Should an unfinished novel by a writer whose works have a special stamp be completed and adapted for the stage? How can anyone complete Charles Dickens’ novel? It is an adaptation for the stage, but will it then go without an ending?
Between now and 140 years ago when he died, people have apparently been curious as to how “half the psychological thriller” he wrote might have ended. In this time, I doubt if it was curiosity that killed those that passed on. Besides, on what basis is it assumed that The Mystery Of Edwin Drood was half finished? At 23 chapters, it might have been almost towards the end, or maybe it was intended for the long haul and had only just warmed up, slowly.
BBC Two has entrusted the drama to Gwyneth Hughes. She said: “The tragedy of the erotically obsessed cathedral choirmaster, John Jasper, throbs with sexual menace, murder and opium addiction. But alongside his story runs a brilliant small-town social comedy which is often laugh-out-loud funny. After all, this is Dickens, the great emotional extremist, and master of the rollercoaster ride. It’s just the most enormous fun.”
Jasper falls in love with his nephew Drood’s 17-year-old betrothed, Rosa Bud. A small portion from the last written chapter may give some peek into the story:
- That he must know of Rosa's abrupt departure, and that he must divine its cause, was not to be doubted. Did he suppose that he had terrified her into silence? or did he suppose that she had imparted to any one - to Mr. Crisparkle himself, for instance - the particulars of his last interview with her? Mr. Crisparkle could not determine this in his mind. He could not but admit, however, as a just man, that it was not, of itself, a crime to fall in love with Rosa, any more than it was a crime to offer to set love above revenge.
As subjects go, this is as relevant today. Emotions are not dinosaurs, although there can be half-finished emotions that remain on the cusp and wait to be realised. While Hughes is not working on the novel, the act of giving it a finale when there was none is a bit disconcerting. It is like adding icing to a half-baked cake. Theatrically, even a chapter can be staged, but one would be aware of the work in its entirety.
Would this qualify as an adaptation of Dickens? Then, on what basis is the end assumed? We are talking not only about one form as opposed to another but also about one writing against another. We are not talking about assembly-line Mills & Boon or, for that matter, the James Bond franchise. When I see a film based on a Jane Austen novel or watch a play by Tennessee Williams, it is the authorial voice that comes through. Despite several innovative interpretations of Shakespeare, the core of the bard seeps through the props, the characters and the sheer power of language, however much it might be ‘simplified’, or indeed made pretentiously complex.
Dickens had said all those years ago: “The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.”
This is a cogent thought and might well apply to the current situation. However, I’d like to examine the two terms outside the context. The BBC is in the business of construction (rather peculiarly it has described the work as “a strange, disturbing and modern tale about drugs, stalking and darkness visible”). The raw material is there, but the blueprint is not unfinished. It builds the skeleton of a structure, start piling on the bricks and mortar, adds the plumbing, the wires, but the last few floors – let us assume the penthouse or boutique apartments – have no design. Being in the construction business it will follow the module of the lower floors. Or will it experiment and give them a special touch? Can one architect replicate another’s unspelt-out ideas?
When Dickens talks about love for the creation before, it is as conceiver. The creative process is ongoing and the creation itself grows over a period of time. Does the love for it and of it alter too? Does the pre-emptive love negate the very creativity, in that it falters? Is it weighed down by the fact of how the constructed work will ensure love?
With some writers, the love is in the lines. And that includes the fine lines on the face of a work. It is completion.