First monthly number: April 1870

‘Back to the big brushes’ was Dickens’s observation as he prepared to start composing Our Mutual Friend* in monthly parts in 1863, having previously written two novels on the trot in weekly parts. I’m reminded of this because I’m coming to this exciting Drood Inquiry parallelproject having previously been involved in blogging about one of those novels in weekly parts, A Tale of Two Cities (re-serialized in 2012), and then participating in the weekly re-release of Wilkie Collins’s No Name last year. In both cases, we were dealing with a short instalment of a few pages, comprising at most, two tightly written chapter-ettes. In comparison, the rich luxury of a full monthly number–32 pages, five chapters, Luke Fildes’s illustrations, a green cover–is really something to revel in, and no doubt Dickens’s readers, whether old enough to recall The Pickwick Papers from 1836-37 or not, were alive to this. What do others make of the whole package? [*This novel too will enjoy a synchronized reading blog, from the start of next month.]

As it’s not going to be possible, I think, to comment on all the chapters in detail, nor would it be conducive to free-flowing conversation to summarise what’s happening in each of these chunky numbers, I’m proposing just to throw out questions with gay abandon, hoping that others will feel inclined to follow some of them up, or beget further questions; here goes….

A lurid and disturbing opening chapter. I quite wish Dickens had continued for a few more paras of ‘scattered consciousness,’ after the first one, before piecing it together for us: that’s probably a twentieth-century taste talking…  Maybe he felt readers needed to make contact with a more coherent narrator & perspective, given the unwholesome surroundings we’ve been thrust into? The three bodies on the ‘large unseemly bed’–crikey, that wouldn’t get passed under the Hays Code…. As a fan of Dickens’s reporting style in ‘The Uncommercial Traveller’ essays (which were still appearing in All the Year Round as he was writing Drood), I’m struck by how the lack of the first-person consciousness renders the scenes described less anchored, even when he’s recounting visits to similarly insalubrious East London dens in Limehouse, Shadwell etc. (see, for example, ‘A Small Star in the East‘). Oscar Wilde prowls–with marginally less conviction?–similar territory in the chapters added to the volume edition of Dorian Gray in 1891: both are responding to sensational press reports of Chinese immigrant populations e.g. those working the Blue Funnel Line (founded 1866) who settled in Limehouse.

From one kind of dangerous territory to another, as we move into the rapid repartée of Jack and Edwin in Chapter Two. It can’t be altogether surprising to find puns in a piece of writing subtitled ‘A Dean, and a Chapter Also’–but it’s the kind of puns, dear boy! And I know this is the tightly-buttoned Victorian novel, and not Are You Being Served?, and I know Jasper and his nephew are not Mrs Slocombe–and readers are doubtless rightly distracted because we’ve just been shown the kind of scene that would serve as the concealed heart of many another mystery, and followed Jasper from there to here; the cathedral ‘rooks’ (beaks, not-so-secret policemen) have already taken note of something not quite as it should be–but heavens, “Let’s have a little talk about Pussy. Two pairs of nut crackers?” is not the kind of dialogue I was expecting. OK, I read a scholarly essay (Natalie McKight, in Dickens Quarterly 30.1) last year that solemnly and persuasively showed it most unlikely that Dickens was unaware of the sexual connotations of this long exchange, all about a pert precocious schoolgirl called Rosa Bud; I recall also that one of the first books Dickens, newly 18, requested at the British Library reading room, was a fairly explicit handbook to the female anatomy. All the same, I’m reading it in a spirit of uneasy resistance, not quite surrendering to the double entendres, as though it were a conversation overheard in a dream. How did everyone out there react?

