The mystery of Edwin Drood

by Charles Dickens

Paperback, 1972




Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1982, c1972.


John Jasper is haunted and restless. Unhappily settled as choirmaster in the provincial cathedral town of Cloisterham, Jasper finds himself striving for the divine in his music even as he struggles against madness brought on by ennui and opiates. Aware of his unraveling, Jasper believes his salvation may be found in the arms of Rosa, his prized pupil. His only obstacle is her fiance, Edwin Drood - Jasper's nephew.

User reviews

LibraryThing member upstairsgirl
If you'd told me 20 years ago I'd find a Dickens that I didn't want to end, I'd have laughed myself sick, but here it is. Dickens's final, unfinished novel centers around the mysterious disappearance of a young man who's recently both broken up with his fiance and fought with one of her other admirers.

The Penguin Classics edition has extensive introductory material and appendices that go into exhaustive detail about what Dickens's plans for the novel are known to have been, using his own notes and reports of conversations he had with his illustrator. There's a helpful appendix on opium usage in England as well that explains some of what Dickens is likely to have been thinking about when creating the character of Jasper Johns.

The half-novel itself is, as always, very funny and very tightly plotted; it's a pity that Dickens did not live long enough to finish the story, because it would undoubtedly have been excellent, and I'd love to know how he meant to tie all of the pieces of the mystery together in the end. (The extra material in the Penguin edition hints at how this might have been done; as usual I wish I'd left the introductory material for after I read the story, as Penguin introductions tend to give away too much.)
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LibraryThing member atheist_goat
I really did not expect that I would have any major issues with reading an unfinished book. I mean, this is Dickens: you know who the villain is, you know who the simpering whimpering heroine's going to end up with, etc. But coming to the end of what there is was slightly emotionally traumatic. I think I might actually recommend that people who love Dickens shouldn't read this, because I desperately want to know what happens, and no one will ever know what happens, and for someone who can't even leave a book she hates unfinished, this is a bad, bad feeling.… (more)
LibraryThing member MrsLee
Not much of a mystery, but a fine story! Lots of tension and suspense and some great characters, just like a good Dickens tale. I was quite drawn in and even a bit surprised by some of the characters reactions and actions. Pleasantly surprised I should say. I did think it unraveled a bit towards the end, but Mr. Dickens probably would have fixed that if he had lived a bit longer.… (more)
LibraryThing member Laurenbdavis
Dickens died before he finished it, and the female lead is described in terms that would make any feminist snarl, however, even with those frustrations, it's a heck of a read. Dickens descriptions of the opium addicts alone are worth the book's effort. It's all classic Dickens - the names, "Rosa Bud," (with the unfortunate nickname of "Pussy") "Grewgious," "Rev. Crisparkle," "Durdles," "Dick Datchery," "Princess Puffer" (the opium seller), and a boy known as Deputy who is consistently described as "a hideous boy. There is allusion to class prejudice, as well as racial prejudice, and Dickens' famous sense of injustice is well evident. Suspenseful and at times laugh-out-loud funny, I recommend it.

However, if the idea of reading an unfinished novel is discouraging, the intrigued reader can find some hints as to the murderer's identity in the work of Dicken's biographer and friend, John Forster, (The Life of Charles Dickens, 1876 in two volume II: p. 451-452). Forster tells of correspondence he received on the subject from Dickens:

