J. Cuming Walters: His Last Mystery

IV Chapter from the Book "Phases of Dickens"


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HERE were two plots upon which Dick­ens un­doubt­ed­ly prid­ed him­self. The value of one we shall never con­clu­sive­ly as­cer­tain; the other we can ap­praise.

Per­son­al­ly I think the plot of Our Mu­tu­al Friend to be poor, un­con­vinc­ing, and occa­sionally clum­sy. The se­cret of John Har­mon should ei­ther have been bet­ter kept, or there should have been no air of mys­tery at all. Bof­fin's meth­ods are not only prim­i­tive and re­pug­nant, but they lead us to doubt whether they would have been ef­fec­tive. Why should the girl he dis­gust­ed with his af­fect­ed miser­li­ness nec­es­sar­i­ly fly to the arms of the man she de­spised? Could a man of Bof­fin's sim­ple na­ture have acted so schem­ing­ly, and have adopt­ed so round­about a course to ful­fil his ob­ject? Too much is left to chance, and too many peo­ple are made mis­er­able that one per­son should be made happy. Bof­fin's char­ac­ter un­der­goes vi­o­lent change, and we can­not rec­on­cile the sim­ple old soul of the ear­li­er chap­ters with the con­sum­mate actor of the lat­ter chap­ters. John Har­mon him­self is stagey, and his in-and-out busi­ness, his ap­pear­ances and dis­ap­pear­ances, his dis­cov­ery and recog­ni­tion by some, and his total eva­sion by oth­ers, make an undue strain upon creduli­ty. He is too much like the actor with loud "aside" speech­es which every one hears ex­cept those who are near­est to him; and the plot fails be­cause it is main­ly com­posed of make-be­lieve. Then the story is over-weight­ed with de­tached in­ci­dents and by groups of dis­con­nect­ed char­ac­ters. It de­gen­er­ates into med­ley. Yet Dick­ens un­doubt­ed­ly thought his plot sub­tle, in­ge­nious, and clever — which is one more proof that as a maker of plots he lacked craft.

I have some­times a fear, which will not be re­pressed, that Edwin Drood might have been equal­ly dis­ap­point­ing, and that he over­rat­ed his pow­ers. Cer­tain­ly this would be the case if, as some of the would be solvers as­sert, he in­tend­ed to un­lock the rid­dle with a key which re­mained to be man­u­fac­tured in the lat­ter por­tion of the work — that is, by in­tro­duc­ing an en­tire­ly new char­ac­ter who had no part or in­ter­est in the ear­li­er events.

Dick­ens was not so ut­ter­ly inartis­tic as that. Even in the story of Jonas Chuz­zle­wit he man­i­fest­ed some adroit­ness in ma­nip­u­lat­ing the Nad­gett episodes; and we may be sure that in the more care­ful de­sign of the Drood mys­tery he would ex­er­cise greater skill. I have al­ready said, how­ev­er, that as a writ­er of de­tec­tive tales Dick­ens was a fail­ure. His Hunt­ed Down is the only ex­cep­tion to the rule. But in the Drood vol­ume we come to an en­tire­ly new set of cir­cum­stances, and a new mood on the part of the au­thor.

So many books have been left un­fin­ished, from Vir­gil's Æneid to the last nov­els of Thack­er­ay and Steven­son, that one's first in­quiry might be why an ab­sorb­ing in­ter­est should be sus­tained in the un­fin­ished work of Charles Dick­ens. It is due to the fact that it is­sues a chal­lenge to the human in­tel­lect. It pro­claims it­self a "mys­tery," and, in more or less set terms, de­fies elu­ci­da­tion. When we find the dec­la­ra­tion of Charles Dick­ens that he pos­sessed a "new and in­com­mu­ni­ca­ble idea" we are re­solved, as was John Forster, to wrest it from him. Here is a rid­dle of the Sphinx, and every Œdipus is ready to take the risk of un­rav­el­ing it.

