The Puzzle of Dickens's Last Plot, by Andrew Lang

Theories of the Mystery

Forster’s Evidence

We have some external evidence as to Dickens’s solution of his own problem, from Forster. 1 On August 6, 1869, some weeks before he began to work at his tale, Dickens, in a letter, told Forster, “I have a very curious and new idea for my new story. Not communicable (or the interest of the book would be gone), but a very strong one, though difficult to work.” Forster must have instantly asked that the incommunicable secret should be communicated to HIM, for he tells us that “IMMEDIATELY AFTER I learnt”— the secret. But did he learn it? Dickens was ill, and his plot, whatever it may have been, would be irritatingly criticized by Forster before it was fully thought out. “Fules and bairns should not see half-done work,” and Dickens may well have felt that Forster should not see work not even begun, but merely simmering in the author’s own fancy.

Forster does not tell us that Dickens communicated the secret in a letter. He quotes none: he says “I was told,” orally, that is. When he writes, five years later (1874), “Landless was, I THINK, to have perished in assisting Tartar finally to unmask and seize the murderer,” he is clearly trusting, not to a letter of Dickens’s, but to a defective memory; and he knows it. He says that a nephew was to be murdered by an uncle. The criminal was to confess in the condemned cell. He was to find out that his crime had been needless, and to be convicted by means of the ring (Rosa’s mother’s ring) remaining in the quicklime that had destroyed the body of Edwin.

Nothing “new” in all this, as Forster must have seen. “The originality,” he explains, “was to consist in the review of the murderer’s career by himself at the close, when its temptations were to be dwelt upon as if, not he the culprit, but some other man, were the tempted.”

But all this is not “hard to work,” and is not “original.” As Mr. Proctor remarks, Dickens had used that trick twice already. (“Madman’s Manuscript,” Pickwick; “Clock Case Confession,” in Master Humphrey’s Clock.) The quicklime trick is also very old indeed. The disguise of a woman as a man is as ancient as the art of fiction: yet Helena MAY be Datchery, though nobody guessed it before Mr. Cuming Walters. She ought not to be Datchery; she is quite out of keeping in her speech and manner as Datchery, and is much more like Drood.

“A New Idea”

There are no new ideas in plots. “All the stories have been told,” and all the merit lies in the manner of the telling. Dickens had used the unsuspected watcher, as Mr. Proctor shows, in almost all his novels. In Martin Chuzzlewit, when Jonas finds that Nadgett has been the watcher, Dickens writes, “The dead man might have come out of his grave and not confounded and appalled him so.” Now, to Jasper, Edwin WAS “the dead man,” and Edwin’s grave contained quicklime. Jasper was sure that he had done for Edwin: he had taken Edwin’s watch, chain, and scarf-pin; he believed that he had left him, drugged, in quicklime, in a locked vault. Consequently the reappearance of Edwin, quite well, in the vault where Jasper had buried him, would be a very new idea to Jasper; would “confound and appall him.” Jasper would have emotions, at that spectacle, and so would the reader! It is not every day, even in our age of sixpenny novels, that a murderer is compelled to visit, alone, at night, the vault which holds his victim’s “cold remains,” and therein finds the victim “come up, smiling.”

Yes, for business purposes, this idea was new enough! The idea was “difficult to work,” says Dickens, with obvious truth. How was he to get the quicklime into the vault, and Drood, alive, out of the vault? As to the reader, he would at first take Datchery for Drood, and then think, “No, that is impossible, and also is stale. Datchery cannot be Drood,” and thus the reader would remain in a pleasant state of puzzledom, as he does, unto this day.

If Edwin is dead, there is not much “Mystery” about him. We have as good as seen Jasper strangle him and take his pin, chain, and watch. Yet by adroitly managing the conduct of Mr. Grewgious, Dickens persuaded Mr. Proctor that certainly, Grewgious knew Edwin to be alive. As Grewgious knew, from Helena, all that was necessary to provoke his experiment on Jasper’s nerves, Mr. Proctor argued on false premises, but that was due to the craft of Dickens. Mr. Proctor rejected Forster’s report, from memory, of what he understood to be the “incommunicable secret” of Dickens’s plot, and I think that he was justified in the rejection. Forster does not seem to have cared about the thing — he refers lightly to “the reader curious in such matters”— when once he had received his explanation from Dickens. His memory, in the space of five years, may have been inaccurate: he probably neither knew nor cared who Datchery was; and he may readily have misunderstood what Dickens told him, orally, about the ring, as the instrument of detection. Moreover, Forster quite overlooked one source of evidence, as I shall show later.

