The Puzzle of Dickens’s Last Plot

Author: Andrew Lang

"To-Day the Dead Are Living, the Lost Is Found to-Day."

Mr. Cuming Walters tells us that he did not examine these designs by Mr. Collins till he had formed his theory, and finished his book. "On the conclusion of the whole work the pictures were referred to for the first time, and were then found to support in the most striking manner the opinions arrived at," namely, that Drood was killed, and that Helena is Datchery. Thus does theory blind us to facts!

Mr. Cuming Walters connects the figure of the whiskerless young man kneeling to a girl in a garden seat, with the whiskered Jasper’s proposal to Rosa in a garden seat. But Jasper does not kneel to Rosa; he stands apart, leaning on a sundial; he only once vaguely "touches" her, which she resents; he does not kneel; he does not kiss her hand (Rosa "took the kiss sedately," like Maud in the poem); and - Jasper had lustrous thick black whiskers.

Again, the same whiskerless young man, bounding up the spiral staircase in daylight, and wildly pointing upwards, is taken by Mr. Cuming Walters to represent Jasper climbing the staircase to reconnoitre, at night, with a lantern, and, of course, with black whiskers. The two well-dressed men on the stairs (Grewgious, or Tartar, and Crisparkle) also, according to Mr. Cuming Walters, "relate to Jasper’s unaccountable expedition with Durdles to the Cathedral." Neither of them is Jasper; neither of them is Durdles, "in a suit of coarse flannel" - a disreputable jacket, as Sir L. Fildes depicts him - "with horn buttons," and a battered old tall hat. These interpretations are quite demonstrably erroneous and even impossible. Mr. Archer interprets the designs exactly as I do.

As to the young man in the light of Jasper’s lamp, Mr. Cuming Walters says, "the large hat and the tightly-buttoned surtout must be observed; they are the articles of clothing on which most stress is laid in the description of Datchery. But the face is young." The face of Datchery was elderly, and he had a huge shock of white hair, a wig. Datchery wore "a tightish blue surtout, with a buff waist-coat and grey trousers; he had something of a military air." The young man in the vault has anything but a military air; he shows no waistcoat, and he does not wear "a tightish blue surtout," or any surtout at all.

The surtout of the period is shown, worn by Jasper, in Sir L. Fildes’s sixth and ninth illustrations. It is a frock-coat; the collar descends far below the top of the waistcoat (buff or otherwise), displaying that garment; the coat is tightly buttoned beneath, revealing the figure; the tails of the coat do not reach the knees of the wearer. The young man in the vault, on the other hand, wears a loose paletot, buttoned to the throat (vaults are chilly places), and the coat falls so as to cover the knees; at least, partially. The young man is not, like Helena, "very dark, and fierce of look, . . . of almost the gipsy type." He is blonde, sedate, and of the classic type, as Drood was. He is no more like Helena than Crisparkle is like Durdles. Mr. Cuming Walters says that Mr. Proctor was "unable to allude to the prophetic picture by Collins." As a fact, this picture is fully described by Mr. Proctor, but Mr. Walters used the wrong edition of his book, unwittingly.

Mr. Proctor writes:- "Creeping down the crypt steps, oppressed by growing horror and by terror of coming judgment, sickening under fears engendered by the darkness of night and the charnel-house air he breathed, Jasper opens the door of the tomb and holds up his lantern, shuddering at the thought of what it may reveal to him.

"And what sees he? Is it the spirit of his victim that stands there, ’in his habit as he lived,’ his hand clasped on his breast, where the ring had been when he was murdered? What else can Jasper deem it? There, clearly visible in the gloom at the back of the tomb, stands Edwin Drood, with stern look fixed on him - pale, silent, relentless!"

Again, "On the title-page are given two of the small pictures from the Love side of the cover, two from the Murder side, and the central picture below, which presents the central horror of the story - the end and aim of the ’Datchery assumption’ and of Mr. Grewgious’s plans - showing Jasper driven to seek for the proofs of his crime amid the dust to which, as he thought, the flesh and bones, and the very clothes of his victim, had been reduced."

There are only two possible choices; either Collins, under Dickens’s oral instructions, depicted Jasper finding Drood alive in the vault, an incident which was to occur in the story; or Dickens bade Collins do this for the purpose of misleading his readers in an illegitimate manner; while the young man in the vault was really to be some person "made up" to look like Drood, and so to frighten Jasper with a pseudoghost of that hero. The latter device, the misleading picture, would be childish, and the pseudo-ghost, exactly like Drood, could not be acted by the gipsy-like, fierce Helena, or by any other person in the romance.


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Chicago: Andrew Lang, "To-Day the Dead Are Living, the Lost Is Found to-Day.," The Puzzle of Dickens’s Last Plot, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in The Puzzle of Dickens’s Last Plot Original Sources, accessed January 27, 2023,

MLA: Lang, Andrew. ""To-Day the Dead Are Living, the Lost Is Found to-Day."." The Puzzle of Dickens’s Last Plot, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in The Puzzle of Dickens’s Last Plot, Original Sources. 27 Jan. 2023.

Harvard: Lang, A, '"To-Day the Dead Are Living, the Lost Is Found to-Day."' in The Puzzle of Dickens’s Last Plot, ed. and trans. . cited in , The Puzzle of Dickens’s Last Plot. Original Sources, retrieved 27 January 2023, from