2nd Monthly Part: May 1870

Widdy Warnings: The Death of the Author and Men of Business

The first monthly part leaves Mr Jasper and the reader “to ponder on the instalment” we’ve had of Mr Sapsea’s wisdom, an instalment containing his shaped poem (I’m convinced Pete), in eulogy for his wife (or election poster for himself, lovely suggestion Sven). This month Stony Durdles takes up the mantle: “Durdles was making his reflections here when you came up, sir, surrounded by his works, like a popular Author”. Durdles’ artistry comprises the gravestones which he has professionally inscribed, continuing the infusion of death Ben drew out so wonderfully from instalment 1. I can’t help being put in mind of those pictures of Dickens, particularly popular just after his death, of the ‘Author Surrounded by his Works’, the unfinished Dickens Dream by Buss is the most famous of these. This makes me wonder about the extent of the differences between our reading of this novel in the certainty that Dickens dies before completing it (no spoiler intended), and the readings of the first serial readers.

Set against the deathly hallows is the unfolding plot of the Edwin/Rosa engagement. The star of this instalment for me is Mr Grewgious. The scene he has with Rosa might remind Tale of Two Cities fans of the early meeting between Mr Lorry and Lucie (another layering of the bedrock for regular Dickens readers – great exchange last week on this). I love Dickens’s tender hearted bachelors of business, and the way that he uses such figures to applaud different lives. While Mr Lorry felt he was a bachelor from his cradle, Mr Grewgious says “young ways were never my ways. I was the only offspring of parents far advanced in life, and I half believe I was born advanced in life myself.” Interesting! Thoughts welcome on those figures common in Dickens who feel from birth that their destiny is not a romantic one.

Great description too of Grewgious’ hair, “it was so unlike hair, that it must have been a wig, but for the stupendous improbability of anybody’s voluntarily sporting such a head”. Perhaps he might like Oldridge’s Balm of Columbia, featured in one of the many ads for this month. Working through the advertiser shows the close correlation between goods and services advertised and the key objects and plots of the unfolding novel.  The inner face of the wrapper promotes a brand of piano-forte (at the centre of the instalment’s main drama with Rosa’s fainting under Jasper’s gaze), and the first inside page headlines apparel from Jay’s mourning warehouse. Further on enterprising advertisers make a direct connection to the novel,  as the ‘Nun’s House’ (another major site of this month’s action) is used to promote a Ladies College in Rochester. More significant connections here for us to tease out I’m sure.


Sorry too long a post – and I’ve not even mentioned the Landlesses . . . A challenge of the monthly reading and blogging vs weekly is the wealth of gems worthy of comment, but at least we have a month to discuss!



Published by Holly Furneaux

Holly is a Reader in Victorian Literature at the University of Leicester. She has written variously on Dickens, including a book, Queer Dickens: Erotics, Families, Masculinities. For more details of her work, and her current research on the Military Man of Feeling, see her staff page:http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/english/people/hollyfurneaux

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  1. Thanks for this opening salvo Holly – yes, there is much to discuss this month! I love your connections between the adverts and the themes of the book – whether intentional or not, I wonder what influence this may have had on prospective customers…

    So, month two, and after overtones of death and dust last month, now we have tea and youth as the Crisparkles welcome the Landless twins into Cloisterham. It is certainly a more cheerful beginning to the instalment than last time, and we are, in the opening here, in much more familiar Dickensian territory of a warm, family setting and good cheer promised. and then he goes and smashes it to pieces with the dinner party and the intrigue therein!

    I agree that Grewgious is wonderful, and both in his peculiar ticks and the way his character is described from the outside in, we can see classic Dickensian tricks coming to the front. I suppose In Gregious we can see an elderly version of Tom Pinch from Martin Chuzzlewit. It’s interesting that after the promise of youth and fresh air at the beginning of this instalment, that we should end back where we began with stasis and age – for all these young people socialising, Mr Grewgious seems to continue that same preoccupation with death that we saw last month, his arid, straw-like hair conveying that same sense of dryness and dehydration (Dickens seems intent on making his readers thirsty – are there any adverts from drinks companys this month?).

