Third Monthly Number June 1870

What is striking about this third monthly part is how much Dickens manages to pack into 32 pages and how much he demands from his readers. First of all the variety of tone and scene. We begin in Cloisterham, where the Rev Septimus tries to repair the damage Neville has done to his reputation by his outburst and attack on Edwin. Then we move to London and the Inns of Court, complete with fog reminiscent of Bleak House. Then back to Cloisterham and a scene in which there is menace, mystery and underlying violence.

Pete’s quote from Wilkie Collins in an earlier post, that Drood was ‘the melancholy work of a worn-out brain’ is surely disproved by this number. There is the scene between the ‘china shepherdess’ and her wonderfully innocent son, where we are introduced to her marvellous cupboard full of everything to delight, tempt and console. Then there is the dinner at Grewgious’s chambers, where the ‘flying waiter’ rushes back and forth bringing course after course, and the ‘immovable waiter’ criticizes everything he does. The flying waiter’s leg, we’re told ‘always preceding himself and tray (with something of an angling air about it), by some seconds and always lingering after he and the tray had disappeared, like Macbeth’s leg when accompanying him off the stage with reluctance to the assassination of Duncan’.

The comedy of the dinner at Staple Inn is enhanced and undercut by the introduction of Bazzard, with his ‘dissatisfied doughy complexion, that seemed to ask to be sent to the baker’s’. His hold over Grewgious is obvious but its cause is unclear. We see a new side of the dusty dried up Grewgious when he gives Edwin Rosa’s mother’s ring. He had been in love with her.

The mood of menace and mystery created in the April number accelerates in chapter 12 as Jasper and Durdles make their midnight tour of the Cathedral crypt and tower. The sinister aspect of Jasper is built up slowly in this number. The Rev. Crisparkle finds him asleep when he calls: ‘Long afterwards he had cause to remember how Jasper sprang from the couch in a delirious state between sleeping and waking’. He notes Jasper’s face, which seemed to denote ‘some close internal calculation’. Jasper produces a lengthy diary entry purporting to convey his anxiety about the danger Neville poses to his ‘dear boy’. Two chapters later as Jasper and Durdles overhear Septimus’s conversation with Neville, Jasper watches Neville ‘as though his eyes were at the trigger of a loaded rifle and he had covered him and were going to fire’. Even Durdles notices the ‘destructive fire’ in his eyes. Jasper then laughs so hard he has to rest his face on the wall. Why?

After Jasper has carefully plied Durdles with the contents of the wicker bottle, and stolen the key to the Crypt in order to make a return visit, he is so tense that he nearly throttles the hapless Deputy to death. And that’s where we are left, with a whole month to wait.

I confess I didn’t pay much attention to the adverts in this number, I was so engrossed in the story. I did though have to resort to the dictionary on a couple of occasions. Durdles, under the influence of the wicker bottle has a mild fit of ‘calenture’ which makes him think the ground is on a level with the Cathedral tower and nearly steps out. Am I the only reader who didn’t immediately know that an ‘aeronaut’ was a balloonist?


Published by Joanne Shattock

I am Emeritus Professor of Victorian Literature at the University of Leicester. My research interests are nineteenth century women's writing, literary journalism, and the nineteenth-century periodical press. I am currently interested in the networks of professional writers in the middle decades of the nineteenth century and the ways in which these networks impacted on journals such as Household Words and All the Year Round.

Join the Conversation


  1. Thank you for this post Joanne, which raises a lot of points for further thoughts. I think one of the stranger thing about these early numbers is the unavoidable sense that we are being led up to something, as promised in the very title “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”, and so the danger in reading it is that we can spend all our time looking ahead. What is nice in this installment then are the points when time slows down and we are allowed to savour the moment itself, such as the Crisparkles or that wonderful dinner scene in Staples Inn. We only have one new character this month – Bazzard – so as much as Dickens is, on the one hand, dazzling us with the change of scenes, he is also, three months in, developing his existing bank of characters and allowing them time to reflect and settle in.

    And then, of course, just when you’re sitting comfortably he puts you right back on the edge of your seat again with that final chapter and its deeply ominous tone that raises no end of questions to keep you guessing till the next month.

