Study Guide

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

by Charles Dickens

The Mystery of Edwin Drood Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Jack Jasper is the choirmaster of the cathedral at Cloisterham. Young as he is, he is also the guardian of his orphan nephew, Edwin Drood, who is only a few years Jasper’s junior. Edwin Drood is an apprentice engineer who expects one day to become a partner in the firm that employs him, for his father had been one of the owners. Drood’s profession takes him all over the world, but he comes back at every opportunity to Cloisterham to see his uncle and his fiancé.

Drood’s fiancé, Rosa Bud, is attending a finishing school in Cloisterham. She has been there for several years, for both her parents are dead. The fathers of the two young people had been extremely close friends, and both had requested in their will that their two children become engaged and, at the proper time, married. As the years passed, Edwin and Rosa realized that they were not in love and had no desire to marry. During Rosa’s last year at the finishing school, they agree to remain friends but to put aside all ideas of marriage. No one except Rosa realizes that Jasper is in love with her. Rosa is very much afraid of Jasper, so much so that she dares not tell anyone of Jasper’s infatuation, but she almost gives her secret away when she ceases taking music lessons from him.

During one of Drood’s visits to Cloisterham, a young English couple arrives there from Ceylon, where they had been orphaned. The young woman, Helena Landless, who is Rosa Bud’s age, enters the finishing school, and the young man, who is the age of Edwin Drood, begins studies under one of the minor officials at the cathedral, Mr. Crisparkle. Crisparkle, a friend of Jasper and Drood, introduces his charge, Neville Landless, to Jasper and Edwin, in the hope that they will all become fast friends.

As it turns out, however, young Landless was immediately smitten with Rosa and becomes irritated by Drood’s casual attitude toward her. The very first evening the three men spend together in Jasper’s lodgings, the two quarrel; Jasper claims that if he had not interceded, Landless would have killed Drood.

Rosa and Helena become close friends, and Rosa confesses to Helena that she is in love with Helena’s brother. Jasper soon deduces this fact for himself and becomes exceedingly jealous. Jasper, who is addicted to opium, is extremely peculiar and mysterious at times. He becomes acquainted with Durdles, a stonemason, who takes him about the cathedral and points out the various old tombs under the...

(The entire section is 1015 words.)

The Mystery of Edwin Drood Chapter Summaries

Chapters 1-5 Summary

In an opium den in the “ancient English cathedral town” here called Cloisterham, a man awakens to find himself on a bed surrounded by other semi-conscious addicts. He tries to hear what the others are muttering but finds them all unintelligible. Leaving some money on the table, he exits and makes his way to the cathedral, where he joins the choir procession just as the words come forth: “WHEN THE WICKED ARE—.”

Mr. Tope, the chief verger, discusses John Jasper’s unhealthy appearance as he led the choir into Cloisterham Cathedral. The dean asks the Reverend Septimus Crisparkle, a cathedral canon, to check on Jasper.

Crisparkle finds Jasper awaiting his nephew, Edwin Drood, who arrives just as Crisparkle is leaving. They are close to the same age and so resent being considered uncle and nephew. At dinner, they drink a toast to Pussy, Drood’s fiancée, who was chosen for him by his parents and whose marriage was a stipulation of his father’s will.

Drood notices that Jasper looks ill and Jasper explains that he is taking opium for a pain. Drood praises Jasper for his success in the choir, but Jasper proclaims that he hates his narrow existence.

The old Nun's House contains Miss Twinkleton’s Seminary for Young Ladies. The pet pupil of the school is Rosa Bud, called Rosebud or Pussy by Edwin Drood. Rosa thinks it is ludicrous to be an “engaged orphan” in the school.

Jasper arrives and the two of them go for a walk to the sweet shop to escape the curious eyes of the other girls. They argue as Rosa is not interested in Jasper’s plans to be an architect and go to Egypt, which leads her to remark that they would get along better if they could be just friends.

