Drood, Ghost-Dickens, and the Fourth Dimension

* The following is a guest post by Beth Seltzer, who holds a PhD from Temple University and is an Educational Technology Specialist at Bryn Mawr College. She can be found at bethseltzer.info or on Twitter at @beth_seltzer.*

Want to know what happened at the end of The Mystery of Edwin Drood? Why not ask the author?

The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870) was only about half completed at Dickens’s death, its many mysteries still unresolved. What’s happened to the missing Edwin Drood? Has he been murdered by his uncle John Jasper (an opium addict obsessed with crypts and with Edwin’s fiancée)? And who is Datchery—the shadowy detective figure who might be another character in disguise? Victorian and modern reading audiences have speculated on the answers through hundreds of theories and completions, often seeking authority through careful close-reading or reports from the author’s friends and family.

Others seek a loftier authority—the author himself, post-mortem. Ghost-Dickens presents a surprisingly coherent voice over different texts, testifying to the resilience of the Dickens persona. Ghost-Dickens is reassuring and occasionally playful, remains concerned about the reception of his works, writes prolifically, and actively keeps up with contemporary fiction.

Take, for example, the so-called 1873 “Spirit-Pen” edition of his novel, supposedly completed after Dickens’s death through a medium. Rather brazenly, this edition reprints the original novel alongside the new material without a break, and opens with two prefaces—one from the medium, and one from the “author.”

Ghost-Dickens has an author’s natural concern over the reception of his first posthumous work, stating: “Since the fact of this work being in preparation was first made public, I have been pained to observe the ridicule which was apparent in some published articles” (James xii). But he also finds the time to reassure his readers about the afterlife. He even offers encouragement to those who are concerned that their loved ones might be in hell, stating that spiritual communication will soon offer reassurance on this point:

…Thousands who are in this happier world…will be glad to know that the dear ones they have left behind regard their absence as a blessing certain, and so abandon the harrowing thought that it is possible a dear mother, father, sister, brother, wife, child or friend may be engulfed in a flaming sea which is to burn them for ever and ever…(James xi)

The medium’s preface gives us further insight into the work of Ghost-Dickens. The medium, Thomas Power James, first clears up some minor points about the construction of the novel (explicitly denying that Satan was involved the construction of the work, for example), and then looks forward to his continued collaboration with Ghost-Dickens’s future projects, concluding:

I am happy to announce that the first chapter of the next work,—“The Life and Adventures of Bockley Wickleheap,”—is finished; and, opening with all the peculiar characteristics of its author, bids fair to equal anything from his pen while on earth. (x)

Bockley Wickleheap, alas, never materialized, and it remains a bit unclear whether the text was intended as a joke or a con (certainly, there were readers who took it seriously).

Decades later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle asked Ghost-Dickens about the Spirit-Pen edition at a séance, as reported in the October 1927 issue of Light. Ghost-Dickens is again helpful and eager to cooperate, though he here denies that he wrote the Spirit-Pen version. He is, however, understandably reluctant to cast doubt on spirit writing in general, and leaves open the possibility that another spirit might have written it:

Q. “Was that medium who finished ‘Edwin Drood’ inspired?”
A. “He was not by me.”

Sir Arthur now asked, “Is Edwin Drood dead?”
Now comes the crucial reply. “I prefer to write it all out through you. No; he is alive, and Cris [clearly Crisparkle] is hiding him” (Reuter 476, parenthetical in original)

Having offered this confirmation, Ghost-Dickens adds that he is sorry not to have rescued Edwin Drood, and notes, “I always hoped you would put Sherlock on his track” (Reuter 476). Thus “Dickens,” who died long before the publication of the first Sherlock Holmes novel, suggests that he has been following Doyle’s career from the afterlife and keeping up-to-date on his earthly reading. (For Doyle’s own report of the séance, see Doyle’s Edge of the Unknown.)

Ghost-Dickens cannot avoid a final joke, any more than Dickens could. Doyle brings up the controversial question of Datchery’s identity: was he Drood himself, the beautiful Helena Landless in drag, or the drab clerk Bazzard?

Rather than giving a name for the true identity of Datchery, Ghost-Dickens returns the elusive answer: “What about the fourth dimension?” (Reuter 476).

Perhaps Ghost-Dickens is a product of sheer frustration with the unfinished ending (only Dickens, of course, really could conclusively answer the text’s questions). Or perhaps he is exhumed accidentally, his missing presence becoming entangled with that of Edwin Drood, the real character readers seek to recover.

Even in more modern Drood writing, we find attempts to “channel” the late author when discussing his final novel. Two 2009 novels—Matthew Pearl’s The Last Dickens and Dan Simmons’s Drood—both weave explorations of The Mystery of Edwin Drood with fictionalized versions of Dickens’s biography, suggesting that even if he is not summoned through a medium, we still imagine Dickens as having a say in his final text.

And really, isn’t that what Dickens would have wanted?

Works Cited

James, Thomas Power, and Charles Dickens. The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Complete. Part Second of the Mystery of Edwin Drood. By the Spirit-Pen of Charles Dickens, Through a Medium. Brattleboro, VT: T. P. James, 1873. Web. HathiTrust. 4 May 2016.

Reuter, Florizel. “The Edwin Drood Case. New Light on the Mystery.” Light October 1, 1927: 476-7. Print.