  2. Not to get too caught up in small details, but there does seem to be a lot of hair-related goings-ons this month. Apart from Mr Grewgious’s glorious do, there’s also Helen Landless’s propensity to cut off all her locks in order to pose as a boy, Rosa’s ‘wild black hair’ that falls down ‘protectively’ over her childish form and then her mother’s corpse with its Ophelia-like locks (‘the long wet hair, with scattered petals of ruined flowers still clinging to it’). Is this a form of product placement for Oldbridge’s Oil of Columbia, featured in the advertiser (‘an excellent corrective for any number of insidious sources of decay of nature’s most lustrous ornament’) or part of a deeper obsession on Dickens’s part? More seriously though, I wonder if there is a Pre-Raphaelite connection to be had with the depiction of Rosa’s mother.

    1. That’s a hair-raising idea…obviously a lot of this would depend on when adverts are placed and to what extent Dickens was involved (did he ‘conduct’ the novels as he did the journals). If so it’s possible they might subliminally influence minor details. More likely that those setting the adverts saw the opportunity for some canny placements, and yet either way what we can say with certainty is that the reader would likely make links, just as we have.

      As for the pre-raphaelite angle, as we know, Dickens wasn’t a huge fan, although he did like his Shakespeare, so is he drawing influence directly from the source?

  3. And there are the paper moustaches too Hazel worn by Miss Twinkleton’s gals (wonderfully Malory Towers). Hair is often associated with sexuality and passion – as in Helena’s tearing at her own with her teeth. Perhaps this explains the deadness of Grewgious’s wig-like hair?
    There’s some interesting parallel discussion about the ads on the Our Mutual Friend blog: http://dickensourmutualfriend.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/week-1-by-david-trotter-and-ruth-abbott/#more-92
    David Trotter and Ruth Abbott look at the conspicuous consumption of the Veneering’s household in the context of the 19 page advertiser which encased Dickens’s previous novel. The ‘Nun’s House’ ad on p9 of the Drood advertiser shows that those in 1870s marketing clearly expected readers to make direct connections with the novel – they even tell us to ‘see the Mystery of Edwin Drood’.

    1. I’d missed the Nuns House ad – how fantastic! Of course with an entire month between installments that would allow plenty of time for savvy advertisers to capitalise on any links – so perhaps the truly fruitful comparisons should be made less between this month’s ads and this month’s story, but rather this month’s ads and *last* month’s story. Hmm.

      Also, how interesting that a connection between Cloisterham and Rochester has already been established by the public. All in all, quite remarkable. I shall be pondering on this for a good while to come (exciting evening ahead in the Orford household!).

    2. A further thought on advertising – looking over the adverts in month one we can see that they are dominated by books and publishers – I would say at least two thirds of the first Drood Advertiser are trying to appeal to readers, which is common sense given that these adverts are appearing at the front of a book. Now in month two however, we start to see more variety of products being advertised. Note, there are a few recurring adverts that appear both here as last month – Birkbeck Insurance, Dunn and Hewett, The Vowel Washing Machine and Nunn’s Marsala or Bronte Wine to name a few – but we also see new products being advertised that, as with the Nun’s House, begin to respond specifically to the tone and plot of Drood.So, if you look on page 12 you’ll see music on sale (in recognition of Jasper’s role and Rosa’s lessons perhaps) – but furthermore,of those songs advertised for purchase, a large proportion refer to roses in the title.

      So, in short, canny advertising on the part of the Victorians. Before the direction and content of the book is known we get predominately publishers seeking to advertise in the first part of Drood, with other products coming in when they spy an opportunity to capitalise on Dickens’s story. I’ll keep an eye on this. Incidentally, among the guest bloggers in line to contribute a post to this project is Cathy Waters, whose wonderful book “Commodity Culture in Dickens’s Household Words” looks in depth at this relationship between nineteenth century literature and advertising – so it will be very interesting to see her views on the Drood Advertiser.

  4. Not to derail the fascinating conversations about hair and advertising, but I thought I’d chime in to say that–for whatever reason–it’s Chapter 5 (“Mr Durdles and Friend”) that always stands out to me in this part of the novel. Deputy’s stone-throwing, Durdles’s complicity in the violent scheme, Jasper’s sudden, furious threat to “kill” Deputy if he throws stones while Jasper is so near Durdles: this is fascinating stuff. A few pages into the chapter, as Durdles explains how his employment of Deputy gives the boy an “enlightened object” to pursue, he says of his plan, “I dont know what you may precisely call it. It ain’t a sort of a–a scheme of a–National Education?”