Without plodding on through chapters III, IV and V mechanically–what I’m finding truly enjoyable is the number of cats (resist!) Dickens is setting among pigeons in these opening sidelights: the orchestration of themes, undertones, motifs is agreeably complex (after the more obvious counterpoint of Tale of Two Cities), and no single character is stepping forward to help us focalise or mark out a particular line. Indeed, Jasper-in-the-Den, Jasper-with-Edwin, Jasper-bored-by-Sapsea are strikingly different facets of a single character, and Edwin’s manner too is markedly different with Rosa (‘Old Edwin’) to its ‘Young Edwin’ incarnation, under Jasper’s influence. I found the blight in the lovers’ relationship curiously well touched off?–as many thorns as roses, as the circlet on the cover suggests, even if I early on made the mistake of hearing Rosa speak like Queenie from Blackadder. Elsewhere,Dickens does the ‘skittish older woman’ so memorably and cruelly that perhaps it’s hard to believe in a kittenish younger one? The dialogue and unxpected methods of mediating it to the reader are definitely piquing curiosity (cf. the conversation between the Dean, Crisparkle and Tope): as though I haven’t quite got Dickens’s measure yet–and he knows it. Perhaps the narrator’s comment at the end of Chap. IV, with ref. to Jasper listening to the Sapsea oracle, it meant to describe our own position at the end of Chapter V?– ‘his visitor intimates that he will come back for more of the precious commodity on future occasions, and Mr. Sapsea lets him off for the present, to ponder on the instalment he carries away.’

Roll on May’s instalment. What do y’all think?

Join the Conversation


  1. Ah yes, Edwin’s pet name for Rosa. I thought that might raise a few eyebrows…

    This instalment is really the John Jasper show – as John (Drew, not Jasper) points out, we see several facets of his character so that he emerges as the most fully-rounded; we are also let in to his secret life (and yet – conspiracy fans – Dickens never confirms in this instalment that the man in the opium den, it is just heavily implied…).

    It occurs to me that a first time reader would need to reconcile the title with the text in front of them. Mystery you say? What mystery? And if this Edwin Drood is so important why aren’t we seeing more of him instead of his uncle? In that sense the delayed reveal of Edwin, and the way he is talked about before we see him for ourselves, does lend itself to the early intrigue.

  2. So many clicks to get through 36 pages of adverts and start reading the instalment — astonishing! It’s fascinating how dense this advertising section is. I wonder if contemporary readers grumbled about it, or were they less jaded about, and irritated by, adverts than we are now?

    The full-page advert on p.25 for ‘Great Sale of Ladies’ Underclothing!!’ suggests that the over-use of exclamation marks isn’t an invention of the internet age, and its detailed lists of night dresses, drawers, petticoats and chemises should further challenge the myth of Victorian squeamishness and repression.

    I wonder if Spencer’s Pulmonic Elixir on p. 21 is an opium-based medicine? That would certainly complicate Dickens’s gothicised depiction of opium addiction and it may remind us that opium was stil an unregulated, widely available and used medicine. I was confused by the scattered consciousness of the opening, with Dickens cleverly evoking in the reader Jasper’s confusion and dawning realisation of his surroundings.

    I was struck by the ‘alive’ quality of the inanimate in the opening Cloisterham scene: pools of rain ‘shudder’ and elm tress ‘shed tears’. Yet, there is something mournful in these images and something of the living dead about Cloisterham, a ‘monotonous’, ‘silent’ city in which everything seems burdened by stasis, decay and death. I was reminded of the images of the French peasantry rising up, seemingly from the dead, in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.

    As someone raised on British lavtorial humour and camp sitcoms, I did titter at the constant references to ‘pussy’. William Cohen has written about double entendre in ‘Oliver Twist’ and he insists that Dickens loved using shameless sexual puns (like ‘Master Bates’). I’m intrigued as to what contemporary readers may have made of this potential pun. An unscientific Google search throws up ‘the nineteenth century’ and, more specifically, ‘1879, but probably earlier’ as the first recorded uses of the word in its smutty sense, so perhaps Dickens is innocent and we’re the dirty-minded ones.

    1. It’s the sheet volume of adverts that really strikes you, isn’t it? A Dickens novel was big business – do we know how much of the money Dickens mafe came from adverts compared to magazine sales? I wonder how effective they were – with a month to peruse each instalment while waiting for the next did readers give these adverts more attention, or just skip straight past to the story?

      1. Gosh I’d forgotten how terrible my typos are when I’m blogging – read sheer for sheet and made for mafe….

      2. It’s like the Victorian version of watching TV — “Too many commercials! Just DVR it and we’ll fast-forward through them!”

