In his essay forthcoming in JVC issue 16.3, Martin Dubois challenges recent interpretations of Dickens’s final and unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, arguing that these have neglected the variability in Dickens’s representation of traditional religion.
Dickens’s novel centres on the town of Cloisterham, where a spreading moral torpor extends to the heart of community life: the choral worship offered in its cathedral. Fuelled by opium-induced fantasies, the cathedral’s obsessive and unstable choirmaster appears to engineer the disappearance and possible murder of his nephew, Edwin Drood.
Recent critics of the novel argue that hopes for the renewal of the community can only come from outside, from characters newly arrived from the imperial East. This essay suggests that such critics assume too much consistency and coherence in Dickens’s plotting, observing that the unevenness in his depiction of choral worship reveals a deep ambivalence about the place of traditional religion in rejuvenating social life.