Sitting there in my study—I don’t actually feel like a great Master of modern English Fiction at all. I feel more as if I were engaged in what would surely happen once death claims all of me that could die, the half-finished Mystery of Edwin Drood manuscript there on my desk.
The Drood story possesses a quality far beyond all my other novels—even beyond the estimation of all the literary critics. There is a sympathetic eloquence to any incompleteness I suppose—more preciously suggestive of myself as an incomplete man more than anything.
I have none of the supposed immortal Writer's grand personality that is in so many other novelists—my own lowly genius has never been able to complete anything. I’ve always been hopelessly incomplete.
Perusing my work with an understanding of the intimate relations existing between intellectual endeavor and physical and moral passivity has never got me anywhere. It’s a positively painful interest, trying to find some revelation of the tired Worker slaving away at his Work.
It’s a noble dream, I suppose—striving to encompass the round fullness of a living reality from a dying dream. I suffer from the occasional unconscious despair of having no prophetic instinct—involuntarily showing fate-struck Nature upon the page as the evening shadow of faltering Art.
But after Staplehurst, I realize everything is purely chance—the words I write down here in my study are simply spontaneous dribblings of chance and circumstance. A toke of my pipe does only one thing—bringing all of my Characters back into this room with me. I am a Fiction—as surely as them.
This Story, opening with an elaboration of masterly purposeless pursuit of opiate fantasy and escape, took a great deal of strength and intense writerly concentration for long hours enduring counterfeit emotions, supposedly spontaneous but not really.
Opium is more an escape from myself and them—than simply losing myself in another set of imaginative adventures and devious characters. This time with Edwin Drood all the characters have come back to visit me—here in my study in Gads Hill Place. All of them critical of my choice of Drood—all of them warning me of the halting power of the Story-teller that surely will be the end waiting me.
My pen turns intractable and prone to wander beneath my relaxing hand uncertain of its former cunning. Edwin Drood shows my once indomitable mind—unconstrained almost convulsively fleeing to a greater light because of the approaching shadow of my body's dissolution.
Darkening premonitions are throwing a shadow of another deeper guilty shade on me—defining the wavering mimic scene that terrible day when the first seven carriages of the train plunged over the cliff—while the only first-class carriage to remain on the track was the one I was traveling in.
But with me was Ellen Ternan who had lived with me secretly for 13 years of my life. I managed to avoid an appearance at the inquest and avoided disclosing that I’d been traveling with Ternan and her mother which would have caused a scandal.
I later used this experience as material for my short ghost story “The Signal-Man”—in which the central character has a premonition of his own death in a rail crash. I also based the story on several previous rail accidents—such as the Clayton Tunnel rail of 1861.
But nevertheless, even though physically unharmed, I never really recovered from the trauma of the Staplehurst crash—and my normally prolific writing shrank to trying to complete The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It too will remain incomplete like my whole life subsequent to the Staplehurst tragedy. Feeling guilty for having survived the crash—and feeling guilty for my shamelessly illicit relationship with Ellen Ternan.