Sven Karsten: Family Skeletons

‘There is said to be a hid­den skele­ton in every house; but you thought there was none in mine, dear Ned.’

‘Upon my life, Jack, I did think so. How­ev­er, when I come to con­sid­er that even in Pussy’s house—if she had one—and in mine—if I had one—‘

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The sen­tence stayed un­fin­ished, since Edwin was dis­tract­ed from those dan­ger­ous thoughts by his uncle Jack Jasper. Bad for us read­ers, if not for Mr. Jasper we prob­a­bly could have learnt the hid­den mys­tery be­hind the Drood fam­i­ly. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, we can only guess, which is never too late, even 140 years after…

Most of the crimes (not spon­ta­neous ones, but thor­ough­ly planned and thought over crimes) take their premis­es in a dis­tant past. Maybe the mo­tive of Jasper’s crime is also to be searched with­in the mys­ter­ies of the Drood fam­i­ly, which we can guess from one of the orig­i­nal names of the novel, which was ‘The Mys­tery in the Drood Fam­i­ly’. The name is self-de­scrip­tive.

Let’s take a lit­tle jour­ney to the Past to the very year of Edwin’s dis­ap­pear­ance—1842, as it was skil­ful­ly cal­cu­lat­ed by Felix Aylmer in his book ‘The Drood Case’, right after it was done by Percy T. Car­den. The ac­tu­al hint was given by Charles Dick­ens him­self in his book, or in the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Neville and Mr. Crisparkle in Chap­ter XII, to be more ac­cu­rate:

'This is the first day of the week,' Mr. Crisparkle can be dis­tinct­ly heard to ob­serve, as they turn back; 'and the last day of the week is Christ­mas Eve.

As could be un­der­stood from the quote, the Christ­mas Eve (De­cem­ber’ 24th) was the last day of the week which fell on Sat­ur­day, since the first day of the week in Eng­land is Sun­day, as we all know. And there are only three years in the sec­ond quar­ter of the XIX cen­tu­ry that match this de­scrip­tion: 1836, 1842, and 1853. Tak­ing into ac­count the fact, that in order to reach Lon­don, peo­ple of Clois­ter­ham had to take a squat om­nibus and then trans­fer to a train about six miles apart of the cap­i­tal. Thus we can con­clude, that only 1842 match­es, for there was no rail­way in Clois­ter­ham-Rochester by 1836, and by 1853 Lon­don was al­ready con­nect­ed to Strood and there is only the river Med­way to sep­a­rate it from neigh­bor­ing Rochester. So, by elim­i­nat­ing false dates, we can tell un­doubt­ed­ly, that Edwin dis­ap­peared on De­cem­ber’ 25th night in 1842.

Jasper the choir­mas­ter was of some ‘six-and-twen­ty’ by 1842, mean­ing he was born in 1816; Edwin was about 21 ac­cord­ing­ly, born May 1822; and Rose Bud just under 17, born 1825. When Rose was a six years old child her Moth­er passed away dur­ing ‘party of plea­sure’ in 1831, whilst her fa­ther Mr. Bud died a year later in 1832.

No­tice, the date of Mrs. Drood’s death is still am­bigu­ous, and is some­where be­tween 1822-1829, not giv­ing up on the pos­si­bil­i­ty that she died while giv­ing birth to Edwin.

Mr. Drood died in 1838-1841. He wasn’t buried next to his wife, since her grave van­ished from Clois­ter­ham Grave­yard. His grief and soli­tude was more ex­ag­ger­at­ed with him being buried in­side a sar­coph­a­gus just like a Pharaoh.

It can be sus­pect­ed then, that Mrs. Drood’s fate was pos­si­bly the hid­den skele­ton that was men­tioned above. It all pro­vokes so many ques­tions. If she was dead, where is her grave then? And if she was alive, where was she her­self? Also Mrs. Drood’s (born Jasper) being John’s sis­ter (de­spite their age dif­fer­ence) adds more so­phis­ti­ca­tion to this un­veiled mys­tery.