    Perhaps because I also have Our Mutual Friend on the brain, the whole thing reminds me of Dickens’s other recent thoughts on bad teachers, on national schooling, etc. How are we to read Deputy? As the kind of vulgar monster produced by “national education,” as distinct from the kind of purposeless gentleman (with a gentleman’s education) that we see in Richard Carstone in Bleak House? And what, on earth, to make of Durdles, and are we really supposed to read him in light of Bradley Headstone? (Durdles makes headstones, and his nickname is Stony.) Veels within veels, as Sam Weller might say.

    1. Now here we have some confusion, which I may be able to clear up. Chapter 5 appears in month one’s instalment, with month two beginning in the Crisparkle house. As discussed in some of the comments last month, it was Dickens’s intention to end on chapter 4 but he was short of some pages, hence bringing the Durdles and Deputy chapter forward (this has other consequences which ai cannot discuss – yet).

      Now, some modern editions, notably the Penguin, in marking out the limitsof each Iinstalment, have signalled the end of part one as occurring at the end of chapter four, to honour Dickens’s intentions. But – and it’s a big but – first time readers in 1870 would have read chapter five back in April. And thus ends my fascinatingly pedantic lecture – I’ll get my coat.

      1. (Incidentally, the above comment aside, I also really like chapter five and the references to education, especially Durdles own confusion about what exactly it is he is doing for Durdles – and giving him “an object in life” is just a marvellous pun!)

  5. Doh! You’re so right–mea culpa. That’s what I get for reading the early chapters from my Penguin last week while trapped on an airplane, instead of waiting and going to the digital after I came back.

    1. Not a problem – but I am intrigued by Penguin’s decision to do so. The Durdles chapter was originally scheduled as number eight, so would have appeared after the Crisparkle dinner and Edwin and Neville’s altercation. How would that impact on development of plot and character if this original order of chapters were honoured? If you begin honouring Dickens’s intentions over what actually appeared, where do you stop? It’s basically the old “Should George Lucas have gone back and added cgi to the Star Wars trilogy or left alone” argument, and the related issue of who has authority in deciding the right version.

      And for the record, Han shot first.

  6. (Sorry I missed the first month).

    Continuing the idea of the leavening comedy of this often darkest of tales, in this number we have the odd, almost proto-Ealing couple of Rev Crisparkle, and his mother, including the comic business of the glasses and reading of the letter. We also have satire in the wonderful unwanted guest Honeythunder, whose sweet-ominous name perfectly encapsulates his propensity to force brotherhood on people with menaces. Such is Dickens’s obvious feeling on true ‘fellowship’ that he includes a lengthy aside, which tells us rather than shows us, precisely what is wrong with Honeythunder’s brand of philanthropy.

    However, to keep the installment spiced with the mysterious, we meet the exotic Landlesses, I found Ben’s ‘Tomb Raiders’ post on backdrop of the horror and terror in these early installments extremely interesting, and I wonder if the Landlesses introduce some more of these elements here as well, with their suppressed (and unsuppressed) violence, disguise, and even telepathy.

    I’ve been working recently on the ideas of horror in ‘Drood’ adaptations, and returning here to the ‘source’ or ‘originating’ text (with the caution that such terms should be handled with in studies of adaptations), it strikes me how Jasper seems to possess various supernatural powers in this number – he is explicitly called a ‘Monster’ and ‘a ghost’, and we hear of his mesmeric powers over Rosa, but there are the subtler indicators as well – his sudden disappearances and re-appearances for example. Is there also a suggestion of his own telepathic powers when he repeats Neville’s own words back to Crisparkle at the end of Chapter 8? The more prosaic suggestion would be that he overheard Neville and Crisparkle talking outside, but Dickens leaves this suggestively open.

    A final comment from me – after the interiority of the dream sequence at the start of Chapter 1, we have a similar passage taking us into Neville’s mind, as he flees the altercation with Edwin: ‘he only knows that he stands with a bare head in the midst of a blood-red whirl, waiting to be struggled with, and to struggle to the death’. I liked this passage, and wonder if we might get similar momentary insights into other characters as the months to come?

    1. Hi Jonathan, welcome to the readalong! I love your spot-on description of the Crisparkles at breakfast as ‘proto-Ealing’; I now have in my head an image of Mrs C as a cross between Margaret Rutherford and Joyce Grenfell (or perhaps she should be playing Miss Twinkleton). I find the relationship between mother and son to be really quite touching – the way he deferentially allows her to read the letter knowing the pride she takes in her eyesight is lovely, although the allusions to Crisparkle being boy-like last month presents this idea of the man who has never grown up, and consequently a potential for Mrs C as a smothering figure, but I don’t get the sense that Dickens is pushing that side of it here – it is, instead, a very charming and loving scene of perfect and mutual understanding between two people.

