Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Mystery of Edwin Drood: We Will Never Know Because It's Unfinished


It's taken me more than ten years, but I've finally finished all the major works of Charles Dickens. I had put off reading his unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, because I suspected I'd be frustrated with only half the story. I'm not going to lie, I was absolutely correct, but if you're a Dickens fan it's still worth reading.

Published serially in 1870, Drood is the story of a young engaged couple, the eponymous Edwin, and Rosa Bud. Both orphans, they have been betrothed since children by their parents, who were friends and partners. However, Edwin and Rosa don't really love one another. At the beginning of the novel, Edwin is introduced to a brother and sister, Neville and Helena Landless, who are studying in the town of Cloisterham, where Rosa is attending school. Neville finds himself attracted to Rosa, and Edwin is attracted to Rosa. Neville is also offended that Edwin treats Rosa in an offhand manner, and after several drinks, heated words are exchanged. Neville thus gets a reputation as a hothead with a grudge. 



The two seem to make it up on Christmas Eve, but the following day, Edwin is nowhere to be found. Naturally, suspicion falls on Neville. Eventually, Edwin's watch, chain, and shirt pin are found in a river, but no body. (There is also a pointed reference to a quicklime pit). After several months, Rosa gets a visit from Edwin's creepy uncle Jasper, the Cloisterham choirmaster (and a secret opium addict). He confesses that he's been desperately in love with her for years. Rosa is naturally revulsed and flees to London, to her guardian, Mr. Grewgious, and meets up with the Landlesses again. We also meet some other characters who may or may not be private detectives or spies -- but that's pretty much it. Dickens only wrote half the novel before he suffered a stroke in June of 1870 (after working a full day on Drood). He never regained consciousness and there is no written outline of the story; however, Dickens had discussed the novel with various people so it is generally believed that (highlight for spoiler) Uncle Jasper is indeed the murderer.

Having read many mysteries, (including Dickens' masterpiece Bleak House, one of my all-time favorite novels) I had my own suspicions about the real murderer. Since the fragment was published there have been various film and TV adaptations, most recently in 2012, and a musical. 

Clearly, this is Rosa cowering in in revulsion from Uncle Jasper.

I really liked this story, though it had been some time since I'd read Dickens, I'd forgotten how different his writing style is to Trollope and Hardy. He definitely tends toward more flowery descriptions and over-the-top, eccentric side characters (with particularly descriptive names); and as usual, the young ingenue Rosa has essentially no personality except she's so pretty, men fall in love with her at the drop of a hat (except Edwin, of course). Written just a few years after Our Mutual Friend, I'm sure this would have been among my favorite Dickens novels if it had been finished -- I felt like the story was just starting to get really good when it was sadly over. I'm not sure how the TV adaptations conclude the story but I've requested the 2012 miniseries from the library.

I was thinking about counting this as my Classic Crime novel for the Back to the Classics challenge -- my final category for the challenge. However, I'm a little torn because I don't know how the story is resolved or if there's a crime at all -- what if Edwin just took off or got hit on the head and is supposed to reappear at the end with amnesia? Or if it was just an accident? Bloggers, what do you think? 

7 comments:

  1. Well, I counted it as a vintage mystery for the challenge at My Reader's Block, so my opinion is already compromised, I guess. But I say go for it. And I say that as one of the party that thinks there isn't a murder.

    Fun review & congrats on finishing Dickens!

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    1. I would definitely count it as a mystery, but I feel like I'll be cheating a little if I count it as a crime since the story is only half-finished. It's so sad that he died before completing the story, I was really enjoying it. I don't think it has the complexity of Bleak House, but it was a good read.

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  2. I have been on the fence about reading this one for the reasons you stated. But I do consider myself a fan, so I guess I will have to read it!

    I say go ahead and count it for your classic crime category, however. Maybe there was no murder, but Edwin's disappearance could also have been due to kidnapping or failed robbery (and ensuing loss of memory)...some sort of crime.

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    1. Good point! There was also foreshadowing with specific mentions about a quick lime pit (great place to dispose of a body); a crypt, and the river where Edwin's watch and pin were found. Of course it could be a red herring -- there's an excellent twist in Bleak House about a murder and I wondered if Dickens was planning another. So sad that readers will never know!

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  3. I woukd say Edwin Drood is definitely a mystery but a crime classic more problematic since we can't be sure as you say that a crime was committed. I am curiious though about what happened to Edwin Drood. I suppose over the years there has been all kinds of speculation.

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    1. There's also a book called The D Case, in which Sherlock Holmes, Poirot and some other fictional detectives try to solve the case together. It's translated from Italian, and the book alternates chapters between the original book and the detectives. I found a copy at a library sale years ago and I think I should give it a try, it looks fun.

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  4. I'm sorry to hear it's only half finished. I was deluding myself with the idea that it was like Wives and Daughters, mostly finished and with notes about the ending. It does sound intriguing, and having recently read Our Mutual Friend, I suspect that Dickens would have had Edwin Drood surface alive later in the book. The lime pit sounds like a red herring to me.

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