There was no idea which Dick­ens hugged more close­ly, one whose pos­si­bil­i­ties and va­ri­eties of treat­ment pleased his fancy more, than that a man, as­sumed to be dead, and treat­ed as non-ex­is­tent, should sud­den­ly reap­pear in new guise and con­found and con­vict his sup­posed mur­der­er. This was the fa­mous "Watched-by-the-Dead" the­o­ry on which so much stress was laid by Richard An­tho­ny Proc­tor — a the­o­ry which is traced from Barn­a­by Rudge, one of the ear­li­est nov­els, to Our Mu­tu­al Friend, one of the lat­est, and a the­o­ry which some con­tend was in­tend­ed to be wrought out in its most con­sum­mate form in Edwin Drood, On first con­sid­er­a­tion this seems like­ly; on sec­ond con­sid­er­a­tion it is im­pos­si­ble.

Not only had Dick­ens ex­haust­ed that the­o­ry, but he was aware he had ex­haust­ed it. Edgar Allan Poe, in his pen­e­trat­ing essay on the first chap­ters of Bar­nahy Rudge, had plain­ly told him that this "se­cret" was no real se­cret, had tri­umphant­ly fore­told the se­quel to the pre­miss, and had de­clared that "the in­ten­tion once per­ceived, traces of the de­sign are found on every page, and points break out in all di­rec­tions like stars." In course of time, so fa­mil­iar did Dick­ens's "dead man" de­vices be­come by rep­e­ti­tion, that there was noth­ing eas­i­er than for keen stu­dents and an­a­lysts to an­tic­i­pate ex­act­ly what parts would be played by Meltham, Rudge, Roke­smith, and all the se­cret or dis­guised char­ac­ters in "Watched-by-the-Dead" sto­ries. The fact was not lost upon Dick­ens, who even­tu­al­ly re­tort­ed upon the pro­lep­tic and too-dis­cern­ing crit­ics by declar­ing that their dis­cov­ery of a pre­sumed "de­cep­tion" in one novel had never been de­signed by him as a de­cep­tion at all. In the well - known "Postscript" to Our Mu­tu­al Friend he gave the seers and prophets to un­der­stand that he had out­wit­ted them after all, for they had only found what he had never con­cealed, but, on the con­trary, had been "at great pains to sug­gest." "An artist," he added caus­ti­cal­ly, "may per­haps be trust­ed to know what he is about in his own vo­ca­tion, and I was not alarmed by an­tic­i­pa­tion." Then he dis­closed his real pur­pose — "To keep for a long time un­sus­pect­ed, yet al­ways work­ing it­self out, an­oth­er pur­pose orig­i­nat­ing in that lead­ing in­ci­dent ... that was at once the most in­ter­est­ing and the most dif­fi­cult part of my de­sign."

There are here two mat­ters for con­sid­er­a­tion. The first is the tacit ac­knowl­edg­ment of Dick­ens that his older and con­stant­ly re­cur­ring de­vice of dou­bled parts was played out, and that he had orig­i­nat­ed some­thing new and un­ex­pect­ed. The sec­ond is that he had not whol­ly aban­doned the favourite idea, but had only given it a new turn; or, to re­peat his own words, he had "worked out an­oth­er pur­pose orig­i­nat­ing in the lead­ing in­ci­dent" — the pur­pose care­ful­ly con­cealed to the last, the read­er bog­gled with the thought that the fa­mil­iar theme would have the fa­mil­iar end­ing, and then the dra­mat­ic dis­clo­sure sprung upon him as a sur­prise.

As Dick­ens reached this turn­ing — point in his meth­ods in 1864, when he planned Our Mu­tu­al Friend, it is ob­vi­ous that if he ever in­tend­ed to at­tempt to mys­ti­fy his pub­lic again it would not be by the old ex­pe­di­ent of trans­form­ing char­ac­ters and re­call­ing the dead to life, but by work­ing out some other pur­pose "orig­i­nat­ing in the lead­ing in­ci­dent." The Drood vol­ume came in 1870, and con­tained "a cu­ri­ous and in­com­mu­ni­ca­ble idea," "an un­sus­pect­ed pur­pose orig­i­nat­ing in the lead­ing in­ci­dent, and dif­fi­cult to work."

We now have to put to our­selves three ques­tions: What was "new"? What was "in­com­mu­ni­ca­ble"? What was "dif­fi­cult to work"?

