The Dickensian: A New Solution of "Edwin Drood"

MR. CAR­DEN has made a no­table con­tri­bu­tion to the vo­lu­mi­nous lit­er­a­ture con­nect­ed with Edwin Drood, for which he is en­ti­tled to the warm grat­i­tude of all stu­dents of the sub­ject, what­ev­er views they may hap­pen to pos­sess re­gard­ing the plot of the story and its so­lu­tion. He has ev­i­dent­ly scru­ti­nized the manuscript with metic­u­lous care, and has suc­cess­ful­ly de­ci­phered many in­ter­est­ing pas­sages which, for var­i­ous rea­sons, had been delet­ed by Dick­ens. It is prob­a­bly now pos­si­ble to say that ev­ery­thing em­a­nat­ing di­rect­ly or in­di­rect­ly from Dick­ens in con­nec­tion with the story is known. Mr. Car­den has, how­ev­er, gone con­sid­er­ably fur­ther than this, in that with vivid imag­i­na­tion and not a lit­tle lit­er­ary skill he has sketched out a so­lu­tion of the story upon en­tire­ly novel and high­ly in­ter­est­ing lines. Start­ing from the hint given by Forster that the orig­i­nal­i­ty of the story was to have been a re­view of the mur­der­er's ca­reer told by him­self as if not he, but some other man, were the tempt­ed, Mr. Car­den has con­struct­ed, large­ly from Dick­ens's own ma­te­ri­als, a se­ries of episodes, in which he very skil­ful­ly pro­pounds his own so­lu­tion of some of the prob­lems in which the frag­ment abounds.

What­ev­er opin­ion may be en­ter­tained as to the suc­cess of his ef­forts, no doubt can be felt that he has stat­ed his case forcibly and in­ge­nious­ly, and the nov­el­ty of his method, com­bined with his con­sid­er­able lit­er­ary skill, ren­der his book both in­ter­est­ing and ex­cit­ing. It may safe­ly be said that hence­for­ward it will be as in­dis­pens­able to all stu­dents of the sub­ject as the well-known works of Dr. H. Jack­son, Mr. J. Cum­ing .Wal­ters, and Sir W. R. Nicoll.

Stat­ed in barest out­line, Mr. Car­den's the­o­ry is that Jasper mur­dered Edwin at a spot in the path in the im­me­di­ate prox­im­i­ty of the steps lead­ing into the buri­al ground; that the corpse was hid­den in the sar­coph­a­gus of Edwin's fa­ther, Mrs. Sapsea's mon­u­ment being used as a re­cep­ta­cle or halfway house for the lime and spade which Jasper 'bor­rowed' from Dur­dles' yard; that learn­ing from Baz­zard of the ex­is­tence of the ring, and de­ter­min­ing to re­cov­er it in order to se­crete it in Neville's cham­bers and thus con­vict him of the crime, he re­paired se­cret­ly to the sar­coph­a­gus, only to find him­self con­front­ed by He­le­na dis­guised in her broth­er's clothes. After a mur­der­ous at­tack upon her he fled into the cathe­dral tower, pur­sued by Neville, Datch­ery (who is Tar­tar plus a wig), Crisparkle, Lob­ley, and Dur­dles. Neville is thrown over the tower and killed, and Jasper at­tempts to es­cape by climb­ing down to the leads of the roof, but by means of ropes brought from the bel­fry, Tar­tar, Lob­ley, and Crisparkle fol­low him, and he is over­pow­ered, thrown into jail, and fi­nal­ly ex­e­cut­ed, after hav­ing writ­ten his con­fes­sion in the man­ner hint­ed at by Dick­ens.

