Drood

February 4, 2011 at 9:16 am (Nineteenth-century novel)


Next Thursday’s ‘Novel’ class (the final one, before reading week) is on Edwin Drood. As we all know, Dickens died before he was able to complete this novel, and I’d like the use the session to discuss this incompletion, and the larger questons of ‘endings’ and ‘closure’ in Dickens’s writing. (I’m sure I don’t need to add that ‘endings’ and ‘closure’ are not the same thing …)

The business of ‘finishing’ the story of Drood, in a narrative and a ‘whodunnit’ sense, has occupied people almost from as soon as Dickens died. Spirit mediums ‘completed’ the book aolmost immediately (The Mystery of Edwin Drood Complete. Part the Second, By the Spirit Pen of Charles Dickens, through a Medium 1870); and there have been various other ‘solutions’ and ‘full’ versions. Indeed, later this year, the BBC are going to broadcast a dramatisation with an ending supplied by Gwyneth Hughes. Wilkie Collins, Dickens’ friend and collaborator, was asked to finish the book in 1870 — as he wrote to an American newspaper, reacting to an article published by a certain Mr Barnes:

4th Dec. 1878.
My dear Sir,—I can only suppose that another false report of my having finished ‘Edwin Drood’ has been let afloat in America, I was asked to finish the story soon after Dickens’s death, and positively refused. Any assertion or newspaper report which associates me in any way with any attempted completion of the story is absolutely false. I shall be obliged if you will at once communicate this reply of mine to Mr. Barnes, with my authority to publicly contradict the rumour which has deceived him and which may deceive others. Very truly yours, WILKIE COLLINS.

For the session, I’d like you all to read Drood (obviously) and also have a read of Gerhard Joseph’s ‘Who Cares Who Killed Edwin Drood? or, on the Whole, I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia’, Nineteenth-Century Literature 51 (1996), 161-175. Are you a ‘Porfirian’ or an ‘Agathist’ with respect to the novel? Do you think Drood a psychological or a detective story, a whodunnit or an obviously-hedunnit?

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