It would be en­tire­ly "new," with Dick­ens, if the sup­posed dead man, un­like Rudge, and Meltham, and John Har­mon, were in this case proved to be re­al­ly dead; and it would be "in­com­mu­ni­ca­ble" if the mys­te­ri­ous watch­er of the as­sas­sin were not such an one as in all the pre­vi­ous nov­els, but some per­son in the story, "marked out from the first," yet so con­cealed as to run only an in­finites­i­mal risk of de­tec­tion. Then, as Poe said, when the mys­tery was pre-com­pre­hend­ed "the points would break out in all di­rec­tions like stars"; and then, as Dick­ens avowed, we should find that the real mys­tery was in a pur­pose "orig­i­nat­ing in the lead­ing in­ci­dent," the lead­ing in­ci­dent being no mys­tery at all, though set forth as one. All this would be "dif­fi­cult to work," es­pe­cial­ly one de­tail which, so far as I can judge, was to con­sti­tute the supreme sur­prise in the end.

It was nec­es­sary for the au­thor to cover up his tracks as speed­i­ly as pos­si­ble, and to sug­gest false out­lets. Thus, a main point is whether or not Drood is dead. Dick­ens al­ways sug­gests that he may have es­caped and may reap­pear. Rosa Bud, long after his dis­ap­pear­ance, re­views the sit­u­a­tion and goes through the se­ries of ar­gu­ments, leav­ing the con­clu­sion in doubt. The saga­cious read­er at once jumps to a con­clu­sion of his own — the con­clu­sion Dick­ens wished, and, of course, the wrong one. If it is such an ar­guable mat­ter, be sure Drood has es­caped. Ex­act­ly so. Half the mys­tery is gone if a lead­ing char­ac­ter has fi­nal­ly fall­en out. Dick­ens be­comes bland­ly con­fi­den­tial — but it is the con­fi­dence — trick of the lit­er­ary ex­pert.

In three in­stances, Proc­tor's the­o­ry that Drood had es­caped and would come again upon the stage in dis­guise, sig­nal­ly fails. (This chap­ter was writ­ten, and was de­liv­ered as a lec­ture, sev­er­al years be­fore the ad­mirable vol­ume, About Edwin Drood, by Pro­fes­sor Jack­son, was pub­lished.) First, it as­sumes that Dick­ens would re­peat the out­worn plot of mak­ing "the dead" re­turn. Sec­ond­ly, it would leave un­ex­plained, under those cir­cum­stances, the "dead" man's si­lence and his in­ac­tiv­i­ty for six months in spite of his as­sailant's con­tin­u­ance of ma­lig­nant and dan­ger­ous op­er­a­tions. Third­ly, it would not bring the story to a con­clu­sion such as Dick­ens, with his strong dra­mat­ic in­stinct, would have been like­ly to con­ceive. And there was a fourth rea­son, which, though per­son­al, is to one who ven­er­ates the mem­o­ry and char­ac­ter of Charles Dick­ens, over­whelm­ing­ly strong. The the­o­ry that Drood sur­vived in­volves the ac­cep­tance of the the­o­ry that Dick­ens had, in ex­plic­it­ly deny­ing that fact on more than one oc­ca­sion, open­ly and de­lib­er­ate­ly ut­tered to his clos­est friends and as­so­ci­ates what was false. In­ci­den­tal­ly, how­ev­er, the cir­cum­stance that he had three times de­clared "Drood was dead" was a valu­able en­light­en­ment in an­oth­er di­rec­tion, for it demon­strat­ed that this was never the prime mys­tery, and was never de­signed as the puz­zle. After Num­ber Two of the story there was to be "a cu­ri­ous in­ter­est steadi­ly work­ing up to Num­ber Five which re­quires a good deal of art and self - de­nial." The guess­ing that Drood was alive did not dis­turb Dick­ens in the least.

Dick­ens liked to work on a basis of fact, and he found that basis in the his­to­ry of a young Rochester cit­i­zen whose fate had re­mained a mys­tery until his corpse had been dis­cov­ered hid­den away; then his mur­der by a rel­a­tive who had pro­fessed the deep­est af­fec­tion for him had been con­firmed. But there is an­oth­er cir­cum­stance, less known, more sur­pris­ing, and far more sig­nif­i­cant. In 1869 (when Edwin Drood had not been begun) a story was sub­mit­ted to Dick­ens by the Hon. Robert Lyt­ton and ac­cept­ed by him. It was called John Acland. In Oc­to­ber, three months after Drood had been con­tem­plat­ed, but six months be­fore the first num­ber was is­sued, Dick­ens hur­ried­ly and pre­ma­ture­ly brought John Acland to a close, and ex­plained to the au­thor in writ­ing his rea­son: "The story had been done be­fore."

