First published in Washington University studies. v.9 1921-1922.
riters of fiction have often marvelled at the ease with which Nature, when she turns ironic, can surpass their shrewdest peripeties. Her precedence in such art was never more sharply demonstrated than by the untimely death, in 1870, of Charles Dickens, whose pen she chose to arrest at the very crux of the most baffling of his mystery stories. To the end of his life, he had carefully concealed the denouement toward which his novel was tending, and this swift catastrophe, overwhelming author and plot in the same premature conclusion, plunged the Mystery of Edwin Drood at one stroke almost beyond the reach of conjecture, into a sunless limbo of uncertainty. A region of ultimate riddle enclosed the enigma of his fiction, and though the secret he guarded so closely, has for fifty years been the subject of continual inquiry, no one has yet succeeded in wresting it from the silent and universal custodian of mysteries to whom it was consigned at his death.
Not that the investigation has been hindered by any lack of enterprise. In 1875, a certain anonymous citizen of Brattleborough, Vermont, with an assurance less typical of angels than of our countrymen, completed the book by means of a "spirit pen," with which he transcribed the promptings of Dickens' shade from the other world. Over the results of this undertaking we had best draw a decorous veil. There is similar occasion for reticence regarding the two other American solutions of the problem, published somewhat earlier by Orpheus C. Kerr and Henry Morford. Equally spirited in the attempt, they proved correspondingly dull in the achievement, and while all of them assumed the dramatic guise of sequels to the unfinished story, the illusion ceased at its outset; in style and content they proclaimed from thé first their own absurdity.
In this, assuredly, there swells no bugle note of encouragement to fresh adventure. The American writer who presumes to renew the attack under a standard so discredited, and under the old disadvantage of remoteness from the field of controversy, not only has a very doubtful augury of success, he must show cause why the solution of the problem should not be left entirely in the hands of Dickens' compatriots, who are nearer some of the data than we, and therefore better qualified, presumably, to draw sound conclusions. The latter objection would be unanswerable, if it did not involve, I think, an unjust reflection on an author who neither wrote for, nor attracted, a merely eponymous group of readers. Like every other great writer, Dickens addressed the world, and if the principles of all great art are universal, his major designs, and the internal indices of them, ought to be as readily intelligible to readers of one nationality as of another. This truth finds confirmation in the fact that the proximity of Dickens' fellow-Englishmen to the circumstances affecting his art has by no means prevented them from writing their full share of nonsense on the subject of the Drood mystery. Their extravagance has never been as impetuous and complete as ours, but the difference is largely attributable to a national trait of moderation; they have been idiotic in a formal and quiet way, escaping our wilder fantasia through a racial antipathy for the vehement, and remaining dazedly circumspect where with us the lunacy has been ardent, whole-hearted, and unrestrained.
An obstacle of a much less formidable kind is offered by the familiar type of airy and dry-shod critic, who, standing conspicuously aloof from the welter of dispute, affects to dismiss the problem as neither soluble nor worth solving. He need not detain anyone who possesses even an elemental understanding of literature. If art as a whole is worth discussing, any work that embodies its principles must be equally so. And the great advantage of such discussion is that, however fruitless it may be with regard to its immediate objective, it necessarily demands an examination of the laws of art as observed by a particular author, to the consequent clarification of opinion concerning both author and art. Even the extravagances of the disputants are illuminating.
It is true, of course, that no purpose can be served by wantonly adding to the list of these extravagances, and the unreason that seems to be the doom of so many investigators of the mystery is a warning not lightly to be disregarded. The most logical thinker can hardly maintain an unwavering sanity while picking his way through the labyrinth and fragments of this extraordinary novel. There is an artifice here that lures the mind into strange mazes, persuading it the while that the blindest trails and tangled avenues are straight highroads of discovery. A stray or fancied glimmer across one's path, an oddity picked up at hazard by the wayside, assumes in another instant the color of a clue, or, on resuming its true guise, produces a double bewilderment. These are tokens not merely of the story's incompleteness, but of the skill with which the author constructed his puzzle, and the present writer pretends to no immunity from the general vertigo. But some of the causes of absurdity in the previous commentaries no longer exist; some are readily avoidable, and the late-comer has the great privilege of being guided by both the hits and misses of his forerunners. By this I do not mean that I intend to simplify the problem; on the contrary, I believe that hitherto the investigators of the mystery have erred chiefly through an underrating of its intricacy, and a tendency to be content with a facile or superficial solution. Even those who point out the complexity of the problem are apt to offer at last some trite explanation that is at once an insult to the author's art and their own consistency. And the particular unhappiness of the American contributions has been partly the result of a national disinclination (though one we have fortunately outgrown) to consider Dickens as a serious and careful artist. Perhaps our countrymen of the last century hoped to salve the sting of his irony in Martin Chuzzlewit and the American Notes, when they described him as an eccentric literary cartoonist. But whatever the cause, the fact is now as obvious as it is deplorable, that an American investigator of the Drood mystery can secure for his work the distinction of novelty merely by assuming that Dickens, in his last novel, was building toward a conclusion of no jejune or commonplace sort, in a manner neither trifling nor perfunctory.
One name is too often profaned to be adduced again in support of our shaken literary prestige, but there was an American critic, who, had he lived to see the publication of Edwin Drood, would have made these comments pointless. He was one of Dickens' most discriminating admirers, and a fellow- craftsman whose skill in the weaving of mysteries was a byword in his time. I refer of course to Edgar Poe. No writer could have brought to bear on the Drood problem a finer genius for constructive analysis, or a better equipment for clearing the confusion that surrounds it. In 1842 he performed the same office for Barnaby Rudge, while that novel was running in serial form, and still incomplete. To attempt either to emulate with regard to Drood his incisive analysis of the Rudge mystery, or to duplicate his unique method of criticism would be a fatuity; his name is cited here because, as I believe, and hope later to show, his comments on the earlier mystery novel had a determing effect on the composition of the later one.
With which cautious preamble we may consider the manes of criticism appeased, and abandon the vestibules.
All those who have made a careful study of The Mystery of Edwin Drood are agreed that it was to have been the most closely constructed of Dickens' mystery stories. There is abundant evidence that the author had taken to heart some of the strictures on the loose plotting of his earlier novels, and was resolved that this one should offer no occasion for such censure. It seems idle to entertain, therefore, any assumption that the minor details of the story may be insignificant, or irrelevant to its main purpose. Up to the last hour of writing, the author was on his mettle; very satisfied with what he was doing, and what he intended to do; extremely careful in the revision of his proofs, and, as both his daughter, Mme Perugini, and his friend, Forster, assure us, never more alert in intellect and imagination. His physical health had been impaired by a lifetime of overwork, and there is a clause in the contract for his last novel mentioning the possibility of his death before its completion, which shows that he knew his strength to be waning, and was aware that he might never live to complete another book. Naturally, this would only increase his determination to make The Mystery of Edwin Drood superior to its predecessors.
The theme of the story was to be equally unusual. His first idea (afterwards discarded) was expressed to Forster in a letter dated July, 1869. "What should you think of the idea of a story beginning in this way? ...Two people, boy and girl, or very young, pledged to be married after many years, at the end of the book. The interest to arise out of the tracing of their separate ways, and the impossibility of telling what will be done with that impending fate." "This idea," said Forster, "left a marked trace on the story as afterwards designed." But a little later Dickens wrote to say that he had changed his mind. "I laid aside the fancy I told you of, and have a very curious and new idea for my new story. Not a communicable idea, (or the interest of the book would be gone), but a very strong one, though difficult to work." The idea was not, in fact, communicated to Forster, though the broad plot incidents were, together with the fate of several of the characters. The other indications show that Dickens was deeply fascinated by his theme, feeling in its development something of Stevenson's exhilaration over that of the equally ill-fated Weir of Hermiston.
The scene of the novel was laid in Rochester (re-christened Cloisterham in the fiction), a town that had always interested Dickens, and to whose appropriateness as a setting for a story of mystery he had previously alluded (The Seven Poor Travelers,1851). He was intimately conversant with all its landmarks, but for the purposes of his art was chiefly attracted by the castle and the cathedral, and their suggestion of miasmic gloom and decay. Against this effect, the picturesque beauty of the cathedral's surroundings offered an admirable opportunity for relief. "The spot," as Mr. Cumings Walters points out, "was well chosen for mystery, with its dark byways, its no thoroughfares, its Monk's Vineyard, its crumbling walls, its Gate House, and its postern stairs." When the author adapted it in Drood, the cathedral became the key to the story, dominating all the other details of the setting with something of the effect of Notre Dame in Hugo's novel.
The tale itself, up to the point where the last illness of the author interrupted it, is as follows. I have used what I think to be the fair prerogative of detailing such features of the plot as seem important to what I consider its final objective.
John Jasper, the choirmaster at Cloisterham Cathedral, is discovered at the opening of the story in a London smoking-den, half stupefied with the fumes of opium. The resort is one of the lowest type, kept by a haggard old woman who is also addicted to the drug. Its other inmates are a Chinaman and a Lascar. Jasper, when he recovers a little from his stupor, shakes the sleeping Orientals, and listens intently to their mutterings, but satisfies himself that the jargon they speak is unintelligible. The same afternoon he returns to Cloisterham, and to his duties at the church. He is described as a dark young man of some twenty-six years, good looking in a sombre way, with thick, lustrous, black hair and whiskers. Everything in his appearance, and in that of the room at the Cloisterham Gate House, where he lodges, suggests shadow and secrecy.
