Roy Roussel: The Completed Story in "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"

For Minor Canon Cor­ner was a quiet place in the shad­ow of the Cathe­dral, which the caw­ing of the rooks, the echo­ing foot­steps of rare passers, the sound of the Cathe­dral-bell, or the roll of the Cathe­dral organ, seemed to ren­der more quiet than ab­so­lute si­lence. Swag­ger­ing fight­ing men had had their cen­turies of ramp­ing and rav­ing about Minor Canon Cor­ner, and beat­en serfs had had their cen­turies of drudg­ing and dying there... and be­hold they were all gone out of Minor Canon Cor­ner, and so much the bet­ter. Per­haps one of the high­est uses of their ever hav­ing been there was that there might be left be­hind that blessed air of tran­quil­i­ty which per­vad­ed Minor Canon Cor­ner, and that serene­ly ro­man­tic state of mind — pro­duc­tive for the most part of pity and fore­bear­ance — which is en­gen­dered by a sor­row­ful story that is all told, or a pa­thet­ic play that is played out.

Red brick walls har­mo­nious­ly toned down in color by the time... and stone-walled gar­dens where an­nu­al fruit yet ripened upon monk­ish trees, were the prin­ci­ple sur­round­ings of pret­ty old Mrs. Crisparkle and the Rev­erend Sep­ti­mus as they sat at break­fast. (MED, 53)

T

HE Mys­tery of Edwin Drood is an in­com­plete novel which rais­es the issue of com­ple­tion on sev­er­al lev­els. Most ob­vi­ous­ly, it is a nar­ra­tive which pre­cise­ly be­cause it is a mys­tery story makes the read­er aware it is un­fin­ished in a par­tic­u­lar­ly mad­den­ing way. Under­standably, many of the crit­ics who have given it their at­ten­tion have been con­cerned with fin­ish­ing the work by iden­ti­fy­ing Edwin's mur­der­er. In their ef­forts to re­al­ize the com­plet­ed work, how­ev­er, these crit­ics are only mir­ror­ing the ac­tion of the novel it­self. The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood has as its cen­tral ques­tion the pos­si­bil­i­ty of its char­ac­ters com­plet­ing or ful­fill­ing their lives. In the open­ing chap­ters of the novel both John Jasper and Rosa Budd feel them­selves trapped in un­fin­ished states. Both their sto­ries are con­cerned with their at­tempts to re­al­ize their dreams and, in this sense, fin­ish their sto­ries.

The nar­ra­tor's ref­er­ence to the com­plet­ed story in his de­scrip­tion of Minor Canon Comer sug­gests, more­over, that his re­la­tion to his nar­ra­tive is dom­i­nat­ed by a sim­i­lar de­sire for com­ple­tion. His as­so­ci­a­tion of the "serene­ly ro­man­tic" (MED, 53) state of mind which per­vades the Cor­ner with the "tran­quil­i­ty... en­gen­dered by a sor­row­ful story that is all told" (MED, 53) re­minds us that the nar­ra­tor fre­quent­ly in­sists that his story, too, is a "his­to­ry" (MED, 255) set "in those days" (MED, 57) be­fore the com­ing of the rail­road. Like Minor Canon Cor­ner, his nar­ra­tive would seem to de­rive its mean­ing from the fact that it frames an ac­tion which is fin­ished and which can be pre­sent­ed as a "play that is played out" (MED, 53). His art, then, is an art which priv­i­leges in a spe­cial way his use of the past tense. It is this tense which de­fines events as com­plet­ed and en­forces an his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive. And, ev­i­dent­ly, it is only when the story is seen in its com­plet­ed form, when it re­cedes into this his­tor­i­cal past, that the mood of serene ro­man­ti­cism which de­fines its mean­ing can ap­pear. His nar­ra­tive is a pro­cess whose value is re­al­ized only in its com­ple­tion.

Yet if this de­scrip­tion of Minor Canon Cor­ner ex­ists in the text as an image of the text's own com­ple­tion — an image which draws the nar­ra­tor as sure­ly as Jasper's dreams of "great land­scapes" (MED, 260) draw him back to Princess Puffer's — it is clear that it ex­ists as the image of an un­re­al­ized and prob­lem­at­ic ideal. This is not sim­ply the re­sult of Dick­ens' sud­den death. The nar­ra­tor's ef­forts to pre­sent the his­to­ry of Edwin's dis­ap­pear­ance as a com­plet­ed story are com­promised from the very first chap­ter. We only have to re­al­ize the nar­ra­tor's com­mit­ment to the past tense to re­mem­ber that this tense nei­ther be­gins nor en­tire­ly dom­i­nates the book. Of the twen­ty-three chap­ters in The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood four­teen are writ­ten in the past tense. But seven are in the pre­sent and two jux­ta­pose past and pre­sent in strik­ing ways. The chap­ters writ­ten in the pre­sent, more­over, de­lib­er­ate­ly seem to em­pha­size the ways in which they vi­o­late any ideal his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive. In them the nar­ra­tor is swal­lowed in the im­me­di­a­cy of events, con­stant­ly em­pha­siz­ing the prob­lem­at­ic out­come of a char­ac­ter's ac­tions, and nar­ra­tive be­comes the record of an on­go­ing and ap­par­ent­ly open-end­ed pro­cess.

The jux­ta­po­si­tion of these two tens­es im­plies that the op­po­si­tion be­tween the nar­ra­tive as a com­plet­ed story and the nar­ra­tive as an open-end­ed pro­cess was fun­da­men­tal to Dick­ens' con­cep­tion of The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood. The nar­ra­tor's com­ment that events have their "high­est uses" (MED, 53) only when they are com­plet­ed sug­gests, more­over, why com­ple­tion should be such a cen­tral issue, not only for Dick­ens but for the novel as a genre. The con­cept that the value of a story lies in its com­ple­tion is in this con­text more than a state­ment of the ne­ces­si­ty of a well-con­struct­ed plot. It im­plies that the text should be ground­ed in — should be the rev­e­la­tion of — some prin­ci­ple of com­ple­tion. Like The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood, Tom Jones and Pamela are sto­ries of men who fall in love with and pur­sue women. They are nar­ra­tives which record the move­ment of de­sire to­ward its cho­sen ob­ject. The mar­riages of Tom and Sophia or B. and Pamela, how­ev­er, are not sim­ply mo­men­tary sat­is­fac­tions of de­sire. In both cases the move­ment of their nar­ra­tive de­scribes the pat­tern of the For­tu­nate Fall, the archetype which, in Chris­tian thought, ex­press­es prov­i­den­tial­ly-con­trolled move­ment of the soul to God. In this con­text the mar­riages which end these sto­ries fig­ure the final com­ple­tion of all de­sire in man's re­turn to his ori­gin. Both nov­els jus­ti­fy them­selves as his­to­ries, not out of a sim­ple com­mit­ment to re­al­ism but be­cause their plot, like the plot of his­to­ry it­self, em­bod­ies a Prov­i­den­tial plan which, seen as a fin­ished pat­tern, re­veals to man his true ori­gin and end.