This was per­fect­ly true; a sim­i­lar story to John Acland is to be traced in a mag­a­zine of the pe­ri­od. But here comes the amaz­ing se­ries of co­in­ci­dences. Lyt­ton's story was of the mur­der of a man by one who was not only his close friend but his host; the crime was a mys­tery; the miss­ing body could not be traced; and it was hint­ed that the man was not dead but might reap­pear. But even­tu­al­ly the corpse was found in an ice­house, and its iden­ti­ty was es­tab­lished by means of a watch. The par­al­lels be­tween the writ­ten story John Acland and the yet-to-be-writ­ten story Edwin Drood are thus too as­tound­ing for ex­pla­na­tion. At all events, only one pre­sents it­self, and that is that both au­thors had read the pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished nar­ra­tive, and had de­cid­ed upon the treat­ment of a sim­i­lar theme. One fur­ther de­tail in this his­to­ry is worth record­ing. Dick­ens said in his let­ter to Lyt­ton that he had al­tered the orig­i­nal title of the story from plain John Acland to The "Dis­ap­pear­ance" of John Acland, be­cause, he ex­plained, "this will leave the read­er in doubt whether he re­al­ly was mur­dered, until the end." The ruse must be com­pared with that adopt­ed by Dick­ens in call­ing his own story The Mys­tery. It left the read­er in doubt. That was the ob­ject.

What, then, was the se­cret? How was it to be dis­closed? How are we now to pen­e­trate it? At the time Dick­ens wrote his story he was under the in­flu­ence of Wilkie Collins (whose Woman in White had just pre­vi­ous­ly ap­peared in House­hold Words); and Collins made it part of his plan that every tri­fle, every chance episode, every seem­ing­ly ca­su­al item, should pos­sess ap­po­site­ness and im­por­tance and present­ly fall into its des­tined place. Dick­ens fol­lowed this method. When, in a mere par­en­thet­i­cal man­ner — an ex­plana­to­ry phrase or two in­sert­ed in a long con­ver­sa­tion — he al­lowed the fact to glide in that some one had been in the habit of dis­guis­ing her­self, and that a girl had once worn a boy's at­tire, we can­not dis­miss it as ir­rel­e­vant. This will prove to be a link in some chain slow­ly fash­ion­ing in the course of the his­to­ry. It is as weighty in its way as the fact that Dur­dles al­ways car­ried his keys with him, that Jasper wore a long silk scarf round his del­i­cate throat, that the boy Deputy wait­ed near the Cathe­dral at night to stone Dur­dles home, that quick­lime will de­stroy even the boots on the feet, and that a girl with a rich brown com­plex­ion had long hair, a deep voice, and dark eyes. It is as weighty as the la­con­ic ob­ser­va­tion of Mr. Grew­gious that he had "just come from Miss Land­less" when he pro­ceed­ed to watch the dead­ly ef­fect of his mes­sage to Jasper of the bro­ken en­gage­ment; and it is as weighty as the stone­ma­son's re­mem­brance of an eerie Christ­mas-Eve dream when he heard a strange cry like the howl of a dog. All tri­fles — but all cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence! — noth­ing wast­ed, ev­ery­thing to be turned to ac­count, every por­tion how­ev­er minute fit­ting per­fect­ly in that ir­refragable chain made up of count­less links.

And, all the time, Dick­ens con­tin­ues to sug­gest that Drood is alive, and may at any mo­ment leap into the light. Then, at the psy­cho­log­i­cal mo­ment, Datch­ery en­ters, wear­ing a big wig. What dullard could fail to fall into the trap? A man is miss­ing — an­oth­er man ap­pears — they must be one and the same! Such acu­men is wor­thy of Dog­ber­ry him­self. We can imag­ine how the cre­ator of Mrs. Har­ris roared.

