The opening of the special exhibition ‘A Dickens Whodunit: Solving the Mystery of Edwin Drood’ at the Charles Dickens Museum seemed a suitable time to reflect upon the responses received so far on The Drood Inquiry. With that in mind I asked Alys Jones if she would once more take up the pen to create a seventh panel summarising the most popular ideas of how the story ends. That panel is now on display at the Museum alongside Alys’ illustrations of Dickens’ text, and will shortly be appearing on the website too.
The majority believed John Jasper to be the murderer, and strangling to be the method. Edwin was believed to be hidden in the Sapsea tomb, and Jasper condemned to be hanged. In addition it was believed that Neville died, Rosa married Tartar and Crisparkle married Helena. These details are remarkable in as much as they fully comply with Forster’s report of what Dickens had revealed to him. In other words, despite the claims of many Droodists over the years that Forster cannot be trusted, that is precisely what the majority of readers are inclined to do.
Of course, Forster didn’t tell us everything – Datchery’s identity, for example, remains a mystery without any external clues. While Bazzard remains the popular choice for which character might be disguised as Datchery, a greater number yet believed the white-haired stranger to be entirely new to the plot, thus making the focus upon his hair and hat a red herring. Equally open to debate is the role of the Princess Puffer, who at various times in solutions has been directly linked to Jasper, Edwin or Rosa through family ties; but as with Datchery the responses we received were in favour of her being entirely separate, who is simply looking to blackmail Jasper. She was, however, a popular vote for characters likely to die before the novel’s close.
The nature of the survey is that it dealt, in a very Gradgrindian way, with facts. In order to collate results effectively the details in answers were left basic (although all participants were invited, and indeed still are invited, to add any details they wished at the end of the survey). What this means in terms of translating the results into a graphic summary was that some plot points had to be fleshed out: how does Neville die? How is Jasper’s crime discovered? Given the close correlation between the popular vote and Forster’s report it made sense to use this to some extent to flesh out the story, with Neville dying during the pursuit of Jasper. But there is still room for disagreement even within this interpretation.
Which brings me back to the point I’ve found myself reiterating a lot this past week: the solution presented here is not the final solution. You will notice the survey has been left open, and will continue to be left open. I want to see how people respond to this solution and to the exhibition. Will we get votes in support or new ideas coming through to challenge the popular consensus? Three times The Dickensian banned discussion of Drood in its pages, and three times that ban was eventually lifted when they realised that there is no final word, no end to the discussion. But before we throw our heads in our hands and cry in despair, this lack of finality is not a cause for concern, but celebration. Drood is unfinished, and that is frustrating, infuriating and delightfully intriguing, and an excellent platform for readers –whatever their knowledge of Dickens – to engage with the text and put forward their ideas. My interest remains, as ever, not in the answer, but in the question itself, and I look forward to seeing, reading and hearing many more solutions yet to come. So please, if you haven’t already, visit http://www.droodinquiry.com, enter your ideas of the story’s conclusion, and keep sleuthing.