Sean Gatton: The Return of Edwin Drood

It has been said that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. And so it was true when Mr. Jasper almost killed Neville in the clock tower of the Cathedral by strangling him with his scarf after Neville told him he planned to ask for Rosa’s hand in marriage; when Mr. Datchery led the charge of the Cloisterham police to the Cathedral to stop Mr. Jasper, only to be delayed by Mr. Sapsea, demanding to know if the police had uncovered any substantial evidence against Neville yet for Edwin’s murder; and when Mr. Jasper slapped Rosa for intervening after she followed the two up, upon which she fell down the stairs and hit her head at the bottom and almost bled to death.

Still, even as their ends seemed dire, it took but the smallest of people, with the quietest of voices, to make the most noise to forestall Mr. Datchery’s, Neville’s and Rosa’s final judgment. For it was Helena who followed Rosa into the Cathedral and came upon her at the bottom of the tower stairs; and it was Helena, who expressly stated she did not fear Mr. Jasper, that distracted him from Rosa and Neville. And it was in this distraction that Helena called upon the moment the strength she needed to survive the beating Mr. Jasper delivered until Mr. Datchery tackled Mr. Jasper long enough for the Cloisterham police to arrive and arrest Mr. Jasper—but not before Mr. Datchery, exhausted from the months of stress, secrecy and strain, removed his wig and disguise, to reveal himself as none other than Edwin Drood.

Cloisterham was never the same after Dick Datchery unmasked himself as Edwin Drood, and the months that followed were marked with confusion and chaos. Was it an easy decision for Edwin to cause such heartache and anguish for Rosa, to put Neville in such dire circumstances, or possibly lose Helena because their plan almost took her beloved brother’s life and broke her Rosebud’s heart? No, it was not an easy decision, but it was a necessary one to secure their futures free from Mr. Jasper’s jealousy, from Cloisterham’s stranglehold, from a past that prohibited a future. For that future, Neville and Edwin risked everything by killing Edwin Drood so that Dick Datchery may live long enough to stop Mr. Jasper.

Mr. Jasper’s fate was sealed the night Edwin disappeared after Neville and Edwin took their walk along the river bank, at the same moment he prepared to murder Edwin. Had he not indulged himself in the twisted vapors of opium smoke to bolster his courage to perform his dark deed, Mr. Jasper might have had his wits about him to realize the Christmas Eve dinner he shared with Neville and Edwin ending with the two leaving for a walk at Edwin’s suggestion.

It was on that walk that Neville agreed to the plan Edwin proposed to him, after each confessed to the other of their yearnings of love for each’s respective sister and talked about the inability of each to pursue their desired futures in Cloisterham because, even as close as they were as they walked and talked, the oceans of the world divided who they were. It was an irreconcilable reality, but one which was irrelevant given the deeper reality of Edwin’s knowledge of his uncle’s intent to murder him and anyone who stood in his way of taking Rosa as his own. And so they plotted.

Rosa eventually forgave both Neville and Edwin for their parts in Edwin’s disappearance after Mr. Jasper was convicted, but only after Helena took her to Mr. Jasper’s trial to witness Edwin’s testimony. In seeing Edwin’s look of determination, and the honorable tone in his words of indictment against his own flesh-and-blood for her safety while testifying before the whole of Cloisterham in court, Rosa found inside herself the strength of will to confront the fear of Jasper and testify of the unbridled fear she had of the man, and of the words he said to her in the garden. “No one should come between us,” she recalled his words, “I would pursue you to the death.” Her testimony bolstered Edwin’s and damned Jasper to a life in prison.

In the first year of Jasper’s conviction for the attempted murder of Neville, he was found dead in his cell having taken his own life. It is widely rumored he did so because he was shamed that his own nephew plotted and testified against him in court, but whether it was for a sense of honor lost or because of the loss of what little of his soul he still had when Rosa did the same, no one really knows. His body was buried in Cloisterham’s Cathedral cemetery, in a plot furthest away from the Cathedral as could be, without a Christian burial service and only drunken Mr. Durdles in attendance leaning against the wall of a crypt nearby.

The wedding proposal Neville told Jasper he planned to make to Rosa was made as part of the plan to set Mr. Jasper’s rage into motion, as Neville knew in his heart the two could never be together because of their differences. But it was in the course of the unfolding of events after Mr. Jasper’s conviction, Neville and Helena learned a most glorious truth that altered the reality of their differences.

Proud of the man and woman they had become, after watching over Neville during his days in hiding and the strength each exhibited, Mr. Tartar confessed to them that he was their father whom they had never known. While serving in the Royal Navy, his ship docked for an extended period at Ceylon, where he met and married their mother. He returned to England after his uncle died, to navigate all the legal hurdles for her to follow to England, when he received an erroneous notice that she died shortly after he left, never knowing she was with child.

Mr. Tartar shed tears as he confessed he was not aware of their existence until they arrived in Cloisterham, through a chance run in with Mr. Crisparkle. From the moment Mr. Crisparkle described Helena and Neville, as well as their history, to Mr. Tartar, he spent every waking moment doing everything he could to watch over the two, especially after Neville was accused of Edwin’s murder. Thus it was, that Neville’s and Helena’s futures in England became their own, their blood now bound them to a city that tried to reject them because of it.

