6. Non-Verbal Communication

‘This lie, so gross, while the mere words in which it is told are so true.’

Jasper ‘watched every an­i­mat­ed look and ges­ture at­tend­ing the de­liv­ery of these words’ from Edwin.

‘A sense of de­struc­tive power is so ex­pressed in his face, that even Dur­dles paus­es in his munch­ing.’

‘But his face looks so wicked and men­ac­ing ... that her flight is ar­rest­ed by hor­ror as she looks at him.’

‘The air of leisure­ly pa­tron­age and in­dif­fer­ence with which this is said, as the speak­er throws him­self back in a chair and clasps his hands at the back of his head, as a rest for it, is very ex­as­per­at­ing to the ex­citable and ex­cit­ed Neville.’ [It’s the way the words are said and Edwin’s over-re­laxed pos­ture that Neville finds so in­fu­ri­at­ing.]

“I hope I see Mr. Drood well; though I needn’t ask, if I may judge from his com­plex­ion.”

A sec­ondary theme of Drood — and a very mod­ern con­cept — is the pri­ma­ry im­por­tance of non-ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Only a frac­tion of the in­for­ma­tion we con­vey to oth­ers is trans­mit­ted through words. Col­lec­tive­ly, fa­cial ex­pres­sion, ges­ture and pos­ture, as well as vocal in­flec­tion, are more im­por­tant. Even sheep can recog­nise up to 50 fa­cial ex­pres­sions of other flock mem­bers and han­dlers. Drood is Dick­ens’s tes­ti­mo­ny to the as­ton­ish­ing amount that can be non-ver­bal­ly trans­ferred be­tween peo­ple.

In­for­ma­tion can be con­veyed de­lib­er­ate­ly and con­scious­ly:

“He has made a slave of me with his looks. He has forced me to un­der­stand him, with­out his say­ing a word; and he has forced me to keep si­lence, with­out his ut­ter­ing a threat.”

“You don't know, sir, yet, what a com­plete un­der­stand­ing can exist be­tween my sis­ter and me, though no spo­ken word — per­haps hard­ly as much as a look — may have passed be­tween us.” A pic­ture is said to be worth a thou­sand words — so, too, is a sig­nif­i­cant look. Neville and He­le­na, being twins, can read the oth­ers body lan­guage per­fect­ly e.g. ‘she an­swered the slight­est look of in­quiry con­ceiv­able, in her broth­er’s eyes, with as slight an af­fir­ma­tive bend of her own head’.

A world of mean­ing (in this case sym­pa­thy) can also be ex­pressed in a touch: ‘As there was some­thing mourn­ful in his sigh, Rosa, in touch­ing him with her tea-cup, ven­tured to touch him with her small hand too. “Thank you, my dear,” said Mr Grew­gious’.

When peo­ple are at­tuned, as Rosa (with her ‘whim­si­cal­ly wicked face’) and Jasper are, de­spite their dif­fer­ences, in­ten­tions and feel­ings can be read al­most tele­path­i­cal­ly: ‘He would begin by touch­ing her hand. She feels the in­ten­tion, and draws her hand back. His eyes are then fixed upon her, she knows, though her own see noth­ing but the grass’.

‘Mr. Crisparkle, in utter amaze­ment, looked at He­le­na for cor­rob­o­ra­tion, and met in her ex­pres­sive face full cor­rob­o­ra­tion, and a plea for ad­vice.’

‘Rosa’s ex­pres­sive lit­tle eye­brows asked him what he meant?’

Edwin on Rosa’s por­trait: “I ought to have caught that ex­pres­sion [of Miss Scorn­ful Pert] pret­ty well, for I have seen it often enough”.

But sig­nals are not al­ways picked up or un­der­stood:

‘“And you like him, and he likes you.” “I LIKE him very much, sir,” re­joined Rosa. “So I said, my dear,” re­turned her guardian, for whose ear the timid em­pha­sis [in­flec­tion] was much too fine.’