        All those articles I’ve seen about how Dickens would probably be writing for television if he lived today, suddenly have a whole new meaning!

      3. I’m reminded of when I open the Radio Times and shake out the dozens of inserts into my recycling bin, or when we leave the room to make a cup of tea while the adverts are playing. Perhaps the original readers just sighed and flicked through all these pages?

      4. Welcome back Gina! Yes, if nothing else we can assume that were Dickens to write for TV he wouldn’t object to the commercials… It does occur to me, bearing in mind this is Dickens’s big return to the monthlies after his extensive reading tour, this must be the nineteenth-century equivalent of the superbowl spot!

    2. I did enjoy the pages of adverts! I was also wondering about the difference in the placement of adverts before/ after the narrative- the front half is all short, snappy adverts of sensational cures and treatments and garments, whereas at the end the adverts are all several pages long, and mostly for publications. Perhaps someone who knows more on print culture can enlighten me, but was advertising space sold differently, and different cost, for adverts before the main event vs those in the latter pages (as you’ll find if you advertise in a newspaper today, placement in the front/latter half of the paper, right/left hand page, etc all make a difference)? Would the latter adverts have likely been overlooked? Anyway, on to the story…

  3. I was also reminded of recent debates about the internet: the anxious sense that the web scatters concentration and encourages us to skim-read in a shallow, unfocused way, forging worrying new modes of perceiving, thinking and being in a virtual world saturated with texts, images and endless snippets of mindless information. We tend to think of the novel as a higher form that is read quietly and seriously in private and that stimulates deep thought, empathy and identification. Yet here, adverts potentially disrupt that focus and bring consumerism and commercialism into close, and potentially uncomfortable, proximity with literature. Perhaps the Victorians similarly found their concentration eroded by the distracting visual and textual languages of advertising and marketing?

    1. Which links nicely back to the “scattered consciousness” of the opening chapter as discussed by John!

  4. We’ve talked about the adverts, what about the story itself? Drood has often beem referred to as being a new direction for Dickens, which I’m not entirely sure I agree with – we can see some familiar Dickensian types in this instalment – in Rosa/Pussy/Queenie we can see elememts of Dora from David Copperfield, for instance. Nonetheless, in reading this what impression are we left with of the plot and characters. And who are we hoping to see more of in future instalments. I’ll confess a soft spot for Durdles; I think it’s his referring to himself in the third person that does it.

  5. Well, here we are again! After the speed of No Name it feels good to be entering into the leisurely pace of a monthly series and I’m looking forward to reflecting on that change in readerly experience – as John notes, with the lengthier installment it certainly feels like something to take one’s time over a bit more (and as though one may more readily break mid-installment, something I never found myself doing with the weekly parts). It’ll also be interesting to see how it works reading two novels simultaneously in this manner, something that the original readers must have been more accustomed to.

    The characters in this opening section are certainly striking: such an odd collection, both as individuals and as a group. There are certainly elements of former characters apparent here – we can add to the list Mr Sapsea, who feels he has the whole world at his finger tips, with his earlier resonances in Mr Meagles (Little Dorrit) and Podsnap (Our Mutual Friend) – (“If I have not gone to foreign countries, young man, foreign countries have come to me…I see a French clock; I instantly lay my finger on him and say ‘Paris!’… ‘a very remarkable way of acquiring knowledge’, says Edwin…). Meanwhile, the “hideous small boy” pelting Durdles with stones in the graveyard seems to have walked straight out of a Shakespeare play, chanting riddles “half stumbling and half dancing” like a young Fool (but is there any sense in his rhymes…?)

    1. Welcome aboard Charlotte! Yes it’s interesting to consider the power of reflection in monthly instalments; with the weeklies we all noted how easily details get forgotten as you follow a story for 48 weeks or more, and while the monthlies could last even longer, I suspect the time lapse between instalments encouraged re-reading of the text, and therefore much greater familiarity.

      Ah Deputy, widdy-widdy-wen and all that. What I like about him is how UNlike other characters he is: this is not another Oliver Twist/Jo the crossing sweep/Tiny Tim, but an utter brat, and all the more compelling for it!

