Wilmot Corfield: Notes to "Edwin Drood"

Sir Herbert Tree as John Jasper

OUR no­tice of Dr. Fen­nel's "mite to­wards the clear­er ap­pre­ci­a­tion of a mas­ter­piece" tempts me to offer an­oth­er "mite." To un­der­stand 'Drood' we must con­sid­er Dick­ens's meth­ods in 'Great Ex­pec­ta­tions.' In 'Great Ex­pec­ta­tions' Dick­ens through about half the tale bluffed glo­ri­ous­ly and suc­cess­ful­ly. Had it been trun­cat­ed in the mid­dle of its ap­pear­ance, as was 'Drood,' every one would still be­lieve that Pip's in­come came from the strange old lady in the cu­ri­ous big house. Dick­ens built up a scheme of things for the sheer joy of shat­ter­ing it. He was le­git­i­mate­ly and splen­did­ly a gi­gan­tic bluffer of his read­ers. He took the same course in 'Drood,' with every like­li­hood of mak­ing an even more tri­umphant ef­fect. In 'Great Ex­pec­ta­tions' what till then had been the con­trol­ling idea of the tale was smashed in the mid­dle of the book.

In 'Drood' up to the mid­dle we are all con­strained to the be­lief that Jasper hated Drood and in­tend­ed to mur­der him. Jasper's love for Drood was real. He might, or might not, have killed him, pos­si­bly in self-de­fence, later on, but, up to the end of the record, his love was real though ex­ag­ger­at­ed. Jasper was a drug-tak­er, son of the Puffer, an Ar­me­ni­an fe­male drug-tak­er; a high­ly sen­si­tive, over-wrought man, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly and el­e­men­tal­ly a vil­lain. Had he been an out-and-out vil­lain, the Dean and other Cathe­dral au­thor­i­ties would have ceased to be­lieve in him soon­er. They never had done so to the record­ed fin­ish. Take this point of view, and we see day­light. Neville was also Jasper's nephew. The uncle's ha­tred of Neville was a drug-tak­er's ha­tred, as un­nat­u­ral and un­called -- for as was his love for Drood and his in­fat­u­a­tion for Rosa. Re­al­iz­ing his own weak­ness, Jasper dis­cov­ered a place of re­treat in the tower of the cathe­dral, a small cham­ber down a few steps from the leads. He got a key to the stairs and an­oth­er to the cham­ber from Dur­dles on a mem­o­rable night in the clois­ters. The quick-lime, scarf, &c., are prop­er­ties of pure bluff.

It is known that Drood knew of Jasper's at­tacks (Chap. II.). Jasper told Drood of the cham­ber in the tower, and pos­si­bly took him there on the night of the storm, stop­ping on alone there, puff­ing in pri­vate, after Drood had left. Drood went away of his own ac­cord, going on board a barge at Clois­ter­ham pro­vid­ed by friends of the Puffer for rea­sons tran­spir­ing later. It may be he was him­self also slight­ly under the in­flu­ence of opium. A thought­less youth at a con­vivial time might well yield to temp­ta­tion prof­fered by an ador­ing and adored uncle. He left an in­dis­creet note for He­le­na, the beau­ti­ful Eurasian, with Deputy.

Deputy tells Dur­dles, who steals the note. It does not reach He­le­na, but turns up af­ter­wards as an im­por­tant piece of ev­i­dence, Drood thought it had got to her, lost heart, vis­it­ed his great-aunt near Lime­house to worm out fam­i­ly se­crets from her, was robbed of watch and ring, again de­coyed by las­cars on to a ves­sel, and taken out to sea.

On his re­turn he makes his way to the cham­ber in the tower. Jasper ar­rives (vide bot­tom pic­ture of cover), loses his head (he had come from catch­ing a dis­tant sight of Datch­ery in Lon­don, and has just per­ceived two more Datch­erys in Clois­ter­ham), and, drop­ping his lantern, rush­es back into a dan­ger­ous po­si­tion. Drood tries to save him. They are seen from below strug­gling on the leads. Neville ar­rives at the top first, breath­less (the "three meet again"), to be hurled to his death ("a nephew killed by an uncle"). Tar­tar meets the same fate.

The two mus­cu­lar cler­gy­men and the near­ly ex­haust­ed Drood over­pow­er and se­cure the mur­der­er.

Datch­ery was the cler­i­cal hus­band of the sis­ter of the China Shep­herdess. Ca­su­al­ly men­tioned early in the book, he is not brought into ac­tion till late in the tale, just as a rook in chess is sta­tion­ary for a long time, but des­tined to be of value at the fin­ish. A man of leisure, Datch­ery is also an old col­lege chum and close per­son­al friend of the Dean, anx­ious to as­sist his sis­ter-in-law (Mrs. Crisparkle) and the Dean in get­ting to the bot­tom of the trou­ble.

Hap­pen­ing (with his wife) to be a Christ­mas guest in Minor Canon Cor­ner, he was the "one ex­cep­tion" who did not "strag­gle" back with Jasper, Crisparkle, and Neville after the ar­rest of the last-named. He may have sud­den­ly formed ideas of his own and gone di­rect alone to con­sult the Dean, or he may have re­turned walk­ing to his broth­er-in-law's right (Neville being to Crisparkle's left) as an ac­cept­ed cus­to­di­an of the sus­pect, and not one of a "strag­gling" and grad­u­al­ly in­creas­ing throng of on­look­ers. He dis­guis­es him­self just suf­fi­cient­ly to es­cape recog­ni­tion by any chance Lon­don parish­ioner or other ac­quain­tance in Clois­ter­ham. Neville was an­oth­er Datch­ery, but usu­al­ly in Lon­don. He­le­na, too, may have ap­peared as Datch­ery in Lon­don, but never in Clois­ter­ham. The idea of He­le­na being Datch­ery in Clois­ter­ham is too ab­surd to be en­ter­tained for a mo­ment.

The Datch­erys, fear­ing self-be­tray­al by their hand­writ­ing, com­mu­ni­cate with each other in chalk on the cup­board door. The three of them play havoc with Jasper's nerves. He re­fus­es to be­lieve his own eye-sight at last, hence his dis­trust of the real Drood as a real per­son in the upper cham­ber.

It has been stat­ed that a still liv­ing con­tem­po­rary of Dick­ens was told by the nov­el­ist that Drood was to be killed. Such ev­i­dence is en­ti­tled to re­spect­ful ac­cep­tance. We must then as­sume that Jasper threw Drood after Neville, and that Tar­tar mar­ried Rosa. It is known, how­ev­er, that the final chap­ter of 'Great Ex­pec­ta­tions' was ma­te­ri­al­ly al­tered by Dick­ens at the last mo­ment to please his read­ers. It is pos­si­ble that Dick­ens might have sim­i­lar­ly changed his mind as to the fate of Drood. When Rosa and Drood part­ed, it is clear that Dick­ens in­tend­ed them to meet again. All read­ers of the story would like them to have mar­ried at the end.