The day the world talked about Drood

In Chapter 9, “Birds in the Bush”, Dickens describes how rumours of Edwin and Neville’s disagreement fly around the town and into Miss Twinkleton’s school in the blink of an eye:

Whether it was brought in by the birds of the air, or came blowing in with the very air itself, when the casement windows were set open; whether the baker brought it kneaded into the bread, or the milkman delivered it as part of the adulteration of his milk; or the housemaids beating the dust out of their mats against the gateposts, received it in exchange deposited on the mats by the town atmosphere; certain it is that the news permeated every gable of the old building before Miss Twinkleton was down.

Well I experienced this phenomenon myself to some extent yesterday when The Drood Inquiry became the hot topic of the news. A full page spread in the Times here in the UK prompted a discussion on Radio 4’s Today programme.

DroodBefore I knew quite what was happening I was receiving phone calls inviting me to interviews for BBC Radio Hereford, BBC Radio London, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio 5 and BBC Worldwide. Simultaneously the Mail Online called for an interview to place on their website, and the original story found its way to the Times of India and the Australian, while new pieces were written for the media in France, Portugal, Italy, India, New Mexico and Argentina.

I won’t lie to you dear readers, I’m a little proud of this. Bemused, but proud.

In some respects it should come as no surprise to see that Charles still has the draw to hold his own in the news, but it’s always pleasing to have this notion confirmed. When I first started thinking about The Drood Inquiry back in late 2012 I had one fundamental goal in mind: to get people talking about this book. Well, yesterday that certainly seemed to have been accomplished.

That’s not to say the day wasn’t without its frustrations. The brevity and pace of radio interviews doesn’t allow enough time to thank and acknowledge all those who have helped along the way. My web designer Thomas Palmer and illustrator Alys Jones have both brought key insights to the project and ensured the website had the unique look and feel for it that I had hoped for. My colleagues at the University of Buckingham have been a great support (you know we have quite the little Dickens group forming there now), while the Dickens Fellowship were very generous in both funding and support. The University of Aberdeen was equally generous in allowing us access to their original copies of the first Drood instalments to scan in for the site. There are all the academics and enthusiasts who have contributed to this very blog, not to mention those who spoke at the conference last September, which itself would not have happened without the support of the Victorian Popular Fiction Association and Institute of English Studies. Then there are all those who have heard me talk at various conferences and public events through the last two years and given insightful feedback and encouragement. Finally now there’s the Charles Dickens Museum in London with whom I’m organising a Drood exhibition for this summer (opens May folks, watch this space!). And I’m supposed to mention all of these in a five minute interview?!?

Well, I guess I’ll have to save it for the acknowledgments section of the book I’m writing (it’s going to be a loooong section). My point for now is that the sudden explosion of conversation yesterday is really just the icing on the cake of a long period of collaborative discussion on Drood. I believe we’re living in an exciting age for academia where the internet and social media is breaking down the ivory tower and encouraging more discussion and sharing of knowledge. I certainly wouldn’t have managed to get this far with the project without the community around me who have so willingly offered suggestions and insights. So; a pat on the back for The Drood Inquiry, and a round of applause for all of you and your involvement along the way. Now, if you haven’t already, for heaven’s sake get voting on how the story ends!

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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