1. Theme of Drood

Re­pres­sion, self-re­pres­sion and re­bel­lion/break­ing out

Re­press verb 1. tyrants re­press­ing the peo­ple con­quer, tyr­an­nize, op­press, mas­ter. 2. re­press a re­bel­lion quell, sup­press, squash, stamp down, crush. 3. re­press a yawn/re­press his feel­ings bury, check, con­strain, sup­press, stran­gle, bot­tle up, re­strain, sub­due.

Ev­ery­one gets ag­gres­sive and ‘wicked’ feel­ings — but how to cope with them, par­tic­u­lar­ly if you’re in a po­si­tion of re­spect and trust? You can’t give free rein to anger and lust. But is it wise just to bot­tle them up?

Whether peo­ple should re­press or act out/give in to their de­sires and an­i­mal im­puls­es (Jasper: “We must some­times act in op­po­si­tion to our wish­es”) was a hot topic for much of the 20th cen­tu­ry, and it’s a theme which Dick­ens an­tic­i­pates in his re­mark­able novel.

Clois­ter­ham: to ‘clois­ter’ means to con­fine and re­strain with­in nar­row lim­its, but peo­ple (Dick­ens says) won’t be re­pressed. As Shake­speare wrote: ‘The small­est worm will turn, being trod­den on’.

Joe to Mr Hon­eythun­der: “I say!” ex­pos­tu­lat­ed the driv­er, be­com­ing more chafed in tem­per, “not too fur! The worm WILL, when—”

Mr Hon­eythun­der is a bully who tries to crush ev­ery­one else. He ‘walked in the mid­dle of the road, shoul­der­ing the na­tives out of his way, and loud­ly de­vel­op­ing a scheme he had, for mak­ing a raid on all the un­em­ployed per­sons in the Unit­ed King­dom, lay­ing them every one by the heels in jail, and forc­ing them, on pain of prompt ex­ter­mi­na­tion, to be­come phi­lan­thropists.’

Crisparkle on Hon­eythun­der’s man­ners: “They are de­testable. They vi­o­late ... the re­straints that should be­long to gen­tle­men”.

Jasper, know­ing his man in Mr Sapsea, in­gra­ti­ates him­self by singing him ‘the gen­uine George the Third’ ditty ‘ex­hort­ing him to re­duce to a smashed con­di­tion all other is­lands but this is­land, and all con­ti­nents, ... and other ge­o­graph­i­cal forms of land so­ev­er, be­sides sweep­ing the seas in all di­rec­tions’. Speak­ing from the heart, Jasper says, “Clois­ter­ham is a lit­tle place. Cooped up in it my­self, I ... feel it to be a very lit­tle place”, and asks Mr Sapsea how he copes. He does so, in his fool­ish way, by ar­ti­fi­cial­ly (and self-im­por­tant­ly) in­flat­ing both his world and him­self. “If I have not gone to for­eign coun­tries ... for­eign coun­tries have come to me.” He ev­i­dent­ly swells and puffs him­self up so much that his mousy wife, en­tire­ly over­shad­owed, gives up the ghost. And even on her tomb­stone, with his urn-shaped ‘trib­ute’, Mr Sapsea re­press­es the poor woman prac­ti­cal­ly out of sight:

ETHE­LIN­DA,
Rev­er­en­tial Wife of
MR. THOMAS SAPSEA,
AUC­TION­EER, VAL­UER, ES­TATE AGENT, &c.,
OF THIS CITY.
Whose Knowl­edge of the World,
Though some­what ex­ten­sive,
Never brought him ac­quaint­ed with
A SPIR­IT
More ca­pa­ble of
LOOK­ING UP TO HIM.
STRANGER, PAUSE
And ask thy­self the Ques­tion,
CANST THOU DO LIKE­WISE?
If Not,
WITH A BLUSH RE­TIRE.

Some peo­ple, how­ev­er, are anx­ious not to be so tyran­ni­cal: “I am going,” said Mr. Grew­gious ... “to drink to my ward. But I put Baz­zard first. He mightn’t like it else”. And: “In giv­ing him di­rec­tions, I re­flect be­fore­hand: ‘Per­haps he may not like this,’ or ‘He might take it ill if I asked that;’ and so we get on very well”. And: “He is very short with me some­times”. Thus, with a typ­i­cal Dick­en­sian twist, the mas­ter is op­pressed by the ser­vant. (Set in amus­ing con­trast to the re­bel­lious Baz­zard is ‘this slave’ the fly­ing wait­er, an un­for­tu­nate man who’s whol­ly re­pressed by ‘an im­mov­able wait­er’.)