‘Be­fore going in, she gave him one last, wide, won­der­ing look, as if she would have asked him with im­plor­ing em­pha­sis: “O! don't you un­der­stand?”’

‘That was a cu­ri­ous look of Rosa’s when they part­ed at the gate. Did it mean that she saw below the sur­face of his thoughts, and down into their twi­light depths? Scarce­ly that, for it was a look of as­ton­ished and keen in­quiry. He de­cides that he can­not un­der­stand it, though it was re­mark­ably ex­pres­sive.’

Much is re­vealed un­con­scious­ly:

He­le­na in­stant­ly de­tects that Rosa has fall­en for Tar­tar (prob­a­bly be­fore Rosa is even aware of it her­self), and swift­ly dis­cerns that Jasper loves Rosa.

In Chap­ter 19, Jasper reads Rosa’s mind and re­sponds to her un­spo­ken thoughts (though it’s her fa­cial ex­pres­sions he’s read­ing): ‘Rosa puts her hands to her tem­ples, and, push­ing back her hair, looks wild­ly and ab­hor­rent­ly at him, as though she were try­ing to piece to­geth­er what it is his deep pur­pose to pre­sent to her only in frag­ments.

“Reck­on up noth­ing at this mo­ment, angel, but the sac­ri­fices that I lay at those dear feet.”’

But again, sig­nals are not al­ways picked up:

Edwin: ‘“Am I like­ly to for­get what you have said with so much feel­ing?” “Take it as a warn­ing, then.” ... Edwin paus­es for an in­stant to con­sid­er the ap­pli­ca­tion of these last words’. Pal­ter­ing words that, for a mo­ment, Jasper fears Edwin has in­ter­pret­ed in their true sense, so that ‘Mr. Jasper's steadi­ness of face and fig­ure be­comes so mar­vel­lous that his breath­ing seems to have stopped’. But when it quick­ly be­comes ap­par­ent that Edwin has en­tire­ly missed the point, ‘Mr. Jasper [be­comes] a breath­ing man again’. And re­as­sured, Jasper re­peats the con­cealed threat twice more ‘with a quiet smile’ on his face. (Jasper, who suf­fers from ennui, grasps every op­por­tu­ni­ty for liv­ing dan­ger­ous­ly and prov­ing to him­self how much smarter he is than oth­ers. Note, too, what a vi­su­al char­ac­ter he is and how he ‘haunts’ the novel. When not at the fore­front, he’s al­most con­stant­ly lurk­ing in the back­ground. “Mr. Jasper was that, Tope?” Who else?)

False sig­nals can be sent with the in­ten­tion to de­ceive:

‘“Look at him,” cries Jasper, stretch­ing out his hand [to­wards Edwin] ad­mir­ing­ly and ten­der­ly.’

‘[Jasper] folds his hands upon the sun-dial and leans his chin upon them, so that his talk would seem from the win­dows ... to be of the airi­est and play­fullest.’

But when strong emo­tions are felt they can’t be en­tire­ly con­strained and leak out:

‘His preser­va­tion of his easy at­ti­tude ren­der­ing his work­ing fea­tures and his con­vul­sive hands ab­so­lute­ly di­a­bol­i­cal.’

In Drood even nat­u­ral sounds con­vey im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion: ‘tap, tap, tap’ holds a world of mean­ing for Dur­dles and ‘clink, clink’ proves use­ful to the mu­si­cal­ly-trained John Jasper.

In a novel with body lan­guage as a theme, those fa­mil­iar with Dick­ens’s tech­nique would ex­pect to find a char­ac­ter with prac­ti­cal­ly none — and Mr Grew­gious is that man. He’d make a per­fect poker play­er as his face (‘Edwin might as well have glanced at the face of a clock’), pos­ture (‘wood­en of as­pect’), voice (‘as hard and dry as him­self’) and man­ner of speak­ing (‘He jerked this in­quiry at Edwin, and stopped when one might have sup­posed him in the mid­dle of his ora­tion’) re­veal noth­ing at all. He has ‘very lim­it­ed means of ex­pres­sion’ even when he tries.