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A Reflection on Edwin Drood

21 Feb

Some years ago now I received a letter from Richard F. Stewart wondering if I would like to publish he book. Richard was in Scotland and he had written a book entitled End Game: A Survey of Selected Writings about The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. I asked to see the manuscript and he sent it along as an e-mail attachment as Richard lived in Scotland, and we agreed that I would publish it.

end-game

About the Author: Richard F. Stewart was born in Dundee in 1936 and educated there and at St. Andrews University. He laboured to pass on some of this education to the British soldier during ten years in the Royal Army Educational Corps, but eventually threw down his chalk and joined the administrative staff of Manchester University in 1968. He survived this for 25 years before rescue by early retirement. The author of one other book, And Always A Detective … (a sort of history of detective fiction), he now dabbles in books, bowls and baby-sitting.

About the Book: Charles Dickens’ last, unfinished book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, is probably the most written-about novel ever. Few works of fiction have full-length assessments devoted to them, yet Edwin Drood has at least a dozen such, not to mention the array of attempts to complete the novel itself and the almost countless articles purporting to solve the mystery of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. This distinction has of course come about because the book is unfinished – and is a mystery. An unfinished Pickwick might tease but would scarcely tantalise in the way Edwin Drood has done. As G.K. Chesterton remarks, ‘The only one of Dickens’s novels which he did not finish was the only one that really needed finishing’.

When Dickens died on the 9th June 1870 at the age of 58, he had completed half the story. No notes were found to show how he intended the tale to finish and the reader is left pondering a series of riddles – has young Edwin Drood been murdered? if so, where is the body? what part is played by John Jasper, Edwin’s opium-addicted uncle? who is the mysterious stranger, Datchery, who comes asking questions in the quiet cathedral city of Cloisterham? Yet Dickens has bequeathed us a wealth of hints and clues in the part we have, but despite – or perhaps because of – these, no two commentators seem able to agree on the outcome of the story. And growing by what it feeds on, a unique cottage industry geared to finding the answers has developed over the last 130 years, with amateur detectives fabricating those hundreds of books and articles, each claiming to have found the key to Dickens’ plot. They range from the sombre to the hilarious, invoking mesmerism, paranoia, schizophrenia, telepathy, cyphers, Thuggee and Sherlock Holmes (to name but a few) in the search for a solution.

In this book the author lists and assesses all the main solutions, completions and commentaries and several minor ones as well. Readers will not only be able to trace the development of an amazing literary phenomenon – they should emerge well-equipped to produce their own solution.

After the text was set, I invited Jean-Pierre Cagnat to do the cover with a caricature of the author, and he did so with his usual character insight and humour. It is a fine tribute to a man who spent many years compiling this reference work.

caricature-of-the-author-by-cagnat2

Jean Pierre never met Dick and he did this from a couple of photographs I sent him, and I’ll drop one of them in here.

dick-stewart-photo-11

After this first book we went on to do two more and I enclose thumbnails of them here: … And Always A Detective (originally published in 1980) and The Great Detective Case of 1877: A Study in Victorian Police Corruption.


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