Thomas Sapsea, auctioneer, enjoys the frequent misconception that he is more than he is, but in fact he is nothing more than the “purest Jackass.” Sapsea expounds to Jasper on his late wife, whose epitaph he is composing. It relates that Mrs. Sapsea looked up to her husband and admonishes the reader that, if he cannot do likewise, he must “with a blush retire.” Durdles, the stonemason, comes to discuss the gravestone, which he says will fit within an eighth of an inch.

On his way home, Jasper sees a boy throwing stones at Durdles. When Jasper tries to stop him, the boy explains that Durdles pays him to throw stones at him if he is out too late. As they examine the crypts, Durdles explains to Jasper that he can tap on the grave and determine the amount of decay of the corpse inside. Jasper goes home, where Drood calmly sleep. He sits up late, smoking a pipeful of opium.

Chapters 6-9 Summary

Mr. Crisparkle, an example of “muscular Christianity,” engages in an early-morning round of shadow boxing. His mother, who lives with him, fears that he will break something. They receive a letter from the philanthropist Luke Honeythunder announcing that he is bringing his wards, Neville and Helena Landless, to be educated at Cloisterham.

Mr. Crisparkle proposes a dinner party to welcome the new pupils. Mr. Honeythunder arrives with Neville and Helena, declaring that he is in need of fresh air and will remain for the day. At dinner, he is extremely annoying, monopolizing the conversation.

Neville describes his and his sister’s childhood in Ceylon at the hands of a miserly and abusive stepfather. At the stepfather’s death (which was a good thing, says Neville, or he might have killed the man), the siblings were passed off to Mr. Honeythunder. He tells Mr. Crisparkle that he and Helena like him, even though they came to Cloisterham prepared to dislike him and run away.

Neville describes Helena cutting off her hair and dressing as a boy when the two of them ran away from their cruel stepfather. Mr. Crisparkle is shocked at Neville’s violent streak but resolves to do what he can to help him and Helena. Neville asks about Edwin and his relationship to Rosa. In the parlor, Jasper is playing the piano while Rosa is singing. Rosa stops, saying that she is frightened. Helena takes care of her and the two become friends. Rosa tells Helena that she feels threatened by Jasper, enslaving her with his stare.

Neville mentions to Edwin that Mr. Crisparkle told him about Edwin’s engagement to Rosa. Edwin resents everyone talking about his private business. They begin to argue until Jasper comes along and breaks it up. They are calmed, but only momentarily. Neville dashes out of the house and goes to Mr. Crisparkle’s home, telling him of his rough start with Edwin. Jasper later comes to return Neville’s hat and discusses the fight with Mr. Crisparkle, warning that they will have to be on guard when the young men meet.

Rosa hears about the quarrel over her between Neville and Edwin. Her guardian, Mr. Grewgious, arrives. He gives her a copy of the will delineating her marriage. When Mr. Grewgious speaks of giving a copy to Jasper as Edwin’s guardian, Rosa requests that it be given directly to Edwin instead. He tells her that the will only requests, not demands, that Rosa and Edwin be married. She says she wants to talk to Edwin, who has left and will not be back until Christmas, before deciding anything else.

Mr. Grewgious speaks to Jasper before he leaves town, telling him that Rosa and Edwin’s marriage is not a requirement in terms of financial settlement. He also tells him that Rosa does not show any indication of wanting to be released from her engagement.

Chapters 10-12 Summary

Mr. Crisparkle tries to talk to his mother out of the dislike she has taken against Neville Landless because of his quarrel with Edwin Drood. He tells her that Neville is very sorry for what he did, but she will not listen.

Mr. Crisparkle goes for a walk after Vespers and encounters Neville and Helena. He again urges Neville to apologize to Edwin since there is now a great deal of prejudice against him in the community. Helena defends Neville, saying that he was provoked. Neville still refuses to apologize, saying that he regards Rosa too highly to stand silent while she is treated with indifference by Edwin.