Rosa: “He has made a slave of me with his looks”.

Dur­dles is Clois­ter­ham’s ‘char­tered lib­er­tine’. He’s a free spir­it who re­fus­es to be dic­tat­ed to in any way at all. But such free­dom doesn’t bring hap­pi­ness. Far from it. His life is so cold, gloomy and lone­ly that he drinks to for­get, de­lib­er­ate­ly numb­ing his mind to the mis­ery of day-to-day re­al­i­ty. Thus, Dur­dles, like many peo­ple, choos­es to re­press, rather than try to live with and con­quer, his prob­lems and sor­rows. Al­though given his sit­u­a­tion, I guess, it’s as ef­fec­tive a so­lu­tion as any, par­tic­u­lar­ly as he re­strains him­self to a de­gree and sel­dom gets drunk. When fu­elled with al­co­hol, nor­mal so­cial re­straints fall away — one rea­son why Dur­dles is so out­spo­ken.

Princess Puffer: “I got Heav­ens-hard drunk for six­teen year afore I took to [opium]”. Ev­i­dent­ly a vic­tim of some tragedy or heart­break, Princess Puffer, in­stead of fac­ing up to her af­flic­tion (and so get­ting over it), tried to re­press her painful thoughts through drugs — hence her shred­ded lungs and wiz­ened state.

Mr Grew­gious is an al­most lu­di­crous­ly re­pressed and im­pas­sive man (his am­bi­tions, ro­man­tic hopes etc. all snuffed out, he ‘had set­tled down with his snuffers for the rest of his life’), but ev­ery­one has their limit. When Rosa (who’s the spit­ting image of her moth­er, who Mr Grew­gious loved) runs from the lust­ful Jasper and asks him to pro­tect her ... “I will!” cried Mr. Grew­gious, with a sud­den rush of amaz­ing en­er­gy. “Damn him! ‘Con­found his pol­i­tics! Frus­trate his knav­ish tricks! On Thee his hopes to fix? Damn him again!’” [Miss Pross speaks the orig­i­nal lines in A Tale Of Two Cities.] After this most ex­traor­di­nary out­burst, Mr. Grew­gious, quite be­side him­self, plunged about the room, to all ap­pear­ance un­de­cid­ed whether he was in a fit of loyal en­thu­si­asm, or com­bat­ive de­nun­ci­a­tion. He stopped and said, wip­ing his face: “I beg your par­don, my dear, but you will be glad to know I feel bet­ter”. Bet­ter for hav­ing ‘un­corked’ him­self and let his anger out. A brief tantrum (even in­dulged in pri­vate) is a won­der­ful­ly ef­fec­tive way of re­liev­ing your feel­ings. New­man Noggs uses a sim­i­lar tech­nique in Nicholas Nick­le­by, but far more often and ag­gres­sive­ly. ‘Lash­ing him­self up to an ex­trav­a­gant pitch of fury, New­man Noggs jerked him­self about the room with the most ec­cen­tric mo­tion ever be­held in a human being ... until he sank down in his for­mer seat quite breath­less and ex­haust­ed. “There,” said New­man, “that’s done me good.”’

‘Whether they [the nuns] were ever walled up alive ... for hav­ing some in­erad­i­ca­ble leav­en of busy moth­er Na­ture in them which has kept the fer­ment­ing world alive ever since ...’ A nun with a bun in her oven risked being ‘walled up alive’, but their re­pressed sex­u­al urgesstill broke out — they couldn’t be de­nied.