"...was to be that of the murder of a nephew by his uncle; the originality of which 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. The last chapters were to be written in the condemned cell, to which his wickedness, all elaborately elicited from him as if told of another, had brought him. Discovery by the murderer of the utter needlessness of the murder for its object, was to follow hard upon commission of the deed; but all discovery of the murderer was to be baffled till towards the close, when, by means of a gold ring which had resisted the corrosive effects of the lime into which he had thrown the body, not only the person murdered was to be identified but the locality of the crime and the man who committed it. So much was told to me before any of the book was written; and it will be recollected that the ring, taken by Drood to be given to his betrothed only if their engagement went on, was brought away with him from their last interview. Rosa was to marry Tartar, and Crisparkle the sister of Landless, who was himself, I think, to have perished in assisting Tartar finally to unmask and seize the murderer."
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Four years, many speaking engagements, and a trip to America intervened between Charles Dickens' penultimate novel and his final one, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Ever since his involvement in a train accident in 1865 on his return from France, and perhaps even before, Dickens was ailing with a variety of illnesses, some of which were at least aggravated by overwork and his refusal to reduce his schedule. It was thus in 1869 that he began writing his final novel of which the first six of the originally intended twelve monthly parts were published in 1870. He died in June of that year with the mystery unfinished.
Edwin Drood begins in an opium den and the air of mystery that surrounds that venue grows as the story progresses. At the center of the story is Edwin Drood, his fiancee Rosa Budd, his uncle John Jasper, Canon Crisparkle, and the Landless twins, with others to numerous (as was Dickens' way) to mention. The style is fresh and new for Dickens, especially when contrasted with the heavier more convoluted style of Our Mutual Friend which immediately preceded it. The first half of the story introduces conflict and doubt for the young Drood and we see glimmers of danger headed his way in the remaining finished sections. Although incomplete, the novel has appeal and is well worth reading.
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LibraryThing member bcquinnsmom
I knew at the outset that Dickens died before he had the chance to finish this novel, but I didn't realize how incredibly eager I was going to be to have it solved! It seems that he was just getting somewhere, and that there was going to be some climactic action coming up shortly, and then poof. No more book. But on the other hand, it was so good getting to that point, and as noted, I am aware that The Mystery of Edwin Drood was unfinished, so I can't say that I was all that frustrated, really. It's the getting to the end (or the leave-off point) that mattered, and it was a great ride.

I won't go over the story/plot here; it is very well known. Movies have been made; I believe there was a stage production or two as well, and there are (as I saw written somewhere) entire websites and pundits devoted to solving the mystery.

This edition has a preface by Peter Ackroyd, a Dickens biographer, and an appendix by GK Chesterton. Chesterton provides several theories about what may have followed if Dickens had been alive to finish his work.

One more thing: I read this on the heels of Dan Simmons' most excellent novel "Drood," and it puts a lot into perspective.

I would definitely recommend it -- if you MUST have an ending, then don't read it, but as I said above...the getting there is most of the fun. Most excellent.
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LibraryThing member samfsmith
This is Dickens’ last unfinished novel. My cunning plan is to read this, then read some of the many novels that attempt to finish the novel for Dickens, or deal with the end of Dickens life. Any excuse to read more books!

Actually, even though the novel is unfinished, it’s a satisfying read. Edwin Drood disappears. He is a young, happy-go-lucky, man who was engaged in an arranged marriage. Just as Edwin and his fiance break off their engagement, he disappears. Public suspicion falls on a friend of his, another young man. But all clues tend to point to his uncle Jasper, who seems obsessed with Edwin’s fiance. Jasper is also a secret opium addict, smoking it in the opening scene in a den in London.

No one knows where Dickens intended to take the novel. Is Edwin really dead? Or has he just disappeared because of the termination of his engagement? We’ll never know, but that hasn’t stopped other writers from speculating.
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LibraryThing member mstrust
Young Drood and younger Rosa were promised to each other by their now-deceased fathers. Neither looks to the other as the spouse they would have chosen, yet their wedding date is drawing near quickly. Drood has an uncle who is maybe too involved in his life, while Rosa has the headmistress of her school, and watching them both are the local clergymen. Their small community is thrown into an uproar when orphans, a nearly grown brother and sister from Ceylon, are delivered as wards. The brother instantly shows his feelings for Rosa and his violence towards Edwin, who soon after disappears.