To say this is only to re­mind our­selves that the En­glish novel has its ori­gins in the Chris­tian epic and Pu­ri­tan spir­i­tu­al au­to­bi­og­ra­phy and re­tains to some de­gree their tele­o­log­i­cal as­sump­tions. Dick­ens' own fic­tion, more­over, tes­ti­fies to the way these as­sump­tions exist in the novel form not as a resid­u­al trace but as a pow­er­ful force. The nar­ra­tor of Oliv­er Twist ap­par­ent­ly iden­ti­fies him­self in a way Field­ing and Richard­son would find en­tire­ly fa­mil­iar. He is both a por­trait painter who finds and por­trays in Oliv­er's face Oliv­er's true ori­gin in the tran­scen­dent force of na­ture, and the his­to­ri­an who finds in Oliv­er's dis­cov­ery of his parent­age the al­le­go­ry of man's re­turn to this ori­gin. The com­plet­ed story of Oliv­er Twist, too, in­volves not just the res­o­lu­tion of a re­al­is­tic sit­u­a­tion-Oliv­er's or­phanage — but the rev­e­la­tion of a prin­ci­ple which fills the ab­sence sig­ni­fied by Oliv­er's or­phan­age. In pan, at least, the nar­ra­tive and the nar­ra­tor jus­ti­fy them­selves in their pos­i­tive im­i­ta­tion of this prin­ci­ple —and this com­ple­tion.

There is still a sug­ges­tion of this pos­si­bil­i­ty in The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood. The nar­ra­tor's de­scrip­tion in one pas­sage of the "mel­low­ness" (MED, 211) of the cathe­dral walls which are trans­figured by "a soft glow [which1 seems to shine from with­in them, rather than upon them from with­out" (MED, 211) makes the cathe­dral seem, for the mo­ment, the man­i­fes­ta­tion of a di­vine pre­sence. The nar­ra­tor's jux­ta­po­si­tion, in this same pas­sage, of the Cathe­dral with the gar­dens of Clois­ter­ham which "blush with ripen­ing fruit" (MED, 211) and his com­par­i­son of the "way-far­ers, lead­ing a gypsy life be­tween hay-mak­ing time and har­vest" (MED, 211) with "trav­el-stained pil­grims" (MED, 211) is, from this point of view, en­tire­ly tra­di­tion­al. This de­scrip­tion re­calls again the image of life as a pil­grim­age from the nat­u­ral to the tran­scen­dent. If this mo­ment could be sus­tained, then the tran­quil­i­ty of Minor Canon Cor­ner would be root­ed in its most ob­vi­ous fea­ture, the cathe­dral, and the nar­ra­tor would as­sume an equal­ly tra­di­tion­al role as the his­to­ri­an of this pil­grim­age.

There is no doubt that the idea of life as a re­turn to a tran­scen­dent ori­gin re­tained a cer­tain ap­peal for Dick­ens through­out his ca­reer. But there is no doubt, ei­ther, that by the time he wrote The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood he no longer saw such a re­turn as a real pos­si­bil­i­ty. In this pas­sage, the soft glow only "seems" to trans­fig­ure the walls of the Cathe­dral. Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, it is no longer a des­ti­na­tion for pil­grims but only a tem­po­rary shel­ter where wan­der­ers, like "Bedouins" "lead­ing a gypsy life," pause be­fore they "fry them­selves on the sim­mer­ing high­roads" (MED, 211) again. The sense that the Cathe­dral tes­ti­fies to a pres­ence which, if it ever ex­ist­ed, has long since dis­ap­peared is re­flect­ed in the ma­jor­i­ty of the nar­ra­tor's des­criptions of the Cathe­dral. "Grey, murky and sepul­chral" (MED, 94), it ap­pears more tomb than church, more mon­u­ment to a de­part­ed past than sign of a pre­sent mean­ing.

The recog­ni­tion that the Cathe­dral no longer pro­vides an end to the pil­grim­age of life em­pha­sizes the threat the pre­sent tense ex­press­es per­fect­ly: the open-end­ed tem­po­ral­i­ty of a nar­ra­tive which can only record the ar­bi­trary wan­der­ings of pil­grims who have be­come Bedouins. Such a "gypsy life" (MED, 211), and such a nar­ra­tive, can, of course, end. But it can never be com­plet­ed in the sense that Tom Jones de­scribes the com­ple­tion of Tom's jour­ney in his mar­riage to Sophia and their re­turn to Par­adise Hall. The con­trast be­tween past and pre­sent tens­es ex­press­es per­fect­ly the ten­sion be­tween pil­grim­age and wan­der­ing and in so doing de­fines the prob­lem­at­ic qual­i­ty of the nar­ra­tor's vi­sion of the com­plet­ed story.

The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood seems to have been in­tend­ed by Dick­ons as a search for al­ter­na­tive grounds for the text's com­ple­tion, of pos­si­ble sources for the tran­quil­i­ty of Minor Canon Cor­ner. For this rea­son it is one of Dick­ens' most com­plex and most im­por­tant nov­els de­spite the fact that its mys­tery re­mains un­solved. In par­ticular, The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood in­ves­ti­gates two pos­si­bil­i­ties for the com­plet­ed story — one which is im­plied in the sto­ries of Jasper and Rosa and one which in­volves a rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion of the re­la­tion be­tween the nar­ra­tor and his nar­ra­tive.

II

A bril­liant morn­ing shines on the old city. Its an­tiq­ui­ties and ruins are sur­pass­ing­ly beau­ti­ful, with a lusty ivy gleam­ing in the sun, and the rich trees wav­ing in the balmy air. Changes of glo­ri­ous light from mov­ing boughs, songs of birds, scents from gar­dens, woods, and fields — or, rather, from the one great gar­den of the whole cul­ti­vat­ed is­land in its yield­ing time — pen­e­trate into the Cathe­dral, sub­due its earthy odour, and preach the Res­ur­rec­tion and the Life. The cold stone tombs of cen­turies ago grow warm, and flecks of bright­ness dart into the sternest mar­ble cor­ners of the build­ing, flut­ter­ing there like wings. (MED, 269)

The first of these al­ter­na­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties is sug­gest­ed by the way in which this de­scrip­tion in­verts the usual re­al­tion be­tween Cathe­dral and gar­den. In the de­scrip­tion of the Cathe­dral cited on p. 4 the glow which trans­fig­ured its walls seemed to shine "from with­in them" (MED, 211). Here, how­ev­er, the nar­ra­tor de­scribes the glow not as the man­i­fes­ta­tion of some­thing pre­sent in the Cathe­dral but as the in­tru­sion with­in these walls of the nat­u­ral prin­ci­ple of fer­til­i­ty pre­sent in the "great gar­den" (MED, 269) of the is­land. It is the "veg­etable life" which is "the most abun­dant and agree­able" ev­i­dence "of pro­gress­ing life in Clois­ter­ham" (MED, 23), which pen­e­trates its shad­ows and preach­es "the Res­ur­rec­tion and the Life" (MED, 269). And this in­tru­sion im­plies a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship be­tween the life of man and the life of na­ture, be­tween the cycle of man's life and the "re­volv­ing year" (MED, 142) which fills the "cul­ti­vat­ed is­land" (MED, 269) with "ripen­ing fruit" (MED, 211).