    2. May be, Stony (Stephen) Durdles comes from Saint Stephen, which was stoned too. But in this case, John Jasper is equal to Paul the Apostle.

      “The next question we put is:—”Was there ever such a person as Durdles?” to which he replies, “Of course there was,—a drunken old German stonemason, about thirty years ago, who was always prowling about the Cathedral trying to pick up little bits of broken stone ornaments, carved heads, crockets, finials, and such like, which he carried about in a cotton handkerchief, and which may have suggested to Dickens the idea of the ‘slouching’ Durdles and his inseparable dinner bundle. He used to work for a certain Squire N——.” His earnings mostly went to “The Fortune of War,”—now called “The Life-Boat,”—the inn where he lodged.

      Mr. Miles does not remember the prototypes of any other “cathedraly” characters—Crisparkle and the rest—but he quite agrees with the general opinion previously referred to as to the origin of Mr. Sapsea. He considers “Deputy” (the imp-like satellite of Durdles and the “Kinfreederel”) to be decidedly a street Arab, the type of which is more common in London than in Rochester”

      (from “A Week’s Tramp in Dickens-Land” by William R. Hughes)

      1. Thank you for this Sven. It’s interesting to see how people strove to find originals for these characters in Dickens’ s own life, but especially so with his last book because there’s that underlying desire to realise the story and make it tangible in the absence of an ending. I remember going to Rochester (Cloisterham) and seeing a plaque proudly identifying the house where Mr and Mrs Tope lived: the boundary between fiction and history is very much blurred!

  6. I love Sapsea in this introductory scene. I haven’t read the book before and I laughed at …’When I had enlarged my mind up to – I will not say to what it now is, for that might seem to aim at too much, but up to the pitch of wanting another mind to be absorbed in it -‘ A sentiment perhaps echoed in the modern nickname of David ‘ two brains’ WIllets.

    1. Sapsea’s rather glorious isn’t he? In his notes Dickens calls him a “solemn donkey”; the epitaph and its sentiment are just jaw-dropping. I would say of all the characters we meet this month he is the one who is most Dickensian, or rather the one who would be least out of place in any of Dickens’s earlier works.

  7. It’s interesting that John draws attention to the end of chapter four – Dickens’ s notes show that he originally planned to end the instalment here, but it was too short, so he brought chapter five forward a month. Now at first, this seems a bit of a blow for the idea of artistic integrity and structure. And yet I think the end of chapter five, with Jasper watching over the sleeping Drood, is a far more powerful and resonant image to leave us with. What do others think – where does the end of this instalment naturally lie?

    1. I think that the actual end of the fifth chapter was originally the end of the fourth chapter. Later, Dickens put the scene with Durdles and Deputy between Sapsea and sleeping Edwin. The shortest path from the house of Mayor to the gateway of choirmaster lies on High Street. Jasper met Durdles at the cemetery. Why choirmaster made a long journey?

      1. Actually the change in structure is more complicated still: chapter 5 was planned to be chapter 8, and therefore the last chapter of the second instalment, not the first! But Jasper looking on Edwin asleep was planned to end this chapter, not four. Presumably Dickens chose this chapter to move to an earlier spot because he believed it would follow on well from Jasper first meeting Durdles, but as Sven points out the resulting conflation of these two interviews between Jasper and Durdles can make the resulting journey home somewhat confusing if we choose to take Cloisterham as an exact duplicate of Rochester.

  8. I wonder how much cost one pipe of opium? I read somewhere that the choirmaster in the Victorian era earned 10 pounds a year. Jasper pay for omnibus, for train ticket, for hotel and for 5-6 pipes of opium. I think he spent all the money in the first chapter and walked from London to Cloisterham (“Jaded traveler”).

  9. Well, this is quite the wrong era, Sven–but I remember standing in Wordsworth’s house in Grasmere in the Lake District (now a museum of course), looking at a glass-fronted cabinet in which were displayed a battered tin, with a clasp, and a very substantial, solid miniature chest, inlaid with some precious metal or mother-of-pearl, with a metal lock. We were asked to guess which was the tea chest and which the container for opium: the guide laughing when we all supposed the expensive lockable cabinet to contain the opium. The point being that back then, it was cheap as chips and no odium attached to owning or using it (dissolved in laudanum and added to red wine). Surely someone out there has a handle on how things changed after the Opium Wars?

