Dickens /Major /The Mystery of Edwin Drood

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The Mystery of Edwin Drood – 1870 – a serialised novel/unfinished

The Mystery of Edwin Drood was the fifteenth novel of Charles Dickens. It was illustrated by Luke Fildes.

Dickens was only halfway finished with the book when he died.

It is a murder mystery, perhaps made more mysterious by being unfinished.

Dickens had a stroke on 8 Jun 1870 and died the next day. He hadn’t quite completed chapter 2 and was half-way through the planned series of instalments.
The tale is srt in Cloisterham, a cathedral town. Edwin Drood and Rosa Bud, both now orphans, have been promised to each other by their fathers, but as they approach adulthood they are not so sure about the arrangement.

John Jasper is Edwin’s uncle and guardian though not much older than him. He is the Cathedral choirmaster who is addicted to opium. John is Rosa’s music teacher and is in love with her, albeit secretly. The novel opens with John coming from a London opium den.

John has befriended Stony Durdles who knows a great deal about the cathedral crypt, a subject John seems to be pursuing.

Edwin visits Rosa at the Nuns’ House, a boarding school where she lives. They routinely argue on these visits, but none too seriously.

The twins Neville and Helena Landless are orphans from Ceylon and arrive in Cloisterham for their education. Neville is to study with the minor canon, Septimus Crisparkle. Helena moves into the Nuns’ House which is run by Miss Twinkleton. Neville confides in Rev Crisparkle that he disliked his cruel guardian, Luke Honeythunder. Neville promptly falls for Rosa. Rosa tells Helena that she both loathes and fears her music master John Jasper.

Neville is bothered by Edwin’s lack of commitment to his betrothal. Edwin provokes him and Neville reacts violently, having been plied by strong drink supplied by Jasper. Jasper begins to spread rumours about Neville’s quickness to violence. The Rev Crisparkle intervenes to resolve the disagreement and a dinner is arranged at Jasper’s on Christmas Eve.

Rosa’s guardian, Mr Grewgious, advises Rosa that she has a large inheritance. She asks if she would still get it if she did not marry Edwin and is told that it would not affect it.

Mr Grewgious  later gives Edwin a ring, the ring that Rosa’s father had given her mother. And tells him if he gives it to Rosa it must be a sign of his commitment to her, or he should return it to the guardian. His clerk, Mr Bazzard, witnesses this.

The next day Rosa and Edwin agree to end their betrothal, they will ask Grewgious to tell Jasper when Edwin returns the ring. Edwin fears this will be a shock to Jasper.

Jasper visits the crypt with Durdles and points out a pile of quicklime. Jasper has provided Durdles with a rather strong drink, and he loses consciousness, though he dreams that Jasper goes off into the crypt while he lies there. As they later leave the crypt they meet a boy called Deputy (Winks) and Jasper assumes he is spying on them, he grabs him by the throat, but realising he is choking him, lets go.

On Christmas Eve Neville buys a heavy walking stick as he plans a walking trip over Christmas. Edwin visits a jeweller to get a watch repaired and it is pointed out that he only wears a watch, a chain and a shirt pin in the way of jewellery.

He encounters a woman, an opium user from London and she asks him his Christian name. He tells her ‘Edwin’ and she comments that this is good, because someone called ‘Ned’ is in great danger. He dismisses this because only Jasper calls him ‘Ned’. At the same time, Jasper is buying himself a black scarf of strong silk.

The reconciliation dinner is successful and at midnight Edwin and Neville go down to the river to watch a storm. The next morning Edwin is missing, and Jasper is encouraging the suspicion that Neville has killed him. Neville has set out for his hike and is forcibly returned to the city by the townspeople. Mayor Sapsea releases Neville into Crisparkle’s care. The next morning Crisparkle goes to the river weir and finds Edwin’s three items of jewellery.

Grewgious advises Jasper that Edwin and Rosa had terminated their betrothal, He reacts more to this news than to the reports of his death.

The novel moves on six months and Neville, shunned by the town, now lives in London near Mr Grewgious’s office in Staple Inn.

A Lieutenant Tartar introduces himself, his chambers are adjacent to Neville’s and they have a common courtyard, he offers to share his garden with Neville.

