Introduction: The Study
After the Staplehurst rail crash while returning from Paris—how could I write anymore? The whole train plunging off the cast iron bridge under repair into the abyss—all except the last carriage dangling on the cliff in which I was traveling.
Why was I spared? Down below the smoke and fire—and a strange ominous silence. And then slowly at first and then gaining horrible ferocity—the screaming began. Six carriages packed with human beings—writhing and suffering in agony.
I had never been in a train accident or shipwreck—not even a cab accident on the streets of London. And yet there I was—working my way down the steep sides of the ravine to aid and comfort in whatever way I could any of the poor injured people dying down there.
When I got back to Gads Hill Place, after many traumatic and sleepless nights—I turned into a recluse like Miss Havisham. Without any Pip or Estella to entertain me—to play cards for my vain enjoyment. Nor did I ever again write about desiring anyone’s heart to ever be broken for revenge—not after the Staplehurst nightmare.
I stopped writing and became an opium addict. I locked the door to my study and kept to myself for days on end. I no longer had any Great Expectations for anything—nor was I interested in any mock-heroic Tale of Two Cities. I spent long jaded nights at a disreputable opium den run by a certain aging witch Princess Puffer.
I escaped from myself—like so many other writers had done before me. I did what they did—Coleridge, De Quincy, Baudelaire, Poe. I tried to forget about Staplehurst—but my mind had turned dark and moody.
I brooded on death and murder mysteries, revenge and unrequited love, the kind of themes that had always been in the background of all my stories—lurking in the dark corners, fashioned around the usual human failings. Greed, jealousy, deception, lies—I had become one of my own characters.
And that’s how “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” came into its nefariously precocious existence—knowing it would be my last novel. And yet I kept writing at it in my study—writing as I’d always done. But this time with a pipe—letting the story tell itself without me. My only guide being—the exquisite illustrations by Luke Fildes…