  10. I’m always struck by the oddly stream-of-consciousness narrative that opens this novel–to me, this is the most substantial departure from Dickens’s earlier work. He doesn’t sustain it throughout, of course. (This isn’t A Portrait of the Artist…) But I’ve taught this novel to both grads and undergrads and they tend to make this same observation unprompted: it just doesn’t seem to read like Dickens, if our prior experience comes from Copperfield or Great Expectations or really any of the earlier books. I’ve only ever taught this novel at the very end of a special course on Dickens, so the students usually have lots of his writing at their backs when they encounter Drood.

    Regarding an earlier question, I believe Patten gives advertising revenue–though he doesn’t break it down by size of advert–in CD and His Publishers, and I know that Chapman and Hall made better than a thousand pounds from adverts for OMF. In such a case it could be a big chunk of income, especially considering that they might make just 3d. or so profit per monthly part sold.

    1. Very interesting insight on the money, thank you Sean. The opening is very striking, although in its tone it does remind me of Our Mutual Friend, or A Tale of Two Cities, both of which begin with dark, secretive scenes in which the reader’s first experience is one of second-guessing and trying to work out who’s who and what’s what. Or how about The Old Curiosity Shop, in which you could include Dickens himself among those trying to work out where the story is going. It strikes me that Dickens makes a habit of these dramatic, enigmatic openings, brought to a pitch here in Drood.

  11. I completely agree, Pete, regarding the enigmatic qualities of the opening. I suppose I’m thinking more of the deliberately enigmatic interiority of the narrative in those first few pages. But yes, certainly, the mysteriousness of the beginning is characteristic of so much more of his work!

    1. I think we’re on the same page here. One of the many things that interests me about Drood is the way most critics have focused on its differences from Dickens’ s earlier works. I don’t think it’s so black and white, and I think what we have is moments of experimentation – like the opening narrative – but an equal number of connections to the past, and sometimes it’s up for debate which is which! As we go through we’ll find lots of moments that are reminiscent of early Dickens, but simultaneously this is a book written seven years after his last, so a change in style is entirely natural, and that tantalising “what if” lies in the idea of, had Dickens lived, whether this would become the first novel of a new phase of writing for Dickens. The question is not “How does Drood end?” so much as “what would Dickens have done next?”.

  12. Possibly because I’m very conscious of reading along in an attempt to match original readers’ experiences of seriality, but what really struck me is that our April spring time reading emphasises the waning day and year of the narrative. It seems to me this contrast serves to highlight Drood’s darkness; I think, perhaps, there’s something unsettling in the difference.

    1. Hi Anne! Yes, it’s interesting to see how the book plays against date of publication – I seem to recall that Pickwick Papers responds to the seasons very well – so it’s intriguing to see your suggestion that Dickens is deliberately playing against that here. What else might we suggest the intended effect could be? tYou could argue it maintains a distance and objectivity between readers and characters; or that it deliberately creates a sense of unease – the time is out of joint…

      1. For me, there is definitely a sense of unease – particularly given the use of the present tense. Jasper’s behaviour compounds this (I was sure he was going to steal Sapsea’s key) and as does the echoing at different points, as if so much needs repeating and that there are connections of which we are not yet fully aware. I do wonder how the seasonal contrast will feel as Drood’s year grows later and ours becomes lighter.

      2. Hmm, so pulling some of these threads together, we’ve got John duscussing the way Dickens presents the characters in a number if conflicting ways, preventing us from making a definitive judgement on them; then as Sean points out there is the curiously evasive narration of the opening; and now the clash of time between story and reality: so we have as a result an instalment in which we are deliberately put at odds, a sense of unease is nurtured and we are left pondering who our hero is.

        Well played Mr Dickens.