Peopled with so many interesting, but lesser characters, I can't say why this book of just over 250 pages has taken me over a week to finish. It has it's problems. The back cover of my edition calls it "not one of the writer's greatest works", mainly as Dickens didn't get to complete it. The mystery doesn't take place until over 100 pages in, and one of the main characters has an unfortunate nickname, turning some of the lines unintentionally funny. But Dickens has such a way of weaving these well-defined characters, giving them bits of humor, bits of anger and remorse that they are far more real than most written in his time.
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LibraryThing member lyzard
It is difficult to know how to approach a review of this last of Charles Dickens' novels, left unfinished at the time of his death in 1870---perhaps by noting that while all the familiar Dickens humours and grotesques - and prejudices - are firmly in place in this final work, it also shows fascinating signs of new experimentation with plot and form. Dickens signals his intentions from the very beginning of The Mystery Of Edwin Drood, which opens audaciously with a character suffering the aftermath of an opium fever-dream. The person in question is John Jasper, choir-master in a very ancient and very dull cathedral town, who intermittently resorts to this drastic method of escaping his stiflingly restricted life and his own demons. Though only a young man himself, Jasper is the guardian of his nephew, Edwin Drood, for whom he feels the deepest affection. Edwin's visits are Cloisterham are not to his uncle, however, but to see Rosa Bud, who attends a girls' school in the town. Edwin and Rosa were, in effect, "willed" to one another by their fathers, and are soon to marry. Rosa is as good as she is beautiful, and Drood has fine prospects as an engineer, with a lucrative post awaiting him in Egypt. In the world's opinion they are a singularly fortunate couple; no-one suspects that there is no real love between them, or that each contemplates their upcoming marriage with dismay. Meanwhile, Rosa has another secret from Edwin: she is deeply frightened of John Jasper, whose attentions to her beneath the cloak of music lessons fill her with dread and horror. The quiet life of Cloisterham is disrupted by the arrival of Neville and Helen Landless, a young brother and sister who have come from Ceylon; Helen attends the boarding-school, while Neville lodges with the Reverend Mr Crisparkle and his mother. Though Helen is much admired, Neville's quick temper and thin skin make him enemies---in particular, Edwin Drood. Neville is immediately smitten with Rosa, and resents Edwin's casual attitude towards her and their engagement; instant antagonism flares into anger and violence. With Christmas approaching, Mr Crisparkle and John Jasper try to make peace between the two. In pursuit of this, Edwin and Neville agree to dine together at Jasper's; afterwards, late at night, they walk out together---and Edwin Drood is never seen again... Though its overarching plot means that The Mystery Of Edwin Drood is indeed a 'mystery' in the modern sense - the reader isn't left in much doubt about the reason for Edwin's disappearance - it is evident that Dickens intended his novel to be something deeper: not merely a whodunit, but a psychological study of a murderer. Even in its incomplete form, the reader is aware of the complex, self-torturing consciousness behind much of this story's darkness---and it is indeed a very dark story, both overtly, with constant reminders of death and decay via scenes set in graveyards and allusions to the crypt beneath the cathedral, and covertly, with various characters subject to misunderstanding and false judgement, and suffering in isolation; while John Jasper's opium hallucinations add a literally nightmarish component to the unfolding mystery. Even the novel's conventional central couple are not quite what we might expect. Edwin Drood is - not to put too fine a point upon the matter - a complete prat, and it is refreshing to discover