For our next Dickens Literary Salon, we’re skipping to the end for Dickens’ last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Warning: Drood spoilers ahead. If you haven’t yet read the novel, this post will reveal some of the plot.
When Charles Dickens died in 1870 he had only written half of his novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I imagine any unfinished Dickens novel would have fascinated readers, but that the novel was a murder mystery has only increased our attraction to Drood. I suppose the first question a reader will ask is whether or not Edwin has actually been murdered? Or has he merely disappeared and will return at the end with some fantastic story? Is his uncle, John Jasper, so depraved (and perversely in love with Rosa Bud, Edwin’s fiancée) that he would kill his nephew? And most importantly, who is Dick Datchery?! For me, Datchery, because we have only the barest of introductions , is the most tantalizing of all Dickens’ characters. We don’t even have an illustration of Datchery (as we usually do with great Dickens characters). We are in possession of only a few prosaic descriptions: his unusually large heard and shock of white hair and black eyebrows. Dickens makes so much of the white hair (Datchery frequently touches it) that many readers have thought it was a wig, and Datchery one of the other characters in disguise, secretly investigating the disappearance of Edwin Drood.
And it’s not just contemporary readers and writers who have been fascinated with Drood. From the time it was first published, rumors and speculations have arisen about how Dickens would have completed the novel (for a wonderfully evocative fictional account of the readers of Dickens’ day, read Matthew Pearl’s The Last Dickens). From the get go, continuations of the novel had been published. In 1870 Orpheus C Kerr (pen name of Robert Henry Newell) wrote a burlesque, The Cloven Foot, adapting Dickens’ characters into an American idiom. In 1871, Henry Morford wrote John Jasper’s Secret his version of the entire second half of Drood. And in 1873, Part Second of the Mystery of Edwin Drood appeared, written “by the spirit-pen of Charles Dickens through a medium” (see below for some links to these early publications). Continuations of the novel have been published up to the present day.
So what do you think, fellow Dickens Readers? Was Edwin Drood murdered? Was Jasper the murderer? Join us on Thursday March 15 at the Free Library of Philadelphia for our next meeting of the Charles Dickens Literary Salon. Let’s solve the mystery of Edwin Drood!
David Perdue provides an excellent introduction to the novel.
And there are many fascinating books you can read online:
In 1914, the Dickens Fellowship put John Jasper on trial for the murder of Edwin Drood. GK Chesterton presided as judge. The proceedings were published: Trial of John Jasper, lay precentor of Cloisterham Cathedral in the county of Kent, for the murder of Edwin Drood engineer : heard by Justice Gilbert Keith Chesterton sitting with a special jury, in the King’s Hall, Covent Garden, W.C., on Wednesday, the 7th January, 1914
The Philadelphia Branch of the Dickens Fellowship held their own trial of Jasper with a real judge, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice John P Elkin. They also published their proceedings: Trial of John Jasper for the murder of Edwin Drood; in aid of Samaritan, Children’s homeopathic, St. Agnes and Mt. Sinai hospitals, April 29, 1914, Academy of music, Philadelphia, U.S.A (1916)
The Cloven Foot: being an adaptation of the English novel “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”, (by Charles Dickens) to American scenes, characters, customs and nomenclature (1870)
John Jasper’s Secret (1872) by Henry Morford (this one has new illustrations for the continuation)
Part Second of the Mystery of Edwin Drood (1874) written by the spirit-pen of Charles Dickens through a medium
Clues to Dickens’s Mystery of Edwin Drood (1905) by J. Cuming Walters
About Edwin Drood (1911) by Henry Jackson
A Great Mystery Solved, being a continuation of and a conclusion to The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1914) by Gillan Vase