The everlasting mystery of The Mystery of Edwin Drood

February 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

It was Valentine’s Day last week, and because I’m such a hopeless romantic I decided to read a book about murder, broken engagement and creepy obsessive love. I’ve been desperate to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood since seeing the BBC adaptation just after Christmas, mainly because I wanted to see where the book actually ended. I quite liked what the BBC did with it, but I’m not sure it was quite right. However there is no escaping the fact that Dickens only completed half the novel before his untimely death, and a suitably dramatic end had to be got from somewhere.

Edwin Drood the novel tells the story of a young couple betrothed from birth by their deceased parents. Rosa is at school in a nameless Cathedral town and Edwin comes to visit her, staying with his choir-master uncle John Jasper. Unfortunately this uncle is not quite as dedicated to his nephew as everyone thinks and is dangerously, obsessively infatuated with Rosa. Then one night Edwin disappears without a trace and suspicion falls on Neville Landless, another orphan, who with his sister Helena has just moved to the town from Ceylon to be educated. Finding themselves in the middle of this mystery are Rev. Crisparkle, Neville’s mentor, and Mr. Grewgious, Rosa’s guardian.

Edwin Drood was a bittersweet reading experience for me because it was so good (so, so good) that, to my constant disappointment, I kept forgetting it was unfinished. I was surprised how far into the mystery Dickens had progressed considering he had only got half way through and it makes me sad to think that perhaps he had some incredibly exciting twist to lay down that would have excited and delighted us all.  In a way I suppose it was quite nice of him to leave us a little mystery to ponder, and even though the novel is unfinished it still feels balanced. It ends with the mysterious Mr. Datchery, who has clearly taken up residence near the Cathedral to watch John Jasper, making a discovery to his benefit. I like to think that Mr. Grewgious employed Mr Datchery, who is clearly someone in disguise; Mr. Grewgious who is now officially one of my favourite Dickens characters (now there’s a subject for a post all on its own).

Dickens outlined the general plot of Edwin Drood in a letter to his friend John Forster, part of which you can read here, so we do kind of know what his intentions were. I’m being deliberately vague because I don’t want to be guilty of spoilers, but I am glad that the gold ring ended up playing a crucial part as I thought it would. Nothing is ever accidental or wasted with Dickens, there are connections everywhere. I also correctly guessed who Rosa was going to marry, because everyone always has to marry someone. This novel is definitely worth picking up, and may even be a good start for someone who hasn’t read much Dickens before; it is only 250 pages long and the plot is relatively simple for Dickens.

It seems like I haven’t really done much but read, eat and sleep lately and time seems to be going too quick. The weather was so beautiful yesterday that it felt like spring, which fills me with dread (though it is raining again now). It just makes me realise that the days when I’ll be expected to leave the house sans thick black tights are fast approaching. I am very much a coats and scarf girl, and have very pasty legs. Despite that it is very nice to feel that it is the end of January and February, two months so devoid of joy and light that I always feel compelled to sit on the sofa watching bad TV rather than engaging with a book. I have to find extra juicy, interesting things to tempt me out of the slump. This time last year I was reading M.R. James, a real treat of the sort that doesn’t come along very often at all.

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