The nar­ra­tor's de­scrip­tion of the way­far­ers who ap­pear in Clois­terham "look­ing as if they were just made out of the dust of the earth" (MED, 211) re­minds us that man's life has its ori­gins in the dust of the gar­dens and in the nat­u­ral cycle which orig­i­nates there. "Dust with the breath of life in it" (MED, 133), men, too, "come into ex­is­tence, buds" (MED, 90). But it is not only human life which is bom out of the pro­cess of the nat­u­ral world. Human de­sire has its ori­gins there as well. The nar­ra­tor's de­scrip­tion of the nuns who have been walled up "for hav­ing some in­erad­i­ca­ble leav­en of busy moth­er Na­ture in them which has kept the fer­ment­ing world alive ever since" (MED, 24) iden­ti­fies that de­sire as the man­i­fes­ta­tion of a larg­er nat­u­ral pro­cess. This re­la­tion is even more clear in the fig­ure of Rosa Budd. Her name ex­press­es her sense of her­self as some­thing still in the pro­cess of bud­ding and, there­fore, as some­thing im­ma­ture and in­com­plete. It is the sign of that lack or ab­sence which is the ori­gin of de­sire. In this, how­ev­er, Rosa is only an ex­pli­ca­tion of what it means for all men to come "into ex­is­tence, buds" (MED, 90). With the ex­cep­tion of Crisparkle, her sense of im­ma­tu­ri­ty is shared by all the major char­ac­ters in the book. Such a sense of in­com­ple­tion leads Edwin to con­cur in Rosa's de­ci­sion to end their en­gage­ment and is be­hind his at­trac­tion to He­le­na, and, in sim­i­lar ways, un­der­lies both Neville's and Jasper's at­trac­tion to Rosa.

In The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood men ex­pe­ri­ence the move­ment to­ward ripen­ing which dom­i­nates the nat­u­ral de­scrip­tions in the novel as de­sire. The sto­ries of the major char­ac­ters in the novel imply a vi­sion of human life as the move­ment of de­sire to­ward sat­is­fac­tion in a way which is ap­par­ent­ly the ex­pres­sion of the move­ment of the nat­u­ral world to­ward ma­tu­ri­ty. If it is true, more­over, that de­sire has its ori­gin in the nat­u­ral world, then per­haps it has its com­ple­tion there as well. Per­haps there is a par­al­lel be­tween the "re­volv­ing year" (MED, 142) and the "cir­cle of [men's] lives" (MED, 152), so that men are not only born buds but come to ma­tu­ri­ty and ripeness as part of the same nat­u­ral pro­cess. The sense of tran­quil­i­ty and com­plete­ness which the nar­ra­tor cel­e­brates will be found in man's im­me­di­ate in­volve­ment in na­ture.

Such an in­ter­pre­ta­tion would alter rad­i­cal­ly the mean­ing of the nar­ra­tor's de­scrip­tion of Minor Canon Cor­ner. Its cen­ter would no longer be the Cathe­dral but rather the gar­dens "where an­nu­al fruit yet ripened upon monk­ish trees" (MED, 53). The nar­ra­tor would re­main an his­to­ri­an but he now would ad­dress him­self to a de­sacra­men­tal­ized his­to­ry. If it is true that human and veg­etable life are co-ex­ten­sive, then the ful­fill­ment of human ex­is­tence will lie in the way the cycle of human life is in­ter­twined with the cycle of the nat­u­ral world. A his­to­ry which record­ed this cycle would never tran­scend the tem­po­ral­i­ty of the nat­u­ral. But it could still be a his­to­ry writ­ten in the past tense be­cause it would find in this tem­po­ral­i­ty a pro­cess which car­ries man to ful­fill­ment.

The sto­ries of Rosa and Jasper are con­cerned with this happy union of man and na­ture. Like all mys­tery nov­els, The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood in­tends a de­mys­ti­fi­ca­tion, and part of this in­ten­tion is re­al­ized in the nar­ra­tor's dis­cov­ery of the prin­ci­ple of "Pro­gressing life" (MED, 23) in the ap­par­ent­ly time­less world of Clois­ter­ham. This prin­ci­ple ap­pears now not only in the life of its gar­dens but also in the "un­ex­plored ro­man­tic nooks" (MED, 126) of its in­hab­i­tants. Mrs. Twin­kle­ton's re­la­tion­ship to "fool­ish Mr. Porters" (MED, 25), Jasper's de­sire for Rosa, Edwin's at­trac­tion to He­le­na, and, in a wider sense, all the se­cret re­la­tion­ships which tie the East — as­so­ci­at­ed through­out the novel with dreams and de­sire — to Clois­ter­ham and the West, can now be seen as the man­i­fes­ta­tions of a nat­u­ral pro­cess which should carry man to ful­fill­ment. Only the Cathe­dral and the so­ci­ety of op­pres­sive re­spectabil­i­ty cen­tered around it seems to in­hib­it this pro­cess. They ap­pear now as dead struc­tures which give the past an un­nat­u­ral and con­fin­ing power over the pre­sent. The only thing nec­es­sary, it seems, is one act which would break the hold these struc­tures have on the life of Clois­ter­ham. Once their tyran­ny has been cast off, men will be free to com­plete them­selves in the "full­ness of time" (MED, 199).

Jasper's mur­der of Edwin is such an act. This "jour­ney" (MED, 260) which he had per­formed "hun­dreds of thou­sands of times" (MED, 259) in his opium dreams is in­tend­ed to break this hold and to allow his dreams to be re­al­ized in the world.

Yet al­though this act does free de­sire to ex­press it­self and to re­al­ize it­self in the fu­ture, it does not bring Jasper sat­is­fac­tion. The re­moval of Edwin, al­though it docs open the way to Rosa, docs not bring her any clos­er to him. Quite the con­trary, it only drives her fur­ther away. The scene be­tween Jasper and Rosa in the gar­den of the Nun's house is at once the mo­ment in which his pas­sion achieves its fullest ex­pres­sion and the mo­ment its ful­fill­ment be­comes to­tal­ly im­pos­si­ble. It is this en­counter which drives Rosa away, which more than any­thing crys­tal­lizes the sus­pi­cions of Rosa, Grew­gious and Crisparkle, brings them in league with one an­oth­er against him, and re­sults, if we can be­lieve Forster's ac­count of Dick­ens' plan, in his even­tu­al im­pris­on­ment. The act in­tend­ed to lib­er­ate and com­plete his life re­sults, ev­i­dent­ly, in his being con­fined to an even more monotonous and cramped "niche" (MED, 20) than he oc­cu­pied as choir­mas­ter. Jasper him­self rec­og­nizes the fail­ure of his in­ten­tions' "new medicine" (MED, 167) when he re­turns to Princess Puffer's to enjoy again in his dreams the jour­ney which "when it was re­al­ly done... seemed not worth the doing, it was done so soon" (MED, 259). His dis­sat­is­fac­tion points di­rect­ly to his fail­ure by this jour­ney to win Rosa and to re­al­ize in the real gar­den of Mrs. Twin­kle­ton's, and in the true tem­po­ral­i­ty of the world which is sym­bol­ized by its sun­di­al, his vi­sions of "great land­scapes" (MED, 260).

One way to un­der­stand Jasper's fail­ure is to see re­flect­ed in it Dick­ens' per­sis­tent dis­trust of any ag­gres­sive ac­tion, Jasper's deliber­ate and will­ful choice of Rosa makes ex­plic­it, more than any other as­pect of this novel, the grow­ing sense of in­di­vid­u­al free­dom which sur­faces in Dick­ens' later nov­els. Yet the fact that Dick­ens makes Jasper's choice re­quire the re­moval of Edwin re­veals that Dick­ens still re­tains an in­her­ent sus­pi­cion of pos­i­tive ac­tion and, in Jasper's grow­ing iso­la­tion, we can see the well-doc­u­ment­ed ten­den­cy of such ac­tion in Dick­ens to im­prison the self.

