The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

May 27, 2022 – 10:06 am

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This is the wrapper for sixth installment of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the last novel of Charles Dickens, who died before completing the remaining six installments and revealing the solution to the mystery. Photo courtesy of WPI's Robert D. Fellman Dickens Collection, housed in the George C. Gordon Library.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood
By Joel J. Brattin

In 1869-70, England’s most powerful, funny, and creative novelist, Charles Dickens, created what may be the most challenging and captivating mystery novel ever written: The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Like every one of the 14 novels Dickens published before it, Drood was published in serial installments—in this case, monthly “parts, ” including 32 pages of text (usually three or four chapters), plus two pages of illustrations, at the modest price of just a shilling. Most of Dickens’s other major novels were designed to be complete in 20 such installments, but Drood was shaped according to a new, more compact plan: Dickens agreed to complete this new novel in just 12 monthly parts.

After completing his previous novel, Our Mutual Friend (serialized from 1864-65), Dickens had devoted most of his creative energies to his dramatic and popular public readings—one-man theatrical performances, adapted by Dickens from his own writings. In 1868, Dickens traveled to America for the second time, and performed A Christmas Carol and Bardell and Pickwick (adapted from his first novel, The Pickwick Papers) to wildly enthusiastic audiences in Boston, and elsewhere.

But after his return to England, and after four and a half years away from novel-writing—the longest such break in his career—Dickens was eager to return to the serial publication of fiction, and in the summer of 1869 he developed some very intriguing ideas for the story which was to become his 15th and final novel.

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