that we are not supposed to like and sympathise with him, but to see the destructive potential of his oblivious self-absorption. As for Rosa--- It is dismaying to note that, even at this stage of his career, Dickens was unable to relinquish the obsession with fragile, fluttery girl-women which makes him so exasperating to some of us: the narrative's insistence upon how "little" and "young" Rosa is grows ever more uncomfortable in conjunction with her position as the romantic obsession of no less than three men. (Rosa is also burdened with The World's Most Unfortunate Nickname, but we won't get into that...) On the other hand, Rosa is the possessor of a surprising and welcome amount of backbone, as displayed via the steps she takes to remove herself from a perceived danger (although not without much mental gasping at someone so "little" and "young" doing such an audacious thing). It is also she who puts an end to the engagement between herself and Edwin, going against strong social convention to prevent a marriage she is certain will make both of them unhappy. Conscious, however, how avidly the town of Cloisterham is watching the two of them, and that the accompanying vicarious thrill is a bright spot in many dull lives, Rosa and Edwin agree to keep their severance a secret until Rosa graduates from her school and is able to leave town---a decision that sets in motion a series of events that will culminate in an appalling tragedy...… (more)
LibraryThing member Clair.dLune
The ending would have been GREAT!
LibraryThing member Unreachableshelf
It doesn't seem quite right to rate this book in its incomplete state, but what we have of it shows signs of greatness. I fall firmly into the camp that believes that there was a murder, and John Jasper, the "obvious" murderer, did it, and that the story was to be how that happened and how the people of Cloisterham discover that it was him and not Neville, the obvious suspect from their perspective. If this is the case, then Dickens appears to have anticipated The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by over a decade, as some form of split personality seems to be present in Jasper.… (more)
LibraryThing member JanWillemNoldus
French translation with an original (apocryphal) conclusion. The solution of the mystery makes of this version an original creation based upon the unfinished novel by Dickens.
LibraryThing member WhatTheDickens
A pity that Dickens didn't this one before his death. Many dark themes are explored by Dickens, and an interesting snapshot of the underbelly of life in London in the late 1800s. Might have been Dickens greatest work . . . but we will never know.
LibraryThing member JBD1
Somewhat hard to rate this one, as it ends, of course, about halfway through. It sure would be great to know how Dickens planned to bring this book to a close - is Drood really dead? Who is Dick Datchery? But, even left undone, there are some great characters and good set pieces here, and even with some of the silly bits, it's quite a fun read.… (more)
LibraryThing member jasonlf
Once again presumptuous to rate the book. But even by Dickens' standards this would merit five stars. Perhaps the biggest frustration is the title, wishing to know whether or not it is actually a mystery -- with my reasonably strong money being on the fact that it is not. I think it was Our Mutual Friend with the preface saying something like don't congratulate yourself on solving the mystery -- it's not supposed to be one. Either way, John Jasper is a worthwhile addition to the canon of characters, as are about a half dozen others in this novel that begins and essentially ends in an opium den.… (more)
LibraryThing member john257hopper
Dickens's last, half finished novel. This is reasonably fast paced compared to some of the author's works. It is a great shame he died before this could be completed as the elements of a good mystery are there and it leaves off at what feels like the threshold of a fairly significant revelation. As ever, some colourful characters and great language. But why is it written in the present tense?

