephew when the child goes to a deep sheet of water to sail a toy boat — a lure fash­ioned by his uncle to en­tice the boy to this se­clud­ed spot. Hav­ing slain the child with his sword, he re­solves to bury the body in his gar­den.

“I had no thought that I had failed in my de­sign, no thought that the water would be dragged and noth­ing found.” In like man­ner Jasper had no idea that his mur­der plan had failed sole­ly be­cause of the ring of di­a­monds and ru­bies car­ried by Edwin upon his per­son — the ring about which Jasper knew noth­ing, but which was des­tined in the end to bind and drag him to his doom. He had no idea that the river and its ad­join­ing banks would be vain­ly searched for days, al­though he re­al­ized at once that no body would be forth­com­ing. The ab­sence of a cor­pus delic­ti made Jasper’s po­si­tion des­per­ate, since it en­forced the even­tu­al re­lease from cus­tody of Neville Land­less, upon whom Jasper had worked long and crafti­ly to fas­ten sus­pi­cion.

“I must en­cour­age the idea that the child was lost or stolen,” wrote the Nar­ra­tor. “All my thoughts were bound up and knot­ted to­geth­er in the ab­sorb­ing ne­ces­si­ty of hid­ing what I had done.” How equal­ly do those state­ments apply to Jasper, after old Hiram Grew­gious had told him that Edwin and Rosa had bro­ken off their en­gage­ment on am­i­ca­ble terms, agree­ing to be to each other there­after no more than broth­er and sis­ter! To avert sus­pi­cion from him­self, the wretched choir­mas­ter was com­pelled to sug­gest that his nephew had gone away of his own vo­li­tion.

“How I felt when they came to tell me that the child was miss­ing, when I or­dered scouts in all di­rec­tions, when I gasped and trem­bled at every one’s ap­proach, no tongue can tell or mind of man con­ceive,” the Nar­ra­tor con­tin­ued. For “scouts” we have only to sub­sti­tute the “plac­ards and ad­ver­tise­ments” that “should be wide­ly cir­cu­lat­ed im­plor­ing Edwin Drood, if for any un­known rea­son he had with­drawn him­self from his uncle’s home and so­ci­ety, to take pity on that lov­ing kins­man’s sore be­reave­ment and dis­tress, and some­how in­form him that he was still alive.” Jasper like­wise, when the mur­der of his nephew was no more than the prod­uct of his fever­ish dreams, be­trayed an anx­i­ety sim­i­lar to that of the Nar­ra­tor. Minor Canon Crisparkle is our wit­ness to this fact:

“Long af­ter­wards he had cause to re­mem­ber how Jasper sprang from the couch in a deliri­ous state be­tween sleep­ing and wak­ing, and cry­ing out: ‘What is the mat­ter? Who did it?’”

The Nar­ra­tor of the “Clock” story was sit­ting with his chair ac­tu­al­ly upon the grave of his dead nephew on the fourth night after the mur­der when he was vis­it­ed by one who had served with him abroad, ac­com­pa­nied by a broth­er of­fi­cer. Their con­ver­sa­tion was soon in­ter­rupt­ed by the ap­pear­ance of two blood­hounds, which tried to tear up the ground be­neath the seat oc­cu­pied by the mur­der­er. His vis­i­tors called upon him to move, but he re­fused, or­der­ing them to draw their swords and cut the dogs to pieces. At once the of­fi­cer sensed some mys­tery; the two men set upon the mur­der­er and forced him away, al­though he “fought and bit and caught at them like a mad­man.”

“What more have I to tell ?“ the Nar­ra­tor con­clud­ed. “That I fell upon my knees, and with chat­ter­ing teeth con­fessed the truth, and prayed to be for­giv­en. That I have since de­nied, and now con­fess to it again. That I have been tried for the crime, found guilty, and sen­tenced. That I have not the courage to an­tic­i­pate my doom, or to bear up man­ful­ly against it. That I have no com­pas­sion, no con­so­la­tion, no hope, no friend. — That I am alone in this stone dun­geon with my evil spir­it, and that I die to­mor­row.”

Again, these clos­ing words might have been ut­tered by John Jasper, who — ac­cord­ing to in­for­ma­tion given John Forster by Dick­ens him­self — was to have made a con­fes­sion of his crime while in the con­demned cell.

It is my con­tention that “A Con­fes­sion found in a prison in the time of Charles the Sec­ond,” writ­ten when Dick­ens was a com­par­a­tive­ly young man, has all the es­sen­tial fea­tures of the frag­ment he left us at his death: the mur­der of a nephew by his uncle; the se­cret buri­al of the body; a psy­cho­log­i­cal sim­i­lar­i­ty in the thoughts and ac­tions of the mur­der­ing agents. In the month­ly parts which were never to be writ­ten, we would un­doubt­ed­ly have had the track­ing down of the mur­der­er of Edwin Drood, his cap­ture, and his con­fes­sion to the crime given from the death cell. The blood­hounds of the “Clock” manuscript have been re­placed by the ac­tiv­i­ties of Dick Datch­ery; the ring of di­a­monds and ru­bies del­i­cate­ly set in gold would have iden­ti­fied what re­mained of Edwin Drood’s body. I have not the slight­est doubt that, con­scious­ly or sub­con­scious­ly, Charles Dick­ens had in mind this ear­li­er prod­uct of his pen when he con­struct­ed his plot for The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood.

Thomas Wright states with ref­er­ence to a story by Percy Fitzger­ald, a young con­tem­po­rary of Dick­ens and the nov­el­ist’s friend:

“Dick­ens thought as high­ly of Fitzger­ald’s work as he did of Mrs. Trol­lope’s. He in­deed, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Kit­ton, al­tered the plot of Edwin Drood en­tire­ly, after read­ing An Ex­pe­ri­ence, a story which Fitzger­ald con­tribut­ed to All the Year Round. ‘It is,’ says Dick­ens, on 19 Au­gust 1869, ‘ac­cord­ing to my think­ing, one of the most re­mark­able pieces I ever saw!’ — Who­ev­er, there­fore, wants to un­der­stand Edwin Drood and Dick­ens’s at­ti­tude to it should not ne­glect Percy Fitzger­ald’s An Ex­pe­ri­ence.

Since I have been en­deav­or­ing over a pe­ri­od of years to fath­om and un­der­stand the mys­ter­ies of the novel and Dick­ens’s at­ti­tude to­ward it, I have read and stud­ied this story in two chap­ters which ap­peared in All the Year Round: No. 37, New Se­ries, on Sat­ur­day, Au­gust 14, and Sat­ur­day, Au­gust 21, 1869. These dates are not with­out their sig­nif­i­cance, as will be seen from what fol­lows. How­ev­er, ei­ther Mr. Kit­ton or Mr. Wright (or pos­si­bly both) was in error when he stat­ed that “An Ex­pe­ri­ence” was writ­ten by Percy Fitzger­ald. I am jus­ti­fied in mak­ing such an as­ser­tion by a let­ter Dick­ens ad­dressed to Miss Emily Jolly, au­thoress of Mr. Ark and sev­er­al other nov­els:

Of­fice of Alt the Year Round
Thurs­day, Twen­ty-sec­ond July, 1869

Dear Miss Jolly, — Mr. Wills has re­tired from here (for rest and to re­cov­er his health), and my son, who oc­cu­pies his place, brought me this morn­ing a sto­ry [“An Ex­pe­ri­ence”] in MS., with a re­quest that I would read it. I read it with ex­traor­di­nary in­ter­est, and was great­ly sur­prised by its un­com­mon merit. On ask­ing whence it came, I found that it came from you!