He has a nephew named Edwin Drood, a youth with whose sunny simplicity and frankness his own character is in marked contrast, but who is profoundly attached to him, and under his influence. Edwin is betrothed to a pretty little girl of the light, whimsical, and affectionate type so much esteemed by Dickens and his readers. Her name is Rosa Bud, and she is a member of a seminary for young ladies kept by a spinster named Miss Twinkleton. Rosa and Edwin have been affianced by their parents, now dead, and the girl's affairs are in the hands of one Grewgious, an eccentric and amiable old lawyer, who keeps rather dismal chambers in London, alone with his clerk Bazzard. The last is something between a "familiar" and a shabby solicitor's devil, but he atones for the anomaly of his position by exacting from Grewgious a scrupulous deference to his feelings, and an absurd degree of ceremony in their relationship. As a final touch of the grotesque, he has been trying for an indefinite period to dispose of a play he has written, and makes Grewgious the privileged sharer of his secret. Grewgious is not without an ironical sense of his clerk's stupid egoism, but befriends him from kindness of heart, and perhaps from some thought of relieving his own loneliness.
The love affair between Edwin and Rosa is hindered by two obstacles. One is the fear on Rosa's part that their attachment is largely a matter of habit and duty, and that they are simulating a deeper feeling than friendliness merely to fulfil their parents' wishes, — an apprehension that later appears to be well grounded. This complexity is charmingly conveyed in a garden scene between the two, where the fact is also disclosed that Edwin has prepared himself for the engineering profession, and plans to go to Egypt on some constructive project, taking Rosa with him. In her childish badinage, she refers to the story of Belzoni, who was dragged out of the pyramids half choked with bats and dust, and wonders if Edwin is going to be buried there. While they are talking, they approach the Cathedral windows, and hear a resounding chord from the organ within, and the sound of Jasper's voice, singing. With a strange trepidation, Rosa begs Edwin to go back with her to the school, and is only composed again when they are out of range of the sound.
The other obstacle, though Edwin Drood is unaware of it, has to do with this incident. His uncle Jasper, the choirmaster, whom they have heard singing in the Cathedral, has conceived a passionate desire for Rosa, and a brooding jealousy of her betrothed, which he disguises under a manner of benevolent affection. Rosa has an intuition of this, but her fiancé suspects nothing. When Drood, later, speaks of marrying her and going to Egypt, Jasper warns him in a cryptic way of danger. Shortly afterwards Jasper visits Sapsea, the mayor of Cloisterham, a vulgar and pompous dignitary, from whom he learns the particulars of Mrs. Sapsea's burial in the Cathedral vaults; at the mayor's house he also meets Durdles, a drunken stone mason, who carries with him the keys of the vaults. Taking these from Durdles' hand, Jasper clinks them to distinguish their sounds. Thereafter he goes home, and watches Drood asleep, "with a fixed and deep attention." On retiring to his own room, he prepares a pipe of opium, and spends the night in dreams.
About this time two orphans arrive in Cloisterham from Ceylon, — a brother and sister named Neville and Helena Landless. They both have a dark and foreign look, hold themselves mistrustfully aloof and are in turn mistrusted, and show, or at least the brother does, a sombre enmity, — even at times a smouldering savagery of manner, that has resulted from years of ill treatment under harsh guardians. This unhappy estrangement from other society has increased their devotion to each other, and there is between them a kind of sympathetic understanding, so strong that the brother claims for his sister the power of divining even in his absence what he may be thinking or doing. They are introduced to Crisparkle, the minor canon of the church, by Honeythunder, a scheming philanthropist. Crisparkle is a kindly man, — a Christian of the practical, chivalrous, and muscular sort. He takes the two orphans under his care, and the spell of his kindness gradually breaks down their sulky detachment. It is to him that Neville Landless mentions the peculiar understanding existing between Helena and himself, and relates the story of their childhood. They had, it appears, attempted several times to run away from their guardians; in each of these attempts Helena had shown a masculine courage and resolution, going so far as to cut her hair short, and dress in boy's clothes in order to aid their escape.
As their strangeness wears off under Crisparkle's friendly treatment, they are drawn into more intimate touch with the life of Cloisterham. Neville becomes interested in Rosa, and has an impetuous dislike for Drood, because of the latter's air of proprietorship over her. Helena also is fond of Rosa, and is quick to perceive her fear of Jasper and the cause of it. The domination exerted by Jasper over the betrothed pair appears strongly in a scene at the piano, where Rosa is singing to his accompaniment, and he watches her lips with extraordinary intentness while she sings. The room is full of people, none of whom suspects that anything unusual is toward, least of all Drood, since Jasper's concentration on the girl's face can be attributed to his professional interest in her as a pupil. But when Helena and Neville are ushered in upon this scene, and though they have never seen Jasper before, there passes between them, a look of instantaneous comprehension, in which Crisparkle seems to recognize the understanding mentioned by Neville. At last Rosa breaks down and cries out in terror that she can stand it no longer. Helena takes care of her, and when they are alone questions her as to the cause of this nervous crisis. Rosa speaks vaguely and haltingly of an unspoken threat she reads in Jasper's eyes and feels in his presence, and of the power he wields over her, but Helena divines more than the frightened girl has words to explain.
Again Jasper uses his ascendancy over his nephew in fomenting a quarrel between the latter and Neville Landless. Succeeding in provoking Neville to a burst of fury, he reports to Crisparkle that the young man is murderous. Crisparkle intermediates, and three days later Drood writes a note to Neville, expressing his regret at the quarrel. Jasper, pretending to further the reconciliation, arranges a dinner, at which the two young men are to be his guests on Christmas Eve, at the Gate House.
In the meantime Drood calls on Grewgious, Rosa's guardian in London. The old lawyer gives him a betrothal ring which had belonged to Rosa's mother, with an impressive warning that if he should decide to break the engagement with Rosa, he must return the ring. Drood agrees, and Bazzard is witness to the compact. In Cloisterham, Jasper pays a midnight visit to the vaults with Durdles. They pass a mound of quicklime, about which Jasper questions his guide. In the shadows of Minor Canon corner, Jasper stops short behind a piece of old dwarf wall in time to escape observation by Crisparkle and Neville Landless, who are sauntering by, unaware of being observed. "Jasper folds his arms upon the top of the wall, and with his chin resting on them, watches. He takes no note whatever of the Minor Canon, but watches Neville as though his eye were at the trigger of a loaded rifle, and he had covered him, and were going to fire. A sense of destructive power is so expressed in his face that even Durdles pauses in his munching, and looks at him, with an unmunched something in his cheek." On reaching the vaults, Jasper gives Durdles a drugged bottle of wine. While the latter is drinking it, he tells Jasper of a strange cry he has often heard issuing from the vaults. When he has fallen asleep, Jasper purloins his keys and continues the exploration alone.
Rosa and Drood decide to break off their engagement, to the great relief of both of them, Drood being so heart-free in the matter as to think romantically of Helena Landless almost at the moment he separates from his betrothed. They agree not to tell Jasper of their decision, though Drood still believes in his uncle's affection for himself, and cannot understand Rosa's aversion. He does not, of course, give Rosa the ring; in fact, after some hesitation, he resolves not to tell her of it at all. Rosa undertakes to write to Grewgious about their broken engagement.
On Christmas Eve, the date set by Jasper for the dinner, Neville Landless buys a heavy walking stick, preparatory to starting next day on a walking tour, and tells Crisparkle of his plan. Edwin Drood strolls about Cloisterham, and has his watch repaired by a jeweller, who tries to interest him in some purchases. Drood explains that he wears no other jewelry than a watch and chain and a shirt pin; the jeweller replies that he is aware of this, having learned it from Jasper while trying to persuade him to buy a present for his nephew's wedding. Drood also meets an aged woman, in whom the reader recognizes the keeper of the opium den; she warns him that "Ned" is a threatened name. Jasper sings in the choir in beautiful voice, tells Crisparkle of his improved health and spirits, and goes singing to his house; arrived there he pauses for an instant under the arched entrance to pull off a great black scarf he has been wearing, and hang it in a loop over his arm. "For that brief moment his face is knitted and stern." A violent storm is gathering as he goes up the postern stair, — where the others have preceded him, in the order named.
The next morning Jasper rushes to Crisparkle's house with the tidings that Drood has disappeared, and claims to have last seen him going toward the river in company with Landless. Drood cannot be found, but Neville, who has started on his walking trip, is pursued and brought back. Not realizing at first what he is wanted for, and having no clear recollection of what had happened after the dinner, he resists the sheriff's officers, and in the scuffle is slightly hurt. Some drops of blood fall on the walking stick, and congealing quickly in the cold air, serve to incriminate him still further, though against all reason. Grewgious, Rosa's guardian, comes to Cloisterham from London, evidently in response to her letter, and visiting Jasper, informs him that Drood had broken his engagement with Rosa a day or two before his disappearance. On receiving this news, Jasper gives a terrible shriek and swoons. His conduct awakens in Grewgious a lively suspicion that he is not without knowledge of the manner of Drood's disappearance.
The case against Neville Landless deepens when Crisparkle finds Drood's watch and chain and shirt pin in the weir, as Neville was reported to have last been seen walking toward the river with the missing man. But nothing more being found against him, he is set at large again, for lack of evidence, with a "blight on his name." Jasper, however, hands Crisparkle a written expression of his conviction that Drood has been murdered, and declares himself sworn to track down the murderer.
Six months later, Neville is living in London, near the lodgings of Grewgious, where Crisparkle visits him from time to time, bringing him books, and trying to save him from despondency. During this time Crisparkle and Grewgious have both been busy in an attempt to clear up the mystery of Drood's disappearance. When Crisparkle calls on him, Grewgious notices Jasper's stealthy figure in the street below Neville's window, and vaguely intimates to the Minor Canon his suspicion of the choirmaster.