Mr. Proctor’s Theory

Mr. Proctor’s theory of the story is that Jasper, after Edwin’s return at midnight on Christmas Eve, recommended a warm drink — mulled wine, drugged — and then proposed another stroll of inspection of the effects of the storm. He then strangled him, somewhere, and placed him in the quicklime in the Sapsea vault, locked him in, and went to bed. Next, according to Mr. Proctor, Durdles, then, “lying drunk in the precincts,” for some reason taps with his hammer on the wall of the Sapsea vault, detects the presence of a foreign body, opens the tomb, and finds Drood in the quicklime, “his face fortunately protected by the strong silk shawl with which Jasper has intended to throttle him.”

A Mistaken Theory

This is “thin,” very “thin!” Dickens must have had some better scheme than Mr. Proctor’s. Why did Jasper not “mak sikker” like Kirkpatrick with the Red Comyn? Why did he leave his silk scarf? It might come to be asked for; to be sure the quicklime would destroy it, but why did Jasper leave it? Why did the intoxicated Durdles come out of the crypt, if he was there, enter the graveyard, and begin tapping at the wall of the vault? Why not open the door? he had the key.

Suppose, however, all this to have occurred, and suppose, with Mr. Proctor, that Durdles and Deputy carried Edwin to the Tramps’ lodgings, would Durdles fail to recognize Edwin? We are to guess that Grewgious was present, or disturbed at his inn, or somehow brought into touch with Edwin, and bribed Durdles to silence, “until a scheme for the punishment of Jasper had been devised.”

All this set of conjectures is crude to the last degree. We do not know how Dickens meant to get Edwin into and out of the vault. Granting that Edwin was drugged, Jasper might lead Edwin in, considering the licence extended to the effects of drugs in novels, and might strangle him there. Above all, how did Grewgious, if in Cloisterham, come to be at hand at midnight?

Another Way

If I must make a guess, I conjecture that Jasper had one of his “filmy” seizures, was “in a frightful sort of dream,” and bungled the murder: made an incomplete job of it. Half-strangled men and women have often recovered. In Jasper’s opium vision and reminiscence there was no resistance, all was very soon over. Jasper might even bungle the locking of the door of the vault. He was apt to have a seizure after opium, in moments of excitement, and HE HAD BEEN AT THE OPIUM DEN THROUGH THE NIGHT OF DECEMBER 23, for the hag tracked him from her house in town to Cloisterham on December 24, the day of the crime. Grant that his accustomed fit came upon him during the excitement of the murder, as it does come after “a nicht wi’ opium,” in chapter ii., when Edwin excites him by contemptuous talk of the girl whom Jasper loves so furiously — and then anything may happen!

Jasper murders Edwin inefficiently; he has a fit; while he is unconscious the quicklime revives Edwin, by burning his hand, say, and, during Jasper’s swoon, Edwin, like another famous prisoner, “has a happy thought, he opens the door, and walks out.”

Being drugged, he is in a dreamy state; knows not clearly what has occurred, or who attacked him. Jasper revives, “look on’t again he dare not,”— on the body of his victim — and HE walks out and goes home, where his red lamp has burned all the time —“thinking it all wery capital.”

“Another way,”— Jasper not only fails to strangle Drood, but fails to lock the door of the vault, and Drood walks out after Jasper has gone. Jasper has, before his fit, “removed from the body the most lasting, the best known, and most easily recognizable things upon it, the watch and scarf-pin.” So Dickens puts the popular view of the case against Neville Landless, and so we are to presume that Jasper acted. If he removed no more things from the body than these, he made a fatal oversight.

Meanwhile, how does Edwin, once out of the vault, make good a secret escape from Cloisterham? Mr. Proctor invokes the aid of Mr. Grewgious, but does not explain why Grewgious was on the spot. I venture to think it not inconceivable that Mr. Grewgious having come down to Cloisterham by a late train, on Christmas Eve, to keep his Christmas appointment with Rosa, paid a darkling visit to the tomb of his lost love, Rosa’s mother. Grewgious was very sentimental, but too secretive to pay such a visit by daylight. “A night of memories and sighs” he might “consecrate” to his lost lady love, as Landor did to Rose Aylmer. Grewgious was to have helped Bazzard to eat a turkey on Christmas Day. But he could get out of that engagement. He would wish to see Edwin and Rosa together, and Edwin was leaving Cloisterham. The date of Grewgious’s arrival at Cloisterham is studiously concealed. I offer at least a conceivable motive for Grewgious’s possible presence at the churchyard. Mrs. Bud, his lost love, we have been told, was buried hard by the Sapsea monument. If Grewgious visited her tomb, he was on the spot to help Edwin, supposing Edwin to escape. Unlikelier things occur in novels. I do not, in fact, call these probable occurrences in every-day life, but none of the story is probable. Jasper’s “weird seizures” are meant to lead up to SOMETHING. They may have been meant to lead up to the failure of the murder and the escape of Edwin. Of course Dickens would not have treated these incidents, when he came to make Edwin explain — nobody else could explain — in my studiously simple style. The drugged Edwin himself would remember the circumstances but mistily: his evidence would be of no value against Jasper.