You need not be told, after this, that I ac­cept it with more than readi­ness. If you will allow me I will go over it with great care, and very slight­ly touch it here and there. I think it will re­quire to be di­vid­ed into three por­tions. You shall have the proofs and I will pub­lish it im­me­di­ate­ly. I think SO VERY high­ly of it that I will have spe­cial at­ten­tion called to it in a sep­a­rate ad­ver­tise­ment. I con­grat­u­late you most sin­cere­ly and hearti­ly on hav­ing done a very spe­cial thing. It will al­ways stand apart in my mind from any other story I ever read. I write with its im­pres­sion newly and strong­ly upon me, and feel ab­so­lute­ly sure that I am not mis­tak­en. — Be­lieve me, faith­ful­ly yours al­ways.

That Dick­ens was in­deed tremen­dous­ly im­pressed by “An Ex­pe­ri­ence” seems ev­i­dent not only from what he wrote Miss Jolly but also from ad­di­tion­al let­ters which I shall soon have oc­ca­sion to re­pro­duce. First of all, how­ev­er, it would be well to re­mem­ber that he had al­ready turned his mind to the prob­lem of Edwin Drood, if we are to be­lieve John Forster when he says that “in the mid­dle of July” he re­ceived the fol­low­ing query: “What should you think of the idea of a story be­gin­ning in this way? — Two peo­ple, boy and girl, or very young, going apart from one an­oth­er, pledged to be mar­ried after many years — at the end of the book? The in­ter­est to arise out of the trac­ing of their sep­a­rate ways, and the im­pos­si­bil­i­ty of telling what will be done with that im­pend­ing fate?“ “In the mid­dle of July” cer­tain­ly im­plies a date prior to the 12d, when Dick­ens first read Miss Jolly’s manuscript.

It is un­like­ly that Miss Jolly de­clined the nov­el­ist’s sug­ges­tion that he “touch” her story “here and there,” for he wrote to his daugh­ter Mary:

Of­fice of All the Year Round
Tues­day, Third Au­gust, 1869

My dear­est Mamie, — I send you the sec­ond chap­ter of the re­mark­able story. The print­er is late with it, and I have not had time to read it, and as I al­tered it con­sid­er­ably here and there, I have no doubt there are some ver­bal mis­takes in it. How­ev­er, they will prob­a­bly ex­press them­selves.

But I offer a prize of six pairs of gloves — be­tween you, and your aunt, and Ellen Stone, as com­peti­tors — to whom­so­ev­er will tell me what idea in this sec­ond part is mine. I don’t mean an idea in lan­guage, in the turn­ing of a sen­tence, in any lit­tle de­scrip­tion of an ac­tion, or a ges­ture, or what not in a small way, but an idea, dis­tinct­ly af­fect­ing the whole story as I found it. You are all to as­sume that I found it in the main as you read it, with one ex­cep­tion. If I had writ­ten it, I should have made the woman love the man at last. And I should have shad­owed that pos­si­bil­i­ty out, by the child’s bring­ing them a lit­tle more to­geth­er on that hol­i­day Sun­day.

But I didn’t write it. So, find­ing that it want­ed some­thing, I put that some thing in. What was it? — Your af­fec­tion­ate Fa­ther.

With his own novel still in mind, Dick­ens made a sportive lit­tle mys­tery of his ad­di­tion to the story af­fect­ing him so strong­ly. And al­though there is no date for the en­su­ing brief note to W. H. Wills, he must have writ­ten it soon after the let­ter ad­dressed to his daugh­ter:

26 Welling­ton Street, Strand, Lon­don, W. C.

My dear Wills, —

All goes well here. I have been “at it” con­sid­er­ably. Look at a very re­mark­able story in 2 chap­ters, An Ex­pe­ri­ence, which be­gins next week.

Fi­nal­ly, on Au­gust 6, he wrote to John Forster the fa­mous let­ter in which he spoke of the change made in what was to be­come The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood. Forster does not re­pro­duce — ex­cept as a foot­note — the in­tro­duc­to­ry part of this let­ter in his Life of Charles Dick­ens; since it con­tains an ad­di­tion­al ref­er­ence to Miss Jolly’s story, I in­clude it here:

I have a very re­mark­able story for you to read. It is in only two chap­ters. A thing never to melt into other sto­ries in the mind, but al­ways to keep it­self apart — .

— I laid aside the fancy I told you of, and 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.

The story, I learnt im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter­ward [Forster con­tin­ues], was to be that of the mur­der of a nephew by his uncle; the orig­i­nal­i­ty of which 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. The last chap­ters were to be writ­ten in the con­demned cell, to which his wicked­ness, all elab­o­rate­ly elicit­ed from him as if told of an­oth­er, had brought him. Dis­cov­ery by the mur­der­er of the utter need­less­ness of the mur­der for its ob­ject, was to fol­low hard upon the com­mis­sion of the deed; but the dis­cov­ery of the mur­der­er 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. So much was told to me be­fore any of the book was writ­ten; and it will be rec­ol­lect­ed that the ring, taken by Drood to be given to his be­trothed only if their en­gage­ment went on, was brought away with him from their last in­ter­view. Rosa was to marry Tar­tar, and Crisparkle the sis­ter of Land­less, who was him­self, I think, to have per­ished in as­sist­ing Tar­tar fi­nal­ly to un­mask and seize the mur­der­er.

It will be help­ful to keep this sum­ma­ry of the plot of Edwin Drood in mind as we ex­am­ine “An Ex­pe­ri­ence.” In view of Forster’s ac­count, I am in­clined to be­lieve that the nov­el­ist had all the es­sen­tial fea­tures of the plot for his nar­ra­tive well with­in his men­tal grasp be­fore he read Miss Jolly’s manuscript; cer­tain­ly there is noth­ing in her story re­mote­ly touch­ing upon the Datch­ery as­sump­tion, for ex­am­ple. Nor is there any­thing in it bear­ing upon the main theme of the Drood novel: the study of the men­tal­i­ty and char­ac­ter of a rebel against so­ci­ety who be­comes a mur­der­er. But we shall find that cer­tain sit­u­a­tions of “An Ex­pe­ri­ence” have more or less def­i­nite re­sem­blances to episodes in Edwin Drood. Since it is im­pos­si­ble to as­cer­tain just what parts of Miss Jolly’s nar­ra­tive rep­re­sent Dick­ens’s al­ter­ations, and these were con­sid­er­able, there is no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for as­sum­ing that he bor­rowed this or that sit­u­a­tion sim­i­lar to hap­pen­ings in his own work. That he con­tribut­ed a cer­tain idea to the sec­ond chap­ter of the tale is ev­i­dent from the let­ter to his daugh­ter. I would infer that Dick­ens ab­sorbed its at­mo­sphere; that rec­ol­lec­tions of cer­tain pas­sages or sit­u­a­tions, for which he may him­self have been re­spon­si­ble, col­ored his treat­ment of the plot he had al­ready evolved for Edwin Drood.

“An Ex­pe­ri­ence” is told in the first per­son by one Bertram Dowlass, an am­bi­tious, iron-nerved, hard­head­ed and hard­heart­ed young sur­geon. He is no sen­ti­men­tal­ist, but boasts of his brain; he is proud of the fact that he has read hard and worked hard.

On an early June af­ter­noon he meets in his con­sult­ing room, for the first time, a woman of corpse­like pal­lor, with dark eye­brows, who is ac­com­pa­nied by a lit­tle girl some two or three years old. The child is lame. Al­though the woman com­plains that Dowlass is young to be a sur­geon, he as­sures her that the child, whose eyes have an un­usu­al ef­fect upon him, can be cured. He ad­vis­es the use of chlo­ro­form in the op­er­a­tion he con­sid­ers nec­es­sary to ef­fect the cure, but he is by no means cer­tain that Dr. Fearn­well, his su­pe­ri­or, will per­mit it. Dr. Fearn­well might tell the moth­er that her daugh­ter’s lame­ness would not kill, where­as the cure might very well be fatal. Dowlass as­sures her that the op­er­a­tion, if un­der­tak­en at all, will be per­formed with­in the week. The moth­er sug­gests that Dr. Fearn­well need not see her. Dowlass says that in any event the child must be ex­am­ined by a coun­cil of sur­geons.