Dick­ens, by ap­par­ent frank­ness, wished his read­ers — to "jump" at Drood — be­cause that was not the so­lu­tion. So he brought into promi­nent con­junc­tion two facts de­light­ful­ly easy to mis­un­der­stand. But if Datch­ery were not Drood, who could he be? He could be half-a-dozen per­sons — up to a cer­tain point. We may find one very plau­si­ble rea­son for be­liev­ing that Mr. Baz­zard was Datch­ery, two su­per­fi­cial rea­sons for Lieu­tenant Tar­tar, three very strong rea­sons for Mr. Grew­gious: and, ac­cord­ing to all logic, the ma­jor­i­ty must rule the de­ci­sion. It was part and par­cel of Dick­ens's pur­pose to throw out hints as to one char­ac­ter and an­oth­er; his se­cret would have gone had he made every per­son im­pos­si­ble but one. But each iden­ti­fi­ca­tion fails. The pre­pos­ter­ous Baz­zard the­o­ry rests en­tire­ly on one half-hu­mor­ous phrase, and the Tar­tar the­o­ry on two doubt­ful dec­la­ra­tions. Grew­gious, on the other hand, scores at least half-a-dozen points, and he seems to be a very like­ly so­lu­tion of the prob­lem of Datch­ery until we are con­front­ed with that im­pass­able bar­ri­er which Dick­ens had de­lib­er­ate­ly reared — the in­abil­i­ty of the "an­gu­lar" man, with his un­con­ceal­able man­ner­isms, his cu­ri­ous tone, his dry­ness, and his halt­ing speech, to trans­form him­self into a ge­nial "old buffer" of to­tal­ly dif­fer­ent tone and with per­fect flu­en­cy of con­ver­sa­tion. These are all false sig­nals, de­lib­er­ate­ly de­vised to cause a di­va­ga­tion from the right road. They lead us along smooth paths — far away from the goal we seek.

But if, after grant­ing "points" to each of these char­ac­ters, we still find one left with dou­ble the num­ber of the best, must we not, ac­cord­ing to math­e­mat­i­cal law, give that char­ac­ter pref­er­ence, or have we learnt our Eu­clid in vain? If, too, we find that by sub­sti­tut­ing that char­ac­ter for Datch­ery we get a per­fect­ly con­sis­tent story and a very ap­pro­pri­ate and dra­mat­ic con­clu­sion, must we not still give it pref­er­ence? If, again, the ac­cep­tance of that char­ac­ter en­tails no breach of logic, but on the con­trary re­veals per­fect co­her­ence in the story, and shows "an in­ter­est steadi­ly work­ing up from the first" and "a new idea, dif­fi­cult to work" — then are we not jus­ti­fied in giv­ing it ab­so­lute pre-em­i­nence?

The cru­cial ques­tion fol­lows: Do we find such a char­ac­ter? It was not Drood, be­cause Drood was dead, as Dick­ens avowed; it was not a per­son who al­ready was aware of Jasper's guilt, or the long delay in ac­tion would be un­jus­ti­fied, and the watch­ing would be un­nec­es­sary; it was not one who was out­side the story and there­fore had no per­son­al in­ter­est in the se­quel. It was one, on the con­trary, who had the strongest rea­sons for un­der­tak­ing the task and who had a proved abil­i­ty to per­form it; one who had need to wait and watch; one who was sub­tly marked out from the first for the mis­sion, yet as sub­tly con­cealed from de­tec­tion. I find such an one in He­le­na Land­less, the real hero­ine of the story.

