Thomas Russell Ybarra's Revieiw: Plucking the Heart Out of Edwin Drood's Mystery

The New York Times, January 30, 1921

THE MUR­DER OF EDWIN DROOD. Re­count­ed by John Jasper. Being an At­tempt­ed So­lu­tion of the Mys­tery Based on Dick­ens's Manuscript and Mem­o­ran­da. By Percy T. Cor­den. With an in­tro­duc­tion by B. W. Matz. New York: G. P. Put­nam's Sons. 1920.

I

F spir­its in other worlds can look down upon this ter­res­tri­al sphere and take due note of what is going on here, a great deal of amuse­ment must have been ex­tract­ed from this pas­time by one spir­it which, in its earth­ly in­car­na­tion, was known as Charles Dick­ens. Its ghost­ly sides must have shak­en often with shad­owy mirth; now and then a neb­u­lous laugh must have is­sued from its dis­em­bod­ied throat, all be­cause of the nu­mer­ous and often fan­tas­tic at­tempts which have been made ever since Charles Dick­ens quit this earth to solve the prob­lem of how he would have fin­ished his last book, " The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood," had death not snatched him away when the story was in full swing and the dénoue­ment of its in­tri­cate plot com­plete­ly hid­den from read­ers.

Around "The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood" a whole lit­er­a­ture has grown up. Fa­mous men have racked their brains to an­swer the puz­zle which Dick­ens left be­hind him when he died. Every word of the un­com­plet­ed story has been minute­ly stud­ied.

Tremen­dous sig­nif­i­cance has been at­tached to era­sures and in­ter­lin­eations dis­cov­ered in Dick­ens's own manuscript of "Edwin Drood." Chance an­no­ta­tions, ca­su­al re­marks dropped by Dick­ens to ac­quain­tances, have been dis­sect­ed ea­ger­ly by. "Drood­ists"; sage the­o­ries have been built upon them, each of which un­rav­els the mys­tery to the en­tire sat­is­fac­tion of its pro­pounder. Sev­er­al of the char­ac­ters in­tro­duced by Dick­ens in the pages of "Edwin Drood" have been fas­tened upon as the mur­der­er of the hero of the un­fin­ished book. Half a dozen of the char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing Edwin Drood him­self, have been sin­gled out as the in­di­vid­u­al pos­ing as Datch­ery, the mys­te­ri­ous man who snoops around the cathe­dral town of Clois­ter­ham, ap­par­ent­ly col­lect­ing ev­i­dence re­gard­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of Edwin.

An­drew Lang has knit his brows over the great Dick­en­sian mys­tery. So has Gilbert K. Chester­ton, now lec­tur­ing in our midst of other things. So has Sir W. Robert­son Nicoll. So have quite a lit­tle squad of ad­di­tion­al em­i­nent per­son­ages. They have ridiculed one an­oth­er's the­o­ries, called one an­oth­er rough names, and (doubt­less) lost many a good night's sleep won­der­ing how Dick­ens would have un­rav­eled the only re­al­ly tan­gled plot which he ever evolved. All of which, it is to be hoped, is pro­duc­tive of ghost­ly chuck­les and cachi­na­tions to Charles Dick­ens dis­em­bod­ied in spir­it.

If so, more of such ebul­li­tions of mirth are due, for still an­oth­er "Drood­ist" has had the in­tre­pid­i­ty to enter the lists, in the per­son of Percy T. Car­den, with still an­oth­er "so­lu­tion" with ev­i­dence which (it seems to him) sheds light on points in the mys­tery never be­fore cleared up even by the most rabid in­ves­ti­ga­tors. Like oth­ers be­fore him, Mr. Car­den has fer­ret­ed out the orig­i­nal Dick­ens manuscript from its hid­ing place on the shelves of the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­se­um in South Kens­ing­ton, Lon­don, and sub­ject­ed it to painstak­ing in­spec­tion. Un­like the other lit­er­ary de­tec­tives who have delved around the mys­tery, this lat­est vol­un­teer Sher­lock Holmes has sought to strength­en his ar­gu­ments by maps of Rochester (the town which Dick­ens, in the story, calls Clois­ter­ham), taken by an air­man-pho­tog­ra­pher from an air­plane. Quite a new and dar­ing de­par­ture in Drood­ism! About the only thing which the next in­ves­ti­ga­tor of the mys­tery can do to over­shad­ow Mr. Car­den's "stunt" is to se­cure an in­ter­view on Edwin Drood from the ghost of Charles Dick­ens him­self!

