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The Moon XVIII The Mystery

(of Edwin Drood)


Edwin Drood; Rosa Bud;

Helena Landless; Neville Landless.


The Mystery of Edwin Drood

         Charles Dickens died when half-way through the writing of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Essentially a psychological murder mystery, made popular by Dickens' friend Wilkie Collins, Drood has kept its mystery a secret. This is somewhat ironic, since Dickens was a man incapable of keeping a secret.


 While Drood's ending has been debated, speculated on, and filled in by others numerous times over the decades, the mystery as to who killed Edwin Drood is really – like all Dickens' literary “mysteries” – no mystery at all. The author made clear, inside and outside of the novel, that the murderer of Edwin Drood was his uncle, the opium smoking choirmaster John Jasper. And yet, questions remain.


 Here, at the centre of The Moon card, we see the Cathedral of Rochester - the village of Ellen Ternan's birth, beloved by Dickens, and disguised in Drood as Cloisterham. Stage right are the orphans Rosa Bud and her fiance, the ill-fated Edwin Drood. Stage left are the twin Ceylonese orphans, Helena and Neville Landless. The girls are in their nightshirts, suggesting they may be sleep-walking. Rosa and Helena became as immediate and fast friends as Neville and Edwin took immediate dislike to one another. This antagonism on the part of the males, together with the symbolism of their home countries and skin colour, suggests the conflict of East and West generally and the ancient Indian culture with the new colonial British Empire specifically. The instant intimacy the girls share suggests a deep, subterranean connection between these nations and cultures, fed by the spiritual umbilical cord of the material and maternal female half of humanity.


 Also from the lower depths, there rises up an opium pipe. As we have learned from the first 5 of the Minor Arcana, where there is smoke there is fire. Jasper's lust for and fixation on Rosa may arise from nothing but a pipe dream, but it nevertheless drives him to the borderlines of sanity. With the help of Princess Puffer, Jasper stokes these dreams, rising like a puff adder from its basket at the hypnotic sounds of a snake charmer's flute. The Victorian and Dickensian trope of an older man taking a doubtful interest in a young nubile girl - from Kate Nickleby's uncle Ralph to Arthur Clennam's interest in Little Dorrit - reaches its apogee in John Jasper. Outwardly, his ministering, avuncular concern for Edwin Drood is almost sycophantic, while inwardly his all-consuming wantonness for his would-be niece Rosa is utterly lawless.


 Jasper is a fragmented shell of a man. Moving “eastward and still eastward” to his opium den dream, he compels Princess Puffer to “Look down! Look down! You see what lies at the bottom there?” What lies there one can hardly help but speculate – Jasper himself? Nothingness? Simply a lie? - but only one thing is certain: when Dickens died, what lay there for Jasper died with him.


 The Moon card reflects the power of the subconscious, the motives and meanings that move us subconsciously. Charles Dickens, although neurotically adamant about such matters as conscious directive and the superiority of civilized Western man, was very interested in mesmerism. He was intrigued and a little unnerved to discover his own knack for hypnotizing people. He practiced on his wife and Georgina, and began hypnotizing people at dinner parties for entertainment. Once, while vacationing with his illustrator John Leech on the Isle of Wight, Leech was hit by a large wave while swimming. Leech took to his bed for some days, suffering from anxiety and insomnia. Dickens cured Leech, however, with mesmerism. Dickens' doctor and friend was John Elliotson, a proponent of mesmerism who founded and ran the London Mesmeric Infirmary. Elliotson made a few too many claims for the medical application of hypnotism and as a result was ostracized by the conservative medical establishment. Although renown for his diagnostic skills and the first English doctor to advocate the use of the stethoscope, he died poor and discredited.


 By far, Dickens' most involved use of mesmerism came with Augusta De La Rue. Madame Rue was the English wife of a Swiss banker whom Dickens befriended when vacationing in Italy. She suffered inexplicably from headaches, insomnia, tic douloureux, convulsions, and catalepsy. Émile, her husband, was desperate to help his pretty young wife, and trusted Dickens implicitly. Dickens' wife, Catherine, was not so sure. Madame Rue agreed to be placed in a trance and, while in a hypnotically induced state, began to recall vivid dreams. The one which most recurred saw her standing on a hillside, among a crowd. She sees her estranged brother, Charles, leaning wistfully at a window. Tears fall from his eyes. He begins to pace the room, shooting glances at the sea. He wears a strange uniform. He thinks of his sister, feels forgotten. She has sent him letters which he never received. Back on the hillside, she is haunted by a man in the crowd with evil intentions. She begins to feel pain, and realizes she is being pelted with stones.


 Dickens became totally absorbed by Madame Rue, devoting himself to her treatment. He would attend to her at all hours, sometimes late at night in her bedchamber which disturbed Catherine. Although in no way trained, Dickens nevertheless had great faith in his own agency and good intentions, and seemed to be making progress with Rue. A few years before, Dickens had read about chloroform and, during a difficult labour for Catherine, administered it to his wife. Doctors protested it would kill the baby or retard it severely. The child was delivered free of harm and soon the use of chloroform was so common a practice during labour that the queen herself used it.


 With Rue, however, Dickens may have been in over his head. Naturally enough, perhaps, the author evinced the tendency to turn Madame Rue's dream images and her illness generally into a narrative. He projected himself into this narrative, firmly believing he was engaged in a battle of Good versus Evil for Rue's heart, mind, body, and soul. He, of course, was the champion of light, while the shadowy male figure skulking amid the crowd was the malevolent phantom preying on the woman's fragile nervous system. To what degree Rue even had a brother – let alone one named Charles – remains unknown, as does to what degree Dickens himself may have suggested this brother, his own shadow perhaps the evil spectre intent on controlling Rue.


