5. Repression — More Examples

Con­sid­er:

  • the novel’s brevi­ty, the tight­ly fo­cused plot, the com­par­a­tive­ly few char­ac­ters and un­usu­al­ly re­strained di­a­logue and prose — all in keep­ing with the theme, which shapes the very style and struc­ture of the book. Po­et­ry com­pacts as much mean­ing and feel­ing into as few (aes­thet­i­cal­ly cho­sen) words as pos­si­ble and this is the prime rea­son why Drood is so po­et­ic. Po­et­ic too in the mod­ern sense since Dick­ens em­ploys the tech­nique, used by T S Eliot and other 20th cen­tu­ry writ­ers, of en­rich­ing his text with mul­ti­ple lit­er­ary al­lu­sions and sym­bols. The close ties with Mac­beth and A Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, for ex­am­ple, sea­son the book with an ex­traor­di­nary mix­ture of su­per­nat­u­ral hor­ror and fairy en­chant­ment.
  • the suf­fo­cat­ing, claus­tro­pho­bic set­ting, so that even when the ac­tion moves to Lon­don, it’s not to open teem­ing streets, but to tiny rooms and an air­less opium den. The novel is full of things that tight­ly en­close e.g. shells such as the ones from which Jasper and Edwin lib­er­ate wal­nuts, tombs from which Dur­dles frees the old ‘uns, a tav­ern called The Tilt­ed [cov­ered] Wagon and Edwin’s birth­day gift to Pussy of no less than 17 pairs of gloves! Mrs Crisparkle’s mind, too — as re­gards the char­ac­ter of Neville — is closed up tight. Even the text in Drood is en­closed (in brack­ets) more often than in Dick­ens’s other nov­els, being fenced in twice as fre­quent­ly as in A Tale of Two Cities and gen­er­al­ly be­tween 1.4 and 1.5 times as often as in his other books — so that if Drood had the same word-count as Dick­ens’s pre­vi­ous mas­ter­piece, it would have about 650 brack­et­ed items com­pared to Our Mu­tu­al Friend’s 450 or so.
  • the many al­lu­sions to other lit­er­ary works in­volv­ing tyran­ny (usu­al­ly mur­der) and/or close con­fine­ment e.g. ‘a po­et­i­cal note of prepa­ra­tion’ which re­calls ‘the ar­mour­ers, ac­com­plish­ing the knights, with busy ham­mers clos­ing riv­ets up, give dread­ful note of prepa­ra­tion’ from Henry V (imag­ine being en­cased from head to foot in heavy, in­flex­i­ble ar­mour); and:

    ‘See the old man weeps, for his fairy bride. 
    Oh the mistle­toe bough! Oh the mistle­toe bough!
    At length an old chest that had long lain hid
    Was found in the cas­tle; they raised the lid,
    And a skele­ton form lay moul­der­ing there,
    In the bridal wreath of that lady fair.
    Oh sad was her fate, in sportive jest
    She hid from her lord in the old oak chest;
    It closed with a spring, and her bridal bloom
    Lay with­er­ing there in a liv­ing tomb.
    Oh the mistle­toe bough! Oh the mistle­toe bough!’

    (A bough is a branch and one form of death-and-res­ur­rec­tion god Tam­muz was called the Mistle­toe Branch.) The fate of the ‘fairy bride’ in Drood, of course, was to be the an­tithe­sis of the song’s one — it’s oth­ers who suf­fo­cate in Dick­ens’s story. the rea­son for Mr Tar­tar’s flow­er-box­es and small apart­ment when he has a large es­tate to move to.
  • ‘The floors were scrubbed to that ex­tent, that you might have sup­posed the Lon­don blacks eman­ci­pat­ed for ever, and gone out of the land for good.’
  • Mr Grew­gious’s re­quest as he pre­pares to leave the Nun’s House after his in­ter­view with Rosa.
  • The nick­name given to the head cham­ber­maid.
  • ‘This fair­ness trou­bled the Minor Canon much ... He charged against him­self re­proach­ful­ly that he had sup­pressed, so far, the two points of a sec­ond strong out­break of tem­per against Edwin Drood on the part of Neville, and of the pas­sion of jeal­ousy hav­ing, to his own cer­tain knowl­edge, flamed up in Neville's breast against him ... He was con­vinced of Neville's in­no­cence of any part in the ugly dis­ap­pear­ance; and yet ...’ And yet — moral dilem­ma — should he con­tin­ue to re­press the in­for­ma­tion or not?
  • ‘You were to abol­ish mil­i­tary force, but you were first to bring all com­mand­ing of­fi­cers who had done their duty, to trial by court-mar­tial for that of­fence, and shoot them.’ An al­lu­sion to Gov­er­nor Eyre who sav­age­ly re­pressed an up­ris­ing against British rule in Ja­maica.
  • the ‘two states of con­scious­ness which never clash’. So that while one is brought to the fore ...
  • ‘Miss Fer­di­nand had even sur­prised the com­pa­ny with a spright­ly solo on the comb-and-curl­pa­per, until [she gets] ...’
  • the be­haviour of the two rooks at the start of Chap­ter 2, and the at­tempts to cor­rect Mr Tope’s gram­mar, par­tic­u­lar­ly its con­clu­sion.
  • ‘That serene­ly ro­man­tic state of the mind — pro­duc­tive for the most part of pity and for­bear­ance — which is en­gen­dered by a sor­row­ful story that is all told.’ [‘sor­row­ful tale long past’ from ‘The Mistle­toe Bough’] Dick­ens is al­lud­ing to cathar­sis of which the OED has this def­i­ni­tion: ‘the free­ing and elim­i­na­tion of re­pressed emo­tion’. The ex­cerpt refers to the tran­quil­i­ty en­gen­dered in Minor Canon Cor­ner but has ob­vi­ous ap­pli­ca­tion, with his mock-fight­ing and stren­u­ous ex­er­cise, to the Minor Canon him­self.
  • ‘This gen­tle and for­bear­ing feel­ing of each to­wards the other, brought with it its re­ward in a soft­en­ing light that seemed to shine on their po­si­tion.’ Edwin and Rosa have just ended their pre­na­tal en­gage­ment. And by open­ly dis­cussing and act­ing upon what they’d long sub­con­scious­ly wished for, they enjoy a cathar­tic ex­pe­ri­ence. One that al­lows them to feel to­wards the other ‘pity and for­bear­ance’. Their for­mer un­gra­cious be­haviour was caused by a re­pressed de­sire for free­dom — the strength of which de­sire they’d not pre­vi­ous­ly been aware of.