All who know "The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood" will re­call that it con­cerns the for­tunes of a youth of that name who lived in the old En­glish cathe­dral town of Clois­ter­ham with his uncle, John Jasper. Edwin is to marry Rosa Bud, a spright­ly young pupil at the high­ly cor­rect school of Miss Twin­kle­ton, by the ex­press wish of their par­ents. To Clois­ter­ham come two other young peo­ple, Neville Land­less and his sis­ter, He­le­na. Neville falls in love with Rosa and, as he re­sents Edwin's seem­ing in­dif­fer­ence to her and lord­ly air of pro­pri­etor­ship, the two youths quar­rel. Fol­low­ing a din­ner of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween them at Jasper's house, Edwin Drood walks out into the Clois­ter­ham streets in the midst of a vi­o­lent storm and com­plete­ly dis­ap­pears. The last per­son to be seen with him is Neville Land­less, with whom he had just quar­reled — his rival for the af­fec­tions of Rosa Bud. Damn­ing ev­i­dence against Neville is pro­duced by Jasper and Neville is ar­rest­ed on sus­pi­cion of mur­der. But he is re­leased from cus­tody, owing to the ab­sence of any real clue to his guilt. Jasper pro­pos­es to Rosa, who spurns him.

All this Dick­ens sets forth in the frag­ment of "The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood" which he com­plet­ed, por­tray­ing the above­named char­ac­ters and sev­er­al oth­ers in true Dick­en­sian fash­ion, drop­ping stray hints here and there which have been snapped up by some in­ves­ti­ga­tors as proofs of their the­o­ries re­gard­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of Edwin Drood and ridiculed by oth­ers hold­ing con­flict­ing the­o­ries as mere "blinds" in­ge­nious­ly in­tro­duced by the au­thor to catch just such un­wary per­sons. Among the minor char­ac­ters none has been the sub­ject of such minute study as Datch­ery, the man of mys­tery who sud­den­ly set­tles in Clois­ter­ham after Edwin Drood's dis­ap­pear­ance. Some think he is He­le­na Land­less, dis­guised as a man in on en­deav­or to clear her broth­er from the sus­pi­cion of mur­der hang­ing over him. Oth­ers see in him Mr. Baz­zard, the ec­cen­tric clerk of the ec­cen­tric Mr. Grew­gious, Edwin's guardian. Mr. Car­den now comes for­ward with the claim (ad­vanced be­fore, though sel­dom) that Datch­ery is Lieu­tenant Tar­tar, a naval of­fi­cer, who comes in after Edwin Drood has van­ished from the nar­ra­tive.

Mr. Car­den agrees with the bulk of "Drood­ists" in be­liev­ing that Edwin was mur­dered by Jasper, his uncle, on ac­count of the lat­ter's pas­sion for Rosa Bud, Edwin's be­trothed. Jasper com­mit­ted the mur­der, he thinks, while ig­no­rant of the fact that Edwin and Rosa had bro­ken off their en­gage­ment. As ev­i­dence of this he calls spe­cial at­ten­tion to Jasper's hor­ror, cul­mi­nat­ing in a swoon, when he learns this, after Edwin's dis­ap­pear­ance, from Mr. Grew­gious, Edwin's guardian.

Mr. Car­den claims to have es­tab­lished one point which (he says) has elud­ed all other delvers into the Drood mys­tery, viz., the lo­ca­tion of the house of Dur­dles, the dram-lov­ing stone mason, who provider so much of the typ­i­cal­ly Dick­en­sian local color to the un­fin­ished mys­tery yarn. Mr. Car­den went to Rochester to see it with his own eyes, and he has marked it on a map and caused his aid, the air­man-pho­tog­ra­pher, to snap a pic­ture of that part of the town where he lo­cat­ed it. All of which, as any Drood­ist will admit (un­less his the­o­ry is quite dif­fer­ent), is most im­por­tant in view of the in­ci­dent of the quick­lime and the spooky noc­tur­nal visit of Jasper and Dur­dles to the crypt, to say noth­ing of its ex­treme­ly im­por­tant bear­ing (ap­par­ent at once to every Drood­ist, un­less he has an on­tire­ly dis­sim­i­lar idea) on the ques­tion of the grave of Mrs. Sapsea and the be­hav­ior of the moon­beams on the fate­ful night.

