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Friday, August 23, 2013

The Drood Mystery

This week's blog post is by collections intern Lloyd Frisone. If your interest is piqued, be sure to check out our Sleuths and Spies hands-on tour (next offered in January) which features the mystery.
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While interning at the Rosenbach, I was shown the original monthly installments to Charles Dickens last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It was scheduled for twelve installments but Dickens only completed six before his death, leaving the second half of the novel unknown.

Charles Dickens, The mystery of Edwin Drood. No. III, June 1870. EL3 .D548d
The Mystery of Edwin Drood centers on the disappearance of the titular character, Edwin Drood, a quirky young engineer who was fostered by his seemingly devoted and loving uncle John Jasper, who secretly loves Edwin’s fiancĂ© Rosa Bud. Also a person of interest is Neville Landless, who takes an instant dislike to Mr. Drood while also harboring feelings for Miss Bud.

So what happened to Edwin Drood? Was he kidnapped? Murdered? Did he flee after a failed murder attempt? The first six installments are peppered with insinuations that John Jasper murdered Edwin to get to Rosa but could these hints just be red herrings? Being in an investigative mood, I decided to see what information I could find about Dickens’ plan for Mr. Drood.

The first clue was a letter Dickens wrote to his friend John Forster on August 6, 1869 regarding the plot of Edwin Drood. In this letter, Dickens indicated that the novel was to involve “the murder of a nephew by his uncle . . . . All discovery of the murderer was to be baffled till towards the close . . . by means of a gold ring which had resisted the corrosive effects of the lime into which he had thrown the body.” 

The second and third clues come to us from third parties. The Edwin Drood illustrator Luke Fildes claimed “that Dickens had told him, when they were discussing an illustration, "I must have the double necktie! It is necessary, for Jasper strangles Edwin Drood with it” And lastly,  Dickens' son Charles Jr. claimed his father had told him that Drood was murdered.

So it appears that the second half of the novel would have revealed that John Jasper strangled Edwin with a scarf and tossed his body into quicklime. However, these clues don’t take into account the possibility that Dickens might have changed his mind regarding the plot. In one of his manuscripts, Dickens listed several possible titles for the novel, among which included “Flight and Pursuit,” “The Flight of Edwin Drood,” and “Edwin Drood in Hiding,” suggesting that Dickens at least considered an ending in which Edwin Drood survived.

In the end, we can never know for sure how Dickens would have ended his last novel, though that hasn’t stopped dozens of writers from trying. You can find over fifty Drood continuations—just pick the one you like best.

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