While there is noth­ing im­pos­si­ble about this the­o­ry, ei­ther as a whole or in its de­tails, it nev­er­the­less does not carry com­plete con­vic­tion in the sense that the read­er feels con­strained to say — 'Yes, that is un­doubt­ed­ly what Dick­ens meant, and he can have meant no other.' There is no il­lu­mi­nat­ing flash, no bril­liant dis­cov­ery, sim­i­lar to the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of Datch­ery with He­le­na; rather is it a some­what haz­ardous log­i­cal in­fer­ence drawn from a cer­tain num­ber of facts and var­i­ous un­sup­port­ed and hy­po­thet­i­cal as­sump­tions.

Of course, that is not to say that Mr. Car­den's the­o­ry is def­i­nite­ly er­ro­neous, but mere­ly that, notwith­stand­ing his great in­ge­nu­ity, he has not suc­ceed­ed in es­tab­lish­ing it upon an unas­sail­able basis. The test of any the­o­ry is its com­plete con­cor­dance with all the known data; if any sin­gle fact proves to be ir­rec­on­cil­able, then the the­o­ry is un­sound.

Now, we are told by Dick­ens him­self that he had 'a very cu­ri­ous and new idea for his new story; not a com­mu­ni­ca­ble idea, or the in­ter­est of the book would be gone, but a very strong one, though dif­fi­cult to work.' Nei­ther as a whole, nor in any of its el­e­ments, does the plot, as Mr. Car­den ex­pounds it, cor­re­spond to Dick­ens's clear and def­i­nite state­ment. There is no in­com­mu­ni­ca­ble fact, the dis­clo­sure of which would rob the story of its in­ter­est; there is no very cu­ri­ous and new idea, no very strong one, dif­fi­cult to work.

Again, in Dick­ens's 'Plans' we find the fol­low­ing notes: 'Edwin dis­ap­pears. THE MYS­TERY. DONE AL­READY. 'The words 'done al­ready' can ap­par­ent­ly only refer to 'the mys­tery,' and their ob­vi­ous mean­ing is that the mys­tery, what­ev­er it was, had, at the time the note was made, al­ready been woven into the story. It is, per­haps, an ar­guable propo­si­tion that Edwin's dis­ap­pear­ance con­sti­tut­ed the mys­tery, but on the one hand, the ap­po­si­tion of 'Edwin dis­ap­pears' to 'the mys­tery' ren­ders this in­ter­pre­ta­tion high­ly im­prob­a­ble, and, on the other hand, it is dif­fi­cult to con­ceive how the mur­der of Edwin can have been re­gard­ed by Dick­ens as in­com­mu­ni­ca­ble,'or very strong, or dif­fi­cult to work.

Fur­ther, al­though Mr. Car­den rec­og­nizes that Jasper's search for the ring leads to his de­tec­tion and cap­ture, the use which he makes of it is hard­ly pro­por­tion­ate to Dick­ens's solemn and im­pres­sive ut­ter­ance, that among the mighty store of won­der­ful chains that are for ever forg­ing in the vast iron­works of time and cir­cum­stance, there was one chain forged in the mo­ment of that small con­clu­sion, riv­et­ed to the foun­da­tions of heav­en and earth, and gift­ed with in­vin­ci­ble force to hold and drag. That the ring was the 'clue' which was to fas­ten the crime of the mur­der upon the mur­der­er seems in­con­tro­vert­ible, and that Jasper 'de­vot­ed' him­self to the mur­der­er's de­struc­tion is also cer­tain, be­cause the read­er is def­i­nite­ly made ac­quaint­ed with this fact by the pro­duc­tion to Crisparkle of Jasper's diary, in which he had os­ten­si­bly been man­u­fac­tur­ing ev­i­dence for his own ex­cul­pa­tion. It is only when the in­ter­de­pen­dence of all these facts is re­al­ized that their value is fully ap­pre­ci­at­ed, and in this con­nec­tion noth­ing can be more to the point than Sir W. R. Nicoll's pro­nounce­ment: 'You may be able at an early stage to in­tro­duce facts which con­tain the ul­ti­mate so­lu­tion of your prob­lem, and yet ap­pear im­por­tant enough to be stat­ed for their own sake; the so­lu­tion of the prob­lem, or rather the ma­te­ri­als of the so­lu­tion, should be given, and yet the read­er should be un­able to de­tect the full sig­nif­i­cance of the pre­lim­i­nary state­ment till the com­plete clear­ing ar­rives.'

