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The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles…

The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870)

by Charles Dickens

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (40)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (42)
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But Mr. Grewgious seeing nothing there, not even a light in the windows, his gaze wandered from the windows to the stars, as if he would have read in them something that was hidden from him. Many of us would, if we could; but none of us so much as know our letters in the stars yet -- or seem likely to do it, in this state of existence -- and few languages can be read until their alphabets are mastered.

Not one of my favourites, this is perhaps an unfair claim to lodge against a half-finished work. Drood, Dickens 15th novel and the last of his 24 "major" works, was to be published in 12 monthly volumes, but he sadly passed away while putting the finishing touches on instalment 6.

What we are left with is an intriguing mystery in which the core questions seem to have obvious answers, but the purpose of it all remains undefined. Edwin Drood, a seemingly attractive and nice lad, if a bit cocksure, mutually breaks off his engagement with Rosa Bud, his lovely fiancee-since-childhood, receives an ominous warning from the mistress of a local opium den, and then goes walking with a new friend from Ceylon before disappearing into the mist, never to be seen again. Amidst the murky cast of characters who inhabit the world around the intimidating Rochester Cathedral are the two orphans from Ceylon, a quick-witted reverend, an alcoholic gravekeeper, a playwriting secretary and a mysterious new arrival to town (the latter two of whom may be one and the same).

Aesthetically, the novel is a surprise turn, coming after Dickens' dense, autumnal late works like Bleak House and (especially) Our Mutual Friend. Flowers bloom, music fills the air, and Dickens' authorial voice is less controlling, allowing the characters to speak quickly and to the point. The 1860s had been a decade of turmoil for Dickens on a personal level, and one feels like he was breaking away from the heaviness that characterised his most recent novels. There's more in common, perhaps, with his Uncommercial Traveller series written across the mid-to-late '60s, in which Dickens captures moments of life in London and the countryside. At the same time, this has a major drawback in that most of the characters, including Edwin himself, lack many defining traits. Indeed, Helena and Neville - the Ceylonese orphans - are so vague that we're still not sure whether they're merely "dark" from the sun, or are in some way natives!

Much of this is intentional, of course. The late arriving figures of Tartar and Datchery were intended to be filled out later, and no doubt the same is true of Helena and Neville. The novel plays more with Reverend Crisparkle, who seems to be the Inspector Bucket of this piece, and Rosa Bud, who emerges perhaps not fully formed but at least a woman with some great level of initiative, combining the best parts of both Lizzie and Bella from Our Mutual Friend. At the heart of the piece is Edwin's uncle, John Jasper, a man deep in unrequited love and addled by his addiction to opium. Much like Edwin, though, John's character journey comes to an unwitting end and, sadly, it feels like the next instalment would've been the beginning of Dickens piecing together all of the disparate threads.

Evidence from Dickens' family, friends and letters suggests that he wasn't that concerned about the two key mysteries - who is Datchery and what happened to Edwin - being all that ... mysterious. Indeed, he wrote to one friend a suggestion that the novel might become, in its final chapters, a meditation on the evil of the murderer, rather than a surprise revelation. This is actually very fitting, when you consider one of the most tortured characters from Our Mutual Friend, who spends the second half of the novel preparing for, then covering up, a vicious crime, in chapters that are the closest - give or take Lady Dedlock - to internal character study Dickens ever came.

On the subject of endings, I thoroughly recommend Gwyneth Jones' 2012 adaptation for the BBC, of which the final 40 minutes or so comprise entirely original material. While removing Tartar (who seems intended to become the male romantic lead in Dickens' original mind), Jones follows the commonly believed (obvious?) answers to Datchery and the killer, but then throws in numerous surprises, none of which seem at all unreasonable given what came before. In fact, I daresay a few of them sound downright likely.

So, is Drood worth reading despite being unfinished? I'd probably rank it below any other Dickens novel, primarily because of its half-completed status. At the same time, once you've read it, it's fascinating to gaze into the 150 years of Drood-specific arguments that have come from academics and writers of all kinds. There's some great beauty in this novel, particularly the Cathedral which looms large as a character and which almost certainly (as Gwyneth Jones knew) would have been the setting for the book's climax, whatever that may have been. As a work, the book lacks the sublime level of symbolism that characterised Little Dorrit's creaking buildings, Bleak House's combustible crooks, or Our Mutual Friend's piles of dust. It also lacks satisfying character arcs, since everyone except for Rosa seems to be half-hidden from us, by the very nature of the piece.