Dr. Fearn­well is of the opin­ion that the child is too del­i­cate for the pro­posed op­er­a­tion. Dowlass wins his point, how­ev­er, by con­ceal­ing the whole truth about the child, and the op­er­a­tion is sched­uled for 11:00 A.M. on a Mon­day. The moth­er dreads the com­ing or­deal; her daugh­ter is all she has left from the past. If death comes to her child, she will curse the hand of God or of the man who took her.

Dowlass has learned that the moth­er is a Mrs. Ross­car, and he is by no means im­per­vi­ous to her ex­treme beau­ty. Think­ing of the com­ing op­er­a­tion, he takes a boat trip on the Sun­day be­fore the day when it is to be per­formed. On the boat he meets Mrs. Ross­car and the child; the moth­er in­forms him that she is tak­ing the ex­cur­sion to give her daugh­ter fresh air. Dowlass of­fers to squire her. She ac­cepts, telling him she will try to love God when her child walks again. He notes that Mrs. Ross­car is in mourn­ing, but that her bear­ing is regal. They go out in a row­boat and dine to­geth­er. Dowlass ob­serves that Mrs. Ross­car is a woman and a lady.

“I be­lieve,” he says, “that, just at the time when I first met her, my brain was on the point of giv­ing-in, and of re­sent­ing the strain of some years.” He is un­con­scious­ly falling in love with Mrs. Ross­car.

The op­er­a­tion is per­formed upon the child, and is suc­cess­ful. Dr. Fearn­well, tak­ing stock of Dowlass, tells him that he is over­do­ing things, and that he should go away on a va­ca­tion.

“I knew that late that day,” Dowlass muses, “when I first saw Mrs. Ross­car after the op­er­a­tion, her ex­pres­sion of her pas­sion­ate joy and grat­i­tude made me half deliri­ous with an un­com­pre­hend­ed feel­ing — and that part of it was fear.”

The child is placed in a ward, where Mrs. Ross­car watch­es over it night and day. “The more ra­di­ant the moth­er’s face was, and the more en­tire­ly all seemed well, the more I felt afraid.

On the third day after the op­er­a­tion, the child sinks and dies in its sleep. There was no rea­son why the lit­tle girl should not have lived, Dowlass de­clares, even though dom­i­nat­ed by her moth­er.

“I re­solved that I would not meet her eyes,” he says, “but she was the stronger willed, and our eyes did meet. I shrank; I shiv­ered; I looked, I know, ab­ject, craven, self-con­vict­ed. I felt I was the mur­der­er she thought me.”

“As her lips opened, to give ut­ter­ance to the first words of her curse, I, lift­ing my own arms, as if to ward off from my head an im­mi­nent blow (they told me af­ter­wards of these things), and strug­gling for power to ar­tic­u­late some dep­re­ca­tion — I, meet­ing her eyes with un­speak­able hor­ror in my own, stag­gered a mo­ment, then fell, as if she had struck me down.”

This is the cli­max of the first chap­ter, and it in­evitably sug­gests the dra­mat­ic mo­ment in Edwin Drood when Hiram Grew­gious in­forms Jasper that his nephew and Rosa had bro­ken off their en­gage­ment prior to Edwin’s dis­ap­pear­ance. What fol­lows will il­lus­trate the par­al­lelism. “Mr. Grew­gious saw a ghast­ly fig­ure rise, open-mouthed, from the easy-chair, and lift its out­spread hands to­wards its head.” “Mr. Grew­gious saw the ghast­ly fig­ure throw back its head, clutch its hair with its hands, and turn with a writhing ac­tion from him.” “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.”

There is in­deed a sim­i­lar­i­ty be­tween the two sit­u­a­tions, but the su­pe­ri­or power and artistry of Dick­ens are im­me­di­ate­ly ap­par­ent.

At the be­gin­ning of the sec­ond chap­ter of “An Ex­pe­ri­ence,” Dowlass re­gains con­scious­ness only to find him­self in his own rooms. It is night­time, he no­tices, and still sum­mer. A woman sits by him, sewing; some­how he sens­es that she is Mrs. Ross­car.

“That he may not die, great God, that he may not die!” Dowlass hears her pray, where­upon he knows fear.

“Why was I given over to her?” is the ques­tion that tor­ments his mind.

She tells him that he has been ill for a month; he has been suf­fer­ing from con­ges­tion of the brain. She has been nurs­ing him ever since her child was buried. Dowlass again laps­es into un­con­scious­ness, re­main­ing in that state for an­oth­er week.

“For some time after I had got on a good way to­wards re­cov­ery,” he says later, “I talked and thought of my­self as ‘that sick man’: seemed to watch what was done for me, as if it were being done to some other per­son.” Here is a strik­ing par­al­lelism to a part of Forster s re­marks form­ing a com­men­tary to the let­ter Dick­ens wrote him on Au­gust 6 — the part in which he states that the orig­i­nal­i­ty of Edwin Drood “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.”

On one of his vis­its to the sick man, Dr. Fearn­well in­forms Dowlass that he owes his life to his nurse. Later, Mrs. Ross­car tells her pa­tient to call her “Hul­dah”; only one per­son has called her by that name since her child­hood.

Speak­ing of his at­ti­tude to­ward the woman he now loves, Dowlass re­marks: “I was under a spell of fas­ci­na­tion not de­void of fear.” His feel­ing, as quot­ed in his own words, is not at all un­like that en­ter­tained by Rosa Bud for John Jasper.

“I loved her with a des­per­ate sort of pas­sion,” Dowlass ex­claims as he probes his emo­tions more deeply. “A love far more of the sens­es than the heart.”

“It was the beau­ty of her pres­ence that so grew upon me: of her whole phys­i­cal self, as it were. Of her mind and heart I knew noth­ing.”

John Jasper might have said some­thing very like this in an­a­lyz­ing his pas­sion for Rosa; he too felt the ap­peal to the sens­es made by a love­ly body. Did he not cry out to her as he stood by the sun dial in the gar­den of the Nuns’ House: “How beau­ti­ful you are! You are more beau­ti­ful in anger than in re­pose. I don’t ask you for your love; give me your­self and your ha­tred; give me your­self and that pret­ty rage; give me your­self and that en­chant­ing scorn; it will be enough for me.”

At last Dr. Fearn­well be­comes im­pa­tient be­cause Dowlass does not get well. He plans to re­move the sick man to a farm where he will have a bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ty to re­cov­er. At this point Mrs. Ross­car feels that she has to leave, but she promis­es to re­join Dowlass later, at the farm, if he will not again ex­pose her to Dr. Fearn­well’s re marks. She sug­gests that she may ap­pear there as Dowlass’s sis­ter.

She comes to him on the af­ter­noon of the sec­ond day after his re­moval to the farm. Dowlass fi­nal­ly tells her of his love for her, then asks her to marry him.

“That I should love you!” she cries. “Is it cred­i­ble ?“

Later on she calls him in to the house. “My pa­tient, you must come in, the dew be­gins to fall.”

“Some­how,” Dowlass con­fess­es, “the way that hand touched my shoul­der, and the slight ac­cen­tu­a­tion on that word ‘my,’ made me shud­der.” Some rec­ol­lec­tion of that avow­al may have found its way to Dick­ens’s mind when he wrote the chap­ter de­scrib­ing the un­ac­count­able noc­tur­nal ex­pe­di­tion made by Jasper and Dur­dles to the cathe­dral crypt and the great tower. Be­fore the two men as­cend the stairs lead­ing to the sum­mit of the tower, the stone­ma­son tells Jasper how he sought refuge in the cathe­dral from some town boys who had set upon him when he was cel­e­brat­ing the hol­i­day sea­son on the night of De­cem­ber 24. “And here I fell asleep,” he says. “And what woke me up? The ghost of a cry. The ghost of one ter­rif­ic shriek, which shriek was fol­lowed by the ghost of the howl of a dog: a long, dis­mal, woe­ful howl, such as a dog gives when a per­son’s dead. That was my last Christ­mas Eve.”

