- The Enacted Parable in The Mystery of Edwin Drood
In a comment on the fig-tree episode in Mark 11.13 ff., D. E. Nineham remarks that the only way
to preserve some element of historicity in the story would be to suppose that the original cursing was an act of prophetic symbolism of the type known to us from the Old Testament (cf. e.g. 2 Chron. 1810, Jer. 272 and 2810ff.). The Gentile world, being unfamiliar with such prophetic acts, might then have interpreted it simply as a nature miracle designed to confirm Jesus’ supernatural power and status.(299)
It can therefore be read either as a “thauma” (wonderwork) or as an enacted parable, which is “prophetic symbolism” by another name. Where the first is concerned, at least one “thauma” in the Old Testament – Joshua’s arrestation of the sun – centers on the manipulation of time, and that indeed is a primary concern in Jasper’s masque-like proposal to Rosebud in the Academy garden. But that same proposal also tries to embody impalpable aspects of his relationship with her by palpable gestures, and to that extent invites construction as the second, as an act of “prophetic symbolism.”
Let’s begin with the “thaumatic” aspect of the scene. Germanus’ hymn μεγα και παραδοξον θαυμα (literatim, “Great and strange marvel”), which employs this noun, was translated by J. M. Neale and included in Hymns Ancient and Modern nine years before Dickens began The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Since it belongs to the Christmas section of that hymnal, Jasper and his choristers might well have sung it at the time of Drood’s disappearance – “A great and mighty wonder, / A full and holy cure!” (80) – or so one could infer from his allusion to it six months later:
[…] ‘I do not forget how many windows command a view of us,’ he says, glancing towards them. ‘I will not touch you again; I will come no [End Page 109] nearer to you than I am. Sit down, and there will be no mighty wonder in your music-master’s leaning idly against a pedestal and speaking with you, remembering all that has happened, and our shares in it. Sit down, my beloved.’(219; ch. 19)
Because the phrase is so inapposite – “mighty wonder” seems too grandiloquent, even as a litotes, to apply to a talk in an English country garden – it serves rather to alert us to the “mighty wonder” that is about to transpire, even though the thaumaturge does everything in his power to normalize its externals. This disconnection generates the nightmare quality of the episode, for the sound track (everything Jasper says would be inaudible to spectators at the Academy windows) and the imagery it subtends remain out of