Jasper's Sacrifices", ninth composite woodblock engraving by Samuel Luke Fildes. Facing page 149 for the serial edition of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, August 1870. 16.3 cm wide by 10 cm high (6 ¼ by 4 inches), framed and vertically mounted; in Chapter XIX, "The Shadow on the Sun-dial," in serial, and horizontally mounted on page 96 in the Household Edition (1879). [Click on the illustration to enlarge it.]

Commentary: An Emotionally Charged, "Sensational" Scene

Receiving advance proof-sheets from Chapman and Hall as Phiz had done before him to complete the monthly illustrations of the latest Dickens serial, Luke Fildes "studied them so diligently and carefully that he allowed no incident or personal trait to escape him" (Kitton, 209).

In the entire series this plate stands out, not merely for its sense of composition but for the moment realized. "Jasper's Sacrifice" (facing p. 149) describes the emotionally charged scene in the garden of the Nuns' House, "where its quaint old garden opens to the west between the boughs of trees" (p. 185). Utterly losing his composure, the anguished choirmaster cries out to the object of his infatuation, seated on the bench, right, and clearly distressed by what she is hearing:

"Reckon up nothing at this moment, angel, but the sacrifices that I lay at those dear feet, which I could fall down among the vilest ashes and kiss, and put upon my head as a poor savage might. There is my fidelity to my dear boy after death. Tread upon it!"

With an action of his hands, as though he cast down something precious.

"There is the inexpiable offence against my adoration of you. Spurn it!" [151 in serial; 96 in the Household Edition]

The sundial, suggestive of the inexorable passing of time, is left, as described by Dickens, who in fact expressed the idea to include the sun-dial to Fildes in a letter dated 27 April 1870: "Suggestions for No. 5 The proposal at the Sun Dial for one subject" (Letters 12, p. 514). To say that Jasper is consumed by self-loathing and psychologically conflicted would be an understatement. We (like Rosa) must be careful not to misinterpret this passage as a confession of his having murdered Edwin Drood, however, since the "death" to which he alludes may be in the future. Nevertheless, one has the distinct impression that John Jasper has "sacrificed" his beloved nephew to his passion for Rosa. The plate captures the gesture exemplifying Jasper's "sacrifice," the outstretched arms seeming to lay the body of his beloved nephew at her feet; even before Jasper's "frightful vehemence . . . reach[es] its full height" the agitation of his hands, suggested here by the unnatural positioning of the arms, betrays his underlying criminal nature, which he otherwise effectively conceals from anybody who might be glimpsing the scene from the house.

Apparently Fildes made a number of studies of Dickens's highly complicated villain before he arrived at a figure with whom he was wholly satisfied, a figure whom Dickens pronounced "an exact portrait of the choirmaster" (Kitton, 211). The young graphic artist in interpreting Dickens's text focussed not so much on incidents as upon key characters' reactions. In each scene he generally portrayed the relationship between a handful of characters; the exceptions, for example, "Good-bye, Rosebud, Darling!" being among his weakest performances in the narrative-pictorial sequence. The posing of the figures as well as their expressions indicates that he utilized "real life models" (Cohen, 223). John Jasper, who appears in seven of the twelve illustrations (but in none of the others so prominently as in "Jasper's Sacrifices") is Fildes' focal character; the presence of his second most frequently appearing character, Rosa Bud, makes this plate particularly significant. Here, John Jasper proposes to her, trying to extort her acquiescence in return for the safety of Neville Landless.

The oratorical repetitions of "I loved you madly" and "give me yourself" might, taken by themselves, imply that Jasper is raving; however, the illustration is a useful counterpoint as we realize that he is staging his obsession in order to intimidate the object of his passion. In fact, in the text, despite these fervid protestations, he maintains his composure as befits a doting uncle and respectable music-master dressed in "deep mourning." We see in Rosa's shrinking reaction on the garden-seat neither the "fire" nor the "animation" which renders her admirable in the face of so forceful an adversary. Although Dickens indicates that she experiences "shame, affront, and fear," only the last emotion is clearly evident on her features as in the illustration "she shrinks into her seat again" in the garden. As in the text, she too is dressed in deep mourning and has slung her garden-hat on her arm, but the picture (perhaps to emphasize her alienation and vulnerability) gives us no sense of the proximity of the Nuns' House, some of whose windows "command the garden" and should have accordingly prevented Jasper from daring to accost her so vehemently.

Scanned image, colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary 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.]


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 Mystery of Edwin Drood. With Illustrations by Samuel Luke Fildes, R. A. London: Chapman and Hall, 1870.

_______. The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Reprinted Pieces and Other Stories. With Thirty Illustrations by L. Fildes, E. G. Dalziel, and F. Barnard. The Household Edition. 22 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1879. Vol. XX.

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.

Created 9 May 2005

Last modified 17 July 2023