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5 of Fire - John Jasper


John Jasper


The Mystery of Edwin Drood

      To the outside world, John Jasper is a man of piety, duty, dignity, and composure. In actuality, he is a soul in discord, rent by resentment, consumed by lust, brain addled by opium, and fragmented by madness. Jasper's psyche is fractured, at war with itself. He lacks the mental harmony of the conscious mind come to terms with its own inner centre – what Jung terms Individuation. As Dickens' lifelong friend and biographer John Forster said of Jasper, the author intended to create “a divided man whose evil side was cut off from his everyday self”.


 John Jasper, whose surname is West Country slang for wasp, is the choirmaster of Cloisterham Cathedral. He is Edwin Drood's uncle and legal guardian. He is also the music master to Drood's fiance, Rosa Bud. As protective and loyal as he seems toward Drood, in his secret heart of hearts he envies and resents the boy and lusts after Rosa Bud. It could be said, however, that his real love is for the opium poppy, dispensed to him in a den in London by the dubious Princess Puffer. The image seen here on the Five of Fire card is quite possibly one of Jasper's opium dreams, showing the man splintered, divided against himself, lost in the cacophony of his own unfinished requiem.


 Though only half written, we know from Dickens' notes, comments, and track history, that Jasper killed Drood – or at least tried to and believes he has. As Dickens confided in Forester, he had for The Mystery of Edwin Drood “not a communicable idea ... but a very strong one, though difficult to work” Forester went on to paraphrase the author's intent:


 “the murder of a nephew by his uncle; the originality of which was to consist in the review of the murderer’s career by himself at the close, when its temptations were to be dwelt upon as if, not he the culprit, but some other man were the tempted. The last chapters were to be written in the condemned cell, to which his wickedness, all elaborately elicited from him as if told of another, had brought him.”


 Again, this corroborates and underscores Jasper's dissociation, psychosis, and fugue state. His plan was sound enough - slowly burn Drood's body with the quicklime used in Cloisterham Cathedral's catacombs. This device may ring a bell for the reader, as it echoes Orlick's ambition in Great Expectations to burn Pip alive in his lime kiln.


 And yet, although the solution to the mystery was made pellucid, it didn't stop generations of readers and Dickens fans from speculating on who really killed Edwin Drood - or indeed if he was even dead at all. In 1914, the year incidentally of Ellen Ternan's death, the Dickens Fellowship staged a dramatic mock trial of The King V. John Jasper. George Bernard Shaw was the foreman of the jury, who turned in a verdict of manslaughter. The judge, G.K. Chesterton, cited everyone – save himself - for contempt of court - thereby throwing himself into suspicion.


 Concocting wild schemes to argue the murderer of Edwin Drood was anyone other than John Jasper has become something of a cultural sport. These modal variations reverberate Jasper's own inner conflict, which divides and dislocates him now into an overtone, now into an inharmonious din. 


Shorthand : internal strife - where there's smoke there's fire - head trip - a struggle which seems to have no end - deceit - a conflict which leaves nothing certain - saying "uncle" - orchestrated evil - phantasmagoria - unnecessary litigation - a Pyrrhic victory - an upheaval that can't be avoided - anger - envy - trickery - losing one's grip - something broken which can't be fixed - a battle so costly it's hardly worth the spoils.

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