Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 1015 words.)
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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...
(The entire section is 463 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 484 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
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 that he is still unpopular in the community, decides to go on a walking tour. He will go alone and plans on being gone for two weeks. He dreads going to the Christmas Eve dinner, but Helena assures him that it will soon be over.
Edwin Drood’s mind turns from Rosa to Helena, though he thinks himself unworthy of her. As he walks around town, he encounters a haggard old woman. She begs for money to return to London. In answer to Edwin’s question, she confesses that she uses opium. She asks his name. When he tells her, she says it is a good thing it is not Ned, which is a “threatened” name.
At the cathedral, Jasper tells Mr. Crisparkle that he has vowed to be in better spirits in the coming year. That night, a severe windstorm batters the town. The next morning, as the people survey the damage, they discover that Edwin Drood is missing.
Neville begins his walking tour on Christmas Day. He is soon overtaken by eight men. Four men go past him, but the other four follow behind. They soon surround him, but he puts up a fight. He is taken back to Cloisterham, where he is questioned in the disappearance of Edwin Drood. Mr. Grewgious tells the questioners that Edwin and Rosa had broken off their engagement. At this news, Jasper shrieks and collapses.
Jasper, regaining consciousness, suggests that Edwin might have gone away voluntarily from embarrassment at breaking off his engagement. Mr. Crisparkle agrees that this might be a possibility and relates this to Mr. Grewgious.
Mr. Crisparkle takes a walk and is unaccountably drawn to the Weir, where he finds a shirt pin and a gold watch inscribed with the letters “E.D.” He takes these items to Mayor Sapsea, who orders...
(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 has retired from the navy. Neville is astonished when Tartar leaves by the window to return to his own lodgings.
Dick Datchery arrives in Cloisterham and announces that he is staying for a month or more. He would like lodgings that are “inconvenient” and finds them at Mrs. Trope’s. He is given a tour of the Cathedral and seems very interested in Jasper and the disappearance of Edwin Drood.
Jasper comes to see Rosa, who is terrified of his presence. She has not seen him since Edwin’s disappearance and does not want to see him now. She agrees to meet him in the garden, not wanting to be shut up with him indoors. Jasper asks her when they can resume their music lessons, but Rosa says that she is done with them forever.
He reaches out to touch her, but she draws back. Angered, Jasper warns her that she might cause harm to others if she rejects him. He confesses to her that he loves her madly and warns her that no other admirer may love her and live, hinting at Neville Landless. He also tells her that her rejection of him may bring harm to her dear friend, Helena Landless. He leaves, and Rosa faints.
When she regains consciousness, Rosa decides she is not safe in Cloisterham. She packs her things, leaves a note to Miss Twinkleton that she had to see her guardian immediately, and leaves for London.
She arrives at Staple Inn, surprising Mr. Grewgious, who thinks she is her dead mother. She tells him about Jasper and his unwanted advances and begs him for protection. As Rosa eats and calms down, Grewgious tells her about his clerk, Bazzard, who feels he is misplaced in an office and hopes to have a tragedy he has written published and performed. Grewgious takes...
(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 is not going back to Miss Twinkleton’s because of the incident with Jasper. She asks for Helena’s reassurance that she in no way caused the situation with Jasper. Mr. Grewgious suggests that Miss Twinkleton might come to town for a month to stay with Rosa. They find lodgings in the home of Mrs. Billickin, who offers them unsatisfactory rooms at first but soon gives them adequate lodgings that please both Rosa and Mr. Grewgious.
When he prepares the lease, Mr. Grewgious asks Mrs. Billickin to sign both her first and last names, but she refuses lest someone learn that she is a lone, vulnerable woman. She signs her name simply “Billickin.” As they leave, Rosa and Mr. Grewgious meet Mr. Tartar, who suggests a ride up the river on his boat; they eagerly accept.
Miss Twinkleton arrives in a couple of days, loaded down with several trunks and packages. The Billickin, as she is known, sets herself up as a rival of Miss Twinkleton in the care of Rosa. Miss Twinkleton and Rosa settle in over the next few days, finding excitement in books of adventure and sea voyages.
Although Mr. Crisparkle and Jasper meet daily in the cathedral, neither one mentions Edwin Drood. No one but Rosa suspects Jasper in Edwin’s disappearance. Jasper goes to London to an opium den, where he finds the old woman he had known in Cloisterham. She gives him some opium to smoke. Jasper hallucinates as the old woman guides him on a mental journey.
When he awakens, Jasper leaves, but the old woman follows him back to Cloisterham. She sees him go up a staircase and questions a man, who is Dick Datchery, sitting below. She does not go up to see Jasper, however, but is content to watch below. She tells...
(The entire section is 461 words.)