We’ve been sharing our own initial response to month one of Drood (see https://cloisterhamtales.wordpress.com/2014/04/01/first-monthly-number-april-1870/), but what did Dickens’s contemporaries make of it? It was usual practice at the time for reviews to appear only after the final instalment had been published – so the fact that we have reviews for the first month at all speaks volumes for itself, firstly for the prestige of the author, but doubly so for the long absence of a new work – as the Athenaeum review notes, ‘a feeling of a somewhat congratulatory tendency seems to have taken possession of the public’ – a new Dickens story was a big event. And yet, rather delightfully, what we have in these two responses are polar opposites in terms of opinion and reverence (both are reproduced here with kind permission of ProQuest).
This is, no doubt about it, a very complimentary review. It is also a very nostalgic one: ‘It is a positive pleasure to see once more the green cover in which the world first beheld Mr Pickwick, and to find within it the opening chapters of a tale which gives promise of being worthy of the pen which sketched, with masterly hand, the course of Mr Pickwick’s fortunes’. It is this nostalgia which leads to a surprising emphasis in this review on the comedy sections of the instalment – when I mentioned this to a colleague their immediate response was ‘there’s comedy in Drood?’ We have become so accustomed to talking of it as a mystery that we do have a tendency to overlook the humorous element within (take note any who are thinking of speaking at this year’s Dickens Day on their topic of ‘Dickens and Conviviality’).
So, the reviewer’s primary focus is on Miss Twinkleton, Sapsea and Durdles, while Jasper is mentioned barely in passing. This draw towards the lighter characters sits somewhat at odds with the reviewers defence of Dickens when they attack ‘some of Mr Dickens’s critics who have never been able to see in him anything but a caricaturist’, arguing that in Drood ‘the characters are etched as truthfully as the localities are painted’. Ah yes, the other primary focus of the review – location, location, location. Later critics would make the case for Rochester as the original of Cloisterham; here, only one month in, the reviewer can only hazard a guess at cathedral towns – Gloucester gets a mention.
The review closes enthusiastically, upholding Edwin and Rosa not as ‘a mere walking lady and gentleman, but two people who immediately excite interest’ (do we agree?), and who are ‘amusing and sympathy-stirring’. If we were to read only this review, we would be left with the very strong impression of Dickens at the top of his game and a public overjoyed to be reading his works again. But then there’s…
The Mysterious Mystery of Rude Dedwin
It’s glorious, it really is. Anything with dialogue such as ‘We’re opium-eaters, we is’, can only be called glorious. Last week we noted the elements of ‘Are you Being Served’ in chapter two, here we’re in Monty Python territory. Note, incidentally, how the opening chapter is called upon as being ‘disconnected’, much as we discussed in the previous post, or how the author links Sapsea to Pecksniff – not as a complimentary, Athenaeum-style ‘hoorah for the resurrection of past characters’ so much as a dig at Drood’s originality, or lack of it. There’s a lot of fun had here with name changes and such (Mr Rasper, Papsy and Murdles) that delights in parodying a much more famous work (nor is it alone, see my earlier post on ‘The Cloven Foot’ (warning, some spoilers – https://cloisterhamtales.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/the-first-solution/). But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all, and the writer’s prelude that Rude Dedwin is ‘intended for the perusal of those only who have been able to read what is published of Mr Dickens’s new work’ identifies quite clearly that it was expected many readers would have done just that. The joke of Rude Dedwin, like the Cloven Foot, relies upon an intimate knowledge of the original to know what is being parodied. Thus, despite the conclusion that ‘the mystery is – how it sells!’, the reality is that Edwin Drood‘s success was widely expected.