There is, how­ev­er, an­oth­er im­pli­ca­tion of Jasper's fail­ure, one which be­comes ap­par­ent when we jux­ta­pose cer­tain el­e­ments of Jasper's story with cer­tain el­e­ments of Rosa's. Like Jasper, Rosa feels her­self to be a pris­on­er in the past. In chap­ter II her dis­sat­is­fac­tion with her en­gage­ment to Edwin is con­trast­ed to the plea­sure she feels eat­ing Turk­ish candy in the "Lumps-of-De­light shop" (MED, 30) in a way that is ob­vi­ous­ly meant to sug­gest in a dif­fer­ent key the ten­sion be­tween Jasper's East­ern dreams and his role in Clois­ter­ham. In a sim­i­lar man­ner, her de­ci­sion to aban­don their en­gage­ment is, like Jasper's de­ci­sion to mur­der Edwin, a re­jec­tion of the past. But there are ob­vi­ous and im­por­tant dif­fer­ences. Rosa's and Edwin's de­ci­sion is mu­tu­al­ly agreed to. More im­por­tant­ly, it is not a pos­i­tive act aimed at the achieve­ment of a cho­sen ob­ject but rather an act of res­ig­na­tion; and it lacks, there­fore, the qual­i­ties of self-as­ser­tion which are as­so­ci­at­ed by Dick­ens with iso­la­tion and im­pris­on­ment. It is not, the nar­ra­tor tells us, "will­ful, or capri­cious" but "some­thing more self-deny­ing, hon­or­able, af­fec­tion­ate, and true" (MED, 146). Jasper's act re­sults, ob­vi­ous­ly, in the de­struc­tion of his re­la­tion­ship to Edwin. Rosa's de­ci­sion on the other hand re­sults in the trans­for­ma­tion of her re­la­tion­ship to Edwin from fiancé to broth­er.

The ne­ces­si­ty of Jasper's ag­gres­sive act is called into ques­tion, more­over, by the nar­ra­tor's de­scrip­tion of Clois­ter­ham in the open­ing chap­ters. Here the idea that Clois­ter­ham never changes, that it some­how has man­aged to im­prison the flow of pro­gress­ing life, is par­o­died in the pawn­bro­kers who take no pledges and in Sapsea's be­lief that the toasts of his youth are ap­pro­pri­ate to the pre­sent. This sense of time­less­ness ap­pears not as a real qual­i­ty of Clois­ter­ham but as the blind­ness of its in­hab­i­tants to the ac­tu­al pro­cess of his­tor­i­cal change. Clois­ter­ham, the nar­ra­tor tells us, was "once pos­si­bly known to the Druids by an­oth­er name, and cer­tain­ly to the Ro­mans by an­oth­er, and to the Sax­ons by an­oth­er, and to the Nor­mans by an­oth­er" (MED, 22). It is, there­fore, "a queer moral to de­rive from an­tiq­ui­ty" that "all its changes lie be­hind it, and that there are no more to come" (MED, 23). The in­hab­i­tants who be­lieve this do so with "an in­con­sis­ten­cy more strange than rare" (MED, 23), for the real les­son of Clois­ter­ham, it seems, is the knowl­edge that the prin­ci­ple of "pro­gress­ing life" (MED, 23) car­ries it into the fu­ture with as lit­tle at­ten­tion to the past as the chil­dren who "grow small salad in the dust of ab­bots and abbess­es and make dirt-pies of nuns and fri­ars" (MED, 23) pay to these for­mer in­hab­i­tants. If human life is an ex­pres­sion of the same prin­ci­ple that al­lows the small salad to emerge from the dust of the past, then this prin­ci­ple will carry human life to ful­fill­ment with­out the ne­ces­si­ty of any rad­i­cal act of de­struc­tion.

Rosa's self-de­nial in break­ing her en­gage­ment to Edwin would seem to allow the fu­ture to man­i­fest it­self and de­sire to free it­self in just such a nat­u­ral way. Her déci­sion makes Jasper's un­nec­es­sary. If he had only wait­ed the way to Rosa would have been opened to him in the nor­mal progress of events, and this sug­gests that his in­tense sense of con­fine­ment in Clois­ter­ham is a false one. The fu­ture opens nat­u­ral­ly to Rosa with­out any con­scious ag­gres­sive ac­tion on her part. Con­se­quent­ly, this fu­ture should bring her a sat­is­fac­tion un-marred by the iso­la­tion and guilt which seemed to Dick­ens the in­evitable re­sult of such ac­tion.

The story of Rosa after Edwin's dis­ap­pear­ance is an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of this pos­si­bil­i­ty. Her jour­ney to Lon­don, a jour­ney which par­al­lels Jasper's, re­tains these qual­i­ties of self-ef­face­ment. Just as she did not leave Edwin for an­oth­er but only re­signed her en­gage­ment to him, so her move to Lon­don is not a move­ment to­ward a cho­sen end but, as the title of this chap­ter tells us, a "flight" from Jasper. And this dif­fer­ence seems to have im­por­tant im­pli­ca­tions for her involve­ment in re­la­tion­ship to the "pro­gress­ing life" (MED, 23) of the novel. Jasper's at­tempt to choose his fu­ture re­sults in his being caught in the "won­der­ful chains that are for­ev­er forg­ing, day and night, in the vast iron-works of time and cir­cum­stance" (MED, 150). His will­ful­ness de­ter­mines not only his re­la­tion to Rosa and the other char­ac­ters in the novel, it also de­ter­mines his re­la­tion to time and cir­cum­stance. Rosa's flight, on the other hand, im­plies a more open at­ti­tude which is free to ac­cept the ripeness which the nat­u­ral move­ment of life will bring. "When one is in a dif­fi­cul­ty or at a loss," Mr. Grew­gious tells her, "one never knows in what di­rec­tion a way may chance to open" (MED, 230). It is this "busi­ness prin­ci­ple" of Grew­gious' "not to close up any di­rec­tion, but to keep an eye in every di­rec­tion" (MED, 230) which in­tro­duces Tar­tar into Rosa's life.

Rosa's re­la­tion­ship to Tar­tar seems, in fact, to promise the comple­tion of her bud­ding na­ture. Their chance en­counter, which is cer­tain­ly in­tend­ed to be one of the "de­vel­op­ing changes" which will move the "depths" of a self which "had never yet been moved" (MED, 82), is de­scribed through­out these last chap­ters in ways which ap­pear to set it in op­po­si­tion to the scene be­tween Jasper and Rosa in the gar­den of the Nun's house. Rosa, on Tar­tar's arm, as­cends "un­expectedly" (MED, 237) to "his gar­den in the air, and seemed to get into a mar­vel­lous coun­try that came into sud­den bloom like the coun­try on the sum­mit of the magic bean-stalk" (MED, 235). Here, in this world which is "like a dream" (MED, 238) and yet is an ac­tu­al gar­den, Rosa and Tar­tar enjoy an "en­chant­ed repast" (MED, 241). And this ex­pe­ri­ence is re­peat­ed later in their ex­cur­sion on the Thames to "dine in some ev­er­last­ing­ly green gar­den" (MED, 246).

