Thursday, August 23, 2018

Charles Dickens' The Mystery Of Edwin Drood

Hmm. I just read and blogged about this novel less than a year ago, and that was already a reread. Maybe I'm just a bit obsessed by what happened to Edwin Drood? We'll never know, of course, and realistically it could very well be that Dickens himself hadn't made up his mind. He radically changed the ending of Great Expectations after finishing it. So then, the question is, what was Dickens likely to have decided should have happened? Or the more answerable question might be, what do I think should have happened?

In case you're not as obsessed with Edwin Drood as I am: it was Dickens' last novel and he died with it half-finished in 1870. Edwin Drood, a young orphan of some means, disappears about halfway through the pages we have. He had been engaged to be married to Rosa Bud, but just before his disappearance they broke it off. His watch and tie pin are found by the side of a river near the last place he was seen. Accident? Murder? Wilful disappearance? All are possible.

The two main suspects, if it's murder, are Neville Landless, a young half-Indian man, also an orphan, and in love with Rosa Bud; The other is John Jasper, Edwin's uncle, addicted to opium, and also in love with Rosa. Everyone is in love with Rosa in the novel.

Well, I speculated about the possible resolutions in that previous post, so no need to repeat myself here.

What particularly struck me about it on this rereading is the modern feeling of the politics. Neville is dogged by assumptions of guilt simply because of his race. Mr. Sapsea, the mayor of the town, and Mr. Honeythunder, a 'philanthropist'--it's the word used, but Dickens would completely approve of thinking of them as scare quotes--retail condemnations publicly because of his skin color and nothing else. I'm reminded of so many cases, but let's say particularly the Central Park Five.

The extent of Jasper's overall villainy remains obscure to me, but he's definitely at his most villainous in a #metoo moment of teacher-student politics and emotional blackmail. In the chapter 'Shadow on the Sun-dial', he corners the frightened Rosa; she's perfectly aware of his obsession with her; she was his student but has already fled from that. But now she will entertain his declarations of love or he'll arrange that Neville is convicted for murder, guilty or no. Rosa had to give up her music lessons earlier; now she feels she has to flee her home as well.

Maybe I'm just seeing contemporary political concerns in everything these days and reading Dickens anachronistically. That's possible. But it really doesn't feel like it.

Vintage Mystery Challenge. Why. It's an author you've read and loved before. (And obsessed over?)

Back To The Classics. Reread A Favorite Classic.


  1. I am so happy to discover a fellow-obsessive (is that a word?) about the novel. The first scene in the opium den is so seductive that I was just sucked in. And John Jasper? I don't think Dickens ever came up with a character as compelling as him. I went and read your previous post too and no, I too don't think he is the murderer either.

    And every one might love Rosa in the novel but I found her mighty irritating.

    1. She is irritating! But she's probably meant to be; both she and Edwin have to be young and dither-y.

      I'm happy to meet (and happy to be!) a fellow-obsessive, word or not.

    2. All Dickens' ingenues are irritating -- they have no personality except being young and pretty. Dora in David Copperfield, Lucie Manette in AToTC, Ada in Bleak House -- I swear Dickens had a thing about young women.

    3. Ha, ha! It's true. Dora, at least, is meant to be irritating, but David is too naive to see it.

  2. I hang my head in 'classical' shame...I never heard of this book! Thanks for the info.

  3. I just finished reading this and how did I miss the fact that Neville and Helena are mixed race? I thought everyone just considered them outsiders because they were raised in Ceylon. Must go back and re-read!

    And I also thought that Jasper and Neville were too obvious -- I wonder if they were going to introduce a minor character who was actually the murderer. It's never as much fun if it's the obvious suspect. I didn't know Dickens changed the ending of Great Expectations.