Thursday, April 7, 2016

My Last Dickens' Novel: The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Mystery of Edwin DroodThe Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In pursuing my goal of reading all of Dickens' novels, I saved his last book for the very end, mostly because I knew he died when it was half finished. I was afraid it would break my heart not to know what happens. I combined actual reading with listening to the fantastic David Timson narration.

It was interesting that Dickens was telling a single-strand tale. This was probably because he planned to make it half the length of his usual novels. So it was much more like A Christmas Carol than Bleak House.

It was also interesting that we can see who the murderer is but we are left uncertain as to whether the murder was really committed. Is Edwin missing because he's dead or because the murderer was suffering from an opium dream and incompletely carried out the crime? Perhaps Edwin was left unconscious and something else happened.

The one thing we could tell was that the engagement ring would be a key identifier whenever Edwin turned up, whether dead or alive.

Having read the book I then turned to Wikipedia where I found John Foster's account of what Dickens had told him in two letters. Foster was Dickens' lifelong friend and his biographer after he died. I won't spoil it for anyone wanting to read the book fresh but it did make sense and it also made me bitterly regret not having that second half of the book which was to be "a very curious and new idea for my new story. Not a communicable idea (or the interest of the book would be gone), but a very strong one, though difficult to work."

You can also read an account there of the mock trial that was put on to solve the mystery by G.K. Chesterton, George Bernard Shaw and similar literary luminaries. It sounds as if t'was all good fun.
The jury returned a verdict of manslaughter, Shaw stating that it was a compromise on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to convict Jasper but that they did not want to run the risk of being murdered in their beds. Both sides protested and demanded that the jury be discharged. Shaw claimed that the jury would be only too pleased to be discharged. Chesterton ruled that the mystery of Edwin Drood was insoluble and fined everyone, except himself, for contempt of court.

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