Exciting news – on Friday 10 July 2015 the Dickens Museum is offering an evening of readings from the Drood solution written by Dickens’ son, performed in Dickens’ home. I’ve spoken here previously about the 1871 novel John Jasper’s Secret by Henry Morford which was, and continues to be, wrongly attributed to Wilkie Collins and Charles “Charley” Dickens Jnr, much to the benefit of the book’s sales. However, just because Charley Dickens did not write this book does not mean he didn’t write a solution; in 1880 Charley co-authored a play with Joseph Hatton, intended for production at the Princess’s Theatre with Charles Warner in the role of Jasper. Various delays hit the production until eventually it dropped from the stage before it was ever put on, and in all that time since it has never been performed. Only two copies are known to be in existence: the original manuscript which is said to be in the hands of the Dickens family, and a printed copy which rests in The Suzannet Research Room of The Charles Dickens Museum in London, and which will be used as the basis for the readings on 10 July.
Of course I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like this, so I’ll be there on the night to join in the readings, but how far should we assume the solution of Dickens’ own family to be authoritative? Well, Charley was not privy to the full details of his father’s plans for the end of Drood; but in 1923 he wrote the following about a conversation he had with Charles about the book:
It was during the last walk I ever had with him at Gadshill, and our talk, which had been principally concerned with literary matters connected with All the Year Round, presently drifting to Edwin Drood, my father asked me if I did not think he had let out too much of his story too soon. I assented, and added, ‘Of course, Edwin Drood was murdered?’ Whereupon he turned upon me with an expression of astonishment at my having asked such an unnecessary question, and said: ‘Of course, what else do you suppose?’
So consequently Charley, in his solution, went for the same ending supported by Dickens’ friends and colleagues John Forster, Luke Fildes and Charles Collins, namely that Edwin is dead and Jasper did it. However, the translation of the story from stage to page necessitates some changes because of the demands of the theatre. So while Forster tells us that the book was to end with Jasper in the condemned cell confessing everything, Charley’s play conflates it so that the murder is re-enacted as a vision in the opium den (which would be far more interesting than a monologue to a contemporary theatre audience used to the visual opulence of Victorian pictorialism). Elsewhere Charley leans heavily upon Forster’s account provided in his biography of Dickens so – spoiler alert – it doesn’t bode well for Neville’s chances of survival.
It is a mystery why the play was never performed. Given the hype around Morford’s novel and the reputation it forged from the false connection to Charley, you would the play would thrive rather well, or at least be anticipated to do so enough for a director to take a risk on it. That said, there were several other dramatic solutions of Drood being performed at this time, with prominent actors such as Herbert Beerbohm Tree assuming the role of Jasper, so perhaps Charley’s solution was one dramatization too far. Whatever the cause, the reading in July will go some way to blowing the dust off this lost solution and allowing a wider audience to judge for themselves whether Charley did his father credit in his solution.
You can read more about the upcoming reading on the Dickens Museum’s website here, including information on how to book your place.