Mr. Proctor next supposes, we saw, that Drood got into touch with Grewgious, and I have added the circumstances which might take Grewgious to the churchyard. Next, when Edwin recovered health, he came down, perhaps, as Datchery, to spy on Jasper. I have elsewhere said, as Mr. Cuming Walters quotes me, that “fancy can suggest no reason why Edwin Drood, if he escaped from his wicked uncle, should go spying about instead of coming openly forward. No plausible unfantastic reason could be invented.” Later, I shall explain why Edwin, if he is Datchery, might go spying alone.

It is also urged that Edwin left Rosa in sorrow, and left blame on Neville Landless. Why do this? Mr. Proctor replies that Grewgious’s intense and watchful interest in Neville, otherwise unexplained, is due to his knowledge that Drood is alive, and that Neville must be cared for, while Grewgious has told Rosa that Edwin lives. He also told her of Edwin’s real love of her, hence Miss Bud says, “Poor, poor Eddy,” quite a propos de bottes, when she finds herself many fathoms deep in love with Lieutenant Tartar, R.N. “‘Poor, poor Eddy!’ thought Rosa, as they walked along,” Tartar and she. This is a plausible suggestion of Mr. Proctor. Edwin, though known to Rosa to be alive, has no chance! But, as to my own remark, “why should not Edwin come forward at once, instead of spying about?” Well, if he did, there would be no story. As for “an unfantastic reason” for his conduct, Dickens is not writing an “unfantastic” novel. Moreover, if things occurred as I have suggested, I do not see what evidence Drood had against Jasper. Edwin’s clothes were covered with lime, but, when he told his story, Jasper would reply that Drood never returned to his house on Christmas Eve, but stayed out, “doing what was correct by the season, in the way of giving it the welcome it had the right to expect,” like Durdles on another occasion. Drood’s evidence, if it was what I have suggested, would sound like the dream of an intoxicated man, and what other evidence could be adduced? Thus I had worked out Drood’s condition, if he really was not killed, in this way: I had supposed him to escape, in a very mixed frame of mind, when he would be encountered by Grewgious, who, of course, could make little out of him in his befogged state. Drood could not even prove that it was not Landless who attacked him. The result would be that Drood would lie low, and later, would have reason enough for disguising himself as Datchery, and playing the spy in Cloisterham.

At this point I was reinforced by an opinion which Mr. William Archer had expressed, unknown to me, in a newspaper article. I had described Edwin’s confused knowledge of his own experience, if he were thoroughly drugged, and then half strangled. Mr. Archer also took that point, and added that Edwin being a good-hearted fellow, and fond of his uncle Jasper, he would not bring, or let Grewgious bring, a terrible charge against Jasper, till he knew more certainly the whole state of the case. For that reason, he would come disguised to Cloisterham and make inquiries. By letting Jasper know about the ring, he would compel him to enter the vault, and then, Mr. Archer thinks, would induce him to “repent and begin life afresh.”

I scarcely think that Datchery’s purpose was so truly honourable: he rather seems to be getting up a case against Jasper. Still, the idea of Mr. Archer is very plausible, and, at least, given Drood’s need of evidence, and the lack of evidence against Jasper, we see reason good, in a novel of this kind, for his playing the part of amateur detective.

Dickens’s unused draft of a Chapter

Forster found, and published, a very illegible sketch of a chapter of the tale: “How Mr. Sapsea ceased to be a Member of the Eight Club, Told by Himself.” This was “a cramped, interlined, and blotted” draft, on paper of only half the size commonly used by Dickens. Mr. Sapsea tells how his Club mocked him about a stranger, who had mistaken him for the Dean. The jackass, Sapsea, left the Club, and met the stranger, A YOUNG MAN, who fooled him to the top of his bent, saying, “If I was to deny that I came to this town to see and hear you, Sir, what would it avail me?” Apparently this paper was a rough draft of an idea for introducing a detective, as a YOUNG man, who mocks Sapsea just as Datchery does in the novel. But to make the spy A YOUNG man, whether the spy was Drood or Helena Landless, was too difficult; and therefore Dickens makes Datchery “an elderly buffer” in a white wig. If I am right, it was easier for Helena, a girl, to pose as a young man, than for Drood to reappear as a young man, not himself. Helena MAY be Datchery, and yet Drood may be alive and biding his time; but I have disproved my old objection that there was no reason why Drood, if alive, should go spying about in disguise. There were good Dickensian reasons.