A new character is now introduced in the person of Lieutenant Tartar, a breezy and vigorous naval officer, who appears suddenly one midnight at Neville's window, which he has reached by a dizzy transit from his own, (opposite on the top floor), trailing with him some scarlet runners with the kindly purpose of allowing the lonely young man to share his flowers. The two rooms are thus joined, and after talking to Neville for a little, he bids him goodnight and swinging out of the window, and along the trail of scarlet runners, he vanishes into the darkness. (In his comments on the plot, Dickens expressed a fear that the chapter immediately following had been introduced ''too soon.'')
"About this time a stranger appears in Cloisterham." He gives the name of Dick Datchery, and takes lodgings with Tope, the verger. He is described as a whitehaired personage with black eyebrows. "Being buttoned up in a tightish blue surtout with a buff waistcoat and grey trousers, he has something of a military air ...but he announces himself as an idle dog who lives upon his means," and states that he is taking rooms in the town for a month or two, with a view to settling there definitely if he likes it. One of the first persons he meets is a boy named Deputy, a waif, whose chief function in life is to stone Durdles home when he is drunk. Deputy points out to Datchery Jasper's house, (at which the stranger looks with considerable interest), and then directs him to the Topes' place. He talks with Mrs. Tope about the Drood case, showing a very confused knowledge of the events in question, and gives a faulty summary of the facts, seemingly with the purpose of being corrected' by Mrs. Tope, and eliciting information. Thereafter he interviews Sapsea, the Mayor, to verify as he says, the credentials of Mr. Tope. At the mayor's house he meets Jasper, and is introduced to him. Sapsea's first impression of the stranger, conveyed in a question as to his occupation, is that he is a retired army man; next that he belongs to the navy, and third, that he is something or other in diplomacy. Datchery confesses to an interest in the last named profession. Throughout their conversation and thereafter his manner of speaking is breezy and crisp, with a faint undertone of irony. The fact is emphasized in the interview that he seems to have difficulty in remembering whether or not he is wearing his hat, and later he shakes his head, as if his mane of white hair made him uncomfortably warm. On returning to his rooms, he looks at his hair in the mirror, remarking to himself, "For a single buffer, of an easy temper, living idly on his means, I have had a rather busy afternoon!"
Jasper makes a passionate declaration of love to Rosa, and threatens the Landlesses with vengeance. In terror she flies to Grewgious in London. Her guardian receives her kindly, and tells her of his own abhorrence of Jasper. Crisparkle also calls upon Grewgious, and meets Tartar, in whom he recognizes an old college mate, who had once saved him from drowning. Tartar is taken into their confidence, and places his rooms at Rosa's disposal.
Rosa and Tartar become close friends, and there is a clear suggestion of a growing attachment between them. Helena, who now arrives in London, is similarly interested in Crisparkle. Apartments are finally taken for Rosa and Miss Twinkleton at a widowed cousin of Bazzard, Grewgious's playwriting clerk. Grewgious keeps watch on Jasper when he secretly visits London.
Jasper visits the old woman in the opium den, and speaks strangely of something he has done, "pleasant to do." "It was," he says, "a difficult and dangerous journey, there was one who was often his fellow-traveller on this journey in his previsions of it. But that one suspected nothing. At the end, there was no struggle, no consciousness of peril, no entreaty" — and yet he "never saw that before." His speech trails off into the incoherencies of an opium dream, the old woman listening intently the while.
Jasper leaves London; the old woman follows him, arrives at Cloisterham, and meets Datchery. The stranger questions her as to what she wants with Jasper. She evades that point, but tells him of her previous meeting with Edwin. On leaving her, Datchery encounters Deputy, with whom he has struck up a friendship during his stay in Cloisterham, and who sleeps at the traveller's lodging where the old woman has taken quarters. The boy informs him that the old woman is called the "Princess Puffer" and lives among the Jacks and Chinamen in London. For a shilling, he promises to find out exactly where she lives. On returning to Tope's, Datchery, in the old tavern way of keeping scores, chalks a small stroke on the inner side of a cupboard door, with the words "A very small score, this; a very poor score!" Later, after service at the Cathedral, he sees the old woman from behind a pillar shake her fist at Jasper. He accosts her, and asks her if she knows the choirmaster. She replies that she knows him far better than all the Reverend Parsons put together. Datchery, when he reaches home, "adds one thick line to the score, extending from the top of the cupboard door to the bottom."
[The story ends abruptly at this point, within two pages of the end of the twenty-third chapter.]
The first, and in many ways the best outline of Dickens' plan for the remainder of the novel is contributed by his friend, John Forster, a man with whom he was on terms of the closest intimacy, and to whom he might be expected to impart all those details of the story that an author will divulge before commencing to write. Novelists vary greatly in this respect, some being as reticent as others are communicative, but there are few of them who do not guard even from their closest friends the more intimate features of their plan, particularly when it involves a final surprise. We may look, accordingly, on the scheme communicated to Forster as true, so far as it goes, but as only part of the truth, especially in view of the author's express statement that the crux of his story was "incommunicable". Forster reports that the story was to be of the murder of a nephew by his uncle, "the originality of which was to consist in the review of the murderer's career by himself at the close, when its temptations were to be dwelt upon as if, not he, the culprit, but some other man were the tempted. The last chapters were to be written in the condemned cell, to which his wickedness, all elaborately elicited from him as if told of another, had brought him. Discovery By the murderer of the utter needlessness of the murder for its object was to follow hard upon the commission of the deed, but all discovery of the murderer was to be baffled till toward the close, when, by means of a gold ring, which had resisted the corrosive effects of the lime into which he had thrown the body, not only the person murdered was to be identified, but the locality of the crime and the man who committed it." Rosa was to marry Tartar, and Crisparkle, the sister of Landless, who was himself to have perished in assisting Tartar finally to unmask and seize the murderer.
This is fragmentary, and necessarily omits the "incommunicable" element which Dickens reserved, but it is, in the main, borne out by the trend of the story, and can only be invalidated by proof that Forster's memory was defective, that he obtained his data by inference, rather than from Dickens' statement, or, (which is unlikely, but more probable) that the author slightly altered his plot in the course of its development. No such proof is forthcoming, however, and Forster's testimony remains the best direct evidence we have.
There seems to be no cause, beyond the caprice of theorists, for questioning it. (The other contemporary evidence lies in the author 's notes for the novel, the deposition of his daughter, and of his chief illustrator, and the illustrations in the book, all of which are either negative, or confirm Forster's statement)
So much for the donné. Out of this material has arisen a twofold problem, which can be stated in this way: (a) Was Drood murdered, or not? (b) Who is Datchery? There are good reasons for considering the problem threefold, as I shall show later, but hitherto the discussion has centered around these two issues.
Regarding the first point, — whether Drood was murdered, or escaped and later returned to Cloisterham, there seems little occasion for doubt. The manifest plot indications are here corroborated by the personal testimony of the three contemporaries of the author best qualified to give an opinion: Forster, his friend; Sir Luke Fildes, his illustrator; and Mme Perugini, his daughter. Mr. Cumings Walters, in his Complete Edwin Drood has very cogently summed up all this evidence to prove that Dickens intended Drood to be murdered, and has added to it other such data as the author's own notes for the titles and chapter divisions. The question as to whether Drood was actually murdered was first seriously raised by R. A. Proctor, who early advanced the theory that the author intended to repeat here a theme he had used in several previous works, and which was symbolically termed "Watched by the Dead," the notion being that Drood was to be "imperfectly murdered," and was to return later to watch and confound the criminals. This, it will be noticed, hardly aligns with Forster 's statement that Tartar was to unmask the murderer. And to maintain that such a well worn idea was to be the central theme of Drood, in the face of Dickens' announcement that for the new novel he had hit upon a "very curious, new, and incommunicable idea, difficult to work," is a little preposterous.
The theory can be just as readily upset by another type of argument. In the novel, Drood appears neither as a resolute nor a resourceful character, and, in fact, comes as far short of capturing the reader's sympathy as could be conceived. He is given enough youth and guilelessness to blacken Jasper's crime, beyond that he is nothing more than an occasion for the story. Six months after his disappearance the reader is highly satisfied to see Rosa interested in a suitor of a more manly mould, and one in every way better fitted to track down the malefactor, if, indeed, it is conceivable that Drood on returning would have had anyone to track down, or anything to do but impeach Jasper and put a sudden end to the story. In other words, if Drood were to return, there would be no place for him in the plot. He would find the girl he had been engaged to, interested in someone else; the other girl to whom his thoughts had twice turned with a mild, romantic conjecture, in love with the Minor Canon; and there being no other possible or "not impossible she" in the offing, his only alternative in a well-managed Victorian fiction would be to die. His presence in the action would occasion considerable embarrassment to the story and to the author, no less than to Rosa Bud, — and it may be noted in passing, that Dickens never had the heart to subject a tender heroine to the humiliation of comic bathos. And if, in conformity with the idea that
Drood was to be, with regard to Helena or Rosa, the Enoch Arden of this story, — a character heroically renunciatory, or poignantly tragic, there never was a more ineffectual preparation for a denouement than the opening part of the Mystery of Edwin Drood. Proctor's theory is hostile equally to the postulates of art and logic, and necessitates charging Dickens with many faults of heart and head from which he was eminently free.
Mr. Cumings Walters, one of the more recent commentators, shifts the problem to the second gound. The only question of importance the novel presents to him is "Who is Datchery?'' " Let us assume,'' he says, " that Dickens, whose idea was incommunicable, promptly communicated [the plot outline mentioned above] to Forster. It simply proves that the murder was not the principal part of the story, and that it was not the new, and very curious, and very strong idea, difficult to work. What was the part not communicated, never even hinted at? The answer is easy. There was no mention of Mr. Datchery!"