‘Miss Twin­kle­ton has two dis­tinct and sep­a­rate phas­es of being. Every night, the mo­ment the young ladies have re­tired to rest, does Miss Twin­kle­ton smarten up her curls a lit­tle, bright­en up her eyes a lit­tle, and be­come a sprightli­er Miss Twin­kle­ton than the young ladies have ever seen. Every night, at the same hour, does Miss Twin­kle­ton re­sume the top­ics of the pre­vi­ous night, com­pre­hend­ing the ten­der­er scan­dal of Clois­ter­ham, of which she has no knowl­edge what­ev­er [Dick­ens is being iron­ic here] by day.’ In the in­ter­ests of dis­ci­pline and head­mistressy cor­rect­ness, Miss Twin­kle­ton strait-jack­ets her­self dur­ing work­ing hours, but as soon as school’s done she breaks out at once — so it’s only a job-in­duced, part-time re­pres­sion and does her no harm.

‘But Rosa soon made the dis­cov­ery that Miss Twin­kle­ton didn't read fair­ly. She cut the love-scenes ... and was guilty of other glar­ing pious frauds.’ i.e. cen­sor­ship — the re­pres­sion of text. Miss Twin­kle­ton often has to cen­sor her­self: ‘Miss Twin­kle­ton was an­nu­al­ly going to add “bo­soms,” but an­nu­al­ly stopped on the brink of that ex­pres­sion, and sub­sti­tut­ed “hearts”’.

Dur­dles on Deputy: “Own broth­er to Peter the Wild Boy! But I gave him an ob­ject in life.” “At which he takes aim?” Mr. Jasper sug­gests. “That's it, sir,” re­turns Dur­dles, quite sat­is­fied; “at which he takes aim. I took him in hand and gave him an ob­ject. What was he be­fore? A de­stroy­er. What work did he do? Noth­ing but de­struc­tion. What did he earn by it? Short terms in Clois­ter­ham jail. Not a per­son, not a piece of prop­er­ty, not a winder, not a horse, nor a dog, nor a cat, nor a bird, nor a fowl, nor a pig, but what he stoned, for want of an en­light­ened ob­ject. I put that en­light­ened ob­ject be­fore him, and now he can turn his hon­est half­pen­ny by the three penn'orth a week”. So the Wild Boy’s be­haviour has been con­trolled not by re­pres­sive means (lock­ing him up in Clois­ter­ham jail, which didn’t work), but by con­struc­tive­lyrechan­nelling his ‘wild­ness’. More or­tho­dox sports, such as box­ing, are used for a sim­i­lar pur­pose today — redi­rect­ing not re­press­ing ag­gres­sive young en­er­gy, and giv­ing aim­less lives an ob­ject. Iron­i­cal­ly, the first UK prison for young of­fend­ers was set up at Borstal, which is on the out­skirts of Rochester/Clois­ter­ham.

‘The Rev­erend Sep­ti­mus left off at this very mo­ment to take the pret­ty old lady's en­ter­ing face be­tween his box­ing-gloves and kiss it. Hav­ing done so with ten­der­ness, the Rev­erend Sep­ti­mus turned to again, coun­ter­ing with his left, and putting in his right, in a tremen­dous man­ner.’ The Rev­erend Sep­ti­mus is a con­sis­tent­ly gen­tle, pious, kind-heart­ed man with an even tem­per. How does he man­age it? Not by dan­ger­ous­ly bot­tling up his ag­gres­sion and neg­a­tive feel­ings (to pos­si­bly come burst­ing forth at some fu­ture date), but by using in­tense phys­i­cal ex­er­cise and shad­ow-box­ing as a safe­ty-valve through which he can chan­nel his ag­gres­sion and work his frus­tra­tions off. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, cold water is well-known for shriv­el­ling up lust — Saint David dived into the freez­ing sea to con­trol his sex­u­al ar­dour — and the celi­bate Crisparkle is an ob­ses­sive icy-cold plunger! Of the Weir, ‘he knew every hole and cor­ner of all the depths’, and he’s ‘per­pet­u­al­ly pitch­ing him­self head-fore­most into all the deep run­ning water in the sur­round­ing coun­try’ — the randy sod.

Neville: “I have had, sir, from my ear­li­est re­mem­brance, to sup­press a dead­ly and bit­ter ha­tred. This has made me se­cret and re­venge­ful. I have been al­ways tyran­ni­cal­ly held down by the strong hand. This has driv­en me, in my weak­ness, to the re­source of being false and mean”.

Jasper to Crisparkle about Neville (delet­ed text): “You must some­time — no doubt, often — have to put your­self in op­po­si­tion to this fierce na­ture and sup­press it ... I am fear­ful even for you”.