  13. Here’s a random thought to throw out to the group. Is Sapsea’s epitaph to his wife a shaped poem? Just to clarify, a shaped poem is, as the name suggests, a poem where the lines themselves form the shape of a particular object, usually relevant to the topic of the poem (George Herbert is the champion of these, with his poems ‘The Altar’ and ‘Easter Wings’). Now on page 24 Sapsea tells Jasper ‘The setting of the line requires to be followed with the eye, as well as the content with the mind’, immediately before the reader too is presented with the poem in a distinctive structure, which seems to suggest that, yes, there is a significance to the look of the poem as much as the words. But – big question – if it is a shaped poem, what is the shape? Looking at the poem, the shortness of the penultimate line followed by the longer final line gives the impression of feet sticking out, so is this Dickens making Sapsea do a crass portrait of the deceased Mrs S? Or am I just reading too much into this?

      1. Interesting idea…certainly the epitaph contains far more promotion of Sapsea than it does of his late wife, and as a publicly displayed memorial Sapsea sees in it the opportunity to memorialise himself as much as Mrs Sapsea. In the Penguin edition of Drood, David Paroissien draws the readers attention to a Household Words article ‘Curious Epitaph’ in which, you guessed it, a curious epitaph is cited (thanks to the wonders of the internet, and Dickens Journals Online in particular, you can see the article in full here: ). Paroissien tells us also that ‘immoderate tombstone inscriptions drew critical attention in the 1840s’ (when Drood is set). So there’s a topical element to Sapsea’s memorial in addition to the broadly comic.

  14. Yes, Pete, thanks for mentioning this epitaph, it is in the book by Wendy S. Jacobson “The Companion to the MED” too.

    Dickens came up with a brilliant epitaph, of course. I think that the words “STRANGER, PAUSE” are related to real epitaph in All Saints Church, Maidstone:

    “STOP, RINGERS, all; and cast an eye,
    You in your Glory: so once was I.
    What I have been, as you may see,
    Which now is in Belfree.”

    This is from “The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle”, volume 98:

    “This doggrel, which as it reads is little better than sheer nonsence, was no doubt intended to couvey the same salutary truth as is expressed in the first line of this inscription on Thomas Denny, ob. 1527.

    “As I am, so shall ye be,
    Now pray for me in your charity,
    With Pater-noster and an Ave
    For the rest of the SOUL OF THOMAS DENNY.”

    Compare it with “A SPIR­IT of Rev­er­en­tial Wife of MR. THOMAS SAPSEA”

  15. What a wonderful blog this is! I was a late arriver to Drood, making it the last Dickens novel I read after rereading the others several times. But Drood was worth the wait. I must comment that, while the opening may be reminiscent of other works, I find it singularly dense and tortuous, the sentences truncated, inverted, and anything but similar to earlier Dickens, which seems fluid by comparison (even though I know he labored to produce that fluidity). And here, while we may think that Durdles, Deputy, and Sapsea have echoes of the great Dickensian comic foils, I sense a heaviness, a weariness that contributes to the elegiac tone of the book overall. I’m sure that a competent grad student could write a master’s thesis on the opening paragraph alone, treating it as a Proustian moment that allows the reader to reflect back on Dickens’s entire career in language, metaphor, and image.

    John Sutherland’s recent book, “A Little History of Literature” reminds us that Dickens is great in part because his writing career has such an obvious trajectory, showing him reaching, changing, and maturing along the way. And the opening month of Drood must have been, for readers of 1870, a profound sense of the familiar coupled with the unease mentioned above of reading something very different–Dickens through an opium haze. And, of course, Dickens was trying to out-Collins his colleague’s triumphant “Moonstone” of two years earlier. But anyone who picks up Drood must know that he’s not reading a work composed anytime near “The Pickwick Papers.”

    I’ve spent a LOT of time thinking about Edwin Drood, since I’ve written a novel informed by its characters and themes, and I love this salon-style approach to Dickens, as I imagine us gathering after each installment to discuss our reactions and wonder how the story will turn out.

