Second monthly number: case review

The second case notes are now ready and uploaded (see them at, and what a job it is to summarise so much in so short a space! Inevitably with each additional instalment the story becomes harder to summarise as more characters enter the fray – this is particularly an issue this month with the Crisparkle’s dinner party, where Mrs C’s concerns, “visibly nervous” that nine guests would put her out are matched by the illustrator’s difficulty in squeezing so many people into the frame! Last month Dickens introduced thirteen characters, who we are still getting to know; this month he adds an extra seven, consequently our sense of understanding is confounded rather than compounded as our hopes of learning more about the original thirteen are interrupted with new arrivals and their back-stories. The resulting confusion is excellent for a mystery, not so good for a graphical summary.

Not to put too much faith in statistics, the pie charts here – Drood Months 1 and 2 – show the frequency of characters in month one and month two, and as might be expected, the introduction of more characters reduces the hold that any original characters (I’m looking at you Jasper) have on the story. Think of it like having a younger sibling – everyone has to learn to share the pages.

Here we have the uncertainty of serial publication in contrast to the reliability of a complete book with accompanying blurb. The introduction of so many new faces forces us to confront our expectations of the characters we have been pondering over since month one – how many of those early characters will return, how many will be minor roles or even one-off appearances?  So yes, last month John Jasper dominated the scene, with Edwin and Rosa in the background, but now not only are the Landless twins taking their fair share of the limelight, but Reverend Crisparkle – who only briefly appears in No. 1 – also steps up towards centre stage (in our graphic summary he just takes centre stage with four panes compared to Jasper’s three, though both fall short of Neville’s five appearances). The combination of the change in focus which each monthly number brings, along with that important time-lapse between numbers to allow reflection, discussion and expectation, results in a very fluid reading experience in which concepts of structure and plot are continually evolving.

Back to realising all of this graphically, as ever is a case of give and take, trying to determine the key plot points that deserve reader attention, whilst equally giving credit to those minor touches for which Dickens is celebrated. It is further complicated by the fundamental difference between illustration and text; in the text a silent character can more easily be forgotten than in an illustration where all are mute, so that when summarising the action for our case notes, readers are reminded of the physical presence of characters within the text at times when Dickens is focusing our attention elsewhere: Honeythunder may dominate the dinner in the original, but here all characters are given equal prominence at the table. In adapting the tale from text to drawing, there will always be an element of distortion and subjectivity as the illustrator’s point of view influences, quite literally, what the reader sees, and it is hoped that the final product serves therefore not only as a recap of the action but as a prompt for new perspectives and interpretations. We hope you like the result!



Published by Pete Orford

I'm course director of the MA in Charles Dickens Studies at the University of Buckingham in conjunction with the Dickens Museum in London. I am currently editing Pictures from Italy for the Oxford Dickens collection, and I'm Chief Investigator for The Drood Inquiry ( My book "The Mystery of Edwin Drood: Charles Dickens’s unfinished novel and our endless attempts to end it" was published by Pen and Sword Books in 2018.

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