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Five Studies in Dickens's Edwin Drood: Nerds Writing Nerdsays

In that fragmentary firmament which Charles Dickens called The Mystery of Edwin Drood the stars shine on, and I may still fix my gaze upon them, seeking for the letters I have yet to learn.

Richard M. Baker...is a giant nerd. And I love him.


In 1948, he published a series of essays called The Drood Murder Case: Five Studies in Dickens's Edwin Drood, which I have just finished after having it out from the library for eight months (to exactly no one's surprise, no one else requested it during this time).


He basically describes himself as a giant Dickens dork who really loves Edwin Drood and so he researched the shit out of it. And oh. Yes he did. For those unaware, The Mystery of Edwin Drood was Dickens's last novel and only half of it was completed when Dickens died, leaving almost no clues as to the ending. This has prompted many scholars to try to piece it together (WHAT'S THE MYSTERY NOW, DICKENS), write books, write novel-form continuations, AND, of course, there is the musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood.


This might not be in the original

I don't consider things for Edwin Drood spoilers, because it is an UNFINISHED BOOK, so here's the quick rundown: In a cathedral town called Cloisterham, there's young Edwin Drood engaged to Rosa Bud (blonde girl above); his uncle Jasper who's creepy and in love with Rosa (guy above); Helena and Neville Landless, twins from India; and assorted other people who don't really matter a ton but whom I love very much (HIRAM GREWGIOUS AND THE REVEREND CRISPARKLE 4EVR). 

Edwin and Rosa have been engaged since childhood, but decide to call it off because they feel all sibling-like towards each other, and ew. Jasper doesn't know this, and PROBABLY (definitely) kills Edwin. I mean, we don't know for sure, but he basically says he's going to and then slobbers all over Rosa and then the last time Edwin's seen alive, Jasper's going upstairs to see him with a long black scarf twisted up in his hands. 



SO. Edwin disappears, what's up, who did it, is he dead or alive, what's going on with Jasper and will his opium addiction finally catch up to him, and most importantly, can Alice adopt the lawyer Hiram Grewgious even though he's way older than she is and fictional? Richard M. Baker tries to answer almost all these questions (leaving off the most important, but I forgive him, as when he wrote this my father was eight). And he is a GIANT dork about it. It's the endearingest. 

It was all over for me when, writing about the possibility of Jasper putting Edwin's body in quicklime and also trying to make sense of a six month skip-over that Dickens does in Drood (notable because he almost never does that in his novels), he starts mulling over how long quicklime would take to dissolve a body, and says:
Making a final attempt to settle this question, I presented my problem in a letter addressed to Dr. Alan R. Moritz, a criminal pathologist and head of the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard Medical School. A week later I received a highly informative reply from Robert P. Brittain.

First of all, HOW cute are all the middle initials? Secondly — you are a man after my own heart, sir. You wrote a letter in the 1940s to Harvard Medical School asking how long quicklime takes to dissolve a body. (plot twist! it preserves it!)

He makes a pretty good case for 1) The identity of the mysterious stranger Dick Datchery, who appears right before the novel ends, and 2) Is Edwin Drood murdered? The answer to the latter seems to be "Yes, unless you're an idiot and believe otherwise." Why? Mainly because EVERYONE WHO CHATTED WITH DICKENS AT THE TIME SAID HE SAID SO. Meaning his editor, his son, and his daughter. And people are still like "Yeah, right, like he'd tell THEM what was going to happen in his book."



Edwin Drood's kind of neglected since it IS only a half-finished book. And some people're pretty mean about it. But I hereby tell you that it is complex, interesting, has characters that stick with you, and the fact that the book ends where it does isn't as maddening as you might think it would be. I love that it's set in Cloisterham (aka Rochester). It feels much more insular than most of his other, more sprawling novels. Rosa Bud has an actual personality, despite being his usual 16-year-old blonde heroine. And the exchange between Miss Twinkleton and Mrs. Billickin is one of my favorite Dickensian moments of ever.

I don't recommend this particular book to any of you, as it's just pure Edwin Drood nerdery, but you really should read the novel itself. And then listen to the musical. Which is ALSO great.

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