A Question of Taste

Mr. Cuming Walters argues that the story is very tame if Edwin is still alive, and left out of the marriages at the close. Besides, “Drood is little more than a name-label, attached to a body, a man who never excites sympathy, whose fate causes no emotion, he is saved for no useful or sentimental purpose, and lags superfluous on the stage. All of which is bad art, so bad that Dickens would never have been guilty of it.”

That is a question of taste. On rereading the novel, I see that Dickens makes Drood as sympathetic as he can. He is very young, and speaks of Rosa with bad taste, but he is really in love with her, much more so than she with him, and he is piqued by her ceaseless mockery, and by their false position. To Jasper he is singularly tender, and remorseful when he thinks that he has shown want of tact. There is nothing ominous about his gaiety: as to his one fault, we leave him, on Christmas Eve, a converted character: he has a kind word and look for every one whom he meets, young and old. He accepts Mr. Grewgious’s very stern lecture in the best manner possible. In short, he is marked as faulty — “I am young,” so he excuses himself, in the very words of Darnley to Queen Mary! (if the Glasgow letter be genuine); but he is also marked as sympathetic.

He was, I think, to have a lesson, and to become a good fellow. Mr. Proctor rightly argues (and Forster “thinks”), that Dickens meant to kill Neville Landless: Mr. Cuming Walters agrees with him, but Mr. Proctor truly adds that Edwin has none of the signs of Dickens’s doomed men, his Sidney Cartons, and the rest. You can tell, as it were by the sound of the voice of Dickens, says Mr. Proctor, that Edwin is to live. The impression is merely subjective, but I feel the impression. The doom of Landless is conspicuously fixed, and why is Landless to be killed by Jasper? Merely to have a count on which to hang Jasper! He cannot be hanged for killing Drood, if Drood is alive.

Mr. Proctor’s Theory continued

Mr. Proctor next supposes that Datchery and others, by aid of the opium hag, have found out a great deal of evidence against Jasper. They have discovered from the old woman that his crime was long premeditated: he had threatened “Ned” in his opiated dreams: and had clearly removed Edwin’s trinkets and watch, because they would not be destroyed, with his body, by the quicklime. This is all very well, but there is still, so far, no legal evidence, on my theory, that Jasper attempted to take Edwin’s life. Jasper’s enemies, therefore, can only do their best to make his life a burden to him, and to give him a good fright, probably with the hope of terrifying him into avowals.

Now the famous ring begins “to drag and hold” the murderer. He is given to know, I presume, that, when Edwin disappeared, he had a gold ring in the pocket of his coat. Jasper is thus compelled to revisit the vault, at night, and there, in the light of his lantern, he sees the long-lost Edwin, with his hand in the breast of his great coat.

Horrified by this unexpected appearance, Jasper turns to fly. But he is confronted by Neville Landless, Crisparkle, Tartar, and perhaps by Mr. Grewgious, who are all on the watch. He rushes up through the only outlet, the winding staircase of the Cathedral tower, of which we know that he has had the key. Neville, who leads his pursuers, “receives his death wound” (and, I think, is pitched off the top of the roof). Then Jasper is collared by that agile climber, Tartar, and by Crisparkle, always in the pink of condition. There is now something to hang Jasper for — the slaying of Landless (though, as far as I can see, THAT was done in self-defence). Jasper confesses all; Tartar marries Rosa; Helena marries Crisparkle. Edwin is only twenty-one, and may easily find a consoler of the fair sex: indeed he is “ower young to marry yet.”

The capture of Jasper was fixed, of course, for Christmas Eve. The phantom cry foreheard by Durdles, two years before, was that of Neville as he fell; and the dog that howled was Neville’s dog, a character not yet introduced into the romance.