But could there be any mys­ter­ies in the Buds fam­i­ly?

It is un­nec­es­sary to make any­thing up, since Dick­ens point­ed to the eter­nal tri­an­gle un­am­bigu­ous­ly: Mr. Bud—Mrs. Bud—Mr. Grew­gious.

'I won­der whether he ever so much as sus­pect­ed that some one doted on her, at a hope­less, speech­less dis­tance, when he struck in and won her. I won­der whether it ever crept into his mind who that un­for­tu­nate some one was!'

Yes, there was some­one aware, — we can un­doubt­ed­ly an­swer Hiram Grew­gious’s ques­tion. A por­tray­al paint­ed so ac­cu­rate­ly by Dick­ens give us maybe not the most de­tailed but pret­ty co­her­ent idea about the Buds’ mis­for­tune.

Rosa, hav­ing no re­la­tion that she knew of in the world, had, from the sev­enth year of her age, known no home but the Nuns' House, and no moth­er but Miss Twin­kle­ton. Her re­mem­brance of her own moth­er was of a pret­ty lit­tle crea­ture like her­self (not much older than her­self it seemed to her), who had been brought home in her fa­ther's arms, drowned. The fatal ac­ci­dent had hap­pened at a party of plea­sure. Every fold and colour in the pret­ty sum­mer dress, and even the long wet hair, with scat­tered petals of ru­ined flow­ers still cling­ing to it, as the dead young fig­ure, in its sad, sad beau­ty lay upon the bed, were fixed in­deli­bly in Rosa's rec­ol­lec­tion. So were the wild de­spair and the sub­se­quent bowed- down grief of her poor young fa­ther, who died bro­ken-heart­ed on the first an­niver­sary of that hard day.

The be­trothal of Rosa grew out of the sooth­ing of his year of men­tal dis­tress by his fast friend and old col­lege com­pan­ion, Drood: who like­wise had been left a wid­ow­er in his youth. But he, too, went the silent road into which all earth­ly pil­grim­ages merge, some soon­er, and some later; and thus the young cou­ple had come to be as they were.

Mr. Grew­gious gives us some more in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the fam­i­ly:

'Mr. Edwin, this rose of di­a­monds and ru­bies del­i­cate­ly set in gold, was a ring be­long­ing to Miss Rosa's moth­er. It was re­moved from her dead hand, in my pres­ence, with such dis­tract­ed grief as I hope it may never be my lot to con­tem­plate again. Hard man as I am, I am not hard enough for that. See how bright these stones shine!' open­ing the case. 'And yet the eyes that were so much brighter, and that so often looked upon them with a light and a proud heart, have been ashes among ashes, and dust among dust, some years! If I had any imag­i­na­tion (which it is need­less to say I have not), I might imag­ine that the last­ing beau­ty of these stones was al­most cruel.'

'This ring was given to the young lady who was drowned so early in her beau­ti­ful and happy ca­reer, by her hus­band, when they first plight­ed their faith to one an­oth­er. It was he who re­moved it from her un­con­scious hand, and it was he who, when his death drew very near, placed it in mine. The trust in which I re­ceived it, was, that, you and Miss Rosa grow­ing to man­hood and wom­an­hood, and your be­trothal pros­per­ing and com­ing to ma­tu­ri­ty, I should give it to you to place upon her fin­ger. Fail­ing those de­sired re­sults, it was to re­main in my pos­ses­sion.'

Mr. Bud’s re­ac­tion of tu­mul­tuous des­per­a­tion, when he saw a be­trothal (not to be con­fused with wed­ding) ring oh his dead wife’s fin­ger, plays the key role in un­rav­el­ing the mys­tery. Find­ing of the ring gets Mr. Bud’s eyes open: his wife did not drown ac­ci­den­tal­ly, but com­mit­ted a sui­cide, for she didn’t want to live being ac­cused in be­tray­al by her hus­band.

