Charles Dickens died before this novel was completed, and he left no notes among his papers to show how he intended to end the story. Undoubtedly, The Mystery of Edwin Drood owes some of its popular appeal to its being unfinished. Dickens had only completed half of the work at the time of his death, and this missing ending has spawned dozens of conclusions, the first four only months after his death, as well as a play in which the audience can choose Drood’s murderer. Nevertheless, the existent fragment stands on its own as a good example of Dickens’s style and literary technique. An indication of the narrative’s power is its invariable inclusion in lists of the best works of mystery and suspense.
Although the titular protagonist is Edwin Drood, the action and psychological drama center on his uncle, John Jasper. There are, in reality, two Jaspers, the seemingly devoted friend and quiet and dedicated choirmaster, and the resentful opium addict who is madly in love with Rosa. This duality does not, however, represent a split personality. Although some critics have seen in Dickens’s portrayal of Jasper a precursor to Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), Jasper the benevolent choirmaster is a conscious facade that enables him to indulge his drug habit in secret. John Jasper’s envy of Drood, his lust for Rosa, and his scorn for his job and environs are never hidden in the narrative. The clues to the choirmaster’s true personality, which is uniformly negative, gradually mount. Indeed, there is not much mystery about what happened to Drood; it is quite clear that he is murdered by Jasper. From Dickens’s notes and conversations with friends, family, and artistic collaborators, it is clear that for Dickens the important element of the novel is not the question of guilt but the manner of its disclosure. There is also substantial evidence to indicate that some of the final chapters would have contained Jasper’s confession in his prison cell as he awaited execution. In any case, even a superficial reading of the text points rather unmistakably to Jasper.
Although Jasper’s true nature is not an enigma to the reader, there are a number of other mysteries, plot intricacies, and personality quirks that fascinate and provide material for speculation. Indeed, the cast of characters of The Mystery of Edwin Drood is one of Dickens’s finest....
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