On Dangerous Ground, fifth illustration by Samuel Luke Fildes for the Household Edition. Second plate for the May 1870 serial instalment. Facing page 49 for The Mystery of Edwin Drood (May 1870 instalment). 16.4 cm wide by 10 cm high (4 by 5 ⅜ inches), framed and horizontally mounted in Chapter VIII, "Daggers Drawn." Page 33 Headline in the Household Edition (1879): "After the Stirrup-Cup." [Click on the illustration to enlarge it.]

Commentary: John Jasper maintains his control over the situation.

Having met the principals individually, we encounter all in the third plate, and in the fourth all save Rosa, whose presence is implied both in the portrait above the fireplace (only partially realised in the illustration) in the rivalry between Neville Landless (in the chair, left) and Edwin Drood (leaning against the fireplace, right), with John Jasper (gesturing, centre) apparently trying to play the peace-maker. The scene, as in Dickens's text, is John Jasper's comfortable rooms in his "bachelor gatehouse" (49), with "the wine and glasses . . . on the table" (49):

The air of leisurely patronage and indifference with which this is said, as the speaker [Edwin] throws himself back in a chair and clasps his hands at the back of his head, as a rest for it, is very exasperating to the excitable and excited Neville. Jasper looks observantly from one to the other, slightly smiles and turns. . . . [Chapter VIII, "Daggers Drawn," p. 49 in the serial instalment; p. 32 in the Household Edition]

Here is yet another side of the choirmaster and musician, the affable host and mentor of youth, although Jasper himself not out of his twenties. The presence of the wine glasses and decanter would seem to suggest that Jasper has anticipated that he would have visitors this evening (facilitating his administering some opium to Neville). The interior scene, with fireplace and table, recalls a very different scene with which the narrative-pictorial sequence began, In the Court. While Edwin here is consistent in face , form, and dress with the Edwin in At the Piano (the initial plate for the May serial number), John Jasper seems taller and more slender. While his costume is much the same as in the first plate, his waistcoat sits higher, his neck seems thinner and longer, and his shoulders are less broad. Indeed, we can scarcely tell that this is the same man, which surely is Fildes' point.

Edwin "still sits thrown back in a chair" (50), and Fildes repeats Neville's pose from At the Piano. In this third plate, the young men had regarded each other, as well as Rosa and Helena, from across the room, Neville in casual pose (left, leaning against the piano), Edwin less distinct and less self-composed, toying with Miss Twinkleton's fan (right). Whereas Fildes sketched Edwin in lightly at the back of the room in the initial plate for May 1870 in order to shift the focus to newcomer Neville in the foreground, in the second plate for May Fildes has more clearly defined Edwin. By virtue of their relative positions (again, Jasper is centre, and very much in control — conducting, so to speak), the other two (standing) figures dominate the scene.

However, one catches little or nothing of Neville Landless's smouldering resentment of Edwin Drood in Fildes' illustration. The artist has significantly placed both John Jasper and the portrait of Rosa Bud between Edwin and Neville. As in the text, the choirmaster seems suave, urbane, at ease, whereas Edwin exudes an "air of leisurely patronage and indifference" (49 in serial), but he is hardly "provoking" in his self-confidence. Thus, while the textual perspective of Edwin is either Jasper's or Neville's, the visual perspective is less subjective, as if Fildes is suggesting a scene on stage. In the text, Jasper fuels Neville's antipathy towards Edwin, implying that his nephew is Neville's rival for Rosa's affections by calling attention to the portrait above the mantle. In the picture, Fildes draws our attention to Neville, implying his future importance in the plot. We should be alert to the fact that behind the smiling visage and easy pose of Jasper, affable uncle and gracious host, lurks the cunning schemer and depraved opium-addict.

Scanned image 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 Sir Luke Fildes, R. A.] London: Chapman and Hall Limited, 193, Piccadilly. 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.

Paroissien, David (ed.). "The Illustrations," Appendix 3 in Charles Dickens's The Mystery of Edwin Drood. London: Penguin, 2002, pp. 294-299.

Created 9 May 2005

Updated 17 June 2023