The Leftovers; or, Anecdote and the Serious Academic

* The following is a guest post by Sarah Bull, a Postdoctoral Research Assistant in the Department of English at Simon Fraser University *

"Holywell Street and the Strand" from _London. Compiled And Engraved By Edward Weller, F.R.G.S. Revised And Corrected To The Present Time By John Dower, F.R.G.S. John Dower, 1866. Updated by Bacon to 1868. London: G.W Bacon & Co., 1868. Image courtesy of http://london1868.com/

“Holywell Street and the Strand” from London. Compiled And Engraved By Edward Weller, F.R.G.S. Revised And Corrected To The Present Time By John Dower, F.R.G.S. John Dower, 1866. Updated by Bacon to 1868. London: G.W Bacon & Co., 1868. Image courtesy of http://london1868.com/

London. May 5, 1871. Great crowds gather on Holywell Street one Friday afternoon as more than 30 policemen prepare to raid shops reputed to deal in “obscene books, prints, photographs, and other things so vile they cannot for decency’s sake be described” (10).

The army of officers first enters a Mr. Tyler’s premises, at 31 Holywell Street. Tyler’s bookshop connects with several others via communicating doors, like those one might find between 21st century hotel rooms. Holywell Street booksellers are rumoured to use these doors to swindle their customers: they bind lurid divorce-court reports together and dress them up as spicier offerings, selling them “in sealed wrappers [with] questionable covers half exposed to view. When the cover is broken the witling who has made his purchase, and has found the book not what he thought, has no opportunity of quarrelling with the shopman who served him, as he generally passes through a private door into the next shop,” trading places with its proprietor (10).

Now, Tyler uses his private exit for another purpose—escape! He bolts through a series of communicating doors into a house on the Strand. Knowing that the police will not be far behind, he makes for a window and jumps forty feet down, down, down into the street. Severely injured, but with his sense of self-preservation intact, Tyler somehow, amazingly, succeeds in his break for freedom. Undeterred, the officers get on with the business of raiding, and carry “a fearful amount of obscenity” away from the crowd in Holywell street at the end of the day (10).

 “Extraordinary Seizure in Holywell Street.”
Nottinghamshire Guardian 12 May 1871: 10.
Gale Newsvault. Accessed 8 February 2015

 Anecdotes like this are the reason I’m an academic.

Continue reading

Editorial Traces: The Yellow Nineties Online

Cover of volume 5 of The Yellow Book

Volume 5 of The Yellow Book by Patten Wilson. Courtesy of The Yellow Nineties Online

Years ago (yes, years!) Jennifer asked if I’d like to write up a brief intro to The Yellow Nineties Online, a site dedicated to a fin-de-siècle periodicals, the project on which I cut my digital and project-management teeth. My pearly whites have been in for quite a while now and so it is with a smile of pleasure that I write about the project.

The Yellow Nineties‘ editors, Lorraine Janzen Kooistra and Dennis Denisoff, are among the Victorianists who have embraced the potential of both digital texts and online resources. They belong to a fine tradition: digital editing expanded through the 1980s as the result of what Matthew Kirschenbaum calls “the pitch-perfect convergence between the intense conversations around editorial theory and method … and the widespread means to implement electronic archives and editions.” Continue reading

VSAWC

VSAWCThe Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada conference, Victorian Humanity and its Others, has come to a close. It was held at Coast Hotel in Vancouver, a location that has, ladies and gents, left me feeling a little nostalgic. I attended my first VSAWC meeting at the Coast in 2009 — my first visit to Vancouver. Fellow Floating Academician Daniel Martin gave me a tour of Stanley Park over a lunch hour and was kind enough to introduce me to the Victorian Studies who’s who of Western Canada.

Since then Daniel has moved east and I’ve moved west. It was great to have mini FA reunion at the conference: Daniel, Jennifer Esmail, and I Continue reading

The Nineteenth-Century Novel, Anthropologie Style

Anthropologie rewraps the nineteenth-century novel.www.anthropologie.com

Anthropologie rewraps the nineteenth-century novel.
http://www.anthropologie.com

As a follow up to Jennifer Esmail’s interesting posts on the marketing of Victorian novels with classic status through new covers, I wanted to share these books from Anthropologie, which are nineteenth-century classics being marketed for the holiday season solely through their covers.  In the last post, Jen talked about how Victorian novels like Dracula and Wuthering Heights were being repackaged with gothic covers to  appeal to the Twilight generation, and how this underscored that  more traditional covers are also a form of marketing. Continue reading

Canadian premiere of Linotype: The Film

Date: Wed, 2012/11/21 – 7:30pm – 9:00pm
Place: Room 205, Bissell Building, 140 St. George Street, University of Toronto

image of Linotype machineFrom cave sketch drawings, to fountain pens with ink wells, to writing with a pencil to a pen, to typewriters, to printing materials, to using computer typesetting, we’ve moved from an oral society, to a written one, to a digital one.

From the late 19th century to the 1970s, Linotype was the industry standard for typesetting and printing newspapers, magazines and posters. Now, the publishing industry uses offset lithography printing.

The Linotype type casting machine was called the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ by light bulb inventor, Thomas Edison. The Linotype revolutionized printing and society. To celebrate what the machine allowed us to do, the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto is pleased to present the Canadian premiere of Linotype: The Film, a feature-length documentary centered around the charming and emotional story of the people connected to the Linotype and how it impacted the world. Already, premieres from around the world have been sold out. Continue reading

Young Adult Readers and Nineteenth-Century Fiction: Part Two

About two years ago, we had a conversation on this blog about how some publishers were attempting to capitalize on the popularity of books like Twilight in order to market nineteenth-century fiction to young adult readers. Various publishers were re-packaging books by, for instance, the Brontës’, with covers they thought might be more appealing to young adult readers.

See, for example, the cover of Penguin’s Illustrated Jane Eyre by Goth artist Dame Darcy:

Continue reading