Still, for Dickens completists, and those who don't mind a read that ends mid-thrust, it's not half bad. ( )
  therebelprince | Oct 30, 2018 |
For the most part, I've liked the Dickens novels I've read; Bleak House is possibly the biggest exception, largely because that novel started to get bogged down about half-way through. This novel, albeit unfinished, doesn't really suffer from that problem. The pacing is good throughout, with perhaps the one exception of the sequence involving a dim London landlady that was nearly the last thing Dickens wrote. One can easily see why a few generations of readers have strained to come up with solutions for the mystery set by Dickens, since it is an intriguing one. (For my part, I believe that there has been no murder, and that Edwin Drood has vanished for his own reasons, to return later.) One of the joys of the book is the setting: Cloisterham (read: Rochester) is vividly evoked, to the point where it is easy to imagine the setting. The only character I wasn't keen on was Rosa Bud (ugh, name). Frankly, I think that Edwin Drood giving her up was a good job. A number of the other characters are a lot of fun, especially the nasty piece of work that is Honeythunder, and the gentle and good Crisparkle. Well worth a read. ( )
  EricCostello | Aug 8, 2018 |
Before reading any works by Charles Dickens, I really wanted to like everything he’d penned. I expected to like everything, in fact, because of his reputation.

Alas! “Edwin Drood” is yet another of this highly-acclaimed and super-successful author’s novels that failed to engage me.

Too many characters, too many adverbs, and too much rambling on with no purpose equals a slow and unengaging narrative.

I see most others reviewers have high praise for both book and author, but sadly I can’t concur. ( )
  PhilSyphe | May 1, 2018 |
Dickens' last novel, unfinished. A young man, Edwin Drood, is affianced to a young lady who his uncle is in love with. The uncle is a scoundrel, in secret. Edwin disappears and suspicion is thrown on a young man who is also in love with the fiance. Probably the uncle though. But we will never know. It just ends, very abruptly. Drat that Dickens' for dying! As bad that Jordan guy ;-) ( )
  BookstoogeLT | Dec 10, 2016 |
It is difficult to know how to approach a review of this last of Charles Dickens' novels, left unfinished at the time of his death in 1870---perhaps by noting that while all the familiar Dickens humours and grotesques - and prejudices - are firmly in place in this final work, it also shows fascinating signs of new experimentation with plot and form. Dickens signals his intentions from the very beginning of The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, which opens audaciously with a character suffering the aftermath of an opium fever-dream. The person in question is John Jasper, choir-master in a very ancient and very dull cathedral town, who intermittently resorts to this drastic method of escaping his stiflingly restricted life and his own demons. Though only a young man himself, Jasper is the guardian of his nephew, Edwin Drood, for whom he feels the deepest affection. Edwin's visits are Cloisterham are not to his uncle, however, but to see Rosa Bud, who attends a girls' school in the town. Edwin and Rosa were, in effect, "willed" to one another by their fathers, and are soon to marry. Rosa is as good as she is beautiful, and Drood has fine prospects as an engineer, with a lucrative post awaiting him in Egypt. In the world's opinion they are a singularly fortunate couple; no-one suspects that there is no real love between them, or that each contemplates their upcoming marriage with dismay. Meanwhile, Rosa has another secret from Edwin: she is deeply frightened of John Jasper, whose attentions to her beneath the cloak of music lessons fill her with dread and horror. The quiet life of Cloisterham is disrupted by the arrival of Neville and Helen Landless, a young brother and sister who have come from Ceylon; Helen attends the boarding-school, while Neville lodges with the Reverend Mr Crisparkle and his mother. Though Helen is much admired, Neville's quick temper and thin skin make him enemies---in particular, Edwin Drood. Neville is immediately smitten with Rosa, and resents Edwin's casual attitude towards her and their engagement; instant antagonism flares into anger and violence. With Christmas approaching, Mr Crisparkle and John Jasper try to make peace between the two. In pursuit of this, Edwin and Neville agree to dine together at Jasper's; afterwards, late at night, they walk out together---and Edwin Drood is never seen again... Though its overarching plot means that The Mystery Of Edwin Drood is indeed a 'mystery' in the modern sense - the reader isn't left in much doubt about the reason for Edwin's disappearance - it is evident that Dickens intended his novel to be something deeper: not merely a whodunit, but a psychological study of a murderer. Even in its incomplete form, the reader is aware of the complex, self-torturing consciousness behind much of this story's darkness---and it is indeed a very dark story, both overtly, with constant reminders of death and decay via scenes set in graveyards and allusions to the crypt beneath the cathedral, and covertly, with various characters subject to misunderstanding and false judgement, and suffering in isolation; while John Jasper's opium hallucinations add a literally nightmarish component to the unfolding mystery. Even the novel's conventional central couple are not quite what we might expect. Edwin Drood is - not to put too fine a point upon the matter - a complete prat, and it is refreshing to discover that we are not supposed to like and sympathise with him, but to see the destructive potential of his oblivious self-absorption. As for Rosa--- It is dismaying to note that, even at this stage of his career, Dickens was unable to relinquish the obsession with fragile, fluttery girl-women which makes him so exasperating to some of us: the narrative's insistence upon how "little" and "young" Rosa is grows ever more uncomfortable in conjunction with her position as the romantic obsession of no less than three men. (Rosa is also burdened with The World's Most Unfortunate Nickname, but we won't get into that...) On the other hand, Rosa is the possessor of a surprising and welcome amount of backbone, as displayed via the steps she takes to remove herself from a perceived danger (although not without much mental gasping at someone so "little" and "young" doing such an audacious thing). It is also she who puts an end to the engagement between herself and Edwin, going against strong social convention to prevent a marriage she is certain will make both of them unhappy. Conscious, however, how avidly the town of Cloisterham is watching the two of them, and that the accompanying vicarious thrill is a bright spot in many dull lives, Rosa and Edwin agree to keep their severance a secret until Rosa graduates from her school and is able to leave town---a decision that sets in motion a series of events that will culminate in an appalling tragedy...
1 vote lyzard | Aug 10, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (45 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dickens, Charlesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Browne, Hablot K.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cardwell, MargaretEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Collins, CharlesIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fildes, LukeIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lehmusoksa, RistoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paroissien, DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Piffard, HaroldIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, Sydney CastleIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thorn, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, AngusIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I am greatly indebted to Grace Hogarth whose idea this was and who gave constant encouragement; to Andre Deutsch for his patience; and most of all to Russell Hoban who, with his characteristic generosity provided me with a most shrewd and penetrating essay that was of the utmost value.
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An ancient English Cathedral Tower?
Original manuscript: An ancient English Cathedral Town?
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.
"Is there anything new down in the crypt, Durdles?" asks John Jasper.