Lit­er­a­ture and the drama will be searched in vain for a young woman play­ing the part of an el­der­ly man. It is "a new idea, and dif­fi­cult to work." The way has to be very care­ful­ly pre­pared to rec­on­cile the read­er to the pos­si­bil­i­ty, and to en­able a clear rea­son to be rec­og­nized why such an im­per­son­ation should take place. But Dick­ens skil­ful­ly laid his foun­da­tions, and sub­tly in­tro­duced his de­tails. There was a young woman, he tells us, ac­cus­tomed to dis­guise from her very ear­li­est years; one who, as a mere child, in her des­per­a­tion, had run away from home three times and "each time dressed as a boy." This same woman, com­ing from Cey­lon, had a rich dark com­plex­ion, the ca­su­al men­tion of which scarce­ly im­press­es us until we re­al­ize that such a com­plex­ion would also suit an "el­der­ly buffer," sug­ges­tive of a sailor, did she ever choose to pass as one. This young woman, we are given to un­der­stand in a score of ways, both di­rect and in­di­rect, pos­sessed great force of char­ac­ter, and in emer­gen­cy—even as a child — could show "the dar­ing of a man." All this is vouch­safed us long be­fore we have any rea­son to be­lieve she is de­signed or would be need­ed to take a man's part. It seems nat­u­ral enough, or­di­nary enough, that this woman should have abun­dant tress­es; and we scarce­ly re­al­ize why so much em­pha­sis is laid upon that sim­ple cir­cum­stance until it dawns upon us later that if ever she wore a wig it would have to be a no­tice­ably large one. But would she not in such a con­tin­gen­cy first re­move those lux­u­ri­ant tress­es? Even as we put that ques­tion to our­selves, we see that Dick­ens had again an­swered in ad­vance, for this girl was to have a lover who ad­mired her wild beau­ty, a man to whom she was pas­sion­ate­ly de­vot­ed; and the one act she would shrink from (one that every woman shrinks from) would be her own dis­fig­ure­ment.

Thus were the links forged so qui­et­ly, so in­sid­i­ous­ly, and with­al so del­i­cate­ly fit­ted and in­grooved in ad­vance, that we bare­ly com­pre­hend their strength, their pre­ci­sion, and their per­fec­tion until, in a new light, we give them clos­er scruti­ny, a new ex­am­i­na­tion. Then, in a flash, the rev­e­la­tion bursts upon us. The more, then, do we be­come con­vinced that they were forged for a pur­pose, and that Dick­ens from the first in­tend­ed He­le­na Land­less to ful­fil a great and ar­du­ous mis­sion as the watch­er and avenger, Datch­ery.

But why should she con­cern her­self with the aveng­ing of the mur­der of Edwin Drood, a youth who was noth­ing to her, who had never aroused her in­ter­est, and whom she had some rea­son to dis­like? No­tice, again, how well the foun­da­tions are laid. She was the avowed pro­tec­tress of Rosa Bud, who had won her deep grat­i­tude and af­fec­tion, and she was the ev­er-ready helper and ally of her twin broth­er, her dou­ble self, with whom she had "a per­fect un­der­stand­ing." In aveng­ing Drood's mur­der, and in con­vict­ing Jasper, she was sav­ing these two, dear­est and clos­est to her. It was not so much Drood's fate that con­cerned her as Jasper's sup­pres­sion. It was not the mis­chief he had done as the mis­chief he still in­tend­ed to do that spurred her to ac­tion, and that was why Dick­ens brought out with such ter­ri­ble force the ma­lig­nant na­ture of the man who — no mat­ter what evil he had wrought in the past — was in­tent on fur­ther evils in the fu­ture. And the two who would suf­fer, the two who were in im­mi­nent dan­ger, were those whom He­le­na Land­less above all oth­ers would most ar­dent­ly de­sire to save, and would incur any risk to aid. Once again, the deep and well - laid pur­pose of the au­thor be­comes man­i­fest, every de­tail evolved, every item req­ui­site, every frag­ment, how­ev­er de­tached, hav­ing its ap­point­ed re­la­tion­ship and place, to the fin­ish­ing and per­fect­ing of the in­tri­cate de­sign.

He­le­na Land­less is al­most mas­cu­line in char­ac­ter. The ter­rors which ap­palled her broth­er never made her trem­ble. When she had seen Jasper's ma­lig­nant in­flu­ence at work she vowed that she would "not be afraid of him under any cir­cum­stances." When Rosa need­ed help, it was He­le­na who prof­fered it. When her broth­er fled to Lon­don as a refuge He­le­na stayed be­hind to live down scan­dal. Strength, a man's strength, man­i­fest ev­ery­where. Yet she was the one lead­ing per­son in the Clois­ter - ham cir­cle whom Jasper would be un­able to rec­og­nize. Only once did he hear her speak, and then at a dis­tance. At the end of six months even he, with his del­i­cate ear, would not know her voice: it was an un­fa­mil­iar sound. This dif­fi­cul­ty avoid­ed, the rest was com­par­a­tive­ly easy.