 Certainly, Dickens was obsessed with Rue and her plight; he had trouble concentrating, was kept up at night, and had nightmares when he did sleep. Catherine, meantime, was jealous. She considered the relationship an infatuation on the part of all parties, a folie à trois. She was glad when they left the Rues in Italy and returned to England. Dickens, however, convinced he was making progress, contrived to stay in mental contact with Madame. They both agreed to think of each other at the same time – 11 a.m. - so certain was Dickens of his power that he believed he could hypnotize Rue over a distance. The first day of the exercise, as Dickens and his family travelled by coach, at precisely 11 in the morning, he began focusing his mental powers on Rue. Believing he had made real mental contact on the astral plane, he turned to see his wife Catherine beside him, in a trance.


 Dickens' contact with the Rues was sporadic after that. Émile entreated him several times to continue treatment, but Dickens was reluctant. The torments returned to Madame Rue, and when suggestions were made she undergo mesmerism with Dickens again she declined, claiming the pain of starting and not completing treatment would be too great.


 It's hardly surprising that Dickens was a natural hypnotist – he had been mesmerizing people with his story-telling from the moment he first put pen to paper. Nor is it surprising that he had a special influence and kindred affiliation with women – their innate connection with matters human-made Victorian women, generally speaking, naturally predisposed to his emotionally immediate tales. And not only did Dickens have normal Victorian sexual urges for women, if such a thing can be said, but he also felt a deep concern with their plight in the archly male world made by the Victorians – case in point being his association with Urania Cottage. But for all this innate connection and concern, there was still a great veiled divide between Dickens and womanhood, and they remained to him an unfathomable unknown.


 While in some ways Dickens simply regurgitates the accepted roles of women in Victorian society in order not to alienate his readers, he nevertheless seems repeatedly to share his era's prejudices and prohibitions. Spinsters such as Sally Brass or Rosa Dartle are manly laughing-stocks. Any woman with a husband, let alone without one, must never be seen to actively desire a man. In fact, the ideal woman is blissfully unaware of the facts of life. Dickens, seemingly unable to conceive of a mature, real life, flesh and blood woman, authorially retards them. His heroines are perennially young and pure, and for Dickens as for the Victorians, there seems little more ideal than a child bride - save perhaps a frightened child bride.


 This, of course, is the dark side of The Moon card. Just as the moon has a dark side we on earth never see, we along with Dickens can never see the whole of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. To what degree, too, Jasper was on a soul journey, and what manner of understanding the High Priestess Ellen Lawless Ternan, perhaps as Helena Landless, may have afforded him and his author, we must never know. It lies at the bottom of everything, like the tombs beneath Cloisterham Cathedral, and the wombs from which every man is born. The Shadow, providing relief and release to her sibling - providing he sees and also allows her - the Light.



Notes for General Circulation : 


  • The 18th card of the Major Arcana represents the spirit in the material world. This may be a Hell on earth, or but a dream within a dream. 

  • The dove represents hope and the holy spirit - the true female aspect of the Christian Trinity. The false female aspect is the church - the so-called Bride of Christ - a misogynist structure built and maintained by men. The hard stone reality of the fictional Cloisterham Cathedral has little reality here on The Moon card. Of some note is the meaning of cloister - to shut up or secret away. Also, the cloister of a church is a covered arcade used for walking meditation, usually a four-sided circuit surrounding an open area of nature, and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. 

  • The main figures on the left and right suggest light and dark, good and bad, west and east - the exact allocation of each depends on one's vantage. They may also suggest other dualities, such as male and female, civilized and savage, awake and asleep, living and dead, or simply duality itself. It may be worth noting that the two women are both in the foreground and wear white whereas the men wear black and remain in the background like shadows. Rosa appears to be somnambulant, while Helena looks intently out at the reader. 

  • The Moon card, as emblematic of the Water signs, bears an intimate kinship with the Water suit of the Minor Arcana, and the High Priestess, The Chariot, and the Death cards of the Majors. In many cultures, the moon is the Land of the Dead, the regenerating receptacle souls journey to after their mortal body here on earth returns to ash and dust.

  •  The Moon card is the female aspect of the male Sun card. Both are intrinsically bound up with the inner workings of the human psyche. As such, The Sun represents the Ego and the conscious mind, while The Moon represents the Id and the subconscious. The Moon also rules the world of dreams. The dark aspect of The Moon implies delusion, hallucination, lunacy, and all the monsters the sleep of reason produces.

  • The Moon card presides over the formation of life as well as its decomposition, hence The Mystery of Edwin Drood is half formed and half finished. In a formal reading, The Moon card may indicate a pregnancy and/or a project which will have to be abandoned. 

  • Religious scholars had difficulty fitting the 13-month lunar cycle into their 12-month solar calendar, with the result that 13 became an unlucky number and the moon became synonymous with inconsistency. Tellingly, it is the solar calendar which needs a day added every 4 years, and even then deviates. 

  • The female aspect of The Moon card makes it mistress over the Water and Earth suits. With dominion over Water, the moon regulates not only the ocean tides but the earth's rains, symbolizing the quenching of the parched land. With dominion over Earth, the moon regulates man's connection to the animal world and the cycle of life. By cupping and returning the light of the sun to all living things in the darkness, The Moon indicates that in life, balance is needed and grace is at work in the world.

  • The moon is intimately linked with creativity. Creativity demands the death and destruction of matter to remake it anew. This is underscored by the death of Dickens, who died during the composition of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. He wished to be buried in a discreet grave on the grounds of Rochester Cathedral, the unfinished novel's locus. Instead, he was buried at Poet's Corner in London. There remains, to this day, in the Rochester Cathedral graveyard, an empty burial plot for Charles Dickens.


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