This reasoning seems to satisfy most of those who have advanced solutions of the problem. At any rate, none of the solutions, ingenious though many of them are, consists of much more than conjectures and theories about the identity of the stranger in Cloisterham. Such has been the fecundity of research in this direction, that hardly a character in the book has escaped candidature for the part of Datchery. But with all respect to Mr. Walters, and the many acceptors of his proposition, I cannot believe that the answer is quite so "easy." To mention a very obvious objection, the words of Forster much more than "hint at" the fact that Tartar was Datchery.
But the basic objection to Mr. Walter's contention is this. It is ridiculous to maintain that the mere revelation of Datchery's identity, as the denouement of the mystery, is any more new, incommunicable, curious, strong or difficult to work than the plot element proposed by Proctor, or, in fact, at all different, generically, from it. To maintain that it is, is merely to exchange one contradiction for another. I believe, and am astonished to find myself virtually alone in contending that Dickens regarded the identity of Datchery as a feature of minor interest in his story, necessary to sustain the suspense until the really extraordinary climax and denouement, and no more. Nothing surely was less new in the fiction of his time than the avenger incognito. The most unexpected identification at the end could not make it an extraordinary story element, — not even the grotesque revelation, (suggested by Mr. Walters, Mr. W. Robertson Nichol, and Mr. Andrew Lang), of Helena Landless as Datchery. The idea of a woman in such a part was already losing some of its freshness in the days of Tasso, and certainly had nothing curious and new about it in 1869.
To look on the identity of Datchery as the indubitable keystone of the mystery, involves another contradiction. Everyone who has plotted stories of this kind, must have noticed that he has at his command two general methods of achieving surprise: he can contrive an extraordinary conclusion, or he can secure the necessary element of unexpectedness in the means by which the conclusion is brought about. In the latter case it is optional with him whether he allow the conclusion to be anticipated or not; if it is foreseen, the interest of the story will be in no way compromised. And, indeed, it is often preferable to give the reader a clear prevision of the outcome of the complication. If the reader foresees, and desires a certain ending, and yet can imagine no possible means of its realization, the author has often a firmer hold on his interest than if the issue had been kept completely uncertain. (Of course the terms here used are relative, since the outcome must remain to some degree uncertain until the means of achieving it has been ascertained, but in a broad way, the distinction will be found to hold.) Now Dickens made no secret of the conclusion toward which he was leading his plot; on the contrary, he openly declared it to Foster, while withholding, however, what he regarded the main element of interest in the story. This latter element of commanding interest must therefore have concerned the means with which he planned to precipitate the outcome, and on it he must have depended largely for his surprise. It will be instantly objected, that Dickens also revealed this means to Forster, as would appear from the latter's statement that the murder was to be located, the body identified, and the culprit incriminated "by means of a gold ring which had resisted the corrosive effects of the lime into which the body had been thrown." But there is this difference between an end and a means, namely, that the end must be one, but the means can be many. In the present instance, Dickens, no doubt, revealed to Forster one of the several means which were to produce the conclusion, but not necessarily the important one; it is possible and logical that he should have concealed from Forster another determining factor, without which the ring would have had no value as a final cause, or perhaps by means of which the ring itself was discovered, But Datchery cannot be regarded as that yet undivulged deciding cause. His resolution to track the crime to Jasper's door is perfectly apparent from the first. Nor can his identity be so considered. His incognito character is equally apparent, and the question of his true identity is subordinate to the real perplexity in the reader's mind as to how Jasper is to be brought to justice. If we were to brief the plot as follows: Expected Outcome: incrimination and punishment of Jasper; Extraordinary and Unknown Determining Force: a tracker down, and avenger in disguise, named Datchery; the contradiction I have spoken of would reveal itself instantly. The only thing unknown about Datchery is his right name, and however intriguing this may be in itself, it could never be made the determining factor of the story. As stated above, the ingredients are those of a very poor plot, that only escapes being no plot at all by the mystification we are in over the side issue of Datchery's identity. This plot — of which Dickens ought never to have been accused — could be strengthened only by having Datchery employ some unusual and as yet unrevealed means of incriminating Jasper. And when this is conceded, as it must be, the relatively minor importance of who may or may not be masquerading as Datchery should be clearly manifest.
What the extraordinary determining factor was to be will be discussed presently; in the meantime, the dispute over Datchery's identity, based as it is on a wrong assumption, is worth examining as an illustration of the wrong way to approach any such problem in fiction.
An important principle that seems to have been largely ignored in these discussions, is that a mystery in fiction is a very different thing from a mystery in fact. When a murder, for example, is committed in real life, and the identity of the criminal is unknown, he can often be traced by immediate clues. That is to say, every feature of the crime that corresponds with some feature of his character, or person, or life will link him directly with the crime. But in fiction the investigator has to deal with another factor. The author intervenes between the evidence and the hunted truth. He manipulates the evidence so as to throw the reader into false trains of reasoning. If the identity of some character is in question, he will subtly direct the reader's suspicion toward the wrong person, and will multiply the number of suspects in order to augment his mystery and final surprise. In other words, the clues in a fictional mystery trace deviously to their source through the author.
This is universally true of the story that involves a suppressed identity, and is definitely applicable to Edwin Drood. But the solvers of the Datchery problem have for the most part approached it without duly reckoning with their author. They vied with each other in piling up circumstantial evidence to prove that this or that character in the story was Datchery, without reflecting that the character to whom the finger of ordinary inference points most emphatically, may be a decoy employed by the author to deflect attention from his real objective. They have overlooked the fact, perhaps because of its very truism, that the evidence in a fictional mystery is "fixed" by the author. Consequently arises the paradox that the most cogent of their direct arguments to prove that Datchery was Helena Landless, or Bazzard, or who not, may actually tend to prove that he was someone else.
There could be no more striking token of this error than appears in their aptness to regard the case against Jasper, or for Datchery, as a case in court. With regard to Jasper, Mr. Frank Marzials writes, that "by all the laws of circumstantial evidence he was guilty of the murder of Edwin Drood...The course pursued by Mr. Jasper is really too suspicious...No intelligent jury would think of acquitting him of the murder of his nephew.'' Now Jasper was certainly guilty of the murder of Edwin Drood, — a fact that Dickens was exceedingly careful to make clear, but we are convinced of this circumstance by other means than the evidence Mr. Marzials writes of. We have all been misled by circumstantial evidence as deployed by the wily fiction writer, and in time, most of us grow wary: we refuse to accept it on its face value. We do this instinctively or consciously, and in proportion, among other considerations, to the number of times we have been so misled. The circumstantial evidence against Jasper has therefore no conclusive weight in itself, to persuade us that he was guilty. Our confidence in that conclusion depends not so much upon the laws of evidence as on the laws of art, and upon our confidence in Dickens' observance of them.
This may not be quite clear; I will explain. There is a certain kind of deception that no self-respecting author will employ to deepen a mystery: he will not lie in order to increase the confusion and nonplus the reader. In his own person, that is, he will not say anything in the course of his story directly contrary to the facts he intends to reveal in the denouement. He may, and will mislead, but the false trails will be voluntarily pursued by the reader; the author will not force his reader to a false anticipation by a misstatement. The art of the final surprise demands that the reader, on reaching the denouement, can wonder at the extent to which he has been deceived in his conjectures, without feeling that the author has defrauded him.
Whereby hangs the no less important corollary that a good author will avoid even the appearance of this kind of wrongdoing. To be more explicit, his freedom in misleading the reader, even when he has not been guilty of a verbal falsehood, is far from absolute. The logic of the conclusion to his tale must be instantly convincing. If it is in the least degree "wrenched" or forced, sophistical, quibbling, or specious, the reader's pleasure in it is gone. This means that the validity of the logic must be instantly apparent. A detective story, for example, which, after throwing the suspicion of a crime on one character, derives its surprise from the revelation of another as the true malefactor, will be successful if a reasonably nimble witted reader can make the re-orientation without puzzling over it, and turning what should be an instantaneous pleasure into a protracted task. But this consummation will be impossible if the misleading evidence is too complicated, or not material and tangible enough to be readily explained away, if the clues are so numerous as to defy recollection in retrospect, and if the reader has been firmly convinced by them of any point that is to be contradicted later. By the statement that the misleading evidence must be material and tangible, I mean that it must be sufficiently extraneous to the characters to permit its being transposed or jettisoned without injury to them; it must not be very intimately attached to the subjective element, to the inner nature and mentality of the persons concerned. If it is, the final reversal will tear and deface the characters as the plot careens, and the reader's mind will suffer a kindred violence. If the false clues are too numerous to be readily remembered by the reader, apathy or fatigue will prevent him from making the new synthesis and taking pleasure in it; and finally, if the author has convinced him of the truth of something not true, by the suggestive force of a hundred minor details, too slight and subtle to be recalled, he will rebel at any contrary disclosure. From this we can draw the inverse conclusion that when a good author steeps his reader's mind in a rain of such minute evidence, he does so in all good faith and sincerity. When clues are so ideal, subjective, delicate, complex, and numerous as to form an almost impalpable ground of suggestion, and when the impression so conveyed is fortified by strong tangible evidence that fulfils what the characterization has prepared for, we can be assured that it is not the author's intention either to mislead or confuse us; he means exactly what he implies.
If we consider The Mystery of Edwin Drood in the light of these principles, the reasons for our certainty of Jasper's guilty intention are patent. They depend on our faith in the narrator. The indications of the choirmaster's guilty design are so many, so varied, and so intrinsic to the character: they so permeate to its inmost essentials, that it is impossible to conceive of an artistic denouement in which he will appear innocent; the burden of guilt could not be shifted without violently confusing our reason, and presenting us with a volume of evidence to reconstruct, much of which has escaped our conscious memory, but has sunk into the intelligence as a conviction or effect. On top of this, no contrary denouement will convince us. So assured are we of Jasper's guilty purpose, that we unhesitatingly attribute his remorse when he discovers that Drood had renounced all claim to Rosa, to his sense of the futility of his crime; should the author attempt in the conclusion to explain that remorse on other grounds, he would not be believed. To paraphrase a remark of Stevenson's with regard to another type of literary misconduct, "a thing like that raises .up a despairing spirit of opposition in a man's readers; they give him the lie fiercely, as they read." Our confidence that Jasper's remorse was well founded, and that he was not deceived in believing that he had killed Drood — as some ingenious critics have proposed — depends on the artistic laws of climax and coordination, which have been indicated in the review of Proctor's theory.