Let’s put the mise-en-scène from the very be­gin­ning.

Mr. Bud, an el­der­ly man of about 35 (Grew­gious’s age by that time) makes a pro­pos­al to his fu­ture wife, an 18 years of age young lady (Rosa’s age ac­cord­ing to the novel). The pro­pos­al is ac­cept­ed with joy and grat­i­tude. Mr. Bud makes a gift to his fiancée—‘a rose of di­a­monds and ru­bies del­i­cate­ly set in gold’, as a token of their be­trothal, which means Mr. Bud was not only rich, but also gen­er­ous, i.e. he was a very good match for a young lady. Fu­ture Mrs. Bud wears that ring with joy and pride. The joy that is ob­vi­ous to Mr. Grew­gious, the third side of the tri­an­gle, who’s also in love with the young lady. Grew­gious was prob­a­bly a mem­ber of Bud’s and Drood’s cir­cle. Grew­gious being del­i­cate in this sit­u­a­tion de­cides not to spoil their hap­pi­ness and con­tent him­self with dis­tant ad­mi­ra­tion. But not very dis­tant, he hasn’t left for Aus­tralia since he was still there on the day of Mrs. Bud’s death, how­ev­er not tak­ing part in ‘the party of plea­sure’.

A be­trothal ring is usu­al­ly sub­sti­tut­ed for a wed­ding ring on the day of mar­riage, so did the Buds. And then Rosa is born on the time it was ex­pect­ed. Sev­er­al years pass since her birth.

Rosa was six, Edwin was nine and Jasper was fif­teen by that trag­ic day.

It’s not clear how, whether he was told or based on his own jeal­ousy, but Mr. Bud grad­u­al­ly comes to con­clu­sion that his beloved is no longer faith­ful to him, he starts sus­pect­ing her in be­tray­al with Mr. Grew­gious, more­over he even con­sid­ers that his friend Hiram, might also be the bi­o­log­i­cal fa­ther of his daugh­ter Rosa (Note: Hiram Grew­gious also had that type of gold­en hair, just like Rosa).

Mrs. Bud has to en­dure her hus­band’s fre­quent fits of jeal­ousy (con­cealed from the eyes of other peo­ple, since the Buds never let Grew­gious in­side their house), that make her life sim­ply un­bear­able. Mr. Bud takes his wife’s wed­ding ring threat­ing to di­vorce her. Poor woman, being nei­ther able to prove her­self in­no­cent, nor to live to­geth­er with her hate­ful hus­band any longer, with the hus­band she feels none of the pride she used to feel for, de­cides to re­cov­er her good name by the means of sui­cide. Not just any sui­cide it is, but a beau­ti­ful one with ro­man­tic at­tributes, with a wreath of wild­flow­ers on her head and a be­trothal ring (not to be con­fused with wed­ding ring) on her fin­ger. The time was also de­cid­ed pre­cise­ly: she did it in the mid­dle of ‘the party of plea­sure’, which is a pic­nic for friends of their fam­i­ly ar­ranged by the river, she thus want­ed to be found as soon as pos­si­ble, to cre­ate the right im­pres­sion, rather if she would be found days later. Nei­ther Mr. Bud nor Grew­gious take part in that pic­nic.

The pic­nic takes place nei­ther in Lon­don (The river Thames was noth­ing but a big foul place by that time), nor Clois­ter­ham (where the Droods resid­ed). It was the Buds’ es­tate in the coun­try. Mr. Grew­gious was their guest dur­ing these events. As for the Droods, it’s not known whether they par­tic­i­pat­ed or not.