On the fol­low­ing day, Dowlass and Mrs. Ross­car are out­doors, seat­ed in some warm hay. Present­ly Dowlass falls asleep and has a weird dream. “My hand went quick­ly to my throat when I awoke, and there lay across it — noth­ing dread­ful — only a heavy tress of Mrs. Ross­car’s hair, which, slip­ping loose, had un­coiled it­self as she bent over me.”

There is un­doubt­ed­ly a sug­ges­tion of stran­gu­la­tion in the sen tence just quot­ed; the “heavy tress” of hair may have trans­formed it­self at a later date into Jasper s great black scarf.

The two go into the house. Dowlass sug­gests that they visit the grave of Mrs. Ross­car’s child. Here I may say that I am in­clined to con­sid­er this visit to be the idea in­tro­duced by Dick­ens — the idea to which he re­ferred in his let­ter to his daugh­ter Mary. The in­flu­ence pro­duced by the graves of lit­tle chil­dren had a great ef­fect upon Dick­ens; wit­ness the amount of space he gives to the vigil kept by Lit­tle Nell’s grand­fa­ther at her place of buri­al.

Mrs. Ross­car says she will ac­com­pa­ny Dowlass to her daugh­ter’s grave only when she be­comes his wife. De­spite every ar­gu­ment she rais­es to the con­trary, Dowlass in­sists upon mar­ry­ing her.

The day is fi­nal­ly set for their mar­riage, but she bursts into tears when he pours out his pas­sion for her be­fore the fire.

They go to the child’s grave. Once there, the moth­er in her will not let her carry out her plan.

“That evening she told me her his­to­ry, and what had been her pro­posed re­venge. She had de­signed to make me love her madly. That she had done. She had de­signed to let me marry her, who had been a moth­er and not a wife. She had de­signed, as the wife of my in­fat­u­at­ed love and un­speak­able pas­sion, to have cursed me as her child’s butch­er, at her child’s grave. She had de­signed — or was the name­less dread and hor­ror of my ill­ness tak­ing this ter­rif­ic form in its flight ? — when she had thus slow­ly ground down my heart to its last grain of mis­ery and grief, to mur­der me in my bed.”,

There is m the pro­pos­al just out­lined a faint fore­shad­owmg of Jasper’s re­lent­less dog­ging of Neville Land­less. And does not He­le­na Land­less say to Rosa, when they are to­geth­er in Tar­tar’s rooms after Rosa’s flight to Hiram Grew­gious, her guardian: “If Neville s move­ments are re­al­ly watched, and if the pur­pose re­al­ly is to iso­late him from all friends and ac­quain­tance and wear his daily life out grain by grain (which would seem to be the threat to you), does it not ap­pear like­ly — that his enemy would in some way com­mu­ni­cate with Mr. Tar­tar to warn him off from Neville?”

The rather un­usu­al use of the word “grain,” pre­sent in both works, strikes me as sig­nif­i­cant.

“I could have mar­ried you for hate,” Mrs. Ross­car fi­nal­ly tells Dowlass; “but for such love as has arisen in my soul for you — if in­deed it is love, or any­thing but com­pas­sion and kind­ness to­wards the poor wretch I have helped back to life — never!”

She leaves him; Dowlass never sees her again.

It seems ev­i­dent that “An Ex­pe­ri­ence” im­pressed Dick­ens strong­ly enough to have ex­ert­ed some in­flu­ence, at least, on the plot de­vel­op­ment of Edwin Drood, as I have en­deav­ored to show by the com­ments punc­tu­at­ing my brief sum­ma­ry of Miss Jolly’s story. Cou­pled with the basic idea of “A Con­fes­sion found in a prison in the time of Charles the Sec­ond,” it en­hanced the psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tion­al set­ting of the un­fin­ished novel. The spell of fas­ci­na­tion tinged with fear ex­er­cised over Bertram Dowlass by Mrs. Ross­car fore­shad­ows the hint of an­i­mal mag­netism or hyp­no­tism in­tro­duced now and again in Edwin Drood; I am con­vinced that Dick­ens meant to em­ploy this phe­nomenon with even greater em­pha­sis in the lat­ter half of the work now ex­ist­ing only as a frag­ment. Such re­sem­blances as exist be­tween “An Ex­pe­ri­ence” and the novel arc not sur­pris­ing when we re­call that Dick­ens touched up or rewrote cer­tain parts of the story, there­by mak­ing it in some de­gree his own cre­ation.

Be­fore he had begun the ac­tu­al com­po­si­tion of Edwin Drood, Dick­ens had ac­cept­ed for pub­li­ca­tion in All the Year Round a story by Robert Lyt­ton. The fol­low­ing let­ter gives fur­ther ev­i­dence of the nov­el­ist’s ten­den­cy to rewrite or touch up manuscripts sched­uled to ap­pear in his mag­a­zine — a ten­den­cy jus­ti­fied not only by his po­si­tion as ed­i­tor, but by the fact that ar­ti­cles and sto­ries print­ed in his pub­li­ca­tion did not bear their au­thors’ sig­na­tures.

Thurs­day, Sec­ond Septem­ber, 1869

My dear Robert Lyt­ton, — John Acland [sic] is most will­ing­ly ac­cept­ed, and shall come into the next month­ly part. I shall make bold to con­dense him here and there (ac­cord­ing to my best idea of sto­ry­telling), and par­tic­u­lar­ly where he makes the speech: — And with the usual fault of being too long, here and there, I think you let the story out too much — pre­ma­ture­ly — and this I hope to pre­vent arthilly. I think your title open to the same ob­jec­tion, and there­fore pro­pose to sub­sti­tute:

The Dis­ap­pear­ance
of John Acland.

This will leave the read­er in doubt whether he re­al­ly was mur­dered, until the end.

Lyt­ton’s story — in thir­teen chap­ters — began in All the Year Round on Sat­ur­day, Septem­ber i8, 1869, when chap­ter i was pub­lished. Its of­fi­cial title was: The Dis­ap­pear­ance of John Ack­land. A True Story. Sub­se­quent in­stall­ments of the tale ap­peared as fol­lows:

Sat­ur­day, Septem­ber 25, chap­ters ii, iii, iv; Sat­ur­day, Oc­to­ber 2, chap­ters v, vi, vii, viii; Sat­ur­day, Oc­to­ber 9, chap­ter ix; Sat­ur­day, Oc­to­ber 16, chap­ters x, xi, xii, xiii. As one may read­i­ly de­duce from this sched­ule, the manuscript had been sub­ject­ed to a great amount of com­pres­sion. We shall soon learn that it un­der­went a sweep­ing con­den­sa­tion as well. The rea­son for the hur­ried pre­sen­ta­tion of this story is made clear by the let­ter Dick­ens wrote to Lyt­ton:

Fri­day, Oc­to­ber 1, 1869

My dear Robert Lyt­ton, — I am as­sured by a cor­re­spon­dent that “John Acland” has been done be­fore. Said cor­re­spon­dent has ev­i­dent­ly read the story — and is al­most con­fi­dent in “Cham­bers’s Jour­nal.” This is very un­for­tu­nate, but of course can­not be helped. There is al­ways a pos­si­bil­i­ty of such a ma­lig­nant con­junc­tion of stars when the story is a true one.

In the case of a good story — as this is — li­able for years to be told at table — as this was — there is noth­ing won­der­ful in such a mis­chance. Let us shuf­fle the cards, as San­cho says, and begin again.