The whole discussion of Jasper's guilt seems a questioning of the obvious. In a postscript to Our Mutual Friend Dickens retorts on several ill-advised critics, whose acumen, as he says, had been misdirected in discovering that he was at great pains to conceal exactly what he had been at great pains to suggest. In Drood, similarly, there is every suggestion, short of unequivocal statement, that Jasper murdered his nephew. And I have made the above analysis, not to prove this self-evident fact, but to illustrate the truth that the solution of a mystery in fiction must ground itself on the laws of art, no less than on those of evidence.
Mr. Cumings Walters has discernment enough to see that the murder of Drood is an "indisputable and palpable fact," but is provoked by Marzial's dismissal of the problem as too simple, and by his statement that "no intelligent jury would think of acquitting Jasper of the murder of his nephew,'' into the equally naive retort that "quite intelligent juries have done this." Again it must be insisted that the Drood problem is not a problem in law. If any reductio ad absurdum of the legal attitude was needed, it was furnished several years ago in London, when a number of prominent Dickensians assembled in a moot court to try Jasper for the murder. The proceedings of the court soon became thoroughly incoherent, and continued so, until Mr. Chesterton, with his usual good sense and artist's instinct, enticed the discussion into a labyrinth of extravagance, and mercifully annihilated it. Even then there was a chorus of protest that so promising an occasion for elucidating the mystery had been lost through unseemly levity.
With regard to the identity of Datchery, legal processes are no more helpful. One cannot assert too emphatically that the Mystery of Edwin Drood is not a plot against the king's peace by a criminal, or against a criminal by a sleuth, but against the reader's intelligence by the author of both these shrewd personages. And if we are to unravel it, we must keep the idea constantly in mind that our wits are being challenged not only by confused evidence, but by a wily author who manipulates it to our confusion, and that the facts with which he lays the ground for his denouement will not be of the most obvious and tangible kind, but of the most subdued, and yet subtly insistent. The art of suggesting a fact without making the reader conscious of it: in other words, the art of insinuating without informing, is a very delicate one, but Dickens had obtained a mastery of it through long training and study.
There are only four characters in the book who can reasonably be conceived of in the part of Datchery. They are: Helena Landless, Bazzard, Grewgious, and Tartar. The reasons for eliminating Drood himself from the list of candidates have already been stated. The single remaining hypothesis, that Datchery might have been a new character, and perhaps a professional detective, is artistically untenable.
Of the four personages named, the most obvious claimant for the part is Helena Landless. Several arguments have been advanced in her support, but of widely varying quality. The most striking of them are, that she is introduced early in the story, with a reference in so many words to her masculine courage and strong mindedness, and an illustration of these traits from an incident in her childhood, when she had dressed up as a boy in order to escape from tyranical guardians; that her movements between London and Cloisterham are vaguely drawn by the author, with the purpose, it is presumed, of allowing her a greater freedom for espionage; and that Datchery's forgetfulness as to whether or not he is wearing his hat, would be natural in a woman wearing a wig. — I will not here discuss the truth of the psychology underlying this last contention, further than to state an entire scepticism of it. — But the other arguments adduced in Helena's favor lack even the color of reason. Mr. Cumings Walters carries his enthusiasm for a posteriori deduction so far as to say that Datchery's substantial meal of fried sole, veal cutlet, and a pint of sherry is a demonstration of Helena's robustness, (so much has been wrung from Dickens' casual phrase "daring of a man") and that the "leg" which Datchery makes is practically the curtsey of a woman. "My God, Archer," (who, by the way, combats the theory,) "what women!"
As a whole, however, the Helena-Datchery theory invites the grave objection that the leads for Helena are too obvious and tangible. Even if one assumes, as the Helena theorists do not, that the identity of Datchery is a point of minor mystery in the story, it is not conceivable that Dickens would have offered his readers so ready a key to it as the clues mentioned above would constitute. He must have foreseen that the boy's clothes worn by Helena on an earlier occasion, would direct instant suspicion toward her as a possible Datchery, particularly in view of the age and familiarity of this plot device. And being a skilful story teller, bent on outdoing his previous efforts at mystery, he can hardly have used this and the other clues indicating Helena, otherwise than as a ruse to conceal his real intention. Helena would certainly be the first guess of any reader at all versed in mystery stories, and Dickens was an author sophisticated in composing such tales for an equally experienced audience. Could such an outworn manoeuvre as this be, as Mr. Walters suggests, the "new and curious idea, incommunicable and difficult to work," which Dickens mentioned to Forster? Or could it even have been the basis of a minor mystification over the identity of an important character in the book? Surely the answer to both questions is clear enough.
It was Mr. G. K. Chesterton's distinction to put the argument on a saner plane by examining Helena's claims from the view point of artistic congruity. "There is one final objection to the theory," he writes, "and that is simply this, that it is comic. It is generally wrong to represent a great master of the grotesque as being grotesque exactly where he does not intend to be. And I am persuaded that if Dickens had really meant Helena to turn into Datchery, he would have made her from the first in some way more light, eccentric, and laughable; he would have made her at least as light and laughable as Rosa. As it is, there is something strangely stiff and incredible about the idea of a lady so dark and dignified dressing up as a swaggering old gentleman in a blue coat and grey trousers."
And to follow up this course of argument, our knowledge of Dickens' sound dramatic sense should also prevent us from considering Bazzard seriously. On this head the brothers Chesterton oppose each other, reason residing with the elder. "Datchery may be Bazzard, but it is not very exciting if he is; for we know nothing about Bazzard and care less. Again, he might be Grewgious, but there is something pointless about one grotesque character dressing up as another grotesque character actually less amusing than himself." Proctor dismissed the Bazzard theory even more impatiently. "Bazzard, caring for no one but himself, confounded with a man who thinks wistfully of Edwin's troubles! Bazzard is not only a fool but a dull one, and a curmudgeon; Datchery is neither the one nor the other. Bazzard has no sense whatever of humor; Datchery is full of dry fun." And other contrasts to the same effect. It may be added that the little we do know about Bazzard would lead us more naturally to an opposite conjecture about him than that he is Datchery. He is actually better fitted to combat Grewgious and Neville than to aid them: his isolation and self-absorption, and his entire lack of gratitude to the old lawyer prepare him better as an ally of Jasper, than as an avenger. A very good argument could be made for this hypothesis, but it is sufficient merely to indicate it as a sign of basic weakness in the Bazzard-Datchery theory.
There remains Tartar, the breezy sailor, who is introduced into the story shortly before the appearance of the stranger in Cloisterham. The direct evidence that would identify him with Datchery is rather slight, but this fact sooner strengthens than invalidates his claim. It will be noted that all the points in his favor strike at first with a delicate insistence, and insinuate themselves into the consciousness without awakening a definite suspicion of the possibility that he is Datchery. He represents practically the last guess of the critics, but when Mr. G. F. Gadd suggested him for the part, the other analysts of the problem were forced to admit that his case was a strong one. The chief of Mr. Gadd's arguments were that Datchery's face, like Tartar's, suggests foreign service, that he has something of a military air, that he is of chivalrous nature, that he is in love with Rosa, who is to be saved from Jasper, that he is an "idle man," (an echo of Datchery's "idle buffer" and an excellent qualification for the part); that he is breezy and whimsical, powerful, reliable, determined, and courageous — ideal traits of character that intimately connect him with Datchery. These points of parallel are conveyed in the narrative by the most indirect means, and are never obtruded on the reader. If Tartar is Datchery, Dickens' handling of these clues is a masterpiece of half revelation. Mr. Gadd further suggests that Datchery gazing at the stars, Datchery with his hands clasped behind him, Datchery looking wistfully at the beacon, all betoken Tartar the sailor, "whose far seeing eyes looked as if they had been used to watch danger afar off."
Some other traits of the same kind might be subjoined. There is a strain of high spirited quixoticism about Tartar that equips him admirably for the part of Datchery. His sudden appearance at midnight on the sill of Neville's window, which he has reached by a dangerous ascent along a line of scarlet runners, is a feat in what we conceive to be the Datchery vein; the sort of thing, at any rate, that Datchery must be capable of when occasion arises. The vividness of this gesture may, indeed, have been the cause of Dickens' fear that he had introduced the stranger in Cloisterham too early. It will be remembered that Datchery appears in the chapter immediately following this agile performance of Tartar's, and the author's uneasiness, which the critics have assigned to other structural reasons, attaches to nothing more naturally than to the proximity of the two characters in the chapter sequence. Dickens' original reason for juxtaposing them can be readily conjectured. In a way, the introduction of the disguised character on the heels of the other disinclines the reader to associate them together, and this was very probably the author's object in so linking them. The disquiet in his mind was due, I think, to his uncertainty whether in his game of outguessing the reader, he had based his stratagem on a sound psychological principle, and whether the ruse, while it would mislead the subtle reader, might not undeceive the simple-minded. This is a paradox well known to the experienced novelist. It is also familiar to plotters of whatever kind whose purpose is to defeat anticipation. Thackeray and Poe both alluded to it, with a reference to the school boy's game of odd or even, wherein the holder of the marbles makes a preestimate of the guesser's shrewdness before determining on the sequence he will choose. An author is usually guided in such dilemmas by the rule of the greatest mystification to the keenest minds, but the simple often worry him, as do also his fellow craftsmen, who are acquainted with the process, and are apt to discern it.
