Charles Ogdens: "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" Solved at Last

Short­ly be­fore his death Charles Dick­ens told his son, Charles Dick­ens the younger, how he in­tend­ed that the novel, which he left half-fin­ished, should end — the younger Dick­ens dra­ma­tized the story and put into the con­clu­sion which he had re­ceived from the fa­ther.

Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dence.

Lon­don, Nov. 13. — When Charles Dick­ens died in 1870, leav­ing his last novel, "The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood" only half fin­ished, the En­glish-speak­ing world — and a good many of the folk who speak other lan­guages too — spent much time try­ing to guess how the great au­thor had in­tend­ed that his per­plex­ing story should end. And that guess­work has been going on with more or less spas­mod­ic vigor ever since.

Many lit­er­ary Sher­lock Holmes, in­clud­ing An­drew Lang, have filled many a mag­a­zine page try­ing to prove from the clues left by Dick­ens what the con­clu­sion was to have been. Sev­er­al au­thors, more am­bi­tious than dis­creet, have au­da­cious­ly as­sumed the man­tle of the dead prophet and fin­ished the book. Medi­ums have in­voked the spir­it of Dick­ens him­self to solve the mys­tery, with re­sults equal­ly un­con­vinc­ing.

For 37 years the "mys­tery" has re­mained the great puz­zle of the lit­er­ary world. None of those who have tried to un­rav­el it have sup­posed that it ever could be proved whether or not he or she had found the cor­rect so­lu­tion, as planned by the mas­ter hand.

It can be, though, for some­thing has been found by the grand­daugh­ter of the great nov­el­ist, Miss Ethel Dick­ens, which con­tains the proof that has so long been sought. It is a play writ­ten by the el­dest son of Charles Dick­ens — Charles Dick­ens, the younger. And that play, which is a drama­ti­za­tion of the un­fin­ished "Mys­tery," ends as Dick­ens has in­tend­ed to end his baf­fling and fas­ci­nat­ing story. I have been ex­treme­ly for­tu­nate in ob­tain­ing from Miss Dick­ens her­self this ac­count of it.

"The play of 'Edwin Drood' was writ­ten some years after my grand fa­ther's death, and my fa­ther's chief ob­ject in writ­ing it was to give the end­ing of the story as he had re­ceived it from my grand­fa­ther's lips.


"My fa­ther had long had the idea of this play in the mind, but I think it was dur­ing his visit to Amer­i­ca and by rea­son of the ex­treme ap­pre­ci­a­tion and love of my grand­fa­ther and his works that he found ex­ist­ing so strong­ly all over that coun­try, that the play was fi­nal­ly writ­ten — and writ­ten for Amer­i­ca.

"There can be lit­tle doubt that as my grand­fa­ther pro­gressed with the story of 'Edwin Drood' many mod­i­fi­ca­tions were made of the orig­i­nal plot, and this is clear­ly proved by the con­ver­sa­tion that I will speak of present­ly which took place be­tween him­self and my fa­ther some lit­tle time be­fore his death.

"He was, I be­lieve, keen­ly in­ter­est­ed in this his last work. The de­vel­op­ment of the story and the study of Jasper, whom he ev­i­dent­ly in­tend­ed to pre­sent to us as an un­mit­i­gat­ed vil­lain from first to last, filled his re­main­ing days, how­ev­er, ru­inous to his own health, gave to the world a most in­ter­est­ing and baf­fling enig­ma, the clues to the mys­tery one is in­vit­ed to fol­low being so nu­mer­ous and so ap­par­ent­ly im­pos­si­ble to fit neat­ly to­geth­er in order to ar­rive at any def­i­nite and sat­is­fac­to­ry con­clu­sions.


"My grand­fa­ther pur­sued his usual method of work dur­ing the writ­ing 'Edwin Drood' — that is to say, after an early break­fast he would go to his study or in fine, warm weath­er to the chalet in his gar­den and there work or grind away as he some­thing called it, until the lun­cheon hour. It was never dif­fi­cult, I have heard my fa­ther say, to judge from the ex­pres­sion on his face whether he had been suc­cess­ful in the ar­du­ous task of pleas­ing him­self. Very often he looked sad and worn and spoke lit­tle and re­tired in his work again after tak­ing a mere pre­tence of food; but there were brighter days when his eyes shone, when his face and man­ner were alert and cheer­ful and when he look­ing for­ward with plea­sure to the walk he would take in the af­ter­noon. Then those about him knew 'Edwin Drood' was mak­ing happy progress. My grand­fa­ther was a ret­i­cent man, sel­dom speak­ing much of his own work at any time and not car­ing to be ques­tioned, par­tic­u­lar­ly about the story the so­lu­tion of which he was de­sirous of keep­ing him­self until the end.