    (Great to see Mr. Sean Grass on this site. I have his “Our Mutual Friend: A Publishing History” on my bedstand right now–my next book is based on “Our Mutual Friend,” my all-time favorite novel)

    1. Thanks christopher, and welcome to the Drood Inquiry! Yes, the sense of weariness is an interesting point about Drood. Wilkie Collins of course famously dubbed the book as “Dickens’s last laboured effort, the melancholy work of a worn-out brain”, but this comment was made after Dickens had died, and I’m curious as to how much of this perspective of weariness comes from after the death of the author and the subsequent perception of it as his last work – in other words, had Dickens lived another ten years and written more books, would we be seeing this book instead as an intermediary along those lines of trajectory that Sutherland proposes, as opposed to focusing on it as we do as the close of his career? The early review in the Atheneaum is certainly complimentary enough, and even Rude Dedwin, for its snide remarks about repetition, seems to consider this as more of the same rather than a winding down.

      But then as you rightly say, there is undoubtedly a theme of decay and fatigue in the novel, perhaps embodied in Cloisterham itself and its static, antiquated atmosphere.

  16. So kind of you, Christopher–I hope the book doesn’t disappoint. Meanwhile, with respect to the epitaph, I find the whole bit intriguing. Obviously we’re supposed to laugh at the pompous Sapsea (the observation that it may read like his mayoral race posters is fun). But this also reminds me of the opening of Great Expectations, where Pip derives his impressions of his parents from the “turn of the inscription” on their tombstones. This would seem to support the possibility that the verse Sapsea has commissioned ought to be read as a shaped poem, inasmuch as Dickens seems (in GE at least) to be preoccupied with the physical *and* the discursive qualities of text. If you recall, in GE Pip receives a capital letter D from Biddy to help him learn to write, but he mistakes it for a design for a belt buckle. Elsewhere Mrs. Joe keeps drawing a T on her slate, which turns out to signify Orlick. The disruptions of language, viewed in its materiality and its ability to signify, is a major trope in that novel.

    1. Thanks for this Sean, interesting to consider the significance of shape and content in other works by Dickens – thinking of gravestones, there are numerous moments at which they feature significantly in his stories (Christmas Carol, Old Curiosity Shop and Bleak House all spring to mind) so that they become more than just memorials but rather threats of the future, sources of closure, or just a nice spot to have a picnic. It’s that curious nature of cemetaries that they can be beautiful, tranquil places as much as grim midnight scenes of horror and suspense, and indeed I can think of several graveyards that have become tourist spots either for their celebrity inmates or the grandeur of the gravestones. Sapsea’s sublimely ridiculous epitaph dwells on this contrast of the solemn and ostentatious as it packages the remembrance of a loved one as a potential focus for tourism.

  17. What can you say about the clearest parallels between MED and Anthony Trollope’s novel “The warden”? Already the first sentence shows the relationship: “The Rev. Septimus Harding was, a few years since, a beneficed clergyman residing in the cathedral town of —-; let us call it Barchester.” Rochester? Or may be – Cloisterham?

    1. It’s certainly interesting to consider the impact of the Barchester Chronicles on Drood, at least in terms of the cathedral setting. Trollope takes great delight in showing the human side of the clergy and there are elements of it in Drood too: the Dean’s longing for dinner, Crisparkle’s polite correcting of Tope…but then it gets flipped with the distinctly uncomic portrayal of Jasper. Here too, Dickens is showing the human side of those in the church, but in a much more serious way. When Jasper tells Edwin he hates his job, what does that tell us about his spirituality – or in consequence the virtue of those who would preach to us? Dickens was a christian, but he frequently criticised the establishment and those who profess holiness while preaching hate or hypocrisy. If you want to read more on the church in Drood, John Thacker writes on this in “Antichrist in the cathedral”.

      1. Thanks for the tip, Pete, I immediately buy this book.

        But I think that the relationship between Dickens’ and Trollope’s novels have much stronger. I suspect that MED is quasi the answer to Trollope’s novel. They both talk about the same person in the same year, namely Rev. Robert Whiston and 1842.

        Can you help me a little in this research, Pete? Can you find the first uncorrected edition of “The Warden”? I know that Trollope did a lot of grammatical mistakes in the text. If the text includes “has been took”, it will be a confirmation of my theory that our verger Tope is a caricature of Anthony Trollope.

      2. Hmm…I’ll look into it Sven – unless we have any Trollope fans out there who can shed any light?

  18. I’m curious – with the second instalment due in less than a week, what do first-time readers think of the story so far? And what are your expectations – of plot or characters – in the next issue?

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