Neville: “In short, sir,” with an ir­re­press­ible out­burst, “in the pas­sion into which he lashed me, I would have cut him down if I could, and I tried to do it”. And: “This step­fa­ther of ours was a cruel brute as well as a grind­ing one. It is well he died when he did, or I might have killed him”. Neville, with his ‘tiger­ish blood’, en­tire­ly lacks self-re­straint and needs not just a safe­ty-valve but also a cap. (Crisparkle rec­om­mends his own method of phys­i­cal ex­er­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly long (Dick­en­sian) walks.) In his pre­sent state, he finds it al­most im­pos­si­ble to re­press his feel­ings which are con­stant­ly erupt­ing. Even the ‘re­straint’ of hav­ing four men in front and four men be­hind, pen­ning him in but in no way im­ped­ing his progress, is an in­tol­er­a­ble op­pres­sion. And his pas­sions in Jasper’s study are all the more vol­canic be­cause Edwin and Jasper are sup­press­ing their own.

Neville: “In a last word of ref­er­ence to my sis­ter, sir (we are twin chil­dren), you ought to know, to her hon­our, that noth­ing in our mis­ery ever sub­dued her, though it often cowed me. When we ran away from it (we ran away four times in six years, to be soon brought back and cru­el­ly pun­ished), the flight was al­ways of her plan­ning and lead­ing”. He­le­na Land­less is a fas­ci­nat­ing ex­am­ple of the theme as she suc­cess­ful­ly strug­gles to re­strain her own proud char­ac­ter. In her­case, re­pres­sion and sub­mis­sion (when right­ly called for) are en­tire­ly ben­e­fi­cial. “Your sis­ter has learnt how to gov­ern what is proud in her na­ture.”

‘He­le­na, whom he had mis­trust­ed as so proud and fierce, sub­mit­ted her­self to the fairy-bride (as he called her), and learnt from her what she knew.’

‘Bil­lickin had some­how come to the knowl­edge that Miss Twin­kle­ton kept a school. The leap from that knowl­edge to the in­fer­ence that Miss Twin­kle­ton would set her­self to teach her some­thing, was easy. “But you don’t do it,” so­lil­o­quised the Bil­lickin.’ (We don’t know the Bil­lickin’s Chris­tian name as, in the in­ter­ests of safe­ty — being a ‘soli­tary fe­male’ — she re­press­es it. She atones for this one piece of se­cre­tive­ness, though, by de­ter­mined­ly (and amus­ing­ly) re­press­ing ab­so­lute­ly noth­ing else.)

Edwin: “No, but re­al­ly — isn't it, you know, after all — ” Mr. Jasper lifts his dark eye­brows in­quir­ing­ly. “Isn't it un­sat­is­fac­to­ry to be cut off from choice in such a mat­ter? There, Jack! I tell you! If I could choose, I would choose Pussy from all the pret­ty girls in the world.” “But you have not got to choose.” “That's what I com­plain of. My dead and gone fa­ther and Pussy's dead and gone fa­ther must needs marry us to­geth­er by an­tic­i­pa­tion. Why the — Devil, I was going to say, if it had been re­spect­ful to their mem­o­ry — couldn't they leave us alone? ... YOUR life is not laid down to scale, and lined and dot­ted out for you, like a sur­vey­or's plan”. Just the con­straint of being mar­ried ‘by an­tic­i­pa­tion’ is enough to sour Edwin’s and Rosa’s re­la­tion­ship, and Rosa, in the ‘Nuns’ House’ chap­ter, de­ter­mined­ly checks all Edwin’s ad­vances. “It was not bound upon Eddy, and it was not bound upon me, by any for­feit”, says Rosa, but in their eyes it was still an im­po­si­tion and, con­se­quent­ly, not to be tol­er­at­ed. “We should both of us have done bet­ter, if What is to be had been left What might have been.” Peo­ple won’t be re­pressed — not even when they’re being im­pelled to do what, given a free choice, they would oth­er­wise wish!

Rosa’s ‘pant­ing breath­ing comes and goes as if it would choke her; but with a re­pres­sive hand upon her bosom, she re­mains’.

All of which leads us to a cer­tain John Jasper ...

John Jasper