These in­ter­ludes in these gar­dens which seem at once real and en­chant­ed do seem to in­di­cate that Mr. Grew­gious' prin­ci­ple of open­ness to the fu­ture is vin­di­cat­ed and that through an ac­cep­tance of what the fu­ture brings the union of dream and re­al­i­ty can take place as a mat­ter of course. Yet there are el­e­ments in the novel which imply that the seem­ing­ly ob­vi­ous con­trast be­tween Rosa's ex­pe­ri­ence of the union be­tween dream and ac­tu­al gar­den and Jasper's ex­pe­ri­ence of the dis­tance be­tween the gar­dens of Clois­ter­ham and the "great land­scapes" (MED, 260) of his dreams is mis­lead­ing. The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood is, of course, an un­fin­ished work, and it is im­pos­si­ble to say what the final form of Rosa's and Tar­tar's re­la­tion would have been. But we must see that at the same time the nar­ra­tor seems to imply that their en­chant­ed gar­dens are re­al­ized in the nat­u­ral world, he is care­ful­ly set­ting these oc­ca­sions in op­po­si­tion to the flow of time. Rosa's en­chant­ed repast in Tar­tar's apart­ments ends be­cause "Mr, Tar­tar could not make time stand still; and time, with his hard-heart­ed fleet­ness, strode on so fast that Rosa was obliged to come down from the bean-stalk coun­try to earth" (MED, 241). In a sim­i­lar man­ner their af­ter­noon on the Thames ends when "all too soon, the great black city cast its shad­ow on the wa­ters, and its dark bridges spanned them as death spans life, and the ev­er­last­ing­ly green gar­den seemed to be left for ev­er­last­ing, un­re­gain­able and far away" (MED, 247).

Such pas­sages em­pha­size that no human gar­den is ev­er­last­ing­ly green and that both Rosa and Tar­tar will in­evitably trav­el "the silent road into which all earth­ly pil­grim­ages merge" (MED, 81). The most ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple of Grew­gious, "busi­ness prin­ci­ple" (MED, 230) of chance is, in fact, the drown­ing of Rosa's moth­er "at a party of plea­sure" (MED, 81) not un­like Rosa's and Tar­tar's after­noon on the Thames. These ref­er­ences to death re­mind us that if the char­ac­ters in The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood can at­tain any sense of com­ple­tion it is, at best, a tem­po­rary one. Yet even this is called into ques­tion. The death of Rosa's moth­er not only cuts short her life, it also leaves Grew­gious, whose ex­is­tence is de­fined by his love for her, frozen at a "hope­less, speech­less dis­tance" MED, 125) from the ob­ject of this love. The em­pha­sis in this novel falls more on the kind of liv­ing death which oc­curs when, through the ac­tion of time and cir­cum­stance, de­sire is held at a per­pet­u­al re­move from its ob­ject than it does on death as the end of life. Thus the river not only car­ries Rosa and Tar­tar to­ward the "grit­ty state of things in Lon­don" where, Rosa re­marks, peo­ple were al­ways in the con­di­tion of "wait­ing for some­thing that never came" (MED, 252). Here Rosa finds her­self mak­ing "the most of what was near­est her heart" (MED, 253) not with Tar­tar him­self but only in fan­tasies pro­voked by lis­ten­ing to Mrs. Twin­kle­ton read books on voy­ages and sea-ad­ven­tures.

Rosa in this way is not not­i­ca­bly bet­ter off than Jasper, who must re­turn to Princess Puffer's in order to re­cap­ture through opium the sat­is­fac­tion which the ac­tu­al per­for­mance of his "jour­ney" (MED, 260) did not bring him. The fact that both find them­selves in this stare of per­pet­u­al wait­ing would seem to allow us to come to at least a pro­vi­sion­al con­clu­sion. Man is born from dust and "that mys­te­ri­ous spark which lurks in ev­ery­thing" (MED, 136). The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood ac­cepts the fact that man has his source in this pure­ly nat­u­ral­is­tic prin­ci­ple, but con­tin­ues to posit a rad­i­cal dis­con­ti­nu­ity be­tween human and nat­u­ral life. This dis­con­ti­nu­ity lies not only in the fact that na­ture's life is cyclic while man's is lin­ear — that in­di­vid­u­al con­scious­ness does not die in order to be re­born — and that, con­se­quent­ly, he will never achieve the form of eter­nal­i­ty which char­ac­ter­izes the nat­u­ral world. It lies also in the fact that the "re­volv­ing year" (MED, 142) which brings ripeness to "the great gar­den of the whole cul­ti­vat­ed is­land" (MED, 269) does not bring an equiv­a­lent ripeness, how­ev­er tem­po­rary, to men. Al­though the ro­man­tic side of the char­ac­ters in The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood has its ori­gin in the "fer­ment­ing world" (MED, 24) of na­ture, it finds its ex­pres­sion in vi­sions -Jasper's dreams of "great land­scapes" (MED, 200), Rosa's en­chant­ed gar­dens — which are in­compatible with the gar­dens of the real world and the prin­ci­ple of "pro­gress­ing life" (MED, 23) which they ex­press. Be­cause the nat­u­ral progress of life does not sat­is­fy their dreams, the char­ac­ters in this novel find them­selves im­pris­oned by de­sire in par­tic­u­lar­ly in­tense and frus­trat­ing ways. They de­fine them­selves by their de­sire but find them­selves sep­a­rat­ed from its sat­is­fac­tion by the very force of time and cir­cum­stance which, seen as the prin­ci­ple of on­go­ing life, is its source. Not only are the last chap­ters of the novel, as we have it, dom­i­nat­ed by the im­pris­on­ment of its char­ac­ters in this sort of end­less dis­sat­is­fac­tion. The logic of the novel im­plies that this will not be tran­scend­ed in the sec­ond half, and that all the char­ac­ters will suf­fer the fate of Grew­gious at the hands of a Na­ture who says "I re­al­ly can­not be wor­ried to fin­ish off this man; let him go as he is" (MED, 86).

III

The his­to­ries of Rosa and Jasper, then, have com­ple­men­tary mean­ings. To­geth­er they imply that man will never find ful­fill­ment in the tem­po­ral world, ei­ther through his own ac­tions or through the nat­u­ral pro­cess­es of life. Such a con­clu­sion makes it clear that any vi­sion of a com­plet­ed story will never be re­al­ized in the im­i­ta­tion of his­to­ry. In this con­text, Rosa's un­fin­ished por­trait de­scribes the limit of a mimet­ic ap­proach. "Hu­mor­ous­ly — one might al­most say, re­venge­ful­ly — like the orig­i­nal" (MED, 14), its incom­pleteness can only re­flect and em­pha­size the in­com­plete­ness of its sub­ject. An his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive, based on a prin­ci­ple of im­i­ta­tion, will never be­come the "glob­u­lar" (MED, 121) "pic­ture of a true lover's state of mind" (MED, 120) which oc­curs when the "true lover has no ex­is­tence sep­a­ra­ble from that of the beloved ob­ject" (MED, 121). Since a story which mir­rors his­to­ry will never record the his­tor­i­cal union of a self with the ob­ject of its de­sire, this story, too, must re­main un­fin­ished.

