Charles Dickens: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (review)

This was Charles Dickens’ last novel. Of course, he had to choose a murder mystery as his last novel and of course he had to die before completing it, leaving it forever unknown who actually committed the murder – or if there actually was a murder. Now, Dickens wrote his novels in a series of installments and he was influenced by how the public reacted to the stories so it’s not sure that he himself knew how the story would end and who would turn out to be the culprit.

Let’s turn to the story itself. This is the story of Edwin Drood and his fiancé Rosa Bud, nicknamed Rosebud (or more inappropriate: Pussy). Both are orphans and their late fathers decided that it would be the right thing if these two young people were to become married. But even though they like one another well enough, they don’t love each other.

Both Rosa and Edwin has a guardian –  Edwin’s is his uncle John Jasper, and Rosa’s guardian is a laywer called Grewgious who was a friend of her parents. Both Rosa and John Jaspers live in Cloisterham and he’s her music teacher. In the beginning of the novel, the twins Neville and Helena Landless moves to Cloisterham. The twins are orphans as well, and Helena ends up living at the same school as Rosa where they become friends, and Neville moves in with Rev. Crisparkle.

On the twin’s first evening in Cloisterham, they attend a dinner party at Crisparkle’s where they meet Edwin Drood, John Jasper and Rosa. Neville and Edwin get in an argument over how Edwin treats Rosa and Jasper kind of encourages their disagreement. When some time later, Edwin and Neville is attending a dinner at Jasper’s to reconcile, Edwin Drood disappears afterwards while Neville presumably being the last to see him alive.

In the beginning, I didn’t care that much about the book – I felt none of the characters were very likable and I didn’t care all that much about what happened to either of them. But then they all started to grow on me. Timid Rosa Bud, sympathetic Crisparkle,  daring Helena Landless – and especially Grewgious, the lawyer. I love Grewgious! I love how he’s constantly playing himself down and how he cares desperately for Rosa Bud – because of her mother.

This is a hard book to summarize because  it’s only half a novel. The plot has only really just begun when the book ends and normally you would have mentioned most of what has happened up till then in a review but it’s hard to do when only the first half of the book was ever written and you then reveal too much of what’s actually there.

Even though this has a lot of Dickens’ trademark writings – his humor especially – I don’t think this is a book to read, except if you are a Dickens fan who wants to read everything the man wrote or if you are particularly interested in the Edwin Drood mystery. Dickens can write, he can surely write and he’s so funny at times: Mr. Sapsea’s premises are in the High Street, over against the Nuns’ House. They are of about the period of the Nuns’ House, irregularly modernized here and there, as steadily deteriorating generations found, more and more, that they preferred air and light to Fever and the Plague. (location 880-88). I really like how he writes and I recommend the book – if you can stand that you will never know for sure what Dickens envisioned for his characters.

In some ways, it’s the perfect mystery novel. Whenever you read a mystery or crime novel, you’re always attempting to guess who did it. So it is with this novel – but it stays a mystery. The murderer’s identity is never revealed…

Before reading the story, I thought that I would be most annoyed by not knowing who killed Edwin Drood but that’s not true. While I’m very curious to know who killed Drood, I’m just as much curious about what happened to the other characters. Who did Rosa Bud end up with, what about the Landless twins, what about Crisparkle, who is Dick Datchery? I really, really just want to read the rest of the book. And that’s not going to happen. But I’m not the only one obsessing over this book.

My copy of this book has two parts. The first part is the actual novel itself. Then the second part is a trial organized by the Dickens Fellowship and held in 1914, with people like Arthur Waugh (father of Evelyn) and George Bernard Shaw participating. This is The Trial of John Jasper for the Murder of Edwin Drood and it is as much a satire over the state of the British trial system as it is an attempt to solve the mystery of Edwin Drood and while it’s rather fun to read, it doesn’t shed much light on the actual mystery.

I am still very fascinated by the mystery and although I too think, that John Jasper is the guilty one, I also think that in every murder mystery, there’s a person who seem obviously to be the guilty one – and this person never turns out to be the real guilty one. So I don’t know. All I know is that I am not done with Edwin Drood yet.

  • Title: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  • Author: Charles Dickens
  • Publisher: 
  • Year: 1870
  • Pages: e-book (kindle)
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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2 thoughts on “Charles Dickens: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (review)

  1. I just wish I read your review before starting the novel. I had absolutely no clue it would end so abruptly. Two weeks later, and my soul still craves closure. Grrrr.

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