The drowned woman is found and car­ried to the coast, and then Mr. Bud is called. Mr. Bud hav­ing a shock be­cause of the hap­pen­ing, but yet hav­ing no sus­pi­cion of sui­cide takes his wife home in his arms (which in­di­cates he’s still in love, but not des­per­ate yet). Then Mr. Grew­gious comes run­ning, and the doors are not shut in front of him this time, this is the very mo­ment when Mr. Bud no­tices a be­trothal ring on his wife’s fin­ger. He im­me­di­ate­ly gets her final mes­sage—I’m in­no­cent, I’ve al­ways been faith­ful to you only, and now leav­ing this world in­ten­tion­al­ly, and that you have my death upon your con­scious­ness. Ir­repara­ble­ness of the tragedy, con­scious­ness of his own guilt, re­morse, and love that was harmed so dras­ti­cal­ly with his vain jeal­ousy put Mr. Bud stand­ing above his dead wife, into a tu­mul­tuous des­per­a­tion. The episode is sealed in Grew­gious’s mem­o­ry for­ev­er, though he is not aware of the true rea­sons.

Mr. Bud re­moves the ring form the fin­ger of his beloved wife, sym­bol­iz­ing that the mes­sage has been re­ceived. The ring be­comes for him the sign of her love, the love that he wast­ed so vain­ly, the love he de­stroyed with his own hands. He thinks he doesn’t de­serve any mercy and feels him­self worth­less of the love that the ring sym­bol­izes.

Pricks of con­scious­ness, con­tempt to­wards him­self caused poor wid­ow­er’s ‘dis­tract­ed grief’, which is to be un­der­stood as a chron­ic dys­thymia. Mr. Bud to­tal­ly changes his at­ti­tude to­wards Grew­gious (also be­cause Mrs. Bud has re­cov­ered his rep­u­ta­tion as well), who leaves right after the in­ci­dent. Mr. Bud how­ev­er is not left alone by his friend Mr. Drood, sup­pos­ed­ly the boys Edwin and Jasper were also in­vit­ed to the Bud’s es­tate.

Mr. Bud feels the death draws near, the day he’s long­ing for ea­ger­ly, the day he will fi­nal­ly atone for his guilt. He’s only con­cern is baby Rosa, the idea of her get­ting mar­ried some­day is tor­tur­ing him. But who can guar­an­tee that her fu­ture hus­band won’t be as jeal­ous as him, who can guar­an­tee he won’t tor­ment her with quar­rels and fault­find­ing to death? So Mr. Bud de­cides to beg his friend Drood to promise to marry his son Edwin, a kind for­giv­ing fel­low, whose well­be­ing is se­cured by his fa­ther, an en­gi­neer, to his daugh­ter Rosa.

Mr. Drood see­ing his friend in such a grief is not able to refuse and promis­es to pro­vide Rosa’s hap­pi­ness the way he was sug­gest­ed. The will and tes­ta­ment of both Drood and Bud are made. Mr. Grew­gious, whom Mr. Bud as­signed as Rosa’s guardian ac­cord­ing to his last will, of course is un­aware of the true mo­tive of the im­por­tance of this ar­ranged mar­riage, he was not aware of Mr. Bud’s fears for his daugh­ter, that she might some­day re­peat her Moth­er’s des­tiny by get­ting mar­ried with a self­ish and jeal­ous man. His un­aware­ness is clear from his reply to Rosa’s ques­tion:

My poor papa and Eddy's fa­ther made their agree­ment to­geth­er, as very dear and firm and fast friends, in order that we, too, might be very dear and firm and fast friends after them?'

How­ev­er, they made this agree­ment not be­cause they were close friends, but in order to pro­tect Rosa from un­hap­py mar­riage.