If Rosa's story marks the in­evitable fail­ure of his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive, it does point to the ways in which the nar­ra­tor's method rep­re­sents a search for an al­ter­na­tive ground for the com­plet­ed story. The di­rec­tion of this search is im­plic­it in the final sit­u­a­tions of Rosa and Jasper. Both have turned from the frus­tra­tions of the world to ex­pe­ri­ence their dreams in an­oth­er way — Jasper in a re­turn to Princess Puffer's and Rosa in the fan­tasies pro­voked by Mrs. Twin­kle- ton's read­ing. If dreams can­not be re­al­ized, and the self com­plet­ed, in his­to­ry, then per­haps they can be in­car­nat­ed and com­plet­ed in some more ap­pro­pri­ate form — in the world of lan­guage. Lan­guage is, after all, the prod­uct of con­scious­ness and not of na­ture. Per­haps it would offer the prop­er medi­um for these vi­sions which de­fine the self's ful­fill­ment. Such a lan­guage would not, of course, be tied to the real world. While it might find its sub­ject in his­to­ry, it would trans­form his­to­ry into story — into a lin­guis­tic struc­ture which is sep­a­rate, and free, from the tem­po­ral­i­ty of the nat­u­ral world. To at­tempt this would be to fol­low Princess Puffer's ad­vice when she tells Jasper "never take opium your own way... take it in a art­ful form" (MED, 257),

The nar­ra­tor him­self sug­gests this in­ter­pre­ta­tion of his story when he ends his de­scrip­tion of the fly­ing wait­er and the im­mov­able wait­er who serve Edwin and Grew­gious by re­mark­ing that "it was like a high­ly fin­ished minia­ture paint­ing rep­re­sent­ing my Lords of the Cir­cum­lo­cu­tion De­part­ment, Com­man­der­ship-in-Chief of any sort. Gov­ern­ment" (MED, 118), The fin­ished qual­i­ty of this paint­ing which refers only to the fic­tion­al Cir­cum­lo­cu­tion De­part­ment is meant ob­vi­ous­ly to con­trast with Grew­gious' pic­ture of a true lover's state of mind whose re­al­iza­tion in the world must be for­ev­er in­com­plete. But this pas­sage alerts us as well to the way in which its fin­ished qual­i­ty has been achieved through a pro­cess of trans­formation. The metaphors of the im­mov­able wait­er and the fly­ing wait­er ap­pear ini­tial­ly as ways of de­scrib­ing the ac­tu­al din­ner. But in the course of the long pas­sage, they lose their ref­er­en­tial qual­i­ty and be­come in­stead the thing being de­scribed. The pas­sage, in other words, be­comes a fin­ished pic­ture only by ab­sorb­ing the "real" sub­ject of the pas­sage into a self-ref­er­en­tial world of lan­guage.

The tech­nique of the ex­tend­ed metaphor in which the lin­guis­tic sur­face of the de­scrip­tion be­comes grad­u­al­ly opaque and the read­er's gaze be­comes con­cen­trat­ed on this sur­face is only one of the tech­niques which the nar­ra­tor uses to em­pha­size the ver­bal tex­ture of the story and to de­tach this tex­ture from any ref­er­ence to the nat­u­ral world. The trans­la­tion of char­ac­ters into ob­jects — Mrs. Crisparkle into a "china sliepherdess" (MED, 52) — or the an­thro­po­mor­phiza­tion of ob­jects — the wine bot­tles which push at their corks like "pris­on­ers help­ing ri­ot­ers to force the gates" (MED, 118) and the ex­treme lyri­cism of pas­sages such as Dick­ens' de­scrip­tion of the "one great gar­den of the.. is­land" (MED, 269), which in its ver­bal ex­trav­a­gance makes the read­er con­stant­ly aware that it is more lan­guage than de­scrip­tion, all in­vite us to see the novel as a pure­ly "art­ful form" (MED, 257).

From this point of view we can see one other pos­si­ble way to un­der­stand the nar­ra­tor's cel­e­bra­tion of the com­plet­ed story in his de­scrip­tion of Minor Canon Cor­ner. Per­haps this is not a de­scrip­tion of some real qual­i­ty of the Cor­ner or of the his­to­ry which has oc­curred there, but in­stead a prod­uct of the dis­place­ment of this his­to­ry into story. This would be one way to ex­plain why the "high­est uses" (MED, 53) of these events are re­al­ized in their ab­sence. The dis­tance be­tween event and nar­ra­tive is no longer sim­ply a tem­po­ral per­spec­tive but a much more rad­i­cal­ly con­ceived hia­tus be­tween his­to­ry and fic­tion. The air of tran­quil­i­ty which char­ac­ter­izes the Cor­ner oc­curs only when the nar­ra­tor sep­a­rates it from the world of pro­gress­ing life and makes it the lo­ca­tion of a sep­arate and in­de­pen­dent world of story. By the same token, the nar­ra­tor's use of the past tense can be seen not as the past tense of his­to­ry but of nar­ra­tive, where the two are un­der­stood to exist in op­po­si­tion to one an­oth­er. If the tran­quil­i­ty of com­ple­tion can ap­pear only when the "ramp­ing and rav­ing" (MED, 53) of his­to­ry has de­part­ed — then the past tense be­comes one of the pri­ma­ry agen­cies by which die nar­ra­tor dis­tances the open-end­ed tem­po­ral­i­ty of life and cre­ates a world of story which can be "all told" (MED, 53).

The idea that the self can com­plete it­self in fic­tion im­plies that a pure­ly lin­guis­tic af­fir­ma­tion of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty is pos­si­ble. Al­though this seems to be a rad­i­cal po­si­tion for a nov­el­ist who is as con­ser­va­tive as Dick­ens it is one which, again, has been as­so­ci­at­ed with the novel since its in­cep­tion. If the novel has one source in the epic and re­li­gious au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, it has an­oth­er in the set of at­ti­tudes as­so­ci­at­ed with the late Re­nais­sance ex­pe­ri­ence of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. One as­pect of this ex­pe­ri­ence was the aware­ness that man — no longer de­fined as an image of God — could be­come his own cre­ator. It is this power to cre­ate the self which is in­voked both by Señor Que­sa­da when he names him­self Don Quixote and by Cer­vantes when he in­vents the notes and ded­i­ca­to­ry epis­tles which jus­ti­fy his novel.

This rad­i­cal strain ex­ists as well in the most con­ser­va­tive En­glish nov­els. When Richard­son has Pamela refer to her let­ters as "a pret­ty novel" she has writ­ten or Field­ing re­minds us that it is he and not Prov­i­dence who saves Tom from hang­ing both are ask­ing us to sec their nov­els as equiv­a­lent acts of self-cre­ation. Both these nov­els are de­fined by the di­alect be­tween rad­i­cal and con­ser­va­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tions, and in both cases these in­ter­pre­ta­tions range them­selves around the pat­tern of the For­tu­nate Fall in an in­ter­est­ing way. It re­mains the cen­ter of both read­ings, be­com­ing at once the record of a Prov­i­den­tial move­ment and the pat­tern of an or­phan's in­ven­tion of its own iden­ti­ty. In part this am­biva­lence is the nat­u­ral re­sult of the persis­tence of Chris­tian tropes in an in­creas­ing­ly sec­u­lar world and, from this point of view, Tom Jones be­comes a de­struc­tive par­o­dy of Par­adise Lost. In part, how­ev­er, the sym­me­try of these nov­els ap­pears as a kind of mys­ti­fi­ca­tion where­by the cre­at­ed self takes on the same form and so­lid­i­ty that the Chris­tian self pos­sessed. This sym­me­try, in other words, im­plies that the act of writ­ing as one act of self-cre­ation can ground the self as solid­ly — as com­plete­ly — as the act of writ­ing un­der­stood as the im­i­ta­tion of a tran­scen­dent prin­ci­ple.