The other point which, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Car­den, he has cleared refers to that man with the mus­tache who is de­pict­ed on the cover of "The Mys­tery of Edwin Drood" as it ap­peared se­ri­al­ly until Dick­ens's death abrupt­ly ter­mi­nat­ed the in­stal­ments. Now, that cover has been from the first one of the prin­ci­pal bone of con­tention in the great game of try­ing to find out what Dick­ens would have done had he lived to fin­ish the story of Edwin Drood. Friend­ships have been shut­tered to pieces against that cover; "Drood­ists" have turned gray, they have gone mad, por­ing over the pic­tures upon it.

Mr. Car­den may not have turned gray and prob­a­bly didn't go mad im study­ing the said cover (though pos­si­bly all Drood­ism might in it­self be con­sid­ered a mild form of harm­less in­san­i­ty), hut, any­how, he has stud­ied it long enough to de­cide that the chap with the mus­tach­es is Neville Land­less. How did be know that Neville had mus­tach­es? How, in­deed, when no other in­ves­ti­ga­tor had es­tab­lished this fact; when Dick­ens (they thought) had died with­out di­vulging whether Neville's face was or was not thus adorned? Ha!—there is where the fine hand of your true Drood­ist gets in his work. Let us hear Mr. Car­den's mus­tache the­o­ry:

It has been sug­gest­ed that the kneel­ing fig­ure kiss­ing Rosa's hand is Jasper or else Tar­tar. But each of these is shown else­where upon the cover and nei­ther is the kneel­ing fig­ure. The only cer­tain clue to the iden­ti­ty of the lat­ter is his mus­tache. What char­ac­ter, if any, had a mus­tache? The an­swer seems at first to be that no mus­tache is men­tioned. But the school­girls at the Nuns' House knew bet­ter. "Noth­ing es­capes their no­tice, sir." Re­call the quar­rel scene en­act­ed by Neville and Edwln and im­i­tat­ed by the Miss­es Fer­di­nand and Gig­gles "Neville flings the dregs of his wine at Edwin Drood and is in the act of fling­ing the gob­let after it, when his arm is caught in the nick of time by Jasper." "Miss Fer­di­nand got into new trou­ble by sur­re­ti­tious­ly clap­ping on a paper mus­tache at din­ner time and going through the mo­tions of aim­ing a water bot­tle at Miss Gig­gles who drew a table spoon in self-de­fense." On Miss Fer­di­nand's ev­i­dence we shall be safe in say­ing that Neville wore mus­tach­es. Clear­ly then it is he who kneels at Rosa's feet, kiss­ing her hand upon the cover.

As to the im­pres­sive fig­ure with the long coat and fold­ed arms at the foot of the cover, Mr. Car­den sur­mis­es it to be He­le­na Land­less. In her man's dis­guise, shown in the crypt, whith­er she had gone, ac­cord­ing to his the­o­ry, to give Jasper an awful scare when he went there to get the ring. (What! Don't you know about the ring? Shame on you, yon are no Drood­ist!) Pur­su­ing his the­o­ry, Mr. Car­den sur­mis­es the three fig­ures climb­ing the wind­ing stair to be Crisparkle, Lob­ley and Datch­ery (Tar­tar), chas­ing the mur­der­er, Jasper, up to the top of the Cathe­dral Tower, whence, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Gar­den, Dick­ens in­tend­ed to make Jasper try to scram­ble down­ward over the rough sur­face of the tower face, but in vain, he being cap­tured and hand­cuffed by his pur­suers. To make all come out as should be, with due re­tri­bu­tion for the wicked mur­der­er, Mr. Car­den shows Jasper in his cell, on the night be­fore he is to be hanged, writ­ing a full con­fes­sion of his crime.

Mr. Car­den takes no spe­cial cred­it unto him­self for hav­ing solved the mys­tery be­yond cavil. In fact, he is quite mod­est about the whole mat­ter, un­like some of the other play­ers of the Edwin Drood game. His at­ti­tude to­ward the whole thing is charm­ing­ly summed up by him when he says in his pref­ace: "The great­est dan­ger is lest the game should have an end in a com­plete so­lu­tion."