Books Magazine

Chapter by Chapter: The Mystery of Edwin Drood XI

By Brian Abbott

Rosa has fled from John Jasper who revealed his villainous designs on her in their private conversation in the garden of the Nuns’ House.  Others’ concern about Rosa’s sudden flight brings the Reverend Crisparkle to London.

” ‘I have told Mr. Crisparkle,’ said Mr. Grewgious, ‘all that you told me last night, my dear. Of course I should have written to him immediately; but his coming was most opportune. And it was particularly kind of him to come, for he had but just gone.’ ”

Indeed, Crisparkle had been in London a few chapters prior to see Neville Landless settled into his lodgings in London.

The question: “what is to be done for Helena and her brother [Neville]?” is raised, but just then they learn that a gentleman has coming calling.  One with brown hair and blue eyes.  Not dark and with black hair, indicating Jasper, as Rosa fears.  It might be well to see him, reverend sir, if you don’t object. When one is in a difficulty, or at a loss, one never knows in what direction a way out may chance to open,” advises Grewgious.

The gentleman arrives. “Crisparkle concentrated his attention on a handsome face, much sunburnt; and the ghost of some departed boy seemed to rise, gradually and dimly, in the room.”  It is Tartar, who once saved Crisparkle from drowning before the latter took up swimming as a pastime.

This curious character, appearing for the first time a scant few chapters prior, is conveniently introduced just before the appearance of that other mysterious character Dick Datchery in Chapter Eighteen.  It would not seem unlikely that with characters traveling back and forth between London and Cloisterham so quickly–as noted with Crisparkle–that Tartar could still possibly be Datchery.  His past history with Crisparkle serves to reinforce his role as a heroic individual.  However, Grewgious seeming unfamiliarity with Tartar casts doubt on that theory in my mind.

Grewgious appears to be the chief engineer behind efforts to thwart Jasper, see Rosa safely delivered, and discover that which occurred in Cloisterham when Drood disappeared.  He even now suggests a secret way for Rosa to meet with the Landless twins by making use of Tartar’s premises, which are adjacent and unwatched by a “local friend of ours … [who] sneaks to and fro.”

Later Rosa wonders “what the girls would say, if they could see her crossing the wide street on the sailor’s [Tartar’s] arm.”

This meeting between Rosa and Tartar–perhaps a future love interest for her?–ends the fifth and final installment as planned by Dickens before his death and appearing in print two months later in August 1870.  There exist two more completed chapters, part of a sixth installment.


Chapter Twenty-Two begins with a visit to Tartar’ tidy chambers.  Rosa and Crisparkle are able to converse with Helena Landless.  Helena suggests a plan whereby Tartar would visit Neville often so “that his enemy would in some way communicate with Mr. Tartar to wan him off from Neville” and thus they would know how the enemy [Jasper] conspires against them.

The chapter shifts to Grewgious’ search for suitable lodgings for Rosa and Miss Grewgious, who will be invited up to London to look after her.  Thus, a new character is introduced: Mrs. Billickin is a cousin of Bazzard’s.  Grewgious’ banter with Mrs. Billickin allows for much needed humor at this point in the story, which has taken a dark and serious turn since the meeting between Jasper and Rosa in Chapter Nineteen.  Mrs. Billickin, a true Dickensian character!, provides further comic relief when Miss Twinkleton arrives.  The two women do not get along.Little else happens in this chapter but for a brief aside in which Tartar takes Rosa and Grewgious on a river excursion.  See the above illustration with (from left to right) Rosa, Grewgious, Tartar, and Mr. Tartar’s man, Lobley, who had charge of the boat.”As the days crept on and nothing happened, the neighbours began to say that the pretty girl at Billickin’s, who looked so wistfully and so much out of the gritty windows of the drawing-room, seemed to be losing her spirits.  The pretty girl might have lost them but for the accident of lighting on some books of voyages and sea-adventure.”More than anything these two chapters, considered to be the halfway mark of the unfinished whole, seem to be setting up for a happy ending, at least for Rosa.  The object of Jasper’s obsession and Drood’s former fiancee is finally shown, in these latest chapters, as a more central character in her own right.  Is her new found love of sea adventures a sign of her future to come?  What of Jasper’s machinations?  And who is Datchery?


Stop by next week for the final chapter and conclusion to the unfinished Mystery of Edwin Drood.

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