"My grand­fa­ther was ex­ceed­ing­ly or­der­ly and me­thod­i­cal in his man­ner of work­ing (as he was in ev­ery­thing did), forc­ing him­self to go to his desk each morn­ing at the some hour, and he was gen­er­al­ly very ac­cu­rate in send­ing the exact amount of ma­te­ri­al re­quired to the print­er; but I have been told that a few days be­fore he died he sud­den­ly dis­cov­ered that he had bought for­ward his­to­ry of 'Edwin Drood' too quick­ly for the six num­bers he had still to write. This gave him a great deal of anx­i­ety and was the cause of mach thought and trou­ble. But on the very day he was taken ill, the day be­fore his death, he an­nounced at the lun­cheon table that be hoped he had over­come this dif­fi­cul­ty and he re­turned to his work in gay spir­its.

"In the cu­ri­ous pro­vi­so made in his agree­ment with Messrs. Chap­man & Hall re­lat­ing to 'Edwin Drood' — the first time any such pro­vi­so had been made in agree­ments be­tween him­self and his pub­lish­ers — we cer­tain­ly see that some vague pre­mo­ni­tion of im­pend­ing death was in his mind, and later on signs were not want­ing to show that this pre­sen­ti­ment was con­stant­ly with him, and one can­not help feel­ing how painful­ly he must have de­sired to fin­ish the story which, had he but know it, was grad­u­al­ly but sure­ly un­der­min­ing the strength and de­vo­tion which he un­grudg­ing­ly be­stowed upon it every day of his clos­ing life.


"Of course all I can tell you must be from hearsay, for I scarce­ly re­mem­ber my grand­fa­ther; but my fa­ther spoke con­stant­ly of him and he al­ways said that al­though of so ret­i­cent a na­ture he was never surly in his man­ner and it pressed for an ex­pla­na­tion of what he was writ­ing by on he loved, he would at once grave­ly refuse to give it, or if he was in one of his rare com­mu­nica­tive moods he might sud­den­ly and to his com­pan­ion's sur­prise throw away his shy re­serve and be­come per­fect­ly frank and con­fi­den­tial. I imag­ine that it was owing to some such quick change of reel­ing that my fa­ther was en­abled to give the clos­ing scene to his play of 'Edwin Drood,' and this brings me to the con­ver­sa­tion which I men­tioned at the be­gin­ning of our in­ter­view.

"It came about in this way: One af­ter­noon some three weeks be­fore my grand­fa­ther died my fa­ther was at Gad's hill, and, as so oft hap­pened, he and my grand­fa­ther start­ed off on one of those long, ram­bling walks which were the chief recre­ation my grand­fa­ther al­lowed him­self when he was, as then, hart at work — if, in­deed, recre­ation they could be called, far it was. I be­lieve, dur­ing these walks that the cre­ative brain was most ac­tive — and, al­though he liked to have some con­fi­den­tial com­pan­ion which him, I fre­quent­ly heard my fa­ther said that often the whole walk would be taken in com­plete si­lence, not one syl­la­ble on any sub­ject pass­ing my grand­fa­ther's lips. How­ev­er, this spe­cial oc­ca­sion was not one si­lence. It was then that my fa­ther heard in de­tail the defini­tive scheme for the end of the book, my grand­fa­ther also telling him that when he first began this work he had a slight­ly dif­fer­ent end in view, but that as the book de­vel­oped cer­tain def­i­nite al­ter­ations be­came nec­es­sary with re­gard to the final tragedy. He also added that my fa­ther was ab­so­lute­ly the one per­son to whom these facts were known.


"The ring which plays so im­por­tant a part in the book was not men­tioned by my grand­fa­ther on this oc­ca­sion, but my fa­ther was under the im­pres­sion that it was to hold the orig­i­nal place in the story and was to be the means of iden­ti­fy­ing the mur­dered body as that of Edwin Drood. As, how­ev­er, my grand­fa­ther did not touch upon this point, my fa­ther has not em­pha­sized it in the play."

