Thursday, August 20, 2015

"The Only One of Dickens's Novels Which He Did Not Finish Was the Only One That Really Needed Finishing"

"John Jasper - Strangler."
By Howard Duffield (?-?).
In The Bookman, February 1930.
Article (8 pages).
Online HERE and HERE.
In what we hope will be our last engagement with Charles Dickens's enigmatic classic The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), we offer this clever excursion into literary speculation. A few excerpts:
[Edmund Pearson's introductory note] The foremost problem in detective fiction—that is what Dickens bequeathed to his readers in the unfinished "Mystery of Edwin Drood". Mr. Chesterton says: "The only one of Dickens's novels which he did not finish was the only one that really needed finishing. He never had but one thoroughly good plot to tell; and that he has only told in heaven".
The puzzle of "Edwin Drood" will never be solved. It is, therefore, perfectly futile to some folk; perfectly fascinating to others. From the year of Dickens's death to the present, continuations and solutions have occupied second-rate novelists and first-rate critics. Plays, and even a film-play, have been founded on the plot. Andrew Lang in England and Harry B. Smith in America each wrote an essay based on the idea of putting Sherlock Holmes on the case. Two great mock-trials have been held in which Jasper was tried for murder. One, in London, was in the hands of authors: Gilbert K. Chesterton was the judge and Bernard Shaw the foreman of the jury. The other, in Philadelphia, was conducted by lawyers, business men and scholars. The chief controversies have raged around two points: did Jasper succeed in committing the murder, or was Drood—as one of the tentative titles for the book suggests—in hiding, after an attempt on his life? The other question is: who was the detective, Datchery?
In this article. Dr. Duffield passes by these problems and studies the antecedents of Jasper, Precentor of the Cathedral, and strangest of villains. Mr. Cuming Walters (himself the inventor of an odd theory about Datchery) has compiled "The Complete Edwin Drood", which is a veritable encyclopedia of the whole controversy. If you look at it, you will see that in this study by Dr. Duffield there is a plausible suggestion which all the other critics have missed. Dr. Duffield, picking up a hint in one place, and a clue in another, has done something which I should have thought impossible. He has contributed to the discussion something really new.
. . . From the outset John Jasper takes the limelight, as a study in criminal psychology, the exponent of an idea which Dickens asserted was "very curious", "very strong", "not communicable" and "difficult to work". It becomes quickly apparent that the clue to the role for which Jasper is cast must be sought for in Oriental antecedents. The story is enveloped in Oriental atmosphere.  . . .
. . . The revealing clue as to Jasper's personality is furnished by Dickens himself. With sedulous care he kept out of the story everything which might disclose its central secret, but in a confidential conversation with Luke Fildes, the illustrator of the novel, he made a statement which unveils Jasper with startling clearness.  . . .
. . . The basal fact of the Drood story is a mysterious disappearance, and it was the frequency of "mysterious disappearances" (to quote the Police Reports) which first arrested the attention of the Government.  . . . Travellers who set out upon a journey never reached their journey's end. Neighbors vanished. Soldiers on furlough failed to return to the ranks. Nothing was ever known concerning a victim, except that he was gone.  . . .
. . . A Phansigar motif would be peculiarly alluring to Dickens. The mystery which cloaked the very existence of this murder guild, the weird psychology of its members, the uncanny dexterity with which they wrought at their fiendish craft, would strongly appeal to one so temperamentally attracted by the melodramatic elements of human expression and who was such a keen and constant observer of their expression in criminality.  . . .
. . . A conspiracy of circumstances seemed to thrust upon Charles Dickens, as a ready-to-hand theme for his final bit of pen-work, the malign activities in England of one whose antecedents in the Far East linked him with the most subtle and abhorrent fraternity of crime known to history.
- From an article in The Wall Street Journal [HERE] a few years ago concerning a couple of novels with Edwin Drood's mystery as their focus: " 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood' stands apart. It's no 'Bleak House' or 'Great Expectations,' but it nevertheless has held a curious grip on certain readers. Ever since 'Drood' was published shortly after Dickens's death, people have puzzled over how it might have ended—and specifically whether the character of Edwin Drood was murdered and who might have killed him. Critics have clashed over the clues. Scholars have scoured archives for hints. Novelists have tried to knock off the manuscript on their own."
- ONTOS's last encounter with Dickens's unfinished melodrama is HERE; follow all the subsequent links and you'll eventually know as much about the story as we do.

Category: Drood Drood Drood Drood Drood and so forth

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