Sup­pose, how­ev­er, this the­o­ry is in­cor­rect, that Drood was only half - mur­dered, and that he reap­peared; then carry the mat­ter to its only pos­si­ble con­clu­sion and ob­serve the waste of ma­te­ri­al, the num­ber of non-se­quiturs, and the loss of im­por­tant char­ac­ters. First, Jasper is spoilt as a thor­ough­paced vil­lain, for it would be shown that he had badly and ir­re­triev­ably bun­gled in his clev­er­ly-laid schemes. But Richard Proc­tor him­self ad­mit­ted that "noth­ing more sen­sa­tion­al had ever been in­vent­ed in fic­tion than the ter­ri­ble pun­ish­ment de­vized for Jasper," and this con­firms what Dick­ens him­self sug­gest­ed and what Forster spec­i­fied. Yet a man does not incur the most ter­ri­ble of pun­ish­ments for only half a mur­der.

Not alone would Jasper's char­ac­ter be spoilt. He­le­na Land­less would be lost — she must ei­ther be some­body im­por­tant or no­body at all. If she had no mis­sion, the care­ful limn­ing of her char­ac­ter in such strong lines, show­ing her fit­ness for that mis­sion, was vain and ridicu­lous. There was no need to prove her ca­pac­i­ty if her ca­pac­i­ty was never to be test­ed.

If, too, Edwin Drood sur­vived, never did a more su­per­flu­ous char­ac­ter lag upon the stage. He had never been loved in the truest sense by Rosa, nor had he truly loved Rosa in re­turn. To make him ut­ter­ly im­pos­si­ble as a fu­ture hus­band Tar­tar was in­tro­duced, and a re­turned Edwin, su­per­seded, would prove, at least, em­bar­rass­ing.

But Dick­ens was not guilty of such bad art. The whole story shows what a con­sum­mate artist he had be­come. If his rev­e­la­tions were forcible and vivid, his con­ceal­ment and re­pres­sion were not the less sig­nif­i­cant. No char­ac­ter, dis­played so strik­ing­ly on oc­ca­sion, is yet kept more in the back­ground than He­le­na Land­less. The su­perb­ness of the ef­fort is re­al­ized when we per­ceive the suc­cess of the au­thor in at once con­vinc­ing us of He­le­na's great­ness and yet with­draw­ing her from view and caus­ing her at times to be al­most for­got­ten. She was in re­serve — the mighty force ready to op­er­ate, but hid­den until the exact mo­ment ar­rived for a crush­ing ac­tion.

In judg­ing Dick­ens as a plot-mak­er we must not lose sight of this re­pres­sion, this ex­traor­di­nary de­mand upon his self-re­straint. It is eas­i­er to re­veal than to con­ceal, but he was com­pelled by the na­ture of his plans to pre­vent He­le­na from being seen or heard. Yet, when we have seized the clue, how much stronger it be­comes as we re­al­ize this hid­den strand in it! We sud­den­ly dis­cern why Jasper and He­le­na, though mov­ing in so small a cir­cle, are kept apart; or rather, why they meet only once, and why at that early meet­ing the note of hos­til­i­ty, of an in­ex­pugnable an­tag­o­nism, is im­me­di­ate­ly struck. The sound of the note lingers through the story — yet they met no more, never spoke to each other again. All the same the au­thor had achieved his pur­pose. So thor­ough­ly had he achieved it, that we are able to see with con­vic­tion that al­though Jasper had for­got­ten the exact sound of her voice, he would re­al­ize in that cru­cial mo­ment when he was to con­front her again that He­le­na, and none other, was the des­tined Avenger, and that she typ­i­fied the se­cret in­ex­orable Fate that dogs the mur­der­er to his doom. This is the supreme tri­umph of Dick­ens.

The idea once caught, how­ev­er faint­ly, grows in power and cen­tres it­self amid man­i­fold lights. There are still se­crets scarce­ly to be guessed at; there are still pos­si­bil­i­ties in di­verse di­rec­tions. Only the mas­ter-hand could have fin­ished this mas­ter-work; only the de­sign­er of the mas­ter-key could have opened the baf­fling and triple-guard­ed lock. We read Edwin Drood under dis­ad­van­tages, but every suc­ceed­ing read­ing, every "lov­ing study" of it, deep­en the con­vic­tion that it had all the charm and mel­low ra­di­ance of a sun­set which fol­lows and per­fects a day of un­fail­ing light.