Friday, 24 April 2020

M R James Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens

M R James and the Edwin Drood Syndicate

M R James loved to read detective novels in the rare time he had away from his academic work or writing ghostly fiction. His enthusiasm for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been noted by his biographer Richard Pfaff (although he did out Doyle’s “Cribbing of the plot for The Firm of Girdle Stone” which Doyle had taken from Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Uncle Silas” (Cox p.148).

It was for one of his own favourite novelists that James took on the mantle of detective himself, to try and solve the unfinished plot of Charles Dickens’ “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”. The “Edwin Drood Syndicate” was his contribution presented to “The Cambridge Review” the senior members magazine on two evenings, the 30th of November and 7th of December 1905.

These evenings took the form of presentations of thoroughly researched forensic accounts of detective work of “The Senate of the syndicate” which had looked into the case of Edwin Drood. Their two pronged investigation focused on two areas, 1. Did John Jasper succeed in murdering Edwin Drood? (To which the syndicate found in the negative), and 2. Who was Mr Datchery? James argued that in an ingenious plot turn engineered by Dickens, Datchery is actually none other than Drood himself.

This part of the presentation had interjections from a J E Nixon type character who posed the question as to why Dickens had not been consulted on the matter, to which the vice-chancellor answered, that he was sorry to report that due to the sad news of Dickens’ death the consultation was impossible. However he was glad that Dickens had not lived to see the report of the syndicate.

This presentation led to the formation of the actual Edwin Drood syndicate in 1909, when James along with his friend Henry Jackson, Regius Professor of Greek added it to a successful play for the ADC Smoking concert in 1907.

Jackson’s more thorough investigation after the play resulted in a minor monograph “About Edwin Drood” published in 1911 and reviewed by James in “The Cambridge review” for March 1911. James assesses Jackson’s contentions that Drood was successfully murdered and that Datchery was in fact Helena Landless. James whilst praising Jackson’s argument stated that he would prefer to think that Drood was not dead and is in fact Datchery.

The enjoyable challenge of solving this last mystery of Dickens’s was especially gratifying for James, as his other biographer Michael Cox attested, his enthusiasm for Dickens’s works never waned.
M R James and the Edwin Drood Syndicate

M R James loved to read detective novels in the rare time he had away from his academic work or writing ghostly fiction. His enthusiasm for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been noted by his biographer Richard Pfaff (although he did out Doyle’s “Cribbing of the plot for The Firm of Girdle Stone” which Doyle had taken from Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Uncle Silas” (Cox p.148).

It was for one of his own favourite novelists that James took on the mantle of detective himself, to try and solve the unfinished plot of Charles Dickens’ “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”. The “Edwin Drood Syndicate” was his contribution presented to “The Cambridge Review” the senior members magazine on two evenings, the 30th of November and 7th of December 1905.

These evenings took the form of presentations of thoroughly researched forensic accounts of detective work of “The Senate of the syndicate” which had looked into the case of Edwin Drood. Their two pronged investigation focused on two areas, 1. Did John Jasper succeed in murdering Edwin Drood? (To which the syndicate found in the negative), and 2. Who was Mr Datchery? James argued that in an ingenious plot turn engineered by Dickens, Datchery is actually none other than Drood himself.

This part of the presentation had interjections from a J E Nixon type character who posed the question as to why Dickens had not been consulted on the matter, to which the vice-chancellor answered, that he was sorry to report that due to the sad news of Dickens’ death the consultation was impossible. However he was glad that Dickens had not lived to see the report of the syndicate.

This presentation led to the formation of the actual Edwin Drood syndicate in 1909, when James along with his friend Henry Jackson, Regius Professor of Greek added it to a successful play for the ADC Smoking concert in 1907.

Jackson’s more thorough investigation after the play resulted in a minor monograph “About Edwin Drood” published in 1911 and reviewed by James in “The Cambridge review” for March 1911. James assesses Jackson’s contentions that Drood was successfully murdered and that Datchery was in fact Helena Landless. James whilst praising Jackson’s argument stated that he would prefer to think that Drood was not dead and is in fact Datchery.

The enjoyable challenge of solving this last mystery of Dickens’s was especially gratifying for James, as his other biographer Michael Cox attested, his enthusiasm for Dickens’s works never waned.








 

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