You will of course un­der­stand that I do not tell you this by way of com­plaint. In­deed, I should not have men­tioned it at all, but as an ex­pla­na­tion to you of my rea­son for wind­ing the story up (which I have done to-day) as ex­pe­di­tious­ly as pos­si­ble. You might oth­er­wise have thought me, on read­ing it as pub­lished, a lit­tle hard on Mr. Doily [sic]. I have not had time to di­rect search to be made in “Cham­bers’s”; but as to the main part of the story hav­ing been print­ed some­where, I have not the faintest doubt. And I be­lieve my cor­re­spon­dent to be also right as to the where. You could not help it any more than I could, and there­fore will not be trou­bled by it any more than I am.

The more I get of your writ­ing, the bet­ter I shall be pleased.

Do be­lieve me to be, as I am,

Your gen­uine ad­mir­er and af­fec­tion­ate friend.

J. Cum­ing Wal­ters, in The Com­plete Mys­tery of Edwin Drood, makes the fol­low­ing com­ment on the let­ter given above and the sit­u­a­tion lead­ing Dick­ens to write it:

Dick­ens, in a let­ter writ­ten by him as ed­i­tor of All the Year Round, ex­plained to the Hon. Robert Lyt­ton why he could not con­tin­ue the pub­li­ca­tion of his story John Acland as orig­i­nal­ly pro­ject­ed. Dick­ens’s let­ter was pe­cu­liar­ly apolo­get­ic in tone, and man­i­fest­ly he de­sired to salve Lyt­ton’s wound­ed feel­ings; though ob­vi­ous­ly he had no al­ter­na­tive but to dis­con­tin­ue a story which he dis­cov­ered “had been done be­fore.” But here fol­lows the be­wil­der­ing se­ries of facts. The story of John Acland, begun in 1869, was of a man mys­te­ri­ous­ly mur­dered by his clos­est friend, his body un­traced, his prob­a­ble reap­pear­ance in the flesh sug­gest­ed, the corpse ul­ti­mate­ly dis­cov­ered in an ice-house, and iden­ti­ty es­tab­lished by means of a watch. It is at once ap­par­ent that this plot close­ly re­sem­bles in out­line the plot of Edwin Drood. Yet Dick­ens, find­ing the story had been “done be­fore,” stopped Lyt­ton’s story in 1869, and six months later began a sim­i­lar one him­self! On this the fol­low­ing queries arise: —

1. What was the orig­i­nal story that was so like Lyt­ton’s John Acland, and where is it to be found?

2. Are the par­al­lels such as to sug­gest that Lyt­ton copied them from that story, or are they mere­ly co­in­ci­dences?

3. Has any ex­pla­na­tion been given why Dick­ens, know­ing Lyt­ton’s work and aware of its sim­i­lar­i­ty to an­oth­er story, should at a later pe­ri­od de­cide to deal with the same theme?

In a pre­vi­ous study of The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood — “Who Was Dick Datch­ery?“ — I re­ferred to this “John Ack­land” episode, bas­ing my re­marks on the pas­sage quot­ed at length from Mr. Wal­ters. At that time I was not fa­mil­iar with the sec­ond let­ter writ­ten by Dick­ens to Robert Lyt­ton, nor had I read the lat­ter’s story as it was pub­lished in All the Year Round. Now that I have read both let­ter and story, I find Mr. Wal­ters some­what mis­lead­ing — to say the least — in his treat­ment of the whole sit­u­a­tion. As I have al­ready in­di­cat­ed, John Ack­land was pub­lished as a com­plete nar­ra­tive in five suc­ces­sive is­sues of Dick­ens’s mag­a­zine, al­though its thir­teen chap­ters were man­i­fest­ly much con­densed from their orig­i­nal form. When Wal­ters says, “he could not con­tin­ue the pub­li­ca­tion of his story John Acland as orig­i­nal­ly pro­ject­ed,” the read­er nat­u­ral­ly in­fers that pub­li­ca­tion of the story was some­how sus­pend­ed. And when Wal­ters goes on to state that “he had no al­ter­na­tive but to dis­con­tin­ue a story which he dis­cov­ered ‘had been done be­fore,” the read­er’s in­fer­ence that John Ack­land was sus­pend­ed is strength­ened. Fi­nal­ly, when Wal­ters as­serts: “Yet Dick­ens... stopped Lyt­ton’s story in 1869,” the read­er is cer­tain that the tale was bro­ken off be­fore reach­ing its log­i­cal end. The truth of the mat­ter was oth­er­wise. Lyt­ton’s story was ac­tu­al­ly com­plet­ed, so far as de­vel­op ment of its plot through the de­noue­ment was con­cerned, even though it was un­doubt­ed­ly rewrit­ten and com­pressed.

There are other parts of Wal­ters’s pas­sage which are like­wise mis­lead­ing. I do not agree with his as­ser­tion that the sec­ond let­ter to Lyt­ton is “pe­cu­liar­ly apolo­get­ic” in tone. It is what Dick­ens him­self would have called a “manly” let­ter, had he read it over the sig­na­ture of an­oth­er per­son. It is in­dica­tive of his great­ness of heart that he, a busy ed­i­tor in fail­ing health, should have taken the time to write in a vein so con­sid­er­ate and re­as­sur­ing. No doubt the let­ter did salve Lyt­ton’s wound­ed feel­ings — if in­deed he felt wound­ed. I feel, how­ev­er, that Dick­ens went out of his way to ex­plain his jus­ti­fi­able ac­tion as ed­i­tor, and that he did so be­cause it was not in his na­ture to hurt any­one need­less­ly.

When Wal­ters deals with the ac­tu­al plot of John Ack­land, he is more than mis­lead­ing. He states that Ack­land’s body was “ul­ti­mate­ly dis­cov­ered in an ice-house, and iden­ti­ty es­tab­lished by means of a watch.” He im­plies, of course, a par­al­lelism with Edwin Drood’s gold watch and chain, ap­par­ent­ly flung into Clois­ter­ham Weir to pre­vent iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the young man’s body by its means, and later found caught among the stakes of the weir by Minor Canon Crisparkle. The state­ment Wal­ters makes is cor­rect only in part. John Ack­land — I have been using the spelling of the name as it ap­peared in All the Year Round — was in­deed mur­dered and his body con­cealed be­neath cakes of ice in an un­der­ground ice­house on a Vir­ginia plan­ta­tion. The mur­der­er had shot him in the head, but his fea­tures were not mu­ti­lat­ed; when his body — frozen and pre­served — was fi­nal­ly brought to light, it was in­stant­ly rec­og­nized. His iden­ti­ty was not es­tab­lished by means of a watch, as Wal­ters as­serts. In point of fact, it was the mur­der­er who was iden­ti­fied by Ack­land’s spe­cial chronome­ter, which he had stolen from the body of his vic­tim and given to his daugh­ter.

It is of course ob­vi­ous that the plot of John Ack­land bears some re­sem­blance to that of Edwin Drood, just as the plots of both sto­ries bear a re­sem­blance to that of “A Con­fes­sion found in a prison in the time of Charles the Sec­ond.” But the lat­ter an­te­dates John Ack­land, and no charge of pla­gia­rism can log­i­cal­ly be brought against an au­thor who re­de­vel­ops and am­pli­fies a plot he has him­self evolved years be­fore. Fur­ther­more, there is good rea­son for be­liev­ing that Dick­ens must have had the es­sen­tial fea­tures of the plot of Edwin Drood well in mind be­fore he re­ceived from Robert Lyt­ton the manuscript of John Ack­land. It must have reached him short­ly be­fore Septem­ber 2, when he wrote his let­ter of ac­cep­tance, where­as it was on Fri­day, Au­gust 6, 1869, that he wrote to John Forster about the “very cu­ri­ous and new idea for my new story.” And Forster adds to his quo­ta­tion from this let­ter the valu­able in­for­ma­tion that he “learnt im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter­ward” what amounts to a résumé of all the salient points — minus the Datch­ery as­sump­tion — in the story of Edwin Drood. Any au­thor who has ever at­tempt­ed to write in the ex­act­ing medi­um of the de­tec­tive story — or what the French call so pic­turesque­ly le roman polici­er — re­al­izes full well that he can make no head­way what­so­ev­er un­less he has at his fin­gers’ tips and in chrono­log­i­cal order every de­tail of his plot, in­tri­cate or oth­er­wise. The final chap­ter, in which the de­tect­ing per­son­al­i­ty usu­al­ly re­veals how the mur­der, be it one or many, was com­mit­ted and who was the guilty agent, must be dis­tinct­ly pre­sent in his mind be­fore he puts down his open­ing sen­tence. So must Dick­ens have had Edwin Drood in mind.