Mr. Bud talks to Grew­gious, as a client to at­tor­ney not long be­fore the an­niver­sary of the trag­ic event. Mr. Bud over­whelmed with fruit­less re­morse pass­es Grew­gious the be­trothal ring of Rosa’s Moth­er—the ring which was a token of his late wife’s love, as we know. By doing so, he want­ed to sig­ni­fy that he pass­es the love of the young lady to a per­son, who re­al­ly de­serves it. He en­trust­ed the ring to Grew­gious to be passed some­day to Rosa via Edwin as a be­trothal ring, that was the ex­pla­na­tion Mr. Bud made to con­ceal the true rea­son. How­ev­er, the ad­di­tion­al con­di­tion made the true in­ten­tion ob­vi­ous—the ring, a token of love and faith­ful­ness of the young lady is to be re­turned to Grew­gious in case of the ter­mi­na­tion of be­trothal, as a chain, riv­et­ed to the foun­da­tions of heav­en and earth, tying up Grew­gious and Mrs. Bud, chain that was gift­ed with ‘in­vin­ci­ble force to hold and drag’.

After mak­ing all prepa­ra­tions and for­mal­iz­ing his tes­ta­ment, as­sign­ing Hiram Grew­gious as Rosa’s guardian (i.e. a bet­ter fa­ther to his daugh­ter), ex­plain­ing his will to Rosa and Edwin, he pass­es away, ‘dies bro­ken-heart­ed on the first an­niver­sary of that hard day’, as it is said in the novel. Such a co­in­ci­dence (after putting things in order) could bare­ly be ac­ci­den­tal, though it was ob­scure to a seven years old child, it is pret­ty clear to us—Mr. Bud was so des­per­ate in his re­morse, that he judged him­self, com­mit­ting sui­cide just like his poor wife.

That is the hor­ri­ble story of the Buds fam­i­ly, the story, which was so skill­ful­ly told by Dick­ens by scat­ter­ing tiny pieces of hints all over the novel. That truly is a ‘fam­i­ly skele­ton’, that alone is able to keep the whole novel going.

But how?

Imag­ine six­teen years old Jasper and the young beau­ty Mrs. Bud, ‘a pret­ty lit­tle crea­ture’ of twen­ty four, with a wreath of wild­flow­ers on top of her flow­ing hair, wear­ing a love­ly sum­mer dress—just like a dream for a teen at his pu­ber­ty. Imag­ine how John saw the cru­el­ty of Mr. Bud sus­pect­ing her of be­tray­al. Her grief and suf­fer­ing made her even more at­trac­tive in the eyes of John Jasper. The young fel­low is ready to give his life, only to see a smile on her lips again. He curs­es the tyrant Bud and cries over the young lady’s un­fair des­tiny. Then comes a hard blow for Jasper—Mrs. Bud’s death, he some­how man­ages to find out the true rea­son of her death, pos­si­bly over­heard from quar­rels or Mr. Bud’s con­fes­sion of his jeal­ousy. Truly, it was un­wor­thy man, who she de­cid­ed to de­vote her lov­ing heart and loy­al­ty. The very sad mem­o­ry is rec­ol­lect­ed in Jasper’s mind, while lis­ten­ing to fool­ish Sapsea’s words:

'I have been since,' says Mr. Sapsea, with his legs stretched out, and solemn­ly en­joy­ing him­self with the wine and the fire, 'what you be­hold me; I have been since a soli­tary mourn­er; I have been since, as I say, wast­ing my evening con­ver­sa­tion on the desert air. I will not say that I have re­proached my­self; but there have been times when I have asked my­self the ques­tion: What if her hus­band had been near­er on a level with her? If she had not had to look up quite so high, what might the stim­u­lat­ing ac­tion have been upon the liver?'

Mr. Jasper says, with an ap­pear­ance of hav­ing fall­en into dread­ful­ly low spir­its, that he 'sup­pos­es it was to be.'

These words re­mind Mr. Jasper of the other mis­er­able dead wife of a worth­less hus­band.

