The Cloven Foot Review
In any event, the Mystery of Edwin Drood will remain a mystery—as incomplete as Charles Dickens’ own life had been to him. Sitting there in his Gads Hill Place mansion—there in his study surrounded by all the ghostly avatars of his previous existences, such adventures he must have had.
Whether or not the incompleteness of The Mystery of Edwin Drood will be accepted and the unfinished novel awarded by the critics—its completeness may well indeed be in its own incompleteness, something that can be questioned by none. Since Edwin Drood is an effort of art in which the artist still lives—surely it has, and must have, another aspect other than just simply lack of closure. What does The Mystery of Edwin Drood’s incompleteness mean?
Drood’s incompleteness may very well be the justification for an exacting commentary—as unprejudiced literary judgments may properly do or not do to any half-published work with a challenging verdict. Others such as Robert Henry Newell aka Orpheus C. Kerr went ahead and did adaptations and continuations of Drood with such works as “The Cloven Foot” (1870).
The half of the novel which Dickens leaves behind—is unmistakable evidence that another half could not possibly have formed a whole in any way equal to the standard which Dickens’ previous triumphs have erected for him.
If one reads Drood critically, then one can readily believe the current report, that Dickens regarded it with peculiar uneasiness. It is well known that he passed many hours daily in his smoke-infested studio, struggling and trying to keep down his inherited sanguine tendency of despairing about things. Did it have to do with Ellen Ternan?
Dickens wasn’t confident of Drood’s artistic success, after committing the first monthly numbers to the press, and he expressed this unease to several friends with the fear that it might injure his literary reputation.
The art of Dickens, like that of many writers, sometimes comes by immediate inspiration of unpremeditated sympathy with what, to others, might seem the most unlikely of human subjects; and it becomes a mere forced and lifeless imitation of itself, when, as in this case, anticipated and pledged for a deliberately complicated plot and what is called a psychological study of abnormal character.
Edwin Drood, the central personage of the Mystery, is an unwholesome monstrosity, of which the writer of "David Copperfield," even in the fullest flush of his matchless powers, could never have made happy imaginative use; and, from his first appearance in the narrative, there is an overwrought laboriousness of mystification about him which, in illustration of extremes meeting, has very soon the awkward effect of making him no mystery at all.
The design of representing a man with a dual existence, in one phase of which he intends to, and thinks he does, commit murder, while in the other he confounds the deed and doer with a personality distinct from his own, is kept so nervously apparent at the beginning, as a justification of the plotted denouement, that any reader fairly skilled in the necessary artistic relations of one part of a story to another, must derive there from a premature knowledge of what the designer supposedly wishes to conceal for the time being.
The author could scarcely have been without some presentiment of this likelihood, while striving to manipulate an artificial type of character so wholly unnatural to his wholesome, straightforward genius; and the depressing effect upon himself is plainly to be seen, not more in furthers spasmodic excesses of shade, than in the falsity of his unequalled Humor to itself, in such a mechanical " side light " as Princess Puffer and her opium den salon.
It is because Orpheus Kerr’s “Adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood” serves, in unavoidable proportion to its fidelity, to make prominent the artistic infelicities of the latter, that the adapter has ventured such a preface as the foregoing to his apology for turning the serious work of an illustrious foreign writer to ludicrous native use.
As one not without some studious knowledge of the scope and various approved methods of art in Fiction, and practice in the difficulties of American novel-writing, the present writer has more than once employed the sober print of literary journalism to assert his belief, that the notorious lack of the higher order of imaginative writing in this Country is due rather to the physical, social, and artistic crudity of the Country itself, than to its deficiency in that order of genius which has given to older lands their greater poets, artists, and novelists.