Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

The Drood Remains Revisited: The Monthly Plans (Part Two)

Academic journal article Dickens Quarterly

The Drood Remains Revisited: The Monthly Plans (Part Two)

Article excerpt

Anyone acquainted with the number plans for Drood, but only with those, would be startled to discover that Dickens mentions on the very first page of the notes for Bleak House that Esther Summerson is Lady Dedlock's daughter--the reader of the published work is not allowed to suspect this until chapter 18 and the suspicion is not confirmed until chapter 36. Likewise, he refers to Estella as Magwitch's daughter on the first of his two sheets of "General Mems." for Great Expectations, although the reader does not learn this until the last line of chapter 11 in the third volume.

Such anticipations, as Dickens would call them, are completely absent from the notes for his last book. A striking instance of this is provided by his contrasting treatment of two rather similar figures in the notes for, respectively, Hard Times and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In the earlier book an old woman haunts the streets of Coketown, where she is a stranger and where she is obviously spying on one of its citizens, a Mr. Bounderby. Notes for the second number, both left and right, identify her as Bounderby's mother (Stone 25455), a fact not revealed to the reader until chapter 33, very near the end of the book. In Drood, there is a figure somewhat like her--the haggard woman of the first chapter--who haunts the streets of Cloisterham, where she is a stranger and where she is first seeking and then spying on one of its citizens, a Mr. Jasper. He obviously has, though unknown to himself, a relationship with her other than that of patron of her opium den in London, but the notes do not supply the slightest hint as to what that might be.

But these are minor mysteries--even the last, or so we suppose. The major mysteries in the novels prior to Drood (setting aside those in such early works as Oliver Twist and Barnaby Rudge, for which no notes exist) would be questions as to who killed Tulkinghorn in Bleak House and the source of Pip's prosperity in Great Expectations; to which we might add, if we loosen our definition of the word "mystery" a little, the sinister change in Mr. Boffin's personality in the last half of Our Mutual Friend. As it happens, the murderer is not explicitly identified in the early notes for Bleak House, but Dickens gives so much attention to Lady Dedlock's maid, the French woman Hortense, mentioning this minor personage in his notes for numbers 4, 6, 7, 8 and 13 ("Begin with Snagsby and work up to--Frenchwoman"), that it is unlikely that any peruser of the plans, even the most casual, would be surprised by his last reference to her in a note for chapter 54 in the seventeenth number: "Disclosure of the murder. Mad'lle Hortense taken." The "Mems." for Great Expectations do not identify Magwitch as Pip's benefactor, but they are too meager for that to count as a lapse. The very ample notes for Our Mutual Friend are another matter: with them, nothing is withheld. Mr. Boffin's seeming deterioration into a hard-grasping miser is described as a "pious fraud" in the plan for the fifteenth number. Dickens had earlier, in a note for the twelfth, referred to this deception (a half-demented scheme concocted by Mr. and Mrs. Boffin and John Rokesmith to dissuade Bella from becoming mercenary) as "unknown to reader"--a remark that would be hilariously out of place in the number-plans for Drood.

In his notes for these earlier books, he not only had not withheld information, he had labored hard to provide it. The number-plans for Little Dorrit are heavily noted throughout, with the final installment being preceded by four pages of closely-written "Mems. for working the story round," both "Retrospective" and "Prospective" (Stone 306-09), in which he carefully sets out the specifics of what had happened before the story opens and what was needed to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. And Our Mutual Friend, the novel just before Drood, is bursting at the seams with expository notes. Dickens meticulously explains everything throughout the first eighteen numbers and then, on the left-hand side of the plan for the final and double-number, he has some fifty lines of explanatory material, filling the entire page and spilling over for another eighteen lines onto the back of the sheet--with the right-hand or chapter-notes side also being generously annotated (Stone 370-73). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.