And there you have it. Six parts down and six to go, and an entire readership left in perpetual anticipation. This month’s installment is a part that is as much about what is to come (or not to come) as it is about the text itself within the green covers – so accordingly I am going to start this post by looking at what we do have, before moving on to what we do not have (a novel approach for Drood studies, I know).
Let us begin then not with closing, but opening, and the introduction of yet more characters to the tale. Lobley, I suspect, is not a character of utmost importance to the tale – will he ever talk, or remain mute like Major Bagstock’s servant in Dombey, or any number of wordless servants in Dickens whose sole purpose seems to be as a reflection upon their master. This is not to dismiss poor Lobley by any means, like the sun whose woodcut he represents this man’s cheerful disposition brings much needed light and warmth to a gloomy tale as does the whole river episode. But in my opinion he is simply overshadowed this month by Billickin, who is glorious. Much as Mrs Gamp or Sam Weller stole the scene on their first entering Martin Chuzzlewit and Pickwick Papers respectively, so too the Billickin immediately grabs our attention with a promise of more to come in her antagonism of Miss Twinkleton; and one of the regrets I have with so many solutions is how quickly they get Rosa out of the boarding house and back into Cloisterham or elsewhere, rather than enjoying the comedy potential of this new, but (so far as the mystery goes) irrelevant character.
Throughout much of this installment we see light and hope; after Rosa’s flight from Jasper last month, we now begin to see her safe and a new resolution forming among the nobler characters of the tale to stand against the machinations of Jasper. The breakfast scene in Grewgious’s apartment, with first Crisparkle, then Tartar joining, feels more cheerful than we’ve been used to for a while, followed by the glorious entry into Tartar’s lodgings, a “marvellous country that came into sudden bloom like the country on the summit of the magic bean-stalk. May it flourish for ever!” I believe it was John Carey who likened the sailor Tartar and the calmness of his maritime-themed quarters to the Peggoty’s boathouse as a literal ship in a storm, a calm place that becomes magical in its serenity compared to the tempestuous events which have beset the heroes thus far.
Stucturally, the presence of this episode in this month’s installment is Forster’s decision, not Dickens’s – the last chapter of month 5, “A Flight”, and the first chapter of month 6, “A Recognition”, were written as one chapter by Dickens, with Forster deciding to split them to even out the remaining text over the monthly installments (also, as part of the same decision, reinstating text which Dickens himself had crossed out – such is the sacredness of the text once it becomes limited). But being in this month, along with the river episode and the comedy of Billickin, we once again are presented with an installment that defies our expectations of Drood as a gloomy mystery and instead presents something far more, well, Dickensy. And it is this aspect that has been much overlooked amongst the scramble for a solution, with the focus on the mystery overshadowing those Dickensian moments of hope and humour.
You’ll note of course that I’ve neglected to discuss the final chapter in all of this, which plunges us right back into despair and speculation with Jasper’s return to the opium den and the lair of the Princess Puffer (who finally – and just in the nick of time – gets named this month), and her subsequent chasing of him. At the halfway point of the tale we see not only the heroes of the tale taking a more proactive stance, but also see the noose tightening around Jasper as his private life impinges upon his public life, and Datchery and Deputy (or Winks as we now know him to be really called – again, just in the nick of time, Dickens) becoming aware of his dark secret. And with the glimmer of a potential clue, Datchery falls to his breakfast with a great appetite.
So. Now what? Well, now follows some 150 years of speculation and debate. You can see posts on some of the early solutions on this very blog (see them in this section http://bit.ly/1owqWjL);but if you’re looking for an overview then it’s time to go back to The Drood Inquiry and begin your own investigation. The “Character Profiles” will help remind you of who’s who and what their involvement is with other characters and the plot, while “The Big Questions” will summarise the many different ideas that have been proposed over the years. Want more information? Then “Witness Statements” and “Sources and Inspirations” will give you the lowdown on what Dickens may or may not have said himself of Drood’s end to his friends and family, as well as what other texts may have influenced the plot of his last tale. Then, when you’re ready, it’s time to enter your verdict. You’ll be asked key questions about the end of Drood, where you can place your vote – is Edwin dead or alive? Who tried to kill him and how? Dead or alive, where is he? Who is Dick Datchery and the Princess Puffer? Which characters will make it alive to the end of the story, and who will marry who? It’s time at last to open these questions up beyond academia and enthusiasts and let the wider public have their say. Is this the end of Drood? Far from it. The Drood Inquiry is only just beginning.