"Anything old, I think you mean," growls Durdles. "It ain't a spot for novelty."
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PLEASE NOTE: The D. Case: The Truth About The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a separate book and should not be combined with The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

The D. Case is a completion of Dickens' incomplete novel, and was collaborated on by two other writers. This is not the same as Charles Dickens' book. Although Dickens' entire text is included, the additional material is more than Dickens' contribution. Please do not combine these two works.

Do not combine with any edition which has been "completed" by another author.
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Who killed Edwin Drood? Was it his opium-addict uncle, John Jasper, or the brooding Neville Landless? Was it an act of jealous passion or was it prompted by a darker, more onimous evil? Or was the vanished young man actually dead at all? When Charles Dickens died in 1870, The Mystery of Edwin Drood became doubly mysterious, and questions left unanswered in his tantalizing last manuscript have tortured readers ever since.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140439269, Paperback)

Edwin Drood is contracted to marry Orphan Rosa, but they break the engagement off-and soon afterwards Edwin disappears. Is it murder? And is his jealous uncle-a sinister choirmaster with a double life and designs on Rosa-the killer? Dickens died before completing the story, leaving the mystery unsolved and encouraging successive generations of readers to turn detective. In addition to its tantalizing crime, the novel also offers a characteristically Dickensian mix of the fantastical world of the imagination and a vibrantly journalistic depiction of gritty reality.

This edition features a new critical introduction that assesses the evidence to show whether the mystery can truly be solved, as well as a chronology, illustrations, appendixes (including one on opium use in the nineteenth century).

Edited with an introduction and notes by David Paroissien.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:34 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Dickens died before completing his last novel, leaving its mystery unsolved and encouraging successive generations of readers to try and work out what happened next. This book contains a chronology, notes and Dickens's plans for the story.

» see all 24 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140439269, 014119992X

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