A practised novelist might also anticipate other uses for Tartar's characteristics in the rôle of Datchery. Forster's direct testimony is that "Rosa was to marry Tartar, and Crisparkle, the sister of Landless, who was himself to have perished in assisting Tartar finally to unmask and seize the murderer." Incidentally, it may be noted that the omission of any reference in Forster 's outline to Datchery, who has the lineaments of an important character in the book, is in itself something of an indication that Tartar was Datchery. But that aside. On the cover of the original green wrapper that enclosed the monthly installments of the novel, there are some illustrations drawn at Dickens' direction, by his son-in-law, Charles Allston Collins, and pronounced by the author to be excellent. The drawings are rather roughly done, and to base any elaborate theory upon them would be a futility. But one of the characters is very obviously wearing a wig, and can represent no one in the story but Datchery. He is running up a winding stairway of the Cathedral with two other men following, and is pointing upwards to someone he is evidently pursuing. Notice now Forster's phrase, "Tartar was to unmask and seize the murderer." This seems to contain a reference to some physical struggle in which the contest between Tartar and Jasper was to terminate. Tartar's agility in scaling dizzy heights has already been mentioned. I do not think it is straining analogy or conjecture too far to imagine the vigor of Tartar, as Datchery, brought climatically into play in some final struggle in the upper portion of the Cathedral, as was that of Hugo's very different, but equally agile agent of revenge, Quasimodo, in Notre Dame. Nor can the fantastic incident of the scarlet runner vines in the earlier part of the story be more satisfactorily accounted for than as a preparation for Datchery's pursuit of Jasper by way perhaps of the ivy, or some precipitous part of the cathedral façade. Nor can any more reasonable occasion be imagined for Neville's death. This may seem mere arbitrary surmise to those who build their theories on circumstantial evidence alone; but in view of the slightness of the evidence it has at least an equal value with Mr. Walters' argument for that queer offspring of his logic, the gymnastic Helena.
In any event, however, I am much less concerned in strengthening the case for Tartar, than in maintaining that the question whether he is or is not Datchery is relatively immaterial. I have already insisted to the point of redundancy that there is nothing new, curious, incommunicable, or difficult to work in a plot that depends mainly for its interest on the revelation of a concealed identity. It need not be repeated that the device is one of the oldest in the repertory of the writer of detective stories, and it is clear that had Dickens depended on it alone, he would have merited the damning faint praise of Andrew Lang, who described the novel as "much better Gaboriau than I had thought." The important fact is that it is a much better story even than Lang finally concluded, and not Gaboriau at all. Among the reasons for believing that in Drood, Dickens intended to supersede and excel all previous mystery devices, the following are worth dwelling on.
In May, 1841, while Barnaby Rudge was in a course of serial publication, Edgar Allen Poe wrote a prophesy of the conclusion of the plot, revealing the murderer of Haredale to be Rudge, the steward, and accounting for the idiocy and the mark on the wrist of the latter's son Barnaby, with the explanation that Rudge had grasped his pregnant wife's wrist, just before the birth of the child, with hands still bloody from the murder, and had thus produced a prenatal fright, with some of its peculiar consequences. Poe further explained that Rudge, after murdering Haredale, had created the most powerful of alibis, by killing the gardener, exchanging clothes with him, putting his own watch and ring on the dead gardener's person, and throwing the body into a near-by pond. Rudge had then disappeared, leaving it to be wrongly inferred that he himself had been murdered by the gardener, and that the latter, after committing the double crime had made his escape. The passage in the novel on which Poe based his theory was that in which the body of Rudge is described as having been found "at the bottom of a piece of water in the grounds, scarcely to be recognized but by his clothes, and by the watch and ring he wore.'' The feature in this description that struck Poe as significant was that the author did not give it in his own person, but went out of his way to put it into the mouth of one of the characters in the story. Poe reasoned that since it was the author's design to make the murder of Rudge appear a certainty, his care to avoid stating in his own person that Rudge was dead was a strong indication that Rudge had in fact not been murdered, but that Dickens was creating an illusion that he had been, while showing due respect for the artistic canon that the author in his own person must never lie. Poe's prophesy was essentially borne out by the story as it reached completion. Notice that the commanding premise in this remarkable deduction was a rule of art. Also that the detailed conclusion was as much a matter of artistic coordination as of logical elimination. If Rudge had not been murdered, it was an artistic certainty, (though by no means a logical one), that Rudge was the murderer of Haredale; by the same token, since the gardener had disappeared, and the body found in the pond bore Rudge's clothes, watch and ring, the steward must have murdered him, and substituted these articles on the dead body in order to create an alibi, and prevent his guilt of the murder of Haredale from being discovered; and the red mark on the wrist of Barnaby fitted in with the theory on the presumption, (confirmed by the law of artistic economy), that Rudge had visited his wife after the double murder, frightened her with a revelation of his crime, grasped her wrist with his bloody hand, and thus produced an abnormality in the yet unborn child. In life, these would not be sure deductions; as regards the fiction they are the confident hypotheses of an artist who selects from a number of explanations that which he knows to be artistically the most effective. They also postulate a certain degree of artistic skill and probity on the part of the author of the fiction under review.
In a later criticism of the novel written after its completion in 1842, Poe drew exception to one of Dickens' violations of the role referred to above, in that he had made a false assertion in his own person, though a minor one, when he designated Mrs. Rudge, after the murder, as "the widow.'' His principal other objections to the structure of the story were that the Popery riots were extraneous to the plot; that some of the points in the tale were not accounted for in the dénouement ; and that some of the passages that excited anticipation had the disadvantage of being unsurpassable in the conclusion. "No matter,'' he writes, "how terrific be the circumstances which in the denouement shall appear to have occasioned the expression of countenance habitually worn by Mrs. Rudge, still they will not be able to satisfy the mind of the reader. He will surely be disappointed.'' Another important criticism was that "the effect of the narrative might have been materially increased by confining the action within the limits of London. The Notre Dame of Victor Hugo affords a fine example of the force which can be gained by concentration or unity of place.''
With regard to the use made of Barnaby in the novel, Poe thought that Dickens had missed a fine opportunity:
But the chief of all his objections was the following:
And again, in a similar connection:
It is inconceivable that any author could see his plot thus anticipated with entire equanimity, or look with indifference on the criticisms of a writer capable of such a prediction, and of such a clear sighted analysis of his defects. And there is every reason to believe that Dickens was considerably impressed by Poe's comments on Barnaby Rudge, if not actually piqued by them. One of his letters to Poe himself, referred to by the latter in the essay on the Philosophy of Composition, and discussing the plot of Caleb Williams, puts the fact beyond doubt. Nor were any of his other critics so specific and definite in their strictures on his plotting as was Poe. Moreover, these were the criticisms of a fellow artist, whose skill in constructing mysteries was universally acknowledged. Can there be anything extravagant in the assumption that these comments on the earlier mystery story would have a certain weight with him in the composition of a novel with which he designed to refute every charge that had previously been levelled against his constructive powers? Can such a supposition compare in rashness with the thesis of Mr. Walters and the other expounders of the Drood problem, who would have us believe that Dickens in this last of his novels, while designing to vindicate his challenged prowess in the mystery type of fiction, was to employ as his new, curious, strong, and incommunicable theme, mere "curiosity" again, sustained and concluded by essentially the same means as in Barnaby Rudge?
I think this conception is so far from being true that Dickens really endeavored to meet and eliminate in the Mystery of Edwin Drood every one of the objections that Poe had made to the structure of the earlier novel. In the first place, there is a very evident care on his part to avoid prediction through any such another rift in his plot scheme as that so deftly pierced by Poe. There is an equally apparent resolve to preserve the unity of place, which the Rudge story had ignored. It is true that while the central milieu of Edwin Drood is the Cathedral of Cloisterham and its surroundings, the story opens in London and occasionally shifts there; but these excursions are sporadic, and care is always taken to keep the Cloisterham setting dominant. In the London opium den at the very beginning, for example, Cloisterham Cathedral is introduced as the commanding feature in Jasper's dream.
Thirdly, the novel very clearly envisages some "extraordinary embodiment of the idea of poetic justice." Remember Forster's words: "The originality of the story was to consist in the review of the murderer's career by himself at the close, when its temptations were to be dwelt upon as if, not he the culprit, but some other man were the tempted.'' I shall refer to this again. There is a striking minor interest of the same kind of irony in Jasper's discovery that his murder of Drood was useless, seeing that immediately before the crime Drood and Rosa had separated. And the emphatic position of this incident, at the end of a vivid chapter, indicates the author's intention to make some climatic use of it later in the story.
It is to be assumed that the anticlimax in Rudge, consisting in a mere revelation of a disguised identity, after the reader had been aroused to an anticipation of a more stirring conclusion, would likewise have been avoided in Drood, had the author completed it. The uncertain identity of Datchery might have been, and very obviously was employed as a minor plot element, but the main effect and theme of the story must have been sought for in some quite different direction. (The use of a watch and a ring in both novels has a similar significance. The author would never have made this duplication unless the interest of his main idea were unique enough to submerge such a trifle completely. This circumstance also tends to show that Barnaby Rudge was in the author's mind when he planned his last novel.)
The idea of a man given up as dead, and returning to elucidate a mystery, as Rudge returned to the Warrens, has been shown to be an old theme with Dickens, and one that greatly antedates him as a device in fiction. We can therefore rule out finally the notion that the complication in Drood was to be solved in this (way) way. It has been shown that there is nothing new or remarkable in the revelation of a disguised character's identity as the key of a mystery, if, indeed, the fact ever needed any demonstration. We can, therefore, dispense with the identity of Datchery as embodying the new, curious, incommunicable and difficult theme on which Dickens relied for his strong effect. What is there left? Some writers have stressed the fact that the novel is a study of opium and its effects. This is of course in some degree true, but at the time Drood was written there was nothing new in the use of opium for fictional purposes, and we cannot look in that direction for the incommunicable theme. Wilkie Collins had already all but exhausted opium of its possibilities as a theme in fiction, notably in Moonstone, and while Dickens had read and admired this novel, we can presume, for that very reason, that his central idea was a different one, whatever minor uses he might make of opium in Edwin Drood.