Some promi­nent mem­bers of the or­ga­ni­za­tion of Dick­ens lovers called the Dick­ens Fel­low­ship, with whom I have con­versed about the mat­ter, are dis­posed to be skep­ti­cal con­cern­ing the state­ment that Dick­ens con­fid­ed to his son Charles how he in­tend­ed to end the story. They say it is al­most in­cred­i­ble that the younger Dick­ens should have had au­thor­i­ta­tive knowl­edge on a sub­ject that the whole lit­er­ary world was spec­u­lat­ed about, and have re­frained from mak­ing his knowl­edge pub­lic, es­pe­cial­ly in view of the fact that he could have made mach money out of it. But such ret­i­cence on his part, ex­traor­di­nary as it may ap­pear, re­al­ly proves noth­ing in face of the ev­i­dence that he did pos­sess that knowl­edge. Miss Dick­ens told me that he made no se­cret of it in his own fam­i­ly. Her broth­er, Charles and her sis­ter Mary heard him talk about it on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions. From each of them I have ob­tained state­ments con­firm­ing that given me by Miss Ethel Dick­ens.


Miss Dick­ens' ref­er­ence to the in­di­ca­tion that her grand­fa­ther had some pre­mo­ni­tions of im­pend­ing death af­ford­ed by his agree­ment for the pub­li­ca­tion of his last work should per­haps be ex­plained. At his own re­quest he had a clause in­sered in his agree­ment with his pub­lish­ers. Chap­man & Hall pro­vid­ing for a sat­is­fac­to­ry pe­cu­niary set­tle­ment be­tween them and his ex­ecu­tors in case he should "die dur­ing the com­po­si­tion of the said work of 'The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood.' "

Need­less though this clause seemed at the time, its sad per­ti­nen­cy was proved by his death at Gad's Hill on the 9th of June, 1870, when he had writ­ten the manuscript of only six of the twelve num­bers that were to com­plete the book. The greater part of the pre­vi­ous day he had spent work­ing upon it in the Chalet, a gift from his friend Charles Fechter, the actor, which had been erect­ed in the grounds. In the study there he penned the last words that he ever wrote on the "Mys­tery."


"He was late leav­ing the Chalet," says his bi­og­ra­pher, John Forster, "but be­fore din­ner, which was or­dered at 6 o'clock, with the in­ten­tion of walk­ing af­ter­ward in the lanes, he wrote some let­ters, … and din­ner was begun be­fore Miss Hog­a­rth saw, with alarm, a sin­gu­lar ex­pres­sion of trou­ble and pain in his face. 'For an hour,' he than told her, 'he had been very ill,' but he wished din­ner to go on- These were only co­her­ent words ut­tered by him." He died at 10 min­utes past 6 o'clock on the suc­ceed­ing day, but dur­ing the 24 hours that elapsed be­tween his seizure and his death there had never been a gleam of hope.


When Dick­ens start­ed writ­ing "The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood," his po­si­tion as the great­est of En­glish nov­el­ists was ev­ery­where ac­knowl­edged. He had no rival: he cold add noth­ing to his lit­er­ary fame. But many of the re­view­ers who lav­ished the warmest praise of his works said that plots were weak — that he could not write a book the end­ing of which would not be fore­shad­owed long be­fore he reached it.

It is be­lieved he left this crit­i­cism keen­ly. Its refu­ta­tion was task he as­signed him­self in "The Mys­tery." He want­ed to write a book that would keep peo­ple guess­ing to the end as to how it would turn out — a work that should be full of baf­fling clues, mis­lead­ing sug­ges­tions and trails that were crossed by red her­rings.

How well he suc­ceed­ed, as far as he went, is proven by the wide di­ver­gences in the con­clu­sions reached by those who have es­sayed to solve "The Mys­tery." On the ques­tion whether or not Dick­ens in­tend­ed that Edwin Drood should re­al­ly meet his death at the hands of the vil­lain Jasper they are hope­less­ly at odds. In the re­con­struc­tion of the plot, An­drew Lang, of all of them the man who per­haps has the great­est rep­u­ta­tion for lit­er­ary as­tute­ness, de­feats the vil­lain and brings Drood back to life.


From Amer­i­ca came the ear­li­est at­tempts to fin­ish the un­fin­ished half of the "Mys­tery." Dick­ens had been dead hard­ly a year when "John Jasper's Se­cret" was pub­lished in Philadel­phia. It was the joint pro­duc­tion of a New York jour­nal­ist Henry Mor­ford, and his wife. It was first pub­lished anony­mous­ly, but in sub­se­quent edi­tions it au­thor­ship was im­pu­dent­ly at­tribut­ed to Wilkie Collins and Charles Dick­ens the younger. De­spite their rep­u­ta­tions of the forgery their names are still at­tached to reprints of the book. In this Mor­ford so­lu­tion Jasper tries to mur­der Drood, and thinks he has suc­ceed­ed. In the end he is con­front­ed by his sup­posed vic­tim, and suc­cumbs to poi­son. For the rest of the char­ac­ters things end in the con­ven­tion­al­ly happy style.