Mr. Crisparkle warns him that since Rosa is soon to be married, his admiration for her is misplaced. Neville so violently states that he loves her that Helena must restrain him. Mr. Crisparkle further warns him to keep his love a secret and then goes to talk to Jasper. They discuss the situation; a few days later, Jasper receives a letter from Edwin suggesting that they have a Christmas Eve dinner to settle the matter.

Edwin comes to Mr. Grewgious’s office in London. Since it is very foggy, Mr. Grewgious invites him to dinner and to stay until the fog has cleared. Edwin explains that he had stopped in before going down to Cloisterham. He asks Grewgious if Rosa has told him anything about the Landlesses, but she has not. Grewgious gives Edwin a ring that belonged to Rosa’s mother so that he might give it to Rosa as an engagement ring. If he and Rosa do not marry, then Edwin must return the ring to Grewgious.

Mr. Sapsea, the auctioneer, proudly has become mayor of Cloisterham. One evening, he walks through the churchyard. He comes across the dean, Mr. Trope, and Jasper talking about Jasper’s plan to write a book about the cathedral. Mr. Sapsea suggests the stonemason Durdles as a good source of information. Durdles himself arrives and agrees to take care of Jasper.

After Jasper goes home to change clothes, he meets Durdles in the churchyard. They see Mr. Crisparkle and Neville, causing Jasper to stop Durdles until they disappear. On the steps of the cathedral, Jasper gives Durdles a bottle of wine. Unlocking the door, Durdles leads Jasper up the steps to the top of the Great Tower. They look down on the town and then proceed down the steps to the crypt.

Durdles, now drunk, sits down and goes to sleep while Jasper walks back and forth. Durdles dreams that he hears footsteps and then something falling from his hand. It is some time before he awakens and sees Jasper walking back and forth and the cathedral key lying beside him. They walk home; on the way, the boy charged to drive them out of the night and inside pelts them with stones.

Chapters 13-16 Summary

The Christmas holidays arrive and the girls of Miss Twinkleton’s Seminary depart for home. Rosa and Helena alone are to remain in Cloisterham. Helena avoids saying Edwin’s name since his quarrel with Neville.

Since Grewgious gave him the ring, Edwin has been in a quandary about his relationship with Rosa. Rosa feels the same way and suggests that they just be “brother and sister,” not husband and wife. Edwin agrees, knowing that both have been unhappy about their engagement. Edwin almost shows her the ring but decides against it. He wonders how he will break the news to Jasper. They go home but notice that Jasper has been following them.

Cloisterham prepares itself for Christmas. Neville, knowing...

(The entire section is 467 words.)

Chapters 17-20 Summary

Six months have passed, and Mr. Crisparkle is in London to meet with Mr. Honeythunder. They argue heatedly over Mr. Crisparkle’s support of Neville, with Mr. Honeythunder accusing him of not valuing the sanctity of life.

Mr. Crisparkle leaves, feeling that he gave as good as he got, and goes to see Neville. Living in attic rooms, Neville keeps up with his studies. He would like to go far away or even change his name, but that would imply guilt.

Mr. Crisparkle next visits Mr. Grewgious. They see Jasper, who seems to be “slinking around.” After dinner with Mr. Crisparkle, Neville returns home to find a stranger in his room. He introduces himself as his neighbor, Tartar. He is a former naval officer who...

(The entire section is 442 words.)

Chapters 21-22 Summary

Mr. Crisparkle arrives in London to check on Rosa since Miss Twinkleton was upset by Rosa’s note. The maid (called “the Unlimited”) interrupts them to announce a visitor who wishes to see Mr. Crisparkle. It is Mr. Tartar, who knew Mr. Crisparkle at school and had saved him from drowning. Suspecting that Jasper is keeping a watch on Neville and Rosa, Mr. Grewgious arranges for Rosa to be reunited with Helena in Mr. Tartar’s lodgings.

Mr. Tartar’s chambers are exceptionally clean, polished, and organized, in line with his past life in the navy. He leads Rosa in to meet Helena. Although Neville is in his room, Helena thinks it is better not to let him know that Rosa is near.

Rosa tells Helena that she...

(The entire section is 461 words.)