My read­ing of John Ack­land con­vinces me that it had no real in­flu­ence on the writ­ing of Edwin Drood, and that its plot im­pressed Dick­ens far less than that of “An Ex­pe­ri­ence.” Take for ex­am­ple the sec­ond let­ter that Dick­ens wrote to Lyt­ton on John Ack­land. As ed­i­tor of All the Year Round he had, for a le­git­i­mate rea­son, cut, con­densed, and per­haps rewrit­ten a good por­tion of the orig­i­nal manuscript. Yet he does not re­pro­duce the chief char­ac­ter’s name as it ap­peared in the proof sheets. Nor does he re­call the cor­rect spelling of the name of the watch­mak­er who acts as the de­tec­tive in the Lyt­ton nar­ra­tive. He refers to him as “Mr. Doily,” where­as the text in All the Year Round has “D’Oiley,” an oleagi­nous name far more in keep­ing with its owner’s trade — and less sug­ges­tive of a table mat. I have not over­looked the ob­vi­ous fact that both “D’Oiley” and “Datch­ery” begin with a “D” and end with a “y,” but I at­tribute it to co­in­ci­dence and not to in­tent.

Last­ly, we learn from Forster's Life that Dick­ens fin­ished his first num­ber of Edwin Drood in the third week of Oc­to­ber, and on the 26th read it at my house with great spir­it.” Now Dick­ens could not have re­ceived the manuscript of John Ack­land much be­fore Septem­ber 2, as I have said be­fore. What­ev­er in­flu­ence Lyt­ton’s story is pre­sumed to have had on Edwin Drood must have made it­self felt with­in the space of some eight weeks. With­in this time Dick­ens would have been obliged not only to alter his plot as al­ready out­lined to Forster soon after Au­gust 6, but also to write on an en­tire­ly new basis the first month­ly in­stall­ment of his novel. Edwin Drood proves con­clu­sive­ly that no such pro­ce­dure ac­tu­al­ly took place.

If any fur­ther ev­i­dence is need­ed to prove that Dick­ens was well aware of the plot for his last novel long be­fore his ac­cep­tance of Lyt­ton’s manuscript, I sub­mit an ex­cerpt from a let­ter ad­dressed to Sir Arthur Helps. The fact that it is dated Sat­ur­day, March 26, 1870, does not alarm me, for my con­tention that an au­thor of mys­tery sto­ries must know his en­tire plot be­fore start­ing to write still holds.

I send you for Her Majesty the first num­ber of my new story which will not be pub­lished till next Thurs­day, the 31st. Will you kind­ly give it to the Queen with my loyal duty and de­vo­tion? If Her Majesty should ever be suf­fi­cient­ly in­ter­est­ed in the tale to de­sire to know a lit­tle more of it in ad­vance of her sub­jects, you know how proud I shall be to an­tic­i­pate the pub­li­ca­tion.

To the first two ques­tions raised by Wal­ters at the end of the pas­sage I have quot­ed from him, I have no pos­i­tive an­swers. Like Dick­ens, I have not had time to search for the orig­i­nal story so like John Ack­land, a story sup­posed to be in Cham­bers’s Jour­nal. There fore I am in no po­si­tion to state whether the par­al­lels are such as to sug­gest that Lyt­ton copied from the story, or whether they are mere­ly co­in­ci­dences. With re­gard to the third ques­tion, I ob­ject first of all to the way in which it is framed. I do not admit that Dick­ens in Edwin Drood is deal­ing with the same theme as that em­ployed by Lyt­ton in John Ack­land. It is true that both men wrote of the mur­der of a per­son whose body could not be found over a long pe­ri­od of time; so of both sto­ries the in­evitable ques­tion was raised: Was the man who had dis­ap­peared dead or alive? In­deed, there have been (and no doubt still are) some en­thu­si­as­tic fol­low­ers of Edwin Drood who be­lieve that he was not mur­dered, and that he would have re­turned to con­front his wicked uncle had Dick­ens only lived to fin­ish the novel. We know that John Ack­land ac­tu­al­ly was mur­dered, where­as we can never know with ab­so­lute cer­tain­ty that Edwin Drood met a like fate. But apart from this sim­i­lar­i­ty in plot which, to my way of think­ing, lies “in the pub­lic do­main,” the fin­ished John Ack­land and the un­fin­ished Edwin Drood are as an­tipo­dal as night and day. As be­tween John Ack­land and “A Con­fes­sion found in a prison in the time of Charles the Sec­ond,” Dick­ens’s in­com­plete frag­ment more near­ly re­sem­bles the lat­ter, his own cre­ation. Per­haps Dick­ens him­self re­al­ized this fact, and it is al­to­geth­er pos­si­ble that he short­ened the orig­i­nal ver­sion of John Ack­land and hur­ried its pub­li­ca­tion be­cause it bore a cer­tain re­sem­blance to his plot for Edwin Drood, upon which he was even then at work. I say “pos­si­ble” as a mere con­jec­ture — but not prob­a­ble, for I be­lieve that his sec­ond let­ter to Lyt­ton ex­press­es the whole truth of the mat­ter. I have not an­swered Wal­ters’s ques­tion as he framed it, but I have tried to give him my ex­pla­na­tion of the sit­u­a­tion.

It might be well to con­sid­er at this point the se­lec­tion of the title for the novel whose in­cep­tion we are con­sid­er­ing, since it has, in my opin­ion at least, some bear­ing on the plot. Dick­ens was al­ways in some de­gree of tor­ment until he had de­cid­ed upon a def­i­nite title for a new story. Forster gives much in­ter­est­ing in­for­ma­tion about his dif­fi­cul­ties in nam­ing some of the ear­li­er nov­els, but we must turn to the few pri­vate notes for Ed­ward Drood, dis­cov­ered after Dick­ens’s death, to find the list of ten­ta­tive ti­tles jot­ted down by the nov­el­ist for his last work. They are as fol­lows, under date of Fri­day, Au­gust 20, 1869.

