Drood in the classroom


One of my primary aims in setting up the Drood Inquiry was to encourage new discussion from those who had never read, never heard, of Drood before. So imagine my delight when I received an email this week from Olivia Griffiths, a schoolteacher in Vermont who was inspired by the site to set the mystery as a project for her high school students. She asked her students to write an extract, with most choosing to write either the story’s conclusion, or a description of the (attempted) murder of Edwin. She tells me:

For their final assignment, each student had to come up with their own theory as to what happened, whether Edwin was dead or alive, who killed him, where was he, who was involved, etc. The classroom was covered in CSI-style crime boards, coloured charts with arrows and crude drawings of dead bodies. Heated arguments broke out as to HOW exactly you could dispose of a body and where given the time period. For those who believed Edwin had fled, there were many ideas of his coming back in disguise, secretly being everywhere from Munich to Cairo, and one theory that had Edwin and Neville running away together. It was great fun. Lest they get too complacent, however, the other component of this was to write a scene from their own versions in Dickensian style, based on what we had discussed in class.

I wish I could have seen the CSI crime boards, but was grateful to receive a selection of the scenes written by the students. I always find reading fictional solutions far more enlightening than summarised theories in articles. Writing an extract, like writing a full solution, calls upon an attention to the small details that go unheeded by scholars and essayists who focus on just the big questions. I myself chose to focus just on the big questions for the Drood Inquiry purely to keep the survey relatively simple and unwieldy, but reading the work by these students has been enjoyable to see how they flesh out some of those answers and the consequences within them. For example, the question of who is the murderer requires more of an answer than simply ‘Jasper’ – there is the question not only of motive but also the story behind that motive and the subsequent actions. So those that went for the popular suggestion of Jasper as murderer were still left to justify his reasons, and paint a picture of a man driven to such desperation, and while Rosa was held up as the motive, students differed on the level of anguish felt by Jasper. One had Jasper revealing ‘My relationship with my dear nephew has never been, shall you say, loving’, while others pondered over the guilt and conflict of the uncle torn between love for the nephew and love for Rosa, ‘the one rose in a bush full of thorns’, such as proposed in these two solutions:

He started wondering if Rosa was even worth killing Edwin. He noticed how sad his room was with no light. Edwin was his light.

Rosa, she deserves more. She deserves the world. I would murder Edwin ten times over, just so she could be with me.

A popular method of death in the students’ work was drowning in the river, which had the advantage for many of allowing the murder to be an act of passion, even accidental, and to accommodate Edwin surviving without Jasper’s awareness. One even suggested that Edwin, returning as Datchery, was confiding in Neville, which I found rather intriguing. A number went further to have Edwin forgive Jasper and one even had Jasper marry Rosa with Edwin’s blessing. The most inventive solution showed Jasper to be innocent, and Neville as the would-be murderer, his motive being the murder of his father by Edwin’s father, whose nefarious plan is foiled by Jasper and Edwin working together to hide the nephew and frame his intended killer.

The students had a lot of fun working on these answers, clearly, and I had a lot of fun reading them. Some solutions chanced upon ideas put forward before, some strayed into new territory, but for me the achievement of them all was the thought put into them and the level of engagement with each student and Dickens’s text. The incomplete state of Drood can, I accept, be off-putting to readers and consequently to teachers and students, but what these essay show is that the lack of certainty created by the missing end actually opens up a wider vein of possibilities for student imagination and individual responses to Dickens and his writing.

With thanks to Olivia Griffiths and the students at St Johnsbury Academy.

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 (www.droodinquiry.com). 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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