Mr. Car­den con­fi­dent­ly con­tends that Datch­ery was Tar­tar in dis­guise, and that, where­as Rosa fled to Lon­don on Mon­day, and on Tues­day Tar­tar promised to com­mu­ni­cate daily with Neville, yet on Wednes­day he was in Clois­ter­ham act­ing the part of an am­a­teur de­tec­tive. To ar­rive at this re­sult he is com­pelled not only to ig­nore the fact that Tar­tar was a 'brown' man, where­as Datch­ery had black eye­brows, but also to rule out en­tire­ly the nat­u­ral and sim­ple read­ing of Datch­ery's con­ver­sa­tion with Sapsea: 'Re­tired from the Army, Sir?' sug­gest­ed Sapsea. 'His Honor the Mayor does me too much cred­it,' re­turned Mr. Datch­ery. 'Navy, sir?' sug­gest­ed Mr. Sapsea. 'Again,' re­peat­ed Mr. Datch­ery, 'His Honor the Mayor does me too much cred­it!' Why Datch­ery, if he were Tar­tar, should deny his con­nec­tion with the navy, and admit that he was a diplo­mat, is any­thing but clear, and it is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble that Dick­ens should have gone out of his way to put an un­nec­es­sary lie into Tar­tar's mouth, when it would have been quite sim­ple to have made Sapsea refer to other pro­fes­sions, such as medicine, the law, or en­gi­neer­ing.

Then, again, in order to ex­plain how it was that Tar­tar, after hav­ing promised Rosa and He­le­na that he would visit Neville daily, sud­den­ly dis­ap­pears from Lon­don, and en­tire­ly fails to per­form his un­der­tak­ing, Mr. Car­den has to in­tro­duce a pure­ly imag­i­nary con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Grew­gious and Tar­tar late on Tues­day night, in con­se­quence of which Tar­tar is found at Clois­ter­ham on Wednes­day with wig, blue surtout, buff waist­coat, gray trousers, and hat with his new name in­side, as well as spe­cial­ly print­ed cards. If we are to ac­cept this, he must ev­i­dent­ly have- lived at a pe­ri­od when the hours and days were much longer than they are now. It is al­most uni­ver­sal­ly ad­mit­ted that Dick­ens worked out the plot of this book with the great­est care and skill, and it is only nec­es­sary to refer to the Epi­logue of Our Mu­tu­al Friend to see how he stood with his crit­ics in the mat­ter of his plots. If it be con­ced­ed that Edwin Drood was meant to con­found his de­trac­tors, how comes it that there are so many un­nec­es­sary in­con­sis­ten­cies to be ex­plained away if we ac­cept Mr. Car­den's hy­poth­e­sis?

It would be un­gra­cious to pur­sue these crit­i­cisms fur­ther, not only be­cause they rep­re­sent a pure­ly per­son­al point of view, but also be­cause so much that Mr. Car­den has given us is of re­al­ly solid value. His book is prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the dis­cus­sion which has ap­peared for some years, and has un­doubt­ed­ly the right to a per­ma­nent place in the li­brary of every Drood­ist, while all lovers of Dick­ens will find much to in­ter­est them be­tween its cov­ers.

The vol­ume con­tains seven il­lus­tra­tions, in­clud­ing a sketch map of the Cathe­dral precincts based upon the ord­nance sur­vey, and two re­pro­duc­tions of pho­tographs of the same dis­trict taken from the air at al­ti­tudes of eight hun­dred and five hun­dred feet. Mr. B. W. Matz con­tributes an in­tro­duc­tion.