Mr. Cuming Walters’s Theory

Such is Mr. Proctor’s theory of the story, in which I mainly agree. Mr. Proctor relies on a piece of evidence overlooked by Forster, and certainly misinterpreted, as I think I can prove to a certainty, by Mr. Cuming Walters, whose theory of the real conduct of the plot runs thus: After watching the storm at midnight with Edwin, Neville left him, and went home: “his way lay in an opposite direction. Near to the Cathedral Jasper intercepted his nephew. . . . Edwin may have been already drugged.” How the murder was worked Mr. Cuming Walters does not say, but he introduces at this point, the two sounds foreheard by Durdles, without explaining “the howl of a dog.” Durdles would hear the cries, and Deputy “had seen what he could not understand,” whatever it was that he saw. Jasper, not aware of Drood’s possession of the ring, takes only his watch, chain, and pin, which he places on the timbers of the weir, and in the river, to be picked up by that persistent winter-bather, Crisparkle of the telescopic and microscopic eyesight.

As to the ring, Mr. Cuming Walters erroneously declares that Mr. Proctor “ignores” the power of the ring “to hold and drag,” and says that potent passage is “without meaning and must be disregarded.” Proctor, in fact, gives more than three pages to the meaning of the ring, which “drags” Jasper into the vault, when he hears of its existence. 1 Next, Mr. Cuming Walters supposes Datchery to learn from Durdles, whom he is to visit, about the second hearing of the cry and the dog’s howl. Deputy may have seen Jasper “carrying his burden” (Edwin) “towards the Sapsea vault.” In fact, Jasper probably saved trouble by making the drugged Edwin walk into that receptacle. “Datchery would not think of the Sapsea vault unaided.” No — unless Datchery was Drood! “Now Durdles is useful again. Tapping with his hammer he would find a change . . . inquiry must be made.” Why should Durdles tap the Sapsea monument? As Durdles had the key, he would simply walk into the vault, and find the quicklime. Now, Jasper also, we presume, had a key, made from a wax impression of the original. If he had any sense, he would have removed the quicklime as easily as he inserted it, for Mr. Sapsea was mortal: he might die any day, and be buried, and then the quicklime, lying where it ought not, would give rise to awkward inquiries.

Inquiry being made, in consequence of Durdles’s tappings, the ring would be found, as Mr. Cuming Walters says. But even then, unless Deputy actually saw Jasper carry a man into the vault, nobody could prove Jasper’s connection with the presence of the ring in the vault. Moreover, Deputy hated Jasper, and if he saw Jasper carrying the body of a man, on the night when a man disappeared, he was clever enough to lead Durdles to examine the vault, AT ONCE. Deputy had a great dislike of the Law and its officers, but here was a chance for him to distinguish himself, and conciliate them.

However these things may be, Mr. Cuming Walters supposes that Jasper, finding himself watched, reenters the vault, perhaps, “to see that every trace of the crime had been removed.” In the vault he finds — Datchery, that is, Helena Landless! Jasper certainly visited the vault and found somebody.

Evidence of Collins’s drawings

We now come to the evidence which Forster strangely overlooked, which Mr. Proctor and Mr. Archer correctly deciphered, and which Mr. Cuming Walters misinterprets. On December 22, 1869, Dickens wrote to Forster that two numbers of his romance were “now in type. Charles Collins has designed an excellent cover.” Mr. C. A. Collins had married a daughter of Dickens. 1 He was an artist, a great friend of Dickens, and author of that charming book, “A Cruise on Wheels.” His design of the paper cover of the story (it appeared in monthly numbers) contained, as usual, sketches which give an inkling of the events in the tale. Mr. Collins was to have illustrated the book; but, finally, Mr. (now Sir) Luke Fildes undertook the task. Mr. Collins died in 1873. It appears that Forster never asked him the meaning of his designs — a singular oversight.

The cover lies before the reader. In the left-hand top corner appears an allegorical female figure of joy, with flowers. The central top space contains the front of Cloisterham Cathedral, or rather, the nave. To the left walks Edwin, with hyacinthine locks, and a thoroughly classical type of face, and Grecian nose. LIKE DATCHERY, HE DOES NOT WEAR, BUT CARRIES HIS HAT; this means nothing, if they are in the nave. He seems bored. On his arm is Rosa; SHE seems bored; she trails her parasol, and looks away from Edwin, looks down, to her right. On the spectator’s right march the surpliced men and boys of the Choir. Behind them is Jasper, black whiskers and all; he stares after Edwin and Rosa; his right hand hides his mouth. In the corner above him is an allegorical female, clasping a stiletto.