1. The Loss of James/ Edwyn Wake­field.

2. James’s Dis­ap­pear­ance.

3. Flight and Pur­suit.

4. Sworn to Avenge It.

5. One Ob­ject in Life.

6. A Kins­man's De­vo­tion.

7. The Two Kins­men.

8. The Loss of Edwyn Brood.

9. The Loss of Edwin Brude.

10. The Mys­tery in the Drood Fam­i­ly.

11. The Loss of Edwyn Drood.

12. The Flight of Edwyn Drood.

13. Edwin Drood in Hid­ing.

14. The Loss of Edwin Drude.

15. The Dis­ap­pear­ance of Edwin Drood.

16. The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood.

17. Dead? or Alive?

The word “loss” oc­curs in five out of the sev­en­teen ten­ta­tive ti­tles, “dis­ap­pear­ance” twice, and “mys­tery” twice. if Dick­ens had any con­cep­tion of what his plot was like be­fore he list­ed these pos­si­ble ti­tles for his new book — and he must have had, in view of the date as­signed to his notes, — then it would seem ev­i­dent that Edwin Drood (to use his name in its final form) was des­tined to be lost. The word “dis­ap­pear­ance” like­wise bears out such a con­clu­sion, al­though per­haps the sense of fi­nal­i­ty is not so great. It may be re­mem­bered that, in his first let­ter to Lyt­ton, Dick­ens sug­gest­ed that the “dis­ap­pear­ance” of John Ack­land would pre­vent read­ers from dis­cov­er­ing whether he re­al­ly was mur­dered until the end. The word “mys­tery,” ul­ti­mate­ly a part of the title cho­sen by the nov­el­ist, is the vaguest and least re­veal­ing of the three; it does, how­ev­er, suc­ceed more ad­e­quate­ly in chal­leng­ing the read­er’s in­ter­est. And in a let­ter to Bul­w­er Lyt­ton, dated Mon­day, May 20, 1861, Dick­ens said some­thing per­ti­nent with ref­er­ence to this word “mys­tery,” the one he him­self fi­nal­ly used: “As to title, ‘Mar­grave, a Tale of Mys­tery,’ would be suf­fi­cient­ly strik­ing. I pre­fer ‘Won­der’ to ‘Mys­tery,’ be­cause I think it sug­gests some­thing high­er and more apart from or­di­nary com­pli­ca­tions of plot, or the like, which ‘Mys­tery’ might seem to mean.” Cer­tain­ly The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood has a com­pli­cat­ed plot; so we may con­sid­er Dick­ens’s final choice of key word a fit­ting one.

The third title in the list would seem to refer to Rosa’s flight from Jasper, after he had re­vealed his pas­sion for her in the gar­den at the Nuns’ House, and to Jasper’s pur­suit of her and Neville Land­less. Dick­ens may have re­ject­ed this entry be­cause it dealt with too re­strict­ed a part of his story.

Ti­tles 4, 5, and 6 tend to bear upon John Jasper, and all three of them — es­pe­cial­ly the last two — have a slight­ly iron­i­cal twist of mean­ing.

Num­ber is rather col­or­less; it lacks the startling qual­i­ty which Dick­ens may well have de­sired in the title of a novel such as he in­tend­ed Edwin Drood to be.

Num­bers 12 and 13 are un­doubt­ed­ly the ones dear­est to the hearts of those Drood­i­ans who in­sist that Edwin was not mur­dered, and that he was to reap­pear and con­front Jasper. And yet the key word of num­ber 12 might refer to the soul’s flight — Dick­ens used three quo­ta­tions from Mac­beth in his novel, — while “in hid­ing” ad­mits of an in­ter­pre­ta­tion fa­vor­able to the be­lief that young Drood was mur­dered. If Jasper had cho­sen a buri­al place for the re­cep­tion of his nephew’s body with such skill that it was be­yond all pos­si­bil­i­ty of being dis­cov­ered, then his vic­tim would as­sured­ly have been “in hid­ing” for all time.

I do not mean to imply by my com­ments that any­thing in the way of a def­i­nite so­lu­tion to the rid­dles in Edwin Drood may be de­duced from these ten­ta­tive ti­tles, of which only the six­teenth was ac­tu­al­ly cho­sen, but I do be­lieve that they re­flect to some de­gree the work­ings of Dick­ens’s mind as he for­mu­lat­ed his plot. Some of them clear­ly in­di­cate the “loss” or “dis­ap­pear­ance” of Edwin Drood, with­out, how­ev­er, re­veal­ing Dick­ens’s mean­ing of the terms; where­as oth­ers hint at the im­por­tance of John Jasper’s role in the story. I have not as yet men­tioned the sev­en­teenth entry; but corn­ing at the last, as it does, it puts strik­ing­ly the very ques­tion that Dick­ens un­doubt­ed­ly want­ed his read­ers to ask them­selves: Was Edwin Drood re­al­ly mur­dered, or did he sur­vive? Dick­ens alone could have an­swered this query, but death in­ter­vened be­fore he was ready to do so. As long as the frag­ment he left is read and stud­ied, that ques­tion will al­ways arise.

It so hap­pens that there is some­thing else to con­sid­er in the gen­e­sis of The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood, and this I now give to the read­er for what it is worth. Again I turn to J. Cum­ing Wal­ters and to his book en­ti­tled Clues to Dick­ens’s ‘Mys­tery of Edwin Drood.” In it we find Wal­ters say­ing:

As fur­ther bear­ing out the fact that it was ac­tu­al mur­der that was to be the basis of the plot, and not an at­tempt at mur­der that failed, it should be re­mem­bered that in Rochester it­self, which is Clois­ter­ham, a real event is be­lieved to have pro­vid­ed Dick­ens with his idea. The story is given in W. R. Hugh­es’s “Week’s Tramp in Dick­ens-land.” A well-to-do per­son, a bach­e­lor, was the guardian and trustee of a nephew (a minor), who was the in­her­i­tor of a large prop­er­ty. The nephew went to the West In­dies and re­turned un­ex­pect­ed­ly. He sud­den­ly dis­ap­peared, and was thought to have gone on an­oth­er voy­age. The uncle’s house was near the site of the Sav­ings Bank in High Street, and when ex­ca­va­tions were made years later the skele­ton of a young man was dis­cov­ered. The local tra­di­tion is that the uncle mur­dered the nephew, and thus con­cealed the body. Here is the germ of the plot of “Edwin Drood,” and the mys­tery is not so much the na­ture of the crime as its con­ceal­ment and even­tu­al de­tec­tion.

The re­sult of such re­search as I have made is now be­fore the read­er. There are, as pos­si­ble in­flu­ences on the plot de­vel­op­ment of Edwin Drood, “A Con­fes­sion found in a prison in the time of Charles the Sec­ond,” “An Ex­pe­ri­ence,” The Dis­ap­pear­ance of John Ack­land, and the Rochester tra­di­tion. It might al­most seem time to raise the old cry, “You pays your money and you takes your choice — yet there is some­thing more to he said. For there is still one last fac­tor to be con­sid­ered, one of greater im­por­tance than any num­ber of lit­er­ary in­flu­ences: the cre­ative ge­nius of Charles Dick­ens.

He was fifty-sev­en and a half years old when he began to work out the plot of what proved to be his last novel, and he was to leave that novel an un­fin­ished frag­ment and an abid­ing mys­tery. Bro­ken in health, haunt­ed by ap­proach­ing paral­y­sis, weak­ened by the cu­mu­la­tive strain of more than four hun­dred pub­lic read­ings at home and abroad, with their at­ten­dant dif­fi­cul­ties of al­most con­stant trav­el under ar­du­ous cir­cum­stances, he yet had the driv­ing urge to cre­ate some­thing new in the way of lit­er­ary art, whose de­vot­ed ser­vant he had been for so many years. Miss Gladys Storey pen­e­trates to the heart of the mat­ter in her fas­ci­nat­ing book of rem­i­nis­cences, Dick­ens and Daugh­ter, when she says:

Those who have stud­ied the char­ac­ter of Charles Dick­ens in all its vary­ing phas­es and moods, where strength, weak­ness, ten­der­ness, sever­i­ty, gen­eros­i­ty and care­ful­ness are re­vealed, and take their places be­side other traits of char­ac­ter in this so ex­traor­di­nary and won­der­ful a man, will rec­og­nize that the dom­i­nant char­ac­ter­is­tic lying be­hind every trait which, with hur­ri­cane force, swept through his en­tire men­tal and phys­i­cal being, was his amaz­ing en­er­gy, at times de­mo­ni­a­cal in its fierce­ness.

And this en­er­gy found its high­est form of ex­pres­sion in the ex­act­ing field of lit­er­ary cre­ation. Dick­ens him­self ac­knowl­edged this fact in these words:

I hold my in­ven­tive ca­pac­i­ty on the stern con­di­tion that it must mas­ter my whole life, have com­plete pos­ses­sion of me, make its own de­mands upon me, and some­times for months to­geth­er put ev­ery­thing from me. If I had not known long ago that my place could never be held un­less I were at any mo­ment ready to de­vote my­self to it en­tire­ly, I should have dropped out of it very soon.