  2. This is the number that contains Mrs. Crisparkle’s magical closet, with its singular set of sliding doors and its melange of Eastern (tamarind, ginger, caraway) and Western (gooseberry, damson, cabbage) condiments, delights, and nostrums, a closet into which, when one has dipped one’s head, one comes forth “seeming to have undergone a saccharine transfiguration.” Is it wrong to think of this as similar to a drugged state like the one Jasper experiences? Does the closet contain the themes and major metaphors within it, mixed among the gherkins and Constantia wine? It fascinates me, and its singularity is so unnecessarily placed in front of us. I know that Dickens’s notes suggest that he is recalling a specific cupboard he had seen at some time, but why write about it here and now? If I were pursuing a scholarly course I would seriously consider spending time here. My writing teacher, Tom Spanbauer, always said to “love your objects,” and Dickens gives us a master class here in doing just that. In my fictional world of The Edwin Drood Murders, I made this cupboard the subject of an imaginary scholarly paper on Dickens’s fascination with food and drink, an “object” that is pervasive in his works that adds much to the redolence of his imagined worlds.

    I can’t help but read through the lengthy triad involving Neville, Helena, and Septimus, however, without thinking that Dickens has taken a step back; his attempt to give Neville a sexual/sensual motivation toward Rosa and against Edwin does not, I think, ring as true as Bradley Headstone’s similar feelings in Our Mutual Friend. On the other hand, Sept’s somewhat clueless regard of Helena as an object of desire strikes me as both fresh and subtle, the sign of a more mature hand. For both to be intermingled in the same moment strikes me as just another of the fascinating dichotomies of Dickens’s style in Drood.

    Even though I spent much time thinking about this book last year, my recent trip to Rochester and this forum both are adding new wrinkles to my understanding and appreciation for the odd little corner of the world that is Cloisterham.

    1. Neville’s feelings for Rosa do seem a little sudden, although they can equally be compared to Edwin’s feelings for Helena that awaken at the same time. Elsewhere in Dickens there are several examples of characters falling in love (or what they believe is love) at first sight, and perhaps Neville’s passion can be explained in part by his nature and youth, in contrast to the milder, and older, Crisparkle who is altogether more bumbling and awkward when his hand is kissed by Helena.

      Mrs Crisparkle’s closet is a wonder in itself, and it’s no surprise to see both Joanne and Christopher allude to it; you’ll be glad to hear that later this month Cathy Waters will be discussing this curiosity in more detail.

    2. I find Mrs Crisparkle’s magical closet utterly beguiling too, I must confess. There is something child-like in Dickens’s delight at hidden, secret spaces and the riches they can contain and conceal. There is nostalgia here, I sense, which is reminiscent of some of his journalistic pieces on his childhood. The closet reminds me of an eighteenth-century cabinet of curiosities, stuffed with artefacts fascinating to the Enlightenment mind. I feel there is something interesting to be said here about imperialism and consumerism, with the closet containing a rich history of the economy of empire and the ways in which the expansion of markets made the rare and the exotic into the everyday and the mundane.

  3. Thanks, Christopher and Pete for these comments. Christopher’s point that Septimus’s awakening feeling for Helena is ‘both fresh and subtle’ is borne out by Fildes’ first illustration, which shows Helena kissing his hand on the shore. Is it significant, I wonder, that there are storm clouds gathering on the horizon, and the wind is coming up, causing Helena’s veil to billow behind her?

    Fildes’ second illustration I find puzzling. In contrast to the first one, there is a light background, and the exchange between the four figures is comic. Yet what follows in the chapter is anything but comic. Why I wondered, didn’t he illustrate Durdles’ drunken wanderings in the Cathedral or Jasper’s stealthy return to the crypt?

    1. I know what you mean – if Fildes were looking for comic scenes then surely the middle chapter would have served better. But then going back to the idea of consolidating existing characters, I wonder to what extent Fildes and Dickens are seeking to provide illustrations of characters that have yet to be visualised – Sapsea, the Dean, Tope and Durdles all appear here for the first time, and large group scenes like this one are rather rare in Drood (which is one of the reasons why the Crisparkle’s dinner party last month stands out so much). I also think while the tone of picture seems at odds with that of the chapter as a whole, that there is much to be admired in the second illustration – I love the body postures of the Dean and Sapsea on the left of the page, the first bending over slightly with humility, the second bent backwards, chest puffed out with pride. It does a very good job of showing the two characters in their identical dress whilst making it perfectly clear which one is which.