This am­biva­lence is pre­sent, too, in Oliv­er Twist. The nar­ra­tor who de­fines him­self as an his­to­ri­an also pre­sents him­self as a writ­er of bur­lesque melo­dra­mas who al­ter­nates comic and trag­ic, like the lean and fat in bacon, in order to please his au­di­ence. The his­to­ry of Oliv­er be­comes, in this con­text, a self-con­scious­ly fic­tion­al nar­rative, not the im­i­ta­tion of a real ac­tion. But the fact that the nar­ra­tor as melo­drama­tist choos­es to write the tra­di­tion­al story of Oliv­er's dis­cov­ery of his ori­gin en­dows his nar­ra­tive with an ap­par­ent so­lid­i­ty which tran­scends our ideas of the melo­dra­mat­ic and gives his nar­ra­tive a qual­i­ty of com­ple­tion it would not oth­er­wise have.

The nar­ra­tor's in­ten­tion is, from this point of view, clear. He as­sumes both Jasper's fail­ure to choose ac­tive­ly a self in the world and Rosa's fail­ure to find com­ple­tion through the work­ings of chance. Con­se­quent­ly he turns his in­ten­tion not to­ward the world but away from it to­ward the cre­ation of a "fin­ished paint­ing" (MED, 23). The cen­ter of the Comer's serene ro­man­ti­cism would be no longer ei­ther the cathe­dral or the gar­den, but Mrs. Crisparkle's "won­der­ful clos­et, wor­thy of Clois­ter­ham and Minor Canon Cor­ner" (MED, 100) which she turns to when­ev­er her son "want­ed sup­port" (MED, 100). In the nar­ra­tor's de­scrip­tion of this clos­et the Cathe­dral bell and organ whose sounds "had made sub­li­mat­ed honey of every­thing in store" (MED, 101) ap­pear not the echo of a tran­scen­den­tal har­mo­ny but as the ex­pres­sion of a more human art rep­re­sent­ed by the por­trait of Han­del who "beamed down at the spec­ta­tor, with a know­ing air of being up to the con­tents of the clos­et, and a mu­si­cal air of in­tend­ing to com­bine all its har­mon­ics in one de­li­cious fugue" (MED, 100). And it is pre­sum­ably this human art which is respon­sible for the fact that ev­ery­one who dips into these con­tents re­turns "mel­low-faced, and seem­ing to have un­der­gone a sac­cha­rine trans­figuration" (MED, 101).

To sec the book this way is to see it as a fairy-sto­ry in which his­to­ry is trans­formed into tale in the same way that or­di­nary ma­te­ri­als of the world have been trans­formed into the "benev­o­lent in­hab­i­tants" (MED. 100) of the clos­et, a "Court of these Pow­ers" (MED, 100) whose mem­bers in­clude "pick­les, in a uni­form of rich brown dou­ble breast­ed but­toned coat" who "an­nounced their port­ly forms, in print­ed cap­i­tals" and jams "of a less mas­cu­line tem­per­a­ment and, as wear­ing curl-pa­pers, an­nounced them­selves in fem­i­nine cal­lig­ra­phy, like a soft whis­per" (MED, 100). The as­so­ci­a­tion of the cal­lig­ra­phy of the la­bels and the meta­mor­pho­sis of the con­tents re­minds us of the con­nec­tion be­tween the nar­ra­tor's trans­for­ma­tion of his sub­ject through lin­guis­tic strate­gies, such as the ex­tend­ed metaphor and those mo­ments when the nar­ra­tor ex­plic­it­ly in­vites us to con­sid­er the re­sult­ing work as a fairy-sto­ry-by de­scrib­ing, for ex­am­ple, Baz­zard as Mr. Grew­gious' "Fa­mil­iar" called into exb­tence "by a magic spell which had failed when re­quired to dis­miss him" (MED, 114) or Rosa as "the fairy-queen of Mrs. Twin­kle­ton's es­tab­lish­ment" (MED, 144).'

An im­por­tant crit­ic of the novel has re­marked that "cer­tain fairy­tales still re­tain frag­ments" of an epic to­tal­i­ty in which im­ma­nent and tran­scen­den­tal were in­ex­tri­ca­bly in­ter­wo­ven. The as­so­ci­a­tion of Mrs. Crisparkle's clos­et with the har­mo­ny of the cathe­dral bell cer­tain­ly ex­press­es Dick­ens' nos­tal­gia for such to­tal­i­ty. But more than this, the a-his­tor­i­cal world of the fairy-sto­ry seems to be­come for Dick­ens, as it did for some Ger­man Ro­man­tics, the ap­pro­pri­ate mode to ex­press the abil­i­ty of con­scious­ness to sep­a­rate it­self from the nat­u­ral and cre­ate a realm which is the ex­pres­sion of this free­dom. In this con­text the meet­ings of Tar­tar and Rosa in his "mar­vel­lous" gar­den and in "ev­er­last­ing­ly green gar­den" (MED, 246) where they dine on their ex­cur­sion be­come the locus of this at­tempt to sep­a­rate story from his­to­ry. These pas­sages can now be seen to ac­cept the ir­rec­on­cil­abil­i­ty of human dreams and on­go­ing life which is fig­ured in Rosa's and Tar­tar's re­turn to Lon­don, and to con­cen­trate in­stead on the nar­ra­tors abil­i­ty to em­body a sense of com­ple­tion by trans­form­ing these events into fairy-sto­ry.

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween the story of Rosa and Tar­tar and the nar­ra­tor's as­ser­tion of his power to trans­form is sug­gest­ed by the sim­i­lar­i­ty be­tween the lock­er from which Tar­tar, "by mere­ly touch­ing the spring knob... and the han­dle of a draw­er," pro­duces "won­der­ful mac­a­roons, glit­ter­ing liqueurs, mag­i­cal­ly-perserved trop­i­cal spices, and jel­lies of ce­les­tial trop­i­cal fruits" which make up their "en­chant­ed repast" (MED, 247), and Mrs. Crisparkle's clos­et. This sim­i­lar­i­ty pro­vides the prop­er con­text for the "trans­fig­u­ra­tion" (MED, 101) which takes place when the nar­ra­tor de­scribes Tar­tar as a "wa­ter-gi­ant" tak­ing Rosa, the "fairy queen" (MED, 144), or "First Fairy of the Sea" (MED, 237), to his "gar­den in the air... a mar­vel­lous coun­try that came into sud­den bloom like the coun­try on the sum­mit of the magic beanstalk" (MED, 235).