In Cloisterham a white haired and whiskered man, calling himself Dick Datchery, asks directions to his new lodgings from Deputy, who refuses to go there because he fears being throttled by Jasper. Datchery is renting a room below Jasper from where he and Deputy watch the comings and goings.

Jasper visits Rosa at the Nuns’ House and declares his love for her, she rejects him but he persists. If she does not relent he threatens he will destroy Neville, brother of her friend Helena. Rosa flees to Grewgious in London.

Crisparkle has followed her to Grewgious’s office. While there Lt Tartar calls and asks Crisparkle if he remembers him, he does, he saved Crisparkle from drowning many years earlier.

The group agree not to let her visit Neville directly, but Lt Tartar suggests she use his chamber to contact Helena.

Grewgious helps her rent from Mrs Billickin, for her and Miss Twinkleton. Helena moves in with Neville.

Jasper visits an opium den and is followed by the woman who runs it.  This time she does not lose him and traces him all the way back to his home. She meets Datchery who identifies Jasper to her, and explains that he will sing the next day in the cathedral service. The woman, ’Princess Puffer’, returns the next day and waves her fist at Jasper from behind a pillar.

Here the novel ended, leaving the question as to whether Edwin was alive or dead? Who was Datchery? And, so on.
Dickens however did write to his friend and biographer, John Forster, that this was to be a tale of an uncle who murdered his nephew.

The reason and form of the crime was to be revealed by the murderer reviewing his thinking from the condemned cell, but as it were someone else who did the crime. He would also dwell on the needlessness of the murder, given the events that followed it.

The murderer was to be revealed by the ring that Edwin had, it survived the body being encased in lime, and it would provide the means to establish where the murder occurred and who was the murderer.

Rosa was to marry Lt Tartar. Crisparkle was to perish assisting Tartar to unmask the murderer.

Under the trees

Rosa Bud bids farewell

Durdles telling Mr Sapsea not to boast


Drood, Edwin – an orphan, with plans to marry Rosa Bud
Bud, Rosa – an orphan, her betrothal set by their fathers
Jasper, John – Edwin’s guardian and uncle, a choirmaster
Landless, Helena – orphaned twin from Ceylon, friend to Rosa
Landless, Neville – he falls for Rosa and conflict with Edwin
Crisparkle, Canon Septimus – Neville’s tutor and good friend
Datchery, Dick – a mysterious character, a detective?
Deputy (Winks) – a small boy
Grewgious, Hiram – a lawyer and Rosa’s guardian
Tartar, Lieutenant – retired naval officer

Bazzard – Grewgious’s clerk
Billickin, Mrs – a distant cousin of Bazzard
Crisparkle, Mrs – the canon’s widowed mother
Dean, The – senior clergyman at the cathedral
Durdles, Stony – a stonemason and undertaker
Ferdinand, Miss – a student at Nuns’ House
Giggles, Miss – a student at Nuns’ House
Honeythunder, Luke – Neville and Helena’s guardian
Jennings, Miss – a student at Nuns’ House
Joe – driver of the Cloisterham omnibus
Lobley – Lt Tartar’s man
Porters, Mr – an acolyte of Miss Twinkleton
Puffer, Princess – runs a London opium den
Reynolds, Miss – a student at Nuns’ House
Sapsea, Ethelinda (nee Brobity) – the mayor’s wife
Sapsea, Thomas – an auctioneer who becomes Mayor
Tisher, Mrs – Miss Twinkleton’s assistant at Nuns’ House
Tope, Mr – the verger at the cathedral
Tope, Mrs – the verger’s wife, cooks and rents lodgings
Twinkleton, Miss – the mistress of Nuns’ House

Inner Court of Staple Inn
I: April 1870 (chapters 1–5)
II: May 1870 (chapters 6–9)
III: June 1870 (chapters 10–12)
IV: July 1870 (chapters 13–16)
V: August 1870 (chapters 17–20)
VI: September 1870 (chapters 21–23)
Planned instalments that were never published:
VII: October 1870
VIII: November 1870
IX: December 1870
X: January 1871
XI, XII: February 1871

Forward to A Dinner at Poplar Walk His LifeHis WorksHis Characters – Go to Bob Denton.com

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