Beneath Edwin and Rosa is, first, an allegorical female figure, looking at a placard, headed “LOST,” on a door. Under that, again, is a girl in a garden-chair; a young man, whiskerless, with wavy hair, kneels and kisses her hand. She looks rather unimpassioned. I conceive the man to be Landless, taking leave of Rosa after urging his hopeless suit, for which Helena, we learn, “seems to compassionate him.” He has avowed his passion, early in the story, to Crisparkle. Below, the opium hag is smoking. On the other side, under the figures of Jasper and the Choir, the young man who kneels to the girl is seen bounding up a spiral staircase. His left hand is on the iron railing; he stoops over it, looking down at others who follow him. His right hand, the index finger protruded, points upward, and, by chance or design, points straight at Jasper in the vignette above. Beneath this man (clearly Landless) follows a tall man in a “bowler” hat, a “cut-away” coat, and trousers which show an inch of white stocking above the low shoes. His profile is hid by the wall of the spiral staircase: he might be Grewgious of the shoes, white stockings, and short trousers, but he may be Tartar: he takes two steps at a stride. Beneath him a youngish man, in a low, soft, clerical hat and a black pea-coat, ascends, looking downwards and backwards. This is clearly Crisparkle. A Chinaman is smoking opium beneath.

In the central lowest space, a dark and whiskered man enters a dark chamber; his left hand is on the lock of the door; in his right he holds up a lantern. The light of the lantern reveals a young man in a soft hat of Tyrolese shape. His features are purely classical, his nose is Grecian, his locks are long (at least, according to the taste of today); he wears a light paletot, buttoned to the throat; his right arm hangs by his side; his left hand is thrust into the breast of his coat. He calmly regards the dark man with the lantern. That man, of course, is Jasper. The young man is EDWIN DROOD, of the Grecian nose, hyacinthine locks, and classic features, as in Sir L. Fildes’s third illustration.

Mr. Proctor correctly understood the unmistakable meaning of this last design, Jasper entering the vault —

“To-day the dead are living, The lost is found today.”

Mr. Cuming Walters tells us that he did not examine these designs by Mr. Collins till he had formed his theory, and finished his book. “On the conclusion of the whole work the pictures were referred to for the first time, and were then found to support in the most striking manner the opinions arrived at,” namely, that Drood was killed, and that Helena is Datchery. Thus does theory blind us to facts!

Mr. Cuming Walters connects the figure of the whiskerless young man kneeling to a girl in a garden seat, with the whiskered Jasper’s proposal to Rosa in a garden seat. But Jasper does not kneel to Rosa; he stands apart, leaning on a sundial; he only once vaguely “touches” her, which she resents; he does not kneel; he does not kiss her hand (Rosa “took the kiss sedately,” like Maud in the poem); and — Jasper had lustrous thick black whiskers.

Again, the same whiskerless young man, bounding up the spiral staircase in daylight, and wildly pointing upwards, is taken by Mr. Cuming Walters to represent Jasper climbing the staircase to reconnoitre, at night, with a lantern, and, of course, with black whiskers. The two well-dressed men on the stairs (Grewgious, or Tartar, and Crisparkle) also, according to Mr. Cuming Walters, “relate to Jasper’s unaccountable expedition with Durdles to the Cathedral.” Neither of them is Jasper; neither of them is Durdles, “in a suit of coarse flannel”— a disreputable jacket, as Sir L. Fildes depicts him —“with horn buttons,” and a battered old tall hat. These interpretations are quite demonstrably erroneous and even impossible. Mr. Archer interprets the designs exactly as I do.

As to the young man in the light of Jasper’s lamp, Mr. Cuming Walters says, “the large hat and the tightly-buttoned surtout must be observed; they are the articles of clothing on which most stress is laid in the description of Datchery. But the face is young.” The face of Datchery was elderly, and he had a huge shock of white hair, a wig. Datchery wore “a tightish blue surtout, with a buff waistcoat and grey trousers; he had something of a military air.” The young man in the vault has anything but a military air; he shows no waistcoat, and he does not wear “a tightish blue surtout,” or any surtout at all.

The surtout of the period is shown, worn by Jasper, in Sir L. Fildes’s sixth and ninth illustrations. It is a frock-coat; the collar descends far below the top of the waistcoat (buff or otherwise), displaying that garment; the coat is tightly buttoned beneath, revealing the figure; the tails of the coat do not reach the knees of the wearer. The young man in the vault, on the other hand, wears a loose paletot, buttoned to the throat (vaults are chilly places), and the coat falls so as to cover the knees; at least, partially. The young man is not, like Helena, “very dark, and fierce of look, . . . of almost the gipsy type.” He is blonde, sedate, and of the classic type, as Drood was. He is no more like Helena than Crisparkle is like Durdles. Mr. Cuming Walters says that Mr. Proctor was “unable to allude to the prophetic picture by Collins.” As a fact, this picture is fully described by Mr. Proctor, but Mr. Walters used the wrong edition of his book, unwittingly.