      Which, as you say, is needed given all the intrigue and threats that follow in the next two chapters. Yet it occurs to me that we then return to this genteel tone with the interview between Grewgious and Rosa. If this is a mystery story, it is a very English one, with grisly deeds played out in a beautiful and serene setting. Further evidence of Dickens’s streaky bacon approach to writing!

  7. I’m intrigued as ever by the ambiguity of a protagonist. We’ve discussed this over at the Our Mutual Friend blog, but there you have a non-specific title, so uncertainty of hero is understandable. But here with Drood we have an eponymous character, and yet I’m not confident, based on what we’ve seen so far, in calling him the central protagonist. Last month Jadper seemed to take tgat honour based purely on his presence throughout the chapters. This month we seem to shift focus again and Jasper is more of a background figure. Into this vacuum Crisparkle steps forward as a proactive figure to propel the plot forward, both in his introduction of the Landlesses and organisation of the dinner party, as well as his tete a tete with Neville (and the trust placed in him by this fiery newcomer) as well as his confrontation with the anxious Jasper amd his consequent establishment as a protective figure. In fact if anything, looking at months one and two in comparison to one another what comes through is this contrast of Jasper’s world view and Crisparkle’s world view; of dark and light; pessimism and optimism; fear and hope.

  8. I was in Rochester last week, and had the distinct pleasure of being squired around by Dickensians Steve Martin and Jennifer Ide to Gad’s Hill and many of the locations featured in Drood. And, as I reread this month’s installment, I couldn’t help notice how Dickens sacrifices space that could have been devoted to dramatic exploration of character (such as the walk back to Miss Twinkleton’s between the four young people and/or Honeythunder’s presence at dinner–think Chadband) for mood-setting descriptions of place. As with the first installment, Dickens leaves out partial scenes, partial thoughts, and partial sentences that I believe the younger Boz would have written out. We know that Dickens was under-writing these early pages, and critics can speculate why, but I think it’s noticeable, and adds to the peculiar charms of the book. And here’s a random thought–how like Ethelinda’s exhausted “Oh Thou” is Mrs. Crisparkle’s oft-spoken “My Sept”?

    We owe to the modern critics the unavoidable awareness that the illustration of Drood, Jasper, and Neville in Jasper’s room is a treasure-trove of male dominance/submission/phallic echoes, while the other illustration of Drood holding the fan renders a more puzzling question of masculine energy, particularly when grounded against Crisparkle’s “muscular” silhouette, in spite of Drood’s seemingly masculine mustache and Neville’s smooth yet “tigerish” Byronic beauty (and I dare barely mention Helena’s assertive behavior toward Rosa and cross-dressing past).

    The more I think about Drood the more I like it, precisely because its twists, elisions, and coruscations evade all easy explanations, as does even the basic question of whom Dickens was posturing as the “hero” of the story.

    1. Lots of interesting points to consider here – but first, yes Rochester is wonderful isn’t it? Almost a Disneyland for Dickens and quite unreal to see Minor Cannon Corner, the Nun’s House and the cathedral etc. in the flesh. I found it very hard to reconcile the objective viewpoint of my academic side with the more instinctive response of unadulterated joy when I saw Jasper’s Gatehouse! (for those who haven’t been, I uploaded some photos for an earlier post: https://cloisterhamtales.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/a-stranger-arrived-in-cloisterham/ ). There is a danger that our awareness of a real location can heighten our awareness of descriptive passages in the text and give them more emphasis than is intended, and an even greater folly that many a solutionist has fallen into in the past of trying to map Cloisterham onto Rochester precisely, but one has to wonder given the number of real locations used in the text what Dickens’s intentions were in doing so.

      Now on to another point of Mrs Crisparkle’s potential echo of Ethelinda, it seems we have a pattern emerging of supporting females gazing wondrously at their men, and this throws up several lines of interrogation – firstly, of course, in Mrs Sapsea we see this subservience portrayed as a very negative idea, with the wife’s personality, and memorial, being completely overwritten by her husband; but secondly, in Mrs C’s case, we see an equal amount of subservience from son to mother as from mother to son, as seen in Septimus’s bizarre pantomime with the glasses and the letter. Throw in Rosa and Edwin’s unhappy engagement, and the Landless twin’s mother married to a brutal stepfather, and what you’re left with is a story in which there are no healthy relationships between man and woman – is Dickens getting bitter in his old age?

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