  4. Grewgious quote of the month: “I was born a Chip, and have neither soft sympathies nor soft experiences.” But, of course this isn’t quite true. As Joanne says, here Grewgious’s “hopeless, speechless” love for Rosa’s mother is revealed. Dickens returns to a motivation device he’d used at the beginning of his career. Mr Brownlow cares for Oliver Twist because he looks so like his father, Brownlow’s beloved friend. Mr G thinks Rosa’s dying father might have placed her in his care suspecting that his infant daughter might come to resemble her “doted on” mother. These seem, to me at least!, to be fascinating cross-generational ties – strange tracings of resemblance, affiliation, and transformed affection (Snape’s willingness to sacrifice himself to preserve the boy of the woman he loved . . sorry, failing to avoid Harry Potter spoilers!). What do others think – is this lazy plotting or an alternative value system, creepy, moving, all of the above?

    1. It’s bizarre how Rosa’s father apparently knows of Grewgious’s love for his wife, but that rather than feel threateed by it, he capitalises on it by using that devotion as security for their daughter. In some ways it mirrors the Darnay-Carton-Manette triangle of A Tale of Two Cities, or more appropriately perhaps the almost asexual Tom Pinch and his utterly hopeless love for Martin Chuzzlewit’s wife.

      Interestingly, most solutions portray Grewgious as developing a paternal love for Rosa, that she represents the daughter he could have had with the woman he loved; but one, by Henry Morford in 1871, takes a very different view and suggests that Grewgious’s love is transferred to Rosa as the physical resurrection of his earlier crush – and that is most definitely creepy.

      1. The Morford solution sounds fascinating Pete! How does a desiring Grewgious appear in it – does he look a bit like Dickens’s Jaspar as unwanted predator? Any toe-curling snippets to share?

      2. Ha – I’ll step carefully here to avoid spoilers (you wouldn’t think you’d have to worry so much about spoilers when you have a book without an ending) – the desiring Grewgious finds his love unrequited before he has made it publicly known, and so quickly reverts back to the Tom Pinch/Sidney Carton figure, along with two other characters who are disappointed in their romantic hopes and with whom he makes the wonderfully titled “trio of the disappointed”, who we are told are also “Something more: the trio of the brave, patient and determined under that disappointment most difficult to bear of all laid upon humanity”. So ultimately we return again to this idea of unrequited, selfless love as a noble act, possibly even more noble than being in a healthy relationship.

  5. There’s been much talk this month about the opening chapter, but what about the last? What exactly is Jasper up to, and what speculation would have been escalating in between instalments round the Victorian watercooler?

    Also, have you noticed how each part so far has started in the morning and ended in the nighttime?

    It strikes me that nights in Cloisterham are not the best times to be out – we had the Neville/Edwin altercation last month, and now the eery crypt tour and Jasper’s demonic face as he spies on Neville and Crisparkle. But then there’s also the introspection of night; Durdles and Jasper’s first philosophical walk together in April, ending with Jasper’s meaningful glance at his sleeping nephew, or the quiet, truthful talks of Neville and Crisparkle.

    Contrast this with the morning scenes; the bright, cheerful Crisparkle household or that memorable waking of Jasper in chapter one, emerging from the gloom of night (and nightmares) to walk into the light. It means each month starts with a clearing of the air and ends with intrigue, reflection and darkness.

  6. As next month’s instalment looms, it’s natural to reflect on the story so far. We are now a quarter of the way through the story and as such it is quite logical that we are still faced with more questions than answers. Again, the unfinished status of Drood perhaps gives an imbalanced emphasis both on irresolution and the hints od what might come, yet in many respects the tale is very much of its kind. This week I’ve been reading other mystery tales from the time that have all been linked, at one time or another, to Drood: “The Haunted Hotel” and “Miss or Mrs?” by Wilkie Collins both postdate Drood, while “An Experience” by Emily Jolly and “The Disappearance of John Ackland” by Robert Bulwer Lytton were published in Dickens’s journal “All the Year Round” just a year before Drood. I won’t discuss plot here – suffice to say that none of them exactly match Drood, but share elements (potentially) with Dickens’s tale. In all of them however, ominous tones are raised about future threats, with one character always foregrounded as someone who will do great evil. In terms of Drood then, fat from suggesting Dickens may have plagiarised, it instead indicates widespread expectations of genre different to our own preconceptions of a mystery: a model in which the end is hinted at and the intrigue comes not from the obscurity of a solution, but from the psychological interest in the villain (long story short, think “Columbo” rather than “Murder She Wrote”). So – were Dickens’s readers simply looking ahead to the end of the story or rather enjoying the sensation of each moment along the way?

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: