Coming of age (2): Young adults

EdwinRosa Last week I looked at the child figure of Deputy, but the greater focus in Drood lies on the young adults of Rosa, Edwin, Neville and Helena and their awkward position between full maturity and dependence upon a guardian. When Dickens first introduces us to Rosa, the first line in which she is described as ‘wonderfully pretty, wonderfully childish, wonderfully whimsical’ – in short, rather wonderful – is immediately followed by an emphasis on the awkwardness of her situation:

An awkward interest (awkward because romantic) attaches itself to Miss Bud in the mind of the young ladies, on account of its being known to them that a husband has been chosen for her by will and bequest, and that her guardian is bound down to bestow he on that husband when she comes of age.

Wonder and awkwardness summarise the character and her situation. Full of wonder, always, childish and whimsical in that, and awkward because such a child full of wonder finds herself in this strange romantic entanglement. Edwin and Rosa’s romance, if it may be called that, is horribly awkward precisely because they have outgrown it. Their engagement, arranged by their deceased parents, was a fairy tale to begin with which has since become at odds with the reality of their mature selves. The first time we see them together in the book is the day after Rosa’s birthday, and talk now turns to their pending marriage (as Trevor points out in the comments below, Rosa is not yet 21, but the immediacy of her marriage now places her in an adult position). In other words, the awkwardness of that meeting and their difficulty in communication comes precisely from the confrontation of Rosa’s age and the consequent immediacy of their wedding. Their talk is torn between childish dreams of the future and the restricting reality of the present. When Grewgious, consciously or otherwise, persuades Edwin out of the engagement, the focus is not so much upon the unsuitability of Rosa as his wife, but rather the unsuitability of both of them for marriage: they are not old enough. Grewgious is notably put out by Edwin’s childish pet name of ‘Pussy’ for Rosa, giving a nod ‘with such an extraordinary compromise between an unqualified assent and a qualified dissent that his visitor was much disconcerted.’ Note that Edwin has long called Rosa Pussy in front of Jasper without concern, but then Jasper has been criticised for caring too much for the boy. Instead in front of Grewgious Edwin becomes conscious for the first time of the silliness of pet names, leading to the awkwardly stumbled ‘PRosa’ whenever he then mentions her in front of him. Grewgious goes on to explain that a lover should be serious and in full earnest: ‘he must not make a plaything of a treasure.’ Edwin’s subsequent decision to end it is a coming of age in itself; he realises that marriage is not a game of pretend for children but a contract between man and woman. Of course it also coincides with his meeting Helena Landless and his growing fascination for her, though such thoughts are cut short by his disappearance/death. For Rosa, the next stage of maturity comes after the breaking of the engagement when she meets Tartar. Dickens still maintains a childishness about her at this point, placing her in a fairytale vision of beanstalk country when she ascends to Tartar’s lodgings (with a chaperone of course, this is the nineteenth century after all). At this point solutionists have split into two directions. The early solutionists of the 1870s set a plot-reversal in place, bringing Edwin back from the dead to marry Rosa after all – their process of maturity being to realise that their parents knew best all along and that Helena and Tartar were mere temptations along the way. Far more numerous however are those solutions in which Rosa’s maturing is tied to her depth of feelings for Tartar, not as a girl but as a woman, and he not as the boy Eddy she knew, but as a man. It is an opportunity many solutioniss have taken to address the (I think unfairly ascribed) opinion of Dickens being unable to create realistic women, by taking this most petted of females and turning her into a three-dimensional character with sexual desires to boot. Yet ultimately in both extremes it is the maturing of Rosa that predominately forms the central arc of her story in the solutions. In this journey, the presence of this dominating older man Jasper and his own desires pressed upon her obviously take on a much deeper significance for the psychologists – Freudians in particular – to brood over (especially when it comes to likening Jasper and Rosa to Dickens and Ellen Ternan which, needless to say, has been done many a time). Meanwhile there’s the Landless twins. I’ll speak more of this next week with the issue of parental figures, but suffice to say that for this pair a tougher upbringing has already resulted in a greater sense of maturity than the petted Edwin and Rosa have. For Helena to be placed in the care of Miss Twinkleton’s school suggests she must be at least as old as Rosa, if not younger given that she has come of age, and yet it is Helena who takes the dominant role caring for the more dependant Rosa: ‘I am such a mite of a thing’ says Rosa, ‘and you are so womanly and handsome.’ Neville meanwhile is a young delinquent, a rebel before his time who leaps to violence and offence quite easily and is ready to disregard the idea of a guardian before he has met Crisparkle. His anger comes from years of abusive parenting and the subsequent desire to be his own man, not a boy. Rosa doesn’t want to grow up, to begin with, but Neville rises at the idea of being patronised. Ironically then, while Rosa goes through a process of maturity, Neville’s journey is towards subservience, in this case towards Crisparkle to whom he becomes a willing pupil and ward. In both cases there is an awkwardness of a character on the cusp of maturity and not sure which side to fall, and in both cases the character develops by finding their place on the side of that division. Rosa is ready to become a woman while Neville needs to accept he is not yet a man.

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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  1. Might I Just point out that Rosa is not yet of age; it is stated by Grewgious on page 61 that she would remain under his guardianship until of age if she does not marry-the age of majority wad of course then 21.

    1. Ah, very good point, thank you Trevor – in which case of course Jasper’s attentions toward her become even more troubling, and her position towards Edwin yet more awkward – is she a woman or a girl? Girl in the eyes of the law, yet perceived as a woman by Jasper and Tartar and indeed beginning to think like an adult herself more and more when with Tartar.

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