Mr. Proctor writes:— “Creeping down the crypt steps, oppressed by growing horror and by terror of coming judgment, sickening under fears engendered by the darkness of night and the charnel-house air he breathed, Jasper opens the door of the tomb and holds up his lantern, shuddering at the thought of what it may reveal to him.

“And what sees he? Is it the spirit of his victim that stands there, ‘in his habit as he lived,’ his hand clasped on his breast, where the ring had been when he was murdered? What else can Jasper deem it? There, clearly visible in the gloom at the back of the tomb, stands Edwin Drood, with stern look fixed on him — pale, silent, relentless!”

Again, “On the title-page are given two of the small pictures from the Love side of the cover, two from the Murder side, and the central picture below, which presents the central horror of the story — the end and aim of the ‘Datchery assumption’ and of Mr. Grewgious’s plans — showing Jasper driven to seek for the proofs of his crime amid the dust to which, as he thought, the flesh and bones, and the very clothes of his victim, had been reduced.”

There are only two possible choices; either Collins, under Dickens’s oral instructions, depicted Jasper finding Drood alive in the vault, an incident which was to occur in the story; or Dickens bade Collins do this for the purpose of misleading his readers in an illegitimate manner; while the young man in the vault was really to be some person “made up” to look like Drood, and so to frighten Jasper with a pseudo-ghost of that hero. The latter device, the misleading picture, would be childish, and the pseudo-ghost, exactly like Drood, could not be acted by the gipsy-like, fierce Helena, or by any other person in the romance.

Mr. Walters’s Theory continued

Mr. Cuming Walters guesses that Jasper was to aim a deadly blow (with his left hand, to judge from the picture) at Helena, and that Neville “was to give his life for hers.” But, manifestly, Neville was to lead the hunt of Jasper up the spiral stair, as in Collins’s design, and was to be dashed from the roof: his body beneath was to be “THAT, I never saw before. THAT must be real. Look what a poor mean miserable thing it is!” as Jasper says in his vision.

Mr. Cuming Walters, pursuing his idea of Helena as both Datchery and also as the owner of “the YOUNG face” of the youth in the vault (and also of the young hands, a young girl’s hands could never pass for those of “an elderly buffer”), exclaims: “Imagine the intense power of the dramatic climax, when Datchery, the elderly man, is retransformed into Helena Landless, the young and handsome woman; and when she reveals the seemingly impenetrable secret which had been closed up in one guilty man’s mind.”

The situations are startling, I admit, but how would Canon Crisparkle like them? He is, we know, to marry Helena, “the young person, my dear,” Miss Twinkleton would say, “who for months lived alone, at inns, wearing a blue surtout, a buff waistcoat, and grey —” Here horror chokes the utterance of Miss Twinkleton. “Then she was in the vault in ANOTHER disguise, not more womanly, at that awful scene when poor Mr. Jasper was driven mad, so that he confessed all sorts of nonsense, for, my dear, all the Close believes that it WAS nonsense, and that Mr. Jasper was reduced to insanity by persecution. And Mr. Crisparkle, with that elegant dainty mother of his — it has broken her heart — is marrying this half-caste gipsy TROLLOP, with her blue surtout and grey — oh, it is a disgrace to Cloisterham!”

The climax, in fact, as devised by Mr. Cuming Walters, is rather too dramatic for the comfort of a minor canon. A humorist like Dickens ought to have seen the absurdity of the situation. Mr. Walters MAY be right, Helena may be Datchery, but she ought not to be.

Who was the Princess Puffer?

Who was the opium hag, the Princess Puffer? Mr. Cuming Walters writes: “We make a guess, for Dickens gives us no solid facts. But when we remember that not a word is said throughout the volume of Jasper’s antecedents, who he was, and where he came from; when we remember that but for his nephew he was a lonely man; when we see that he was both criminal and artist; when we observe his own wheedling propensity, his false and fulsome protestations of affection, his slyness, his subtlety, his heartlessness, his tenacity; and when, above all, we know that the opium vice is HEREDITARY, and that a YOUNG man would not be addicted to it unless born with the craving; 1 then, it is not too wild a conjecture that Jasper was the wayward progeny of this same opium-eating woman, all of whose characteristics he possessed, and, perchance, of a man of criminal instincts, but of a superior position. Jasper is a morbid and diseased being while still in the twenties, a mixture of genius and vice. He hates and he loves fiercely, as if there were wild gipsy blood in his veins. Though seemingly a model of decorum and devoted to his art, he complains of his “daily drudging round” and “the cramped monotony of his existence.” He commits his crime with the ruthlessness of a beast, his own nature being wholly untamed. If we deduce that his father was an adventurer and a vagabond, we shall not be far wrong. If we deduce that his mother was the opium-eater, prematurely aged, who had transmitted her vicious propensity to her child, we shall almost certainly be right.”