1832. Mr. Bud for­ev­er rest­less is look­ing for a good un­selfish match for her seven years old daugh­ter to se­cure her fu­ture hap­pi­ness. Edwin, 10, rather than John be­comes his choice. It’s quite un­der­stand­able—Mr. Bud de­sires to seal the agree­ment for mar­riage of­fi­cial­ly, in both his and Drood’s tes­ta­ments, it would not be pos­si­ble if he chose Jasper, since Mr. Drood had no right to de­cide for his broth­er-in-law whom he should marry. But what did John think re­gard­ing all this? He felt of­fend­ed for being con­sid­ered un­wor­thy and his eter­nal love to Mrs. Bud so great, but yet undis­played so badly re­ject­ed. And that jerk Edwin is going to take it all. No, of course he is a good boy, and John loves him broth­er­ly—but why him, but not Jasper?

Of course Jasper hasn’t fall­en in love with Rosa by that time, as it is im­pos­si­ble for an eighth form stu­dent to fell in love with a first form child—the age dif­fer­ence is way too big. But when he turns twen­ty five and Rosa turns six­teen, that age dif­fer­ence is no longer tan­gi­ble. Then she be­comes just like her moth­er with her stun­ning beau­ty, and it is in­evitable for Jasper to fall in love with her madly. Their music lessons are to be­come a pas­sion­ate dec­la­ra­tion of love for Rosa and her moth­er, whom she rep­re­sent­ed un­know­ing­ly:

Oh! the days are gone, when Beau­ty bright

My heart's chain wove;

When my dream of life, from morn till night,

Was love, still love.

New hope may bloom,

And days may come,

Of milder calmer beam,

But there's noth­ing half so sweet in life

As love's young dream:

No, there's noth­ing half so sweet in life

As love's young dream.


Though the bard to purer fame may soar,

When wild youth's past;

Though he win the wise, who frown'd be­fore,

To smile at last;

He'll never meet

A joy so sweet,

In all his noon of fame,

As when first he sung to woman's ear

His soul-felt flame,

And, at every close, she blush'd to hear

The one loved name.


Jasper quotes this par­tic­u­lar poem Love’s Young Dream by Thomas Moore at the end of Chap­ter II, as a reply to Edwin’s joke re­gard­ing Pussy’s gloves. As when first he sung to woman's ear — this verse is all about Jasper and Rosa. How­ev­er, Edwin is too naive to un­der­stand the hint, You can't be warned, then.

Jeal­ousy for lucky Edwin, of­fence for being con­sid­ered un­wor­thy, fear, that Rosa might not be happy with a man who doesn’t love her as she de­serves it, and his own pas­sion­ate af­fec­tion and self­ish love for the young lady, all these are the rea­sons of his crime—if he is not able to change the tes­ta­ment, he then should pre­vent it from being ex­e­cut­ed.

But there was an­oth­er moth­er­ly love to stand against Jasper’s self­ish af­fec­tion. Edwin de­cid­ed not to give Rosa her Moth­er’s be­trothal ring, Let them be. Let them lie un­spo­ken of, in his breast. How­ev­er dis­tinct­ly or in­dis­tinct­ly he en­ter­tained these thoughts, he ar­rived at the con­clu­sion, Let them be. Among the mighty store of won­der­ful chains that are for ever forg­ing, day and night, in the vast iron-works of time and cir­cum­stance, there was one chain forged in the mo­ment of that small con­clu­sion, riv­et­ed to the foun­da­tions of heav­en and earth, and gift­ed with in­vin­ci­ble force to hold and drag.

The ring, a token of love and faith­ful­ness, is to be re­turned to Hiram Grew­gious ac­cord­ing to Mr. Bud’s last will. And it did, de­spite Jasper’s crafty de­signs, re­main­ing un­af­fect­ed by quick­lime, it was re­turned to Grew­gious, mag­i­cal­ly just like the leg­endary ring of Hyd­derch Hael, King of Cad­zow. We will never know how that ring re­turned, the story, which was ex­pect­ed in the sec­ond part of the book, is never to be writ­ten, the story that was gift­ed with ‘in­vin­ci­ble force to hold and drag’, no less than the fam­i­ly ring of the Buds.

Translated by Lucius Tellus