There remains one other possibility. The indications of it are numerous, but very surreptitiously introduced by the author, and they have been neglected by all those who have attempted to surmise his plan. One of these clues is contained in a sentence that immediately suggests a part of the Moonstone plot, which is perhaps the reason for its having been passed over by the commentators, who argued accurately enough that Dickens would avoid repeating Collins' idea. The sentence occurs very early in the novel, and is rendered inconspicuous by being applied humorously to Miss Twinkleton. "As in some cases of drunkenness, and in others of animal magnetism, there are two states of consciousness that never clash, but each of which pursues its separate course as though it were continuous instead of broken, (thus if I hide my watch when I am drunk, I must be drunk again to remember where), so Miss Twinkleton has two distinct and separate phases of being.'' The figure, it may be noted, has no serious applicability to Miss Twinkleton in the paragraph that follows.
The term to be emphasized in this sentence is animal magnetism. Within it, according to the usage of his time Dickens included the phenomena of mental telepathy, "clairvoyance,'' and hypnotic suggestion. I may as well state here that I regard it as the key to the "very curious and incommunicable" theme of his last novel, and ask the reader to bear it in mind while some phases of the story are reviewed.
The abundance of incident in Edwin Drood is apt at first glance to obscure the fact that it is really a psychological story. A closer examination shows it to contain the ingredients of a most interesting study of the human mind: its vagaries and peculiar reactions. These will suggest themselves so readily that they need no detailed pointing out.
Sufficient to mention the intellectual contrasts between the various characters, the counterplay of creeds, the highly nervous character of some of the main actors — Neville and Rosa for instance, and the sharp division of the characters into two classes of mentality, which Dickens no doubt conceived of as positive and negative, as in the case of Jasper and Drood. So intriguing is this mental mise en scene, and so vividly actual are all of the actions and reactions of the different minds involved, that the thinking reader revolts from the prospect of a mere "study of opium and its effects," or of having any part of the drama clouded in the phantasmagoria of drugs. And the author does not so disappoint him at any point. Realizing that he has something more absorbing in play than the phenomena of opium dreams, he touches very briefly and lightly on this aspect of his story, just enough to derive a color of dread and mystery from it, and reserves his emphasis and detail for the display of mind under more tense conditions. As if to refute Poe's charge that he lacked a genius for the metaphysical art in which the souls of all mysteries lie, he seems to shun the type of mystery that is invoked by mere gruesomeness of incident and strangeness of setting, for the stranger pageant of human fears, desires, and resolves. I am inclined to think that the opium, the Chinaman, and the Lascar in the opening scene, and even the Princess Puffer are rather thrown in to placate a common public avid of such familiar material, while the more extraordinary and difficult theme is being developed, than that they are essential to the author's final purpose. No doubt, the remainder of the Oriental matter with which the tale is so thickly strewn, has been explained as of a piece with the opium element, but the notion hardly bears analysis. Edwin's plan to go to Egypt as an engineer does not link convincingly with any aspect of the opium idea. Rosa's allusions to the pyramids and Belzoni are merely called forth by the preceding fact, and are a foreshadowing of Drood's fate. And soon there arrive on the scene the two swarthy Landlesses from Ceylon, for whom the soporific tradition of the east can furnish no touchstone whatever. Perhaps I wrong some of the Droodists in imagining that they imply such coordinations in their confident announcement that the story is a '' study of opium and its effects,'' but if they do not explain the references to the East on this ground, they certainly give them no basis in any other. Viewed in another light, however, Oriental suggestions have the closest kind of congruity with the psychological theme I have referred to.
As a mere word the East spells mystery, and Oriental names have been crudely drawn into many a tale for the sheer necromancy of their sound. I take it that Dickens had a higher use for his orientalism in Drood. The contrast between Oriental and Gothic imagery in the opening scene of the book, where dazzling scimitars and flower girls oppose and mystically fuse with the grim shadows of the old Cathedral, is, of course, an artistic effect of no mean order, but the author's design went further. The appropriateness of the eastern origin of the two Landlesses, appears not only in the strangeness and aloofness which it gives them, but in a passionate and pagan intensity of nature that puts them into vivid relief against the serene Christianity of Crisparkle, the fragile innocence of Rosa, the dingy abnegation of Grewgious. When they encounter Jasper, on the other hand, we feel that pagan has met pagan (I had almost said "East has met East." Whatever it may mean, there is an odd circumstance in the opium scene with which the novel begins: Jasper's shaking the sleeping Orientals to discover whether or not the drug makes their speech unintelligible, is rational only if he understands their language. Has he also lived in the Orient? The author does not explain.), and that a struggle of no common sort is on. Helena has about her something inscrutably profound, taciturn and divining, such as we, superstitiously perhaps, attach to the tradition of the Orient. We are led to suspect in her a more than normal understanding and power, a quiet and smouldering fire of mastery. Intellectually she seems everything that Rosa, a typical example of Occidental girlhood, is not. These traits are suggested in her appearance and manner when she first enters the story; soon afterwards and more explicitly in what her brother says of them both.
He first makes an acknowledgement to Crisparkle regarding himself:
Then of Helena:
Crisparkle finds an evident difficulty in comprehending or believing this last statement.
What Neville Landless says above, would under ordinary circumstances imply nothing more than the sympathy that is generally thought to exist between twins, but the conditions under which he speaks, his strangeness of speech, and impressiveness of tone, and the peculiar mentality of himself and his sister, give the impression that he is claiming the existence of a strong telepathic rapport between them. Mr. Crisparkle evidently feels something of this implication too, for he looks in Neville's face "with some incredulity, but it expresses such absolute and firm conviction of the truth of the statement, that Mr. Crisparkle looks at the pavement, and muses, until they come to his door again." This intimation occurs during the first conversation between them.
Neville's words are confirmed very shortly afterwards in a most peculiar way:
Mr. Jasper was seated at the piano as they came into his drawing room, and was accompanying Miss Rosebud while she sang. It was a consequence of his playing the accompaniment without notes, and of her being a heedless little creature, very apt to go wrong, that he followed her lips most attentively with his eyes as well as his hands; carefully and softly hinting the keynote from time to time. Standing with an arm drawn round her, but with a face far more intenion Mr. Jasper than on her singing, stood Helena, between whom and her brother an instantaneous recognition passed, in which Mr. Crisparkle saw, or thought he saw, the understanding that had been spoken of, flash out.
What is it that Helena and her brother recognize in this tacit and mysterious fashion? It is not Jasper; the ensuing part of the story shows that they have never seen him before. It is not merely the fact that Rosa experiences fear in the presence of an exacting tutor, though there is a tincture of that too. It is something more sinister in Jasper's attitude, and in his domination of the girl's mind. The something becomes clearer in the succeeding passage.
I shall omit for brevity's sake, some of the text immediately following, though it all has the same import. When the guests have gone, and Rosa and Helena are left alone, an identical theme appears, but more emphatically still. Helena gradually entices the truth from Rosa, for whom she has conceived a protective affection. " 'You will be a friend to me, won't you!' " she asks of Rosa, "searching the face with her dark fiery eyes, and tenderly caressing the small figure." Rosa says she hopes so, but that the idea of her being a friend to Helena seems too absurd. "I am such a mite of a thing, and you are so womanly and handsome. You seem to have resolution and power enough to crush me. I shrink into nothing by the side of your presence even." ..."Helena's masterful look was intent on her face for a few moments, and then she impulsively put out her hands and said, 'You will be my friend and help me?' "
There is a sense in which Rosa could help her, but it is very apparent that her object is to get a statement from the younger girl about Jasper. Finally she puts the words in Rosa's mouth that Jasper loves her, and that she knows it.
Even were the mesmeric suggestion conveyed in no other scene than this at the piano, I should think it difficult to read the above passage without feeling that had Dickens completed the Mystery of Edwin Drood, Du Maurier's Trilby and Svengali would have been anticipated by several years, or at least cheated of entire novelty. But there are sufficient other indications of the same sort to establish firmly the theory that the curious, new, strong, incommunicable, and difficult theme of which Dickens made mention to Forster, was to be this recently confirmed fact of psychology, operating both in the perpetration and detection of the crime, with Jasper, who had the magnetic gift in a considerable degree, opposed by Helena, the fiery dark-eyed gypsy, whose powers of divination and suggestion had been emphasized throughout the story. The passages I have quoted have been used by the proponents of the Helena Landless-Datchery theory, merely to prove that she was fitted for the masculine part of Datchery. I do not say that this is impossible, but it seems supererogatory. The Datchery role is necessary to Tartar to give him an adequate function in the story; it is not necessary to Helena, who can ascertain truths by far more subtle and swift means than deduction from evidence. The purpose of Dickens, as I conceive it, was that Datchery should gather evidence that would carry the pursuit of the criminal forward until an impasse was reached, which Helena, by her remarkable gift, would transcend. From this viewpoint, the interest of the plot would consist in the mems by which the crime was discovered, and the extraordinary new element, exhibited in the phase of telepathy, suggestion, animal magnetism, hypnotism, or what you will, and functioning in the story from the first, would represent at last its animating and fusing principle.