The al­lu­sions to fairy-sto­ries which are con­cen­trat­ed in this des­cription sug­gest that if The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood was going to record "a tale that was all told" (MED, 53) it would do so only on the level of fairy-sto­ry. Such a com­ple­tion would ground the tran­quility which the nar­ra­tor at­tributes to the Cor­ner se­cure­ly in the power of the nar­ra­tor and would rep­re­sent the novel as an aes­thet­ic ob­ject over the idea of the novel as a re­al­is­tic his­to­ry. Yet the idea that The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood was in­tend­ed to dra­ma­tize the nar­ra­tor's trans­for­ma­tion of his­to­ry into story re­turns us to the ten­sion in this book be­tween past and pre­sent tens­es, for the aware­ness that the past tense is an im­por­tant agen­cy in this trans­for­ma­tion only un­der­scores the con­flict. Un­fin­ished nov­els allow only prob­a­ble con­clu­sions, of course, and there is no way of es­tab­lish­ing with any cer­tain­ty the final suc­cess or fail­ure of the nar­ra­tor's ef­fort. Yet the strong aware­ness of the pre­sent tense in a story which, from the nar­ra­tor's point of view, should ap­pear from its be­gin­ning as some­thing com­plet­ed would seem to com­pro­mise the suc­cess of his ef­forts, and, con­se­quent­ly, to un­der­mine the abil­i­ty of con­scious­ness to de­fine it­self in lan­guage.

One key to un­der­stand­ing this fail­ure lies in what might be called the cen­tripetal move­ment of the im­por­tant pas­sage in which the nar­ra­tor's de­scrip­tion of Grew­gious' and Edwin's din­ner trans­forms it into a pic­ture "like a high­ly fin­ished minia­ture paint­ing rep­re­sent­ing my Lords of the Cir­cum­lo­cu­tion De­part­ment" (MED, 118). As we have seen, this pas­sage lo­cat­ed the nar­ra­tor's vi­sion of com­ple­tion in his power to trans­late his­to­ry into story, and cen­ters the nar­ra­tion in the in­ten­tion­al­i­ty of the nar­ra­tor's con­scious­ness. But at the same time this de­scrip­tion seems to be af­firm­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of such a trans­for­ma­tion ef­fect­ing a com­plet­ed story, it breaks the idea of the story as a closed, com­plet­ed sys­tem by re­fer­ring it to an­oth­er text by way of the de­scrip­tion of the Cir­cum­lo­cu­tion Of­fice in Lit­tle Dor­rit.

It might be ar­gued that what is at issue here is sim­ply the distinc­tion be­tween an in­di­vid­u­al work and the to­tal­i­ty of an au­thor's writ­ing, and that Dick­ens is mere­ly invit­ing us to see him em­bod­ied and de­fined by his pres­ence in the en­tire cor­pus of his work. But this pos­si­bil­i­ty is not borne out by the way in which the nar­ra­tor's power of trans­for­ma­tion is as­so­ci­at­ed with the fairy-tale motif in the book. The nar­ra­tor does nor choose a sin­gle fairy-tale as the basis of his nar­ra­tive in a way which would allow us to see his use of this motif as the ex­pres­sion of an au­tho­ri­al in­ten­tion­al­i­ty. The case is quite the op­po­site. The ref­er­ences to fairy-tales ap­pear in this work ei­ther in gen­er­al al­lu­sions to en­chant­ed gar­dens or in spe­cif­ic ref­er­ences to in­di­vid­u­al tales such as Jack and the beanstalk. But in nei­ther in­stance arc they in­te­grat­ed into a sin­gle nar­ra­tive struc­ture. The ef­fect of these ref­er­ences, con­se­quent­ly, is to dis­solve the nar­ra­tor's story through a scries of in­ter­tex­tu­al ref­er­ences which make it ap­pear no longer cen­tered in the nar­ra­tor's act of trans­formation but force us to see it as one rep­e­ti­tion of a set of nar­ra­tive mo­tifs. These are mo­tifs, more­over, which are not them­selves the ex­pres­sion of an in­ten­tion­al­i­ty. They do not. in other words, em­body the pres­ence of an in­di­vid­u­al con­scious­ness. Like myths, fai­iy-tales have no spe­cif­ic in­di­vid­u­al source but exist as el­e­ments in an essen­tially in­fi­nite se­ries of vari­a­tions which can­not be re­ferred ei­ther to an au­tho­ri­al con­scious­ness or to some in­de­pen­dent, "real" world of which they are an im­i­ta­tion.

From this point of view, the nar­ra­tor's story can never be fin­ished in the sense that it might be­come a closed struc­ture which af­firms the in­di­vid­u­al ex­is­tence of his con­scious­ness. In­stead, the act of writ­ing opens out into a field of lan­guage which de­nies the cen­tral­i­ty of the nar­ra­tor who ap­par­ent­ly brings it into being. The trans­la­tion of his­to­ry into story, which be­gins as the pos­i­tive as­ser­tion of this in­di­vid­u­al­i­ty, ends in the im­per­son­al play of nar­ra­tive mo­tifs. This is pre­cise­ly the im­pli­ca­tion of his ref­er­ence to the Cir­cum­lo­cu­tion De­part­ment, where the in­ten­tion­al­i­ty of human ac­tions is swal­lowed up and dis­si­pat­ed in the end­less cir­cu­lar­i­ty of lan­guage.

These his­to­ries of Rosa and Jasper show that man is lim­it­ed, fi­nal­ly, by an un­bridge­able gap be­tween him­self and the nat­u­ral world. Now, since it is ap­par­ent­ly the na­ture of lan­guage that sto­ries can never be self-con­tained, the nar­ra­tor is faced with an equiv­a­lent rup­ture in his re­la­tion to his nar­ra­tion. He finds him­self de­fined by a two-fold sep­a­ra­tion, dis­tanced at once from the world of na­ture and the world of lan­guage.

This aware­ness leaves both the nar­ra­tor and the read­er in a dou­ble bind. Dick­ens' works, from the be­gin­ning of his ca­reer, have bal­anced them­selves be­tween re­al­ism and a kind of art­ful bur­lesque. On the one hand, he shares with most En­glish nov­el­ists a dis­trust of pure­ly aes­thet­ic so­lu­tions. On the other hand, his writ­ings are char­ac­ter­ized by a kind of ver­bal ex­cess which is al­ways vi­o­lat­ing the lim­its of re­al­ism and seem­ing to as­sert the va­lid­i­ty of lin­guis­tic struc­tures. In this sense the nar­ra­tor of Oliv­er Twist, who de­scribes him­self as a bi­og­ra­pher, has al­ways lived un­easi­ly with the nar­ra­tor who de­scribes him­self as a melo­drama­tist.

The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood is not un­usu­al, then, in the fact that it ad­dress­es these op­pos­ing ten­den­cies. All of Dick­ens' work, and, as I have tried to in­di­cate, much of the En­glish novel, can be read as a di­alec­tic be­tween the ideas of his­to­ry and story. What is im­por­tant in this novel is the re­lent­less­ly pre­cise way in which Dick­ens de­mys­ti­fies both his­to­ry and story as pos­si­ble grounds for com­ple­tion. The nar­ra­tor, it seems, can only record the in­evitable ten­sion be­tween the idea of com­ple­tion and the con­di­tions which in­evitably frus­trate its re­al­iza­tion. The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood seems, in this way, Dick­ens' final com­ment on his own search for tran­quil­i­ty. It is un­doubt­ed­ly ac­ci­den­tai that he did not live to fin­ish the novel. But the iron­ic aware­ness of the nar­ra­tor sug­gests that its un­fin­ished state mir­rors, in an un­can­ny way, its theme and that even if Dick­ens had lived to end it, we would have found our­selves, like Rosa in Lon­don, await­ing a com­ple­tion that never comes.