The Mystery of Edwin Drood - Published in monthly parts
Apr 1870 - Sep 1870
Read it online | Shop for the Book | Illustrations | Locations
Dickens' fifteenth novel, illustrated by Luke Fildes, was his last and was never completed. The story is a murder mystery in which Edwin Drood is supposedly murdered and suspicion is cast on his uncle. Dickens left exactly half of the monthly installments unfinished when, after a day of working on the completion of chapter 22, he suffered a stroke on June 8, 1870 and died the next day. Although early in planning the novel Dickens told his friend John Forster that he had an idea for a novel in which a nephew would be murdered by his uncle, Dickens guarded the mystery very closely while writing the story. Much conjecture about the actual outcome of the novel has taken place and The Mystery of Edwin Drood remains a mystery to this day.
Plot (contains spoilers)
The story is set in the Cathedral town of Cloisterham. Edwin Drood and Rosa Bud, both orphaned, had been promised to each other in marriage by their parents. Their attachment, made in early childhood, has cooled as they are reaching adulthood.
Edwin's uncle and guardian, John Jasper, choirmaster and opium addict, is Rosa's music teacher and is secretly in love with her.
Helena and Neville Landless, orphans from Ceylon, are brought to Cloisterham by their guardian, the pompous Luke Honeythunder, Neville to be tutored by the Cathedral's Minor Canon, Septimus Crisparkle, and Helena is housed at the Nun's House where Rosa lives, run by Miss Twinkleton.
Neville is attracted to Rosa and quarrels with Edwin over his indifferent treatment of his future wife. The quarrel later turns violent at Jasper's residence, fueled in part by strong drink supplied by Jasper. A reconciliation is sought by Reverend Crisparkle and the two agree to meet at Jasper's on Christmas Eve.
Drood meets with Rosa's guardian, Hiram Grewgious, at his chambers at Staple Inn in London. Grewgious gives Drood a ring, taken from the finger of Rosa's dead mother, with instructions to give the ring to Rosa on the date of their betrothal, and cautions him that if he has doubts of his love for Rosa that he will return the ring to Grewgious.
Drood journeys to Cloisterham from London for Christmas and meets with Rosa. They mutually agree to end their relationship as lovers and cancel their marriage plans. They also agree not to tell Jasper of their decision as Drood feels the cancellation of their impending marriage will be a shock to his uncle. They agree that Grewgious will inform Jasper of their decision.
Jasper goes with Durdles, the sexton, on a mysterious tour of the Cathedral. Durdles has the ability to tap on the tombs and determine the contents and Jasper, plying Durdles with liquor as they go, is interested in this ability.
On Christmas Eve Neville plans for a two week walking tour during the holidays. That evening Neville and Edwin meet at Jasper's for the reconciliation as a terrible storm hits the area. The two leave together to walk down to the river to observe the effect of the storm.
Next morning, Christmas Day, as the townspeople observe the damage done by the storm, Jasper informs them that Edward Drood is missing. Suspicion is cast upon Neville and he, having left early in the morning on his walking tour, is brought back to town by a group of townspeople.
Neville angrily declares his innocence and, lacking hard evidence, is released by Mayor Sapsea to Reverend Crisparkle. Foul play in Drood's disappearance is confirmed when Crisparkle finds Drood's watch and shirt-pin in the river. Grewgious informs Jasper of Edwin and Rosa's decision to break off their engagement and Jasper is deeply upset. Jasper vows to find the killer of his nephew.
Six months pass and Neville, shunned by the town, has been spirited away to London by Crisparkle in chambers near Grewgious in Staple Inn. He befriends a neighbor, Mr. Tarter, a former member of the Royal Navy and old friend of Crisparkle. Grewgious spots Jasper lurking nearby apparently watching Neville.
Back in Cloisterham, Jasper meets Rosa, declares his love for her, and swears revenge against Neville for the death of Edwin. Rosa, terrified of Jasper, flees to London and confides her fears to Grewgious. Grewgious finds her lodging with Mrs. Billickin. Miss Twinkleton comes to London as Rosa's chaperone and Helena comes to live with Neville.
A mysterious visitor appears in Cloisterham, Dick Datchery, a man of indeterminate age with an unusually thick shock of white hair and a military bearing. He seems to take covert interest in John Jasper and takes lodging near Jasper's. He hires the boy, Deputy, to watch Jasper and keeps a log of his findings in chalk on his cupboard.
Jasper, meanwhile, has visited Puffer, the opium woman in London and in an opium trance he relates information of a strange, metaphorical journey that he has taken many times. Puffer listens attentively to these revelations and, hearing that Jasper will go back to Cloisterham that evening, goes there before him where she meets Datchery and finds out that Jasper sings in the Cathedral. Next morning Datchery observes her there watching Jasper.
...at this point the novel suddenly stops.
| Principal Characters:
Character descriptions contain spoilers
| The Mystery of Edwin Drood Links:|
The Dickens Page
The Mystery of Edwin Drood - Gaslight
Datchery, The Enigma
The Mystery of Edwin Drood - Frederic G. Kitton
Luke Fildes - Illustrator for Edwin Drood
Bazzard is Datchery - The Dickensian 1908
Edwin Drood - The Last Page
Possible solutions to The Mystery of Edwin Drood began to appear almost as soon as Dickens death was announced. Although Dickens' friend, John Forster, reported that Dickens had told him when planning the book that he had an idea for a new book where a nephew would be murdered by his uncle, many of the initial solutionist theories centered on Drood being alive and in hiding.
Attention was focused on the book's cover design, initially worked up by Dickens' son-in-law Charles Collins and redesigned by artist Luke Fildes, for clues as to the end of the mystery. Dickens had worked closely with his artists on the covers for the monthly parts of his works, foreshadowing events that would take place in the novels without really giving anything away. Nothing conclusive could be discerned from the Drood cover although later Fildes reported that Dickens had told him that Drood's uncle would strangle his nephew with his scarf.
Possible solutions to the book continue to this day in books such as Felix Aylmer's The Drood case (1965) and John Thacker's Edwin Drood: Antichrist in the Cathedral (Critical Studies Series) (1990). Modern solutionist lean toward the guilt of Jasper who is experiencing some sort of split personality disorder.
A drowsy city, Cloisterham, whose inhabitants seem to suppose, with an inconsistency more strange than rare, that all its changes lie behind it, and that there are no more to come. A queer moral to derive from antiquity, yet older than any traceable antiquity. So silent are the streets of Cloisterham (though prone to echo on the smallest provocation), that of a summer-day the sunblinds of its shops scarce dare to flap in the south wind; while the sun-browned tramps, who pass along and stare, quicken their limp a little, that they may the sooner get beyond the confines of its oppressive respectability. This is a feat not difficult of achievement, seeing that the streets of Cloisterham city are little more than one narrow street by which you get into it and get out of it: the rest being mostly disappointing yards with pumps in them and no thoroughfare - exception made of the Cathedral-close, and a paved Quaker settlement, in colour and general confirmation very like a Quakeress's bonnet, up in a shady corner.
Chuzzlewit | Christmas Carol | Christmas Books | Dombey and Son | Copperfield | Bleak House
Hard Times | Little Dorrit | Tale of Two Cities | Great Expectations | Our Mutual Friend
Edwin Drood | Minor Works | The Uncommercial Traveller