The Mystery of Edwin Drood. 15.9 cm wide by 10 cm high, vertically mounted.by Sir Luke Fildes. Facing page 152 for
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
In this scene, as in "Sleeping It Off," Fildes reveals his ability to convey tone and atmosphere through the "striking use of firelight and shadow as well as . . . [through the] expressive representation of hands as well as faces" (Cohen, 226). Lawyer Grewgious's suspicions, aroused by John Jasper's bizarre behaviour, are (presumably) that the music-master's romantic interest in his ward is somehow connected with the disappearance of Edwin Drood. The lawyer, having just broken the news of the couple's cancellation of their engagement, studies the prostrate figure circumspectly. Grewgious and the reader may impute Jasper's collapse to sheer exhaustion, but, if he is indeed behind the disappearance, the sheer futility of having murdered his beloved nephew may well be the real cause. The implication of the caption and the illustration is clear: if the sensible and detached observer of human nature "has his suspicions," so should we. The scarf, so conspicuous in Jasper's clothing on the day of Drood's last being seen, is the vital clue. Dickens had apparently told Fildes, who later reported the conversation in a letter published in the Times Literary Supplement for 3 November 1905 (page 373) and to Frederic G. Kitton in person, that the uncle strangles his nephew with the silk scarf:
"I noticed in the proof of the forthcoming number [i. e., for July] a description of Jasper's costume so markedly different from what I had been accustomed to conceive him as likely to wear, that I went at once to Dickens to ask him if he had any special reason for so describing him. It was a matter of a neck-scarf. Whereupon Dickens, after some little cogitating, said he had a reason, and that he wished the scarf to be retained, and, after some hesitation told me why. He seemed to be rather troubled at my noticing the incident, and observed that he feared he was 'paying out' the 'mystery' too soon, unconsciously doing so; for, he said, he trusted to the 'mystery' being maintained until the end of the book. [Kitton, 213]
The plate fails to capture Jasper's writhing body and grasping of his head; rather, we see Jasper, dehumanized by either grief, frustration, or guilt, a mere "heap of torn and miry clothes upon the floor" (152, 1880 edn.) of his own apartment. Although we have already encountered this room in both text and illustration ("On Dangerous Ground," the second plate for the May 1870 serial instalment), Fildes now shows the room from quite a different perspective — to suggest, perhaps, that Grewgious is seeing its owner in a new way: the fireplace against which Neville was leaning was previously shown in some detail (and on an angle) in the well-lit room; now we see it head-on, its mantle, grate, and fender obscured in a darkness so consonant with the mood. The chair in which Edwin Drood sat at ease is now vacant, and the fur rug seems much diminished. Gone from our line of sight are the piano and table; in their place stands the massive easy-chair from which the shocked choirmaster has fallen. The slender, nattily dressed figure of John Jasper in the former plate has been replaced by the comatose body, suggesting Jasper's physical, mental, and moral deterioration since we last encountered him, in the second June plate, with Durdles and Sapsea.
Cohen, Jane R. "Chapter 18: Luke Fildes." Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus: Ohio State U. P., 1980. Pp. 221-234.
Dickens, Charles. The Letters of Charles Dickens, ed. Graham Storey. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002. Vol. 12 (1868-70).
The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Other Stories. Charles Dickens. With Illustrations [by Sir Luke Fildes, R. A.] London: Chapman and Hall Limited, 193, Piccadilly. 1880.
Kitton, Frederic G. Dickens and His Illustrators: Cruikshank, Seymour, Buss, "Phiz," Cattermole, Leech, Doyle, Stanfield, Maclise, Tenniel, Frank Stone, Landseer, Palmer, Topham, Marcus Stone, and Luke Fildes. Amsterdam: S. Emmering, 1972. Re-print of the London 1899 edition. PP. 207-17
Last modified 24 June 2005