Who was Jasper?

Who was Jasper? He was the brother-in-law of the late Mr. Drood, a respected engineer, and University man. We do not know whence came Mrs. Drood, Jasper’s sister, but is it likely that her mother “drank heaven’s-hard”— so the hag says of herself — then took to keeping an opium den, and there entertained her son Jasper, already an accomplished vocalist, but in a lower station than that to which his musical genius later raised him, as lay Precentor? If the Princess Puffer be, as on Mr. Cuming Walters’s theory she is, Edwin’s long-lost grandmother, her discovery would be unwelcome to Edwin. Probably she did not live much longer; “my lungs are like cabbage nets,” she says. Mr. Cuming Walters goes on —

“Her purpose is left obscure. How easily, however, we see possibilities in a direction such as this. The father, perhaps a proud, handsome man, deserts the woman, and removes the child. The woman hates both for scorning her, but the father dies, or disappears, and is beyond her vengeance. Then the child, victim to the ills in his blood, creeps back to the opium den, not knowing his mother, but immediately recognized by her. She will make the child suffer for the sins of the father, who had destroyed her happiness. Such a theme was one which appealed to Dickens. It must not, however, be urged; and the crucial question after all is concerned with the opium woman as one of the unconscious instruments of justice, aiding with her trifle of circumstantial evidence the Nemesis awaiting Jasper.

“Another hypothesis — following on the Carker theme in ‘Dombey and Son’— is that Jasper, a dissolute and degenerate man, lascivious, and heartless, may have wronged a child of the woman’s; but it is not likely that Dickens would repeat the Mrs. Brown story.”

Jasper, pere, father of John Jasper and of Mrs. Drood, however handsome, ought not to have deserted Mrs. Jasper. Whether John Jasper, prematurely devoted to opium, became Edwin’s guardian at about the age of fifteen, or whether, on attaining his majority, he succeeded to some other guardian, is not very obvious. In short, we cannot guess why the Princess Puffer hated Jasper, a paying client of long standing. We are only certain that Jasper was a bad fellow, and that the Princess Puffer said, “I know him, better than all the Reverend Parsons put together know him.” On the other hand, Edwin “seems to know” the opium woman, when he meets her on Christmas Eve, which may be a point in favour of her being his long-lost grandmother.

Jasper was certainly tried and condemned; for Dickens intended “to take Mr. Fildes to a condemned cell in Maidstone, or some other gaol, in order to make a drawing.” 1 Possibly Jasper managed to take his own life, in the cell; possibly he was duly hanged.

Jasper, after all, was a failure as a murderer, even if we suppose him to have strangled his nephew successfully. “It is obvious to the most excruciatingly feeble capacity” that, if he meant to get rid of proofs of the identity of Drood’s body by means of quicklime, it did not suffice to remove Drood’s pin, watch, and chain. Drood would have coins of the realm in his pockets, gold, silver, bronze. Quicklime would not destroy these metallic objects, nor would it destroy keys, which would easily prove Drood’s identity. If Jasper knew his business, he would, of course, rifle ALL of Edwin’s pockets minutely, and would remove the metallic buttons of his braces, which generally display the maker’s name, or the tailor’s. On research I find “H. Poole & Co., Savile Row” on my buttons. In this inquiry of his, Jasper would have discovered the ring in Edwin’s breast pocket, and would have taken it away. Perhaps Dickens never thought of that little fact: if he did think of it, no doubt he found some mode of accounting for Jasper’s unworkmanlike negligence. The trouser-buttons would have led any inquirer straight to Edwin’s tailor; I incline to suspect that neither Dickens nor Jasper noticed that circumstance. The conscientious artist in crime cannot afford to neglect the humblest and most obvious details.

1 Life of Dickens, vol. iii. pp. 425–439.

2 J. Cuming Walters, p. 102; Proctor, pp. 131–135. Mr. Cuming Walters used an edition of 1896, apparently a reprint of a paper by Proctor, written earlier than his final book of 1887. Hence the error as to Mr. Proctor’s last theory.

3 Mrs. Perugini, the books say, but certainly a daughter.

4 What would Weissmann say to all this?

5 So Mr. Cuming Walters quotes Mr. Hughes, who quotes Sir L. Fildes. HE believes that Jasper strangled Edwin with the black-silk scarf, and, no doubt, Jasper was for long of that opinion himself.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lang/andrew/puzzle-of-dickenss-last-plot/chapter2.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:03