The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

April 27, 2010

mystery of edwin drood Plot summary (with possible spoilers): Though the titular character is Edwin Drood, this unfinished novel revolves mostly around Drood’s uncle, John Jasper. Jasper is the choirmaster at Cloisterham Cathedral, and has a very sinister streak just below the surface. For one thing, he is an opium addict who thinks nothing of spending a night in a squalid opium den with prostitutes and other addicts. For another, he secretly covets young Rosa Bud, who is betrothed to Edwin. Indeed, to make the situation even more creepy, Rosa is still underage, which is why the similarly youthful Edwin must wait around for her before striking off on a new life. For the older Jasper to be in love with Rosa is rather off-putting — at least by today’s standards.

Edwin and Rosa are amazingly self-aware for being so young. They both realize at around the same time that they don’t actually love each other. They were going through the motions of the engagement simply for the sakes of their fathers, both of whom are dead. The fathers were friends who dreamed of having their offspring united in marriage, and so made the arrangement, which was looked after by the solicitor, Mr. Grewgious. But of course the fathers wouldn’t have wanted the children to marry against their own will, so Edwin and Rosa decide mutually to break it off. Edwin, who presumes that his uncle Jasper would be profoundly disappointed by such news, refrains from telling him.

Meanwhile, Jasper has a small dinner party on Christmas Eve to bring together Edwin and a young man named Neville Landless. Neville had previously quarreled with Edwin regarding Rosa Bud, and the two had nearly come to blows. Jasper wants to take the opportunity to have Neville and Edwin patch things up. They appear to do so, and then go out for a late-night stroll together by the river. Edwin doesn’t return home that night and is not seen or heard from again.

Jasper immediately suspects that Neville killed Edwin out of jealousy, and tries to get other people of Cloisterham, including Mr. Crisparkle, Neville’s guardian, on his side. But no one is willing to believe that Neville was capable of such a thing. Jasper says he will not stop until he finds out what really happened to Edwin.

Other subplots unfold simultaneously with the main thread: Jasper reveals his true self to Rosa, which frightens her; the old woman who runs the opium den Jasper frequents starts to follow him with a view to doing him some kind of harm; and a potential romance starts to bloom between Rosa and a former sailor named Tartar. But there the novel ends, as Dickens died when it was just half completed.

Liked:

  • I liked the setup that Dickens had going prior to his death. The parts that were written were very engrossing, and I found the book to be quite a page-turner while I was reading.
  • Most of the characters were great! This is pretty typical of Dickens, but is worth mentioning nonetheless. Yes, there are always a lot of minor characters in his stories, but they each are so well drawn that it’s easy to keep track of them. The Deputy with his “Yer lie!” outbursts, Tartar as the former sailor whose quarters are shipshape in every way, the bumbling Durdles who surely knows more than anyone gives him credit for… it’s a shame readers will never get to see what role these characters would play in the bigger picture.
  • Though the book is incomplete, I think Dickens made it pretty clear where he was headed with the mystery. It was probable that Jasper killed Edwin to get him out of the way of a possible hookup with Rosa. Jasper didn’t know the two had broken up, and since Edwin was leaving the next day, that was Jasper’s best opportunity to get rid of him — especially since he could blame it on Neville. Plus, Jasper was the only “bad guy” in the whole cast, so there aren’t too many other possibilities in my mind. It’s not as though Edwin died suddenly of complications from a disease or simply disappeared of his own accord for some reason. He was murdered, plain and simple.

Disliked:

  • Well, I disliked that this book was unfinished! That’s not anybody’s fault, of course, but still…. No one likes a mystery without a satisfying ending!

Rating:

Based on what’s left of The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens, I’d have to say that this was shaping up to be an excellent book. The characters and the story were developing in a positive way, and likely would have led to a decent conclusion. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

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