Other stories in this collection not yet read.
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LibraryThing member sublunarie
I love Dickens more than perhaps any other author that has ever existed. The first Dickens I ever read was David Copperfield. I know from that experience, that it is in my nature to struggle with Dickens love of slow-building plots. It wasn't until almost page 400 of Copperfield that something had clicked with me, and by the end it was my favorite book of all-time.

So the downside of Edwin Drood is that it is unfinished. Not that the blame can really be laid on Dickens himself, it's not as if he just up and decided to push off this mortal coil before finishing his story. Unfortunately, he left behind the slow-build. The endless character introductions and the beginning of plot-weaving. Due to it being a mystery novel, many, MANY characters are introduced and at one time I considered drawing a chart just to keep it straight.

The afterword of my edition reflects upon other writers that have written about - or even tried to finish - Edwin Drood. The question you would ask is who was the murderer. The consensus seems to be it is John Jasper, which to me is highly unfortunate as the entire set up of Mr. Jasper is basically "this guy is a creep and he probably did it". In my dream ending, Rosa would have been the murderer - content to not be married to Edwin but not willing to let him marry anyone else either.

Overall, I had a very difficult time reading the build-up knowing there would be no payoff. I considered not finishing the book a number of times. This work is for hard-core Dickens lovers only.
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LibraryThing member nosajeel
Once again presumptuous to rate the book. But even by Dickens' standards this would merit five stars. Perhaps the biggest frustration is the title, wishing to know whether or not it is actually a mystery -- with my reasonably strong money being on the fact that it is not. I think it was Our Mutual Friend with the preface saying something like don't congratulate yourself on solving the mystery -- it's not supposed to be one. Either way, John Jasper is a worthwhile addition to the canon of characters, as are about a half dozen others in this novel that begins and essentially ends in an opium den.… (more)
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
This would have been a tremendous book had Dickens lived to finish it. Definitely Dickens characters and mysterious plots at his very best. I will now read The D. Case which purports to solve the mystery and I think there is also a book in which several authors try their hand at writing the rest of the book. I think that would be fun as well.… (more)
LibraryThing member therebelprince
But Mr. Grewgious seeing nothing there, not even a light in the windows, his gaze wandered from the windows to the stars, as if he would have read in them something that was hidden from him. Many of us would, if we could; but none of us so much as know our letters in the stars yet -- or seem likely to do it, in this state of existence -- and few languages can be read until their alphabets are mastered.

Not one of my favourites, this is perhaps an unfair claim to lodge against a half-finished work. Drood, Dickens 15th novel and the last of his 24 "major" works, was to be published in 12 monthly volumes, but he sadly passed away while putting the finishing touches on instalment 6.

What we are left with is an intriguing mystery in which the core questions seem to have obvious answers, but the purpose of it all remains undefined. Edwin Drood, a seemingly attractive and nice lad, if a bit cocksure, mutually breaks off his engagement with Rosa Bud, his lovely fiancee-since-childhood, receives an ominous warning from the mistress of a local opium den, and then goes walking with a new friend from Ceylon before disappearing into the mist, never to be seen again. Amidst the murky cast of characters who inhabit the world around the intimidating Rochester Cathedral are the two orphans from Ceylon, a quick-witted reverend, an alcoholic gravekeeper, a playwriting secretary and a mysterious new arrival to town (the latter two of whom may be one and the same).

Aesthetically, the novel is a surprise turn, coming after Dickens' dense, autumnal late works like Bleak House and (especially) Our Mutual Friend. Flowers bloom, music fills the air, and Dickens' authorial voice is less controlling, allowing the characters to speak quickly and to the point. The 1860s had been a decade of turmoil for Dickens on a personal level, and one feels like he was breaking away from the heaviness that characterised his most recent novels. There's more in common, perhaps, with his Uncommercial Traveller series written across the mid-to-late '60s, in which Dickens captures moments of life in London and the countryside. At the same time, this has a major drawback in that most of the characters, including Edwin himself, lack many defining traits. Indeed, Helena and Neville - the Ceylonese orphans - are so vague that we're still not sure whether they're merely "dark" from the sun, or are in some way natives!

Much of this is intentional, of course. The late arriving figures of Tartar and Datchery were intended to be filled out later, and no doubt the same is true of Helena and Neville. The novel plays more with Reverend Crisparkle, who seems to be the Inspector Bucket of this piece, and Rosa Bud, who emerges perhaps not fully formed but at least a woman with some great level of initiative, combining the best parts of both Lizzie and Bella from Our Mutual Friend. At the heart of the piece is Edwin's uncle, John Jasper, a man deep in unrequited love and addled by his addiction to opium. Much like Edwin, though, John's character journey comes to an unwitting end and, sadly, it feels like the next instalment would've been the beginning of Dickens piecing together all of the disparate threads.