In the light of this conception, the orientalism of the novel acquires a certain relevance that it cannot be given on any other basis. At the time Drood was written, the mysticism of the East was beginning to capture the fancy of the English reading public, through the influence of Harriet Martineau and others, and novelists were making tentative excursions in new fields of psychology. Had Dickens finished Edwin Drood he would have given the first articulate expression in an English novel to an idea with which Poe had experimented vaguely in the American short story, which Bulwer Lytton had presented mystically and symbolically in "Zanoni," which several French authors, including Alexandre Dumas, the elder, had touched on in fiction, and that Stevenson was later to use more explicitly, as in some parts of the "Master of Ballantrae." There are signs, too, that Dickens intended in Drood to employ some variant of the theme of dissociation of personality, which Collins had merely fringed on in Moonstone, and which Stevenson was later to adapt effectively to fiction purposes. If this is true, and there is ample ground for so believing, it is not to be wondered at that Dickens should have called the theme of his last novel new, very curious, strong, incommunicable, and difficult to work.
In 1869, when the Mystery of Edwin Drood was begun, the theory of animal magnetism was at the height of its popularity. At its inception by Mesmer in 1766, it was heartily condemned by the scientific authorities, and during the century following it passed through successive phases of approval and discredit. As late as 1840 the phenomenon was investigated and dismissed by the French Academy as a delusion, though it continued to excite a great deal of popular redulity. It obtained its first credence in England, between 1840 and 1850, as the result of the researches of Dr. James Braid, a Manchester surgeon. Mesmer's conception of hypnosis has been in most of its details refuted by subsequent experiment, but to 1870, it exerts a marked influence even on the experiments of the scientists. Mesmer believed that a responsive influence existed between the heavenly bodies, the earth, and animated bodies; that a subtle, impalpable, communicative fluid was the means of this influence; that the animal body was directly affected by its insinuation into the substance of the nerves; that this magnetism could be communicated from one animated body to another; that it could penetrate matter from any distance, and that it was communicated, propagated, and increased by sound. In Mesmer's experiments, the most common manifestations of the magnetic influence on the human person were crises of hysteria, and nervous patients responded most readily to his treatment. Braid's researches in England tended to show that the phenomenon was due to "a subjective state, independent of all external influences," but Mesmer's original conception persisted in many minds. On this basis were also explained many apparent instances of thought transference, clairvoyance, and mental suggestion. One must remember, in considering Dickens' use of the principle, that its nature was, in his day, as yet only partially ascertained, and that its operation in the novel would naturally be tinged with many of the misconceptions of his contemporaries. Concentration of will in the operator was at this time regarded by many as indispensable to the induction of hypnosis, and from the analogy of "mineral magnetism" his relation to his subject was conceived to be that of a "positive" to a "negative" mentality.
In the light of all this, observe the following features in the Mystery of Edwin Drood. — I shall merely enumerate them briefly, leaving the reader to supplement them, and to make the apposition. — First consider the hysteria of Rosa in the piano scene. Then notice the concentrated destructive purpose in Jasper's face, when, during the midnight visit to the vaults, he sees Neville passing in the shadow, and levels at him the deadly malevolent look that causes Durdles to pause in wonder, "with an unmunched something in his cheek". Remembering Mesmer's theory that the magnetic influence is increased and propagated by sound, remark the various sounds that accompany Jasper's projections of his sinister will: tfie swelling organ note that frightens Rosa in the garden, the insistent keynote in the piano scene ("carefully and softly hinting the keynote from time to time." And later: "watched the pretty lips, and hinted the one note as though it were a low whisper from himself."), the storm that rages outside the Gate House on the fatal night, with an electric intensity, also, that points to Mesmer's conception of the responsive relation between the heavens and human susceptibility to magnetism. Bearing in mind Mesmer's theory that this influence could penetrate matter at any distance, reread Rosa's explanation to Helena of her fear of Jasper. "I feel that I am never safe from him: I feel as if he could pass through the wall when he is spoken of." And if the reader thinks that Dickens intended this simply as a figurative expression of nervous excitement, he will find Crisparkle rejecting that explanation of a very similar phenomenon in a passage shortly to be cited. Meanwhile, notice how, when Neville is intercepted by the authorities on his walking tour, and brought back to answer the charge of murder, Jasper walks silently at his side, "a fixed look on his face, and never quitting that position." Mark Neville's entire forgetfulness of the incidents of the fatal night, (one of the after-symptoms of hypnosis), and refer that to what was said by the author, in his allusion to animal magnetism, about "two parallel states of consciousness that never clash." The alternative explanation that Neville's forgetfulness is due to his having been drugged by Jasper on the night of the murder is, of course, quite obvious, but it may also be regarded as a temporary explanation, designed by the author to keep his readers' minds appeased until the real cause is revealed. Some plausible cause had to be in evidence to prevent this lapse of memory from causing undue perplexity, or from seeming a forced and arbitrary plot incident; and the opium explanation is inferred by the reader: the author does not even hint at it. This may have been one of the "difficult" phases of the plot. But if the reader is not convinced in the two cases above, I concede him the conceivable doubt: with such an abundance of other proof, it matters little.
Now consider, with reference to Mesmer's theory of the relations of the planets and external nature to animal magnetism and mental suggestion, the following passage from the chapter in which Crisparkle finds Drood's watch and chain in the Weir:
Knowing very well that the mystery with which his mind was occupied, might of itself give the place this haunted air (Here Crisparkle entertains for a moment an explanation of this peculiar experience, which the reader has no doubt applied to some of the other strange phenomena I have pointed out, namely that such abnormal presentiments as he feels here, and Rosa felt with regard to Jasper, are mere figments of an overwrought fancy. But later Crisparkle has cause to dismiss that explanation, as must also, on second thought, the most skeptical reader, — that is, so far as the fiction is concerned.), he strained those hawklike eyes of his for the correction of his sight. He got closer to the Weir, and peered at its well-known posts and timbers. Nothing in the least unusual was remotely shadowed forth. But he resolved that he would come back early in the morning.
The connotation of this passage is so clear that it really needs no italics, but is worth the reader's study. Why should Crisparkle, in the denseness of night, feel the presence in the Weir of an object which was almost invisible to his hawklike eye in the clear light of day! What gave him the foreboding, and what directed him to the spot? I leave the reader, if he cares, to note the other peculiarities of the episode; (they are very obvious, and all point the same way), and invite him to attempt the impossible feat of explaining it on any other basis than that I have indicated.
Space permits me only to state here the theory and some of its more striking attestations. If the novel is reread with this idea in mind, many other verifications of it will present themselves to an observant reader. Indeed, I believe it would be quite possible, from the new angle thus afforded, to determine much more of the author's design for the unwritten chapters than the analysts have hitherto thought possible. To take merely one instance, Jasper's final confession (Cf. Forster's outline) of the crime as if it had been committed by another, would on this basis link up much more suggestively with the preceding action, than on the assumption that he incriminated himself while under the influence of opium. It might also be possible to prove that Jasper actually forced Neville to murder Drood and dispose of the body. He had previously roused young Landless to fury of resentment against Drood that ended in a threat to kill him; his scheme may well have been not only to direct suspicion against Neville after the crime, but to make him the actual instrument in committing it. Among Dickens' notes for the novel is the following memorandum for chapter XII, the passage in the story that concerns Jasper's nocturnal visit to the vaults with Durdles: "Lay the ground for the manner of the murder to come out at last." Aside from the allusion to quicklime in this chapter, which is not directly connected with the manner of the murder, whatever it may have to do with the obliteration of the traces of it, the only part of the narrative that suggests direct preparation for that manner, is Jasper's fixed and destructive stare, "as if his eye were at the trigger of a loaded rifle," the look directed at Neville, when the latter passes them unknowingly in the darkness. In this chapter Durdles also mentions a weird cry that is sometimes heard to issue from the cathedral vaults, — an hallucination that no doubt was to recur in determining the conclusion of the story, and possibly was connected with the "that" which Jasper had never seen before (Cf. Mesmer's theory of a responsive relation between inanimate nature and the human mind.). Perhaps in pursuance of the reference to "airy voices that syllable men's names," something was to be revealed too of the mayor's relations with his wife prior to her death: something not entirely consistent with the flourish of rhetoric on her tombstone. This last is conjecture, but there is small conjecture in the conclusion that the circumstances of Jasper's crime were to be "elicited from him as if told of another" by means of the telepathic principle to which Helena held a key.
Diabolism and manifestations of the spirit world were, of course, a commonplace in English fiction before Dickens' time, — as for example in the long line of gloomy romances culminating in Lewis' Monk and the novels of Mrs. Radcliffe, — but the fabric of their mystery was that of mediaeval superstition and legend. And while the more recent of these stories showed a marked progress toward a rationalization of the supernatural, almost fulfilled in Mrs. Radcliffe's work, and in such concessions to plausibility as Brockden Brown's Wieland, the final explanation they put forward usually involved an anti-climax that was worse than the fault it was designed to avoid, — as when Brockden Brown expounded his airy mysterious voices as tricks of ventriloquism. With the warning of these precedents before him, Dickens was not likely to relapse into the mediaeval error of treating the magical as an objective thing or into the Georgian fault of explaining it with a trivial machinery. Chesterton's allusion to him as "the last of the mythologists'' was not intended literally. His tendency, like that of his time, was to present subjective phenomena as such, and to give mystery, in the end, a rational cause; and when his last novel was conceived, the science of his day offered him the added advantage of a rational conclusion that was free from any peril of bathos. In this, I think, lay the extraordinary novelty of his design for The Mystery of Edwin Drood: he planned to revive the effect of the old Gothic romance, and to give its strangeness a reasonable source in a proven but as yet half-miraculous truth of psychology. Here was a ticklish and untried venture, but in the course of it he could and did rely on the more familiar, though hardly less remarkable phenomena of opium dreams, made popular by Collins in the Moonstone plot, to carry him at last within hail of his very curious, new, difficult, and incommunicable objective.
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