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.