Evidence from Dickens' family, friends and letters suggests that he wasn't that concerned about the two key mysteries - who is Datchery and what happened to Edwin - being all that ... mysterious. Indeed, he wrote to one friend a suggestion that the novel might become, in its final chapters, a meditation on the evil of the murderer, rather than a surprise revelation. This is actually very fitting, when you consider one of the most tortured characters from Our Mutual Friend, who spends the second half of the novel preparing for, then covering up, a vicious crime, in chapters that are the closest - give or take Lady Dedlock - to internal character study Dickens ever came.

On the subject of endings, I thoroughly recommend Gwyneth Jones' 2012 adaptation for the BBC, of which the final 40 minutes or so comprise entirely original material. While removing Tartar (who seems intended to become the male romantic lead in Dickens' original mind), Jones follows the commonly believed (obvious?) answers to Datchery and the killer, but then throws in numerous surprises, none of which seem at all unreasonable given what came before. In fact, I daresay a few of them sound downright likely.

So, is Drood worth reading despite being unfinished? I'd probably rank it below any other Dickens novel, primarily because of its half-completed status. At the same time, once you've read it, it's fascinating to gaze into the 150 years of Drood-specific arguments that have come from academics and writers of all kinds. There's some great beauty in this novel, particularly the Cathedral which looms large as a character and which almost certainly (as Gwyneth Jones knew) would have been the setting for the book's climax, whatever that may have been. As a work, the book lacks the sublime level of symbolism that characterised Little Dorrit's creaking buildings, Bleak House's combustible crooks, or Our Mutual Friend's piles of dust. It also lacks satisfying character arcs, since everyone except for Rosa seems to be half-hidden from us, by the very nature of the piece.

Still, for Dickens completists, and those who don't mind a read that ends mid-thrust, it's not half bad.… (more)
LibraryThing member slmr4242
Liked it, but would have been able to give a better review had it been finished. I loved the BBC film interpretation. I think they made some excellent guesses as to the direction of Dickens's thoughts.
LibraryThing member RickyHaas
This has been my least favorite Dickens Novel out of the five I've read. I thought the pacing was a little slow and the characters were more bland. I felt that the first half of the book was introducing characters and their relationships with one another. Then the murder finally happens and the pacing picks up, but then within a few chapters the pacing slows back down. This book took me about three months to read, I was able to finish Great Expectations, which is twice the size, within three weeks. I would only recommend this book to people who like early mystery novels or are avid fans of Charles Dickens.… (more)
LibraryThing member charlie68
Maybe a five star book if Dickens would've completed it. No fault of his. But still has his typical great writing, at times dark and foreboding at others funny and whimsical, and filled with amusing characters. Takes place in Cloisterum a gothic fictional town where Edwin disappears. I should also mention the reader does and excellent job with the different voices and accents. Deserves accolades on his own.… (more)
LibraryThing member charlie68
Maybe a five star book if Dickens would've completed it. No fault of his. But still has his typical great writing, at times dark and foreboding at others funny and whimsical, and filled with amusing characters. Takes place in Cloisterum a gothic fictional town where Edwin disappears. I should also mention the reader does and excellent job with the different voices and accents. Deserves accolades on his own.… (more)
LibraryThing member Helenliz
I listened to this on audio book, and I think that added to the experience. This is Dicken's last book, and it is unfinished, meaning that we'll never really who did poor hapless Edwin in. The book was surprisingly amusing, some of the conversations and comments on the characters or their actions make this a gleeful listen. There is, though, the dark to counteract the lightness, and the brooding character of John Jasper is a dark enough to be my candidate for likely villain. His passion (unwanted) for Rosa and opium habit add up to that for me. There is an array of characters here to support the action. Mr Chrisparkle and Rosa's ward (no idea of the spelling) are both lovely characters, with a strong moral and common sense but a strong compassion and humanity that stand as a great deal of good to contrast with Jasper. Rosa shows signs of coming into her own by the time the book ceases, with Helena being a positive influence on her. She also has two other suitors, and the question as to who she will end up with remains open.
There is a lot to like in this, the range of characters, the light and shade, the humour and the underlying mystery. I wonder where it was going to go...
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