From spook­dom em­anat­ed the next at­tempt. It was a bulky vol­ume of 500 pages en­ti­tled "The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood Com­plete." It was sent forth to a skep­ti­cal world as the work of Charles Dick­ens' spir­it aided and abet­ted by a medi­um of Brat­tle­boro, Vt. It abound­ed in in­ex­pli­ca­ble blun­ders and gram­mat­i­cal va­garies. It brought Edwin Drood back to life and dealt out re­tribu­tive jus­tice to Jasper by de­priv­ing him of his rea­son and con­sign­ing him to a mad­house.


In the as­sur­ance that no one could pos­si­bly "go on bet­ter" than a so­lu­tion of "The Mys­tery" by ghost of his au­thor, Amer­i­ca gave up con­struct­ing se­quels to Dick­ens' work after this, and his own coun­try folk took up the game. A woman of some lit­er­ary rep­u­ta­tion in the north of Eng­land, writ­ten under queer pen name of "Gillan Vase," is­sued a three-vol­ume con­clu­sion of the un­fin­ished work under the title "A Great Mys­tery Solved." There again Drood es­capes from the tomb to which Jasper con­signed him and the vil­lain makes a dra­mat­ic exit by com­mit­ting sui­cide in jail.

Richard A. Proc­tor, the as­tronomer, weary­ing of his stud­ies of the mys­ter­ies of the heav­ens, so­laced him­self by study­ing Dick­ens's mun­dane mys­tery. His spec­u­la­tions were pub­lished under the title "Watched by the Dead: a Lov­ing Study of Dick­ens's Half-Told Tale." The watch­er is Edwin Drood, who, es­cap­ing from the death which Jasper has planned for him de­votes him­self to bring­ing Jasper to jus­tice.


There is no space to men­tion the nu­mer­ous mag­a­zine ar­ti­cles on the sub­ject that have been pub­lished from time to time. But the read­er will want to know what Dick­ens in­tend­ed should be to fate of Edwin Drood. The an­swer to that ques­tion as re­vealed by the play, is that Jasper did mur­dered Drood. Which shows that all — or near­ly all — of those who have tried to re­con­struct the con­clu­sion of "The Mys­tery" from clues left by Dick­ens have been baf­fled by him and that he was equal to the task he had set him­self.

The play, which I have per­mit­ted to read, is a good, sound, old-fash­ioned melo­dra­ma, end­ing in a weird form of dead for Jasper. It was writ­ten sub­se­quent to Charles Dick­ens, Jr's, tour in the Unit­ed States in a se­ries of read­ings from his fa­ther's work, and was done in col­lab­o­ra­tion with his late Joseph Hat­ton, with the idea of meet­ing the re­quire­ments of E. S. Willard. It was sent over to the Unit­ed States, and was, I be­lieve, ac­tu­al­ly put in re­hearsal there, but for some rea­son or other was never pro­duced, and was pi­geon-holed, and never came to light again until a few weeks ago, just be­fore Joseph Hat­ton's death.


The queer thing about it was that the late Charles Dick­ens, Jr., never made the slight­est cap­i­tal out of the fact that the play con­tained the end­ing of the story as his fa­ther had planned it — the one great fact that would have made the play in­stant­ly mar­ketable. He was a pe­cu­liar­ly re­served un­com­mer­cial-mind­ed man, to whom the fi­nan­cial im­por­tance of the in­for­ma­tion given to him by his fa­ther would have made no ap­peal. It was gen­er­al­ly un­der­stood at the time that the great nov­el­ist had passed on to his el­dest son his plans for the com­ple­tion of "Edwin Drood" and in con­se­quence Charles Dick­ens, Jr., was after his fa­ther's death beset with of­fers to fin­ish the novel. These he re­fused, as it was the feel­ing of the fam­i­ly at that time that it would be a kind of des­e­cra­tion for any one else to as­sume the man­tle of Eli­jah. In might seen strange that Forster, Dick­ens's bi­og­ra­pher, knew noth­ing about the cir­cum­stances, but this is to be ex­plained by the fact that Charles Dick­ens, Jr., and John Forster were not on good terms. Al­though the facts were well known to all the mem­bers of the fam­i­ly of Charles Dick­ens, Jr., ap­par­ent­ly they were never com­mu­ni­cat­ed to the other mem­bers of the fam­i­ly.

Published: Deseret Evening News, November 23, 1907