Neville was now free to pursue his desires to court Rosa, while Helena was free to determine her own future. Until now, Helena’s future was set for her, structured and carefully designed for her like the scheduled life she led in the Nuns’ House. But now, her future was her own, and it was one she planned to share with her dearest brother, her dearest friend, and the man who, in her eyes, was most responsible for protecting them—Edwin. After a time, Helena’s fondness toward Edwin, grew into something more. She accepted his marriage proposal after a yearlong courtship by Edwin, on the same day Neville presented a rose to Rosa—a rose of diamonds and rubies, delicately set in gold.

The reason I took the ending for The Mystery of Edwin Drood this direction is best summed up by saying there is no definitive evidence that Drood is actually dead. We know from the book that Drood is missing, and we know there are several potential suspects who have means, motive and opportunity, but these alone do not mean someone is dead, let alone murdered. Granted, it is possible Dickens planned to show this evidence later as he continued the story, but he very clearly wanted Drood’s fate to be ambiguous. This ambiguity allows a reader to deduce more from the story as written, than Drood is simply dead. Thus, I can only conclude that Drood is missing, and not dead.

So, if Drood is not dead, where did he go and why? Let us first consider that the last person to admit seeing Drood was Neville (Dickens 135). The two of them took a walk after meeting with Jasper, and I think it can be safely assumed they talked during it. What did they talk about? Neville never says, but given the accusations made against him, it seems that conversation would be relevant in his defense. In short, I think Neville and Drood discussed their feelings for the other’s sister, and how to proceed from that point. I think the reason Neville does not confess this conversation is because the result of it was them hatching a plan for Drood to “die” in the sense that Edwin becomes someone else—Datchery. The two must be aware that Neville will be blamed initially, but there is reason to believe Drood may hope the blame is shifted to Jasper, or else they may be able to set Jasper up with Neville, in order to clear him out of the way for Neville to court Rosa (Dickens 86-87, 55-67). I think Drood’s encounter with Princess Puffer keyed him in on the probability that Jasper was thinking about murdering him (Dickens 127-128). Thus, he would have to assume he would do the same to Neville, and the only way for Neville to have a life with Rosa without fear for either, is for Jasper to be out of the picture altogether.

Now, the reason I think Drood is Datchery is a bit of observational induction, and logical deduction. To the first, when Datchery talks with Princess Puffer near the end of the book, he seems “shaken” when she mentions Edwin’s name, and the incident the night Drood went missing (Dickens 215-216). Granted, this is no guarantee of anything, but it does suggest Datchery has familiarity with Drood beyond the name. Additionally, given the manner in which we are shown Datchery, we can deduce that he must be a man of financial means in some regard (Dickens 170). While we are never explicitly told Drood has money, Dickens was well known to use names very important to the characteristics of the character. Edwin means, “rich friend,” and the reason I point this out (primarily) is because Jasper repeatedly refers to him as Ned (Behind the Name). Yet, as I researched the name, I found that Ned is a shortened form of Edmund, not Edwin (Behind the Name). So, there had to be a very specific reason Dickens chose to use Edwin, instead of Edmund. Still, given Datchery’s behavior concerning Jasper (following him around, watching him, etc.), there really aren’t many people who could do this without fear of being caught (e.g., Neville) or whose lack of presence elsewhere would be noticed (e.g., Helena). I think the only one with the least to lose, the greatest motive for catching Jasper in some incriminating fashion, and who can move around without a need to be somewhere else, is Drood. Moreover, I looked and Mr. Datchery did not seem to have a pocket watch, which would be very strange given the fact he appears to be a man of financial means. While this may not mean very much, given the point made about Drood’s own pocket watch, I think this is a very compelling argument as to why Mr. Datchery would not have a pocket watch—clothes, a wig, etc., all of these things are relatively inexpensive next to a pocket watch that would inevitably be pointless once he recovers his own. Additionally, the other two “prime” candidates for Datchery are Neville and Helena, and while the case against them is fairly strong, I think that theory is ultimately implausible because both are always being watched/observed because of accusations against Neville (Dickens 194, 190, 158). Though there are other possibilities, none of them truly make any sense to me. Thus, I can only conclude that Datchery is, in fact, Drood.

Finally, there may be some question as to why I suggested Tartar as being the Landless’ father, and that is best summed up like this: we learn of their step-father, and we learn of their mother’s death, but we never learn of their biological father. Given he was in the Navy for a number of years when he was younger, it is very conceivable he did make port in Ceylon. It’s therefore possible that he could have met, and had some sort of relationship with their mother, of which they are the product. Now, as with my rationalization with Datchery, I researched a bit on Tartar. Tartars (also called Tatar) were a nomadic people from Asia that included the Mongols and the Turks (Tatar). While a stretch, it is not inconceivable that the reason Tartar was chosen was because of the Nomadic quality. Nomads have no land of their own — they are “landless.” Thus, I conclude that Tartar is probably their father, which is why they were called “Landless” in the first place.