And so, driv­en by the power of this amaz­ing cre­ative en­er­gy, he began The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood under most ad­verse con­di­tions of health and phys­i­cal well-be­ing. That there was in his own mind a recog­ni­tion of the fact that he was en­ter­ing a race against the shad­ow of death is man­i­fest from the un­usu­al clause he caused to be in­sert­ed in the con­tract for his last novel.

That if the said Charles Dick­ens shall die dur­ing the com­po­si­tion of the said work of The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood, or shall oth­er­wise be­come in­ca­pable of com­plet­ing the said work for pub­li­ca­tion in twelve month­ly num­bers as agreed, it shall be re­ferred to John Forster, Esq., one of Her Majesty’s Com­mis­sion­ers in Lu­na­cy, or in the case of his death, in­ca­pac­i­ty, or re­fusal to act, then to such a per­son as shall be named by Her Majesty’s At­tor­ney-Gen­er­al for the rime being, to de­ter­mine the amount which shall be re­paid by the said Charles Dick­ens, his ex­ecu­tors, or ad­min­is­tra­tors, to the said Fred­er­ic Chap­man as a fair com­pen­sa­tion for so much of the said work as shall not have been com­plet­ed for pub­li­ca­tion.

De­spite his poor health, be was han­dling a theme big in scope, and han­dling it in mas­ter­ly fash­ion. The story was, I be­lieve, in some ways to sug­gest The Moon­stone, which Dick­ens meant to rival and sur­pass. It was to sug­gest Mead­ows Tay­lor’s Con­fes­sions of a Thug, which Dick­ens had read. But above all, it was to con­tain some­thing un­usu­al and sur­pris­ing — ”a very cu­ri­ous and new idea.” The read­er’s in­ter­est was to be aroused not only by the mys­tery of Edwin Drood’s dis­ap­pear­ance and the Datch­ery enig­ma, but also by the rid­dle of the na­ture of John Jasper him­self.

Now Dick­ens had al­ways been fas­ci­nat­ed by mur­der­ers; he gave him­self whol­ly to his por­tray­al of Bill Sikes in his read­ing — or rather en­act­ing — of the house­break­er’s bru­tal mur­der of Nancy. Even against the ad­vice of both friends and physi­cians, he made that grue­some and fright­ful­ly re­al­is­tic por­tray­al a part of his read­ing program again and again, until at last he was forced by fail­ing health to aban­don the plat­form for­ev­er.

But his fas­ci­na­tion for mur­der­ers still per­sist­ed, and of all those he cre­at­ed — Bill Sikes, Jonas Chuz­zle­wit, Mr. Rudge, and Bradley Head­stone, to men­tion but a few — John Jasper is by far the most ab­sorb­ing. And just as he went back to Oliv­er Twist for the read­ing that of­fered the great­est chal­lenge to his tremen­dous en­er­gy and drained it most, so I be­lieve he turned to the story from Mas­ter Humphrey’s Clock to find the ini­tial in­spi­ra­tion for the de­vel­op­ment of his plot for Edwin Drood. The vast dif­fer­ence be­tween “A Con­fes­sion found in a prison in the time of Charles the Sec­ond” and the un­fin­ished last novel is a true mea­sure of the steady growth of his cre­ative ge­nius.

The very heart and soul of The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood is, in the last anal­y­sis, John Jasper him­self. In essence, the novel is a study of the warped men­tal­i­ty of a rebel against so­ci­ety, a rebel with whom Dick­ens as­so­ci­at­ed him­self. I make this state­ment out of my firm con­vic­tion that Dick­ens in his later years had come to feel that he was a lone in­di­vid­u­al who some­how stood out­side the so­cial frame work and moral code which we term Vic­to­ri­an. After ex­tolling the solid virtues of nor­mal fam­i­ly life, he had put away his wife and bro­ken up his own home. Hop­ing for a kind of com­pan­ion­ship he had never known, he had fall­en des­per­ate­ly in love with an eigh­teen-year-old ac­tress, Ellen Law­less Ter­nan, who be­came his mis­tress after the for­mal deed of sep­a­ra­tion from his wife had been put into ef­fect. He had been al­most ruth­less in his en­deav­or to cap­ture a fresh lease on life and love, but the re­al­iza­tion of his im­petu­ous de­sire fell short of what he had an­tic­i­pat­ed. All that we need to know about this trag­ic episode in the life of Dick­ens has been re­vealed in Thomas Wright’s bi­og­ra­phy and in Miss Gladys Storey’s Dick­ens and Daugh­ter. As Miss Storey says, quot­ing Mrs. Pe­rug­i­ni (Kate Dick­ens): “My fa­ther was like a mad­man when my moth­er left home; this af­fair brought out all that was worst — all that was weak­est in him. He did not care a damn what hap­pened to any of us. Noth­ing could sur­pass the mis­ery and un­hap­pi­ness of our home.” And we read, far­ther on: “Ev­ery­body and ev­ery­thing be­came sub­servient to the fur­ther­ance of the ob­ject he had ir­re­vo­ca­bly set out to ac­com­plish, which sad busi­ness took eight months to com­plete, from the day of the final per­for­mance of the play at Manch­ester. In his an­guish, Dick­ens wrote to Wilkie Collins: ‘I have not known a mo­ment’s peace or con­tent­ment, since the last night of The Frozen Deep. I do not sup­pose that there ever was a man so seized and ren­dered by one spir­it.”

He had sinned against the moral code of the so­cial class in which he had moved, al­though he was not by birth one of its mem­bers, as one to the man­ner born, es­teemed and re­spect­ed. Ever con­scious of the dark pe­ri­od of pover­ty, me­nial labor, and prac­ti­cal­ly no prospect of fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion which had wrung his soul in child­hood, al­ways fear­ful lest he should not earn enough money to main­tain him­self and his large fam­i­ly in a style be­fit­ting the po­si­tion he had achieved, he had acted cir­cum­spect­ly until his af­fair with Miss Ter­nan. When he be­came a self­made rebel against the pre­vail­ing con­ven­tions of his day, he must in­deed have felt alone. And so he lost him­self in the char­ac­ters of his own cre­ation, and poured out his wan­ing en­er­gy in his por­tray­als of those in­tense­ly real though fic­ti­tious men, women, and chil­dren who had brought laugh­ter to the lips and tears to the eyes of his hosts of read­ers. At the end of his ro­bust life, when he began the writ­ing of Edwin Drood, he was to plumb the emo­tion­al depths of a man who had killed the thing he loved, even as he him­self had de­stroyed some­thing once very dear to him. John Jasper, too, was “seized and ren­dered by one spir­it” : his pas­sion for Rosa Bud. So in­tense was that pas­sion that he swore he would pur­sue the ob­ject there­of even “to the death.” In like man­ner Dick­ens had pur­sued the ob­ject of his pas­sion to the death of all that might oth­er­wise have made him the hap­pi­est of mor­tals. There­fore I can­not es­cape the con­vic­tion that John Jasper and Charles Dick­ens are, in a sense, one per­son by virtue of the same sort of lit­er­ary sub­li­ma­tion that had made David Cop­per­field the alter ego of his cre­ator.

In his pre­sen­ta­tion of the choir­mas­ter, lay pre­cen­tor, and opium ad­dict whom we know as John Jasper, Dick­ens was at­tempt­ing a psy­cho­log­i­cal study more pen­e­trat­ing than any he had pre­vi­ous­ly un­der­tak­en, be­cause it was a search­ing of his own soul. John Jasper is the Nar­ra­tor of the Clock manuscript, broad­ened, deep­ened, and in­ten­si­fied to the ut­most de­gree by the strong emo­tions which Dick­ens had him­self ex­pe­ri­enced. The short story, writ­ten so many years be­fore, is but a faint, melo­dra­mat­ic fore­shad­ow­ing of the greater and more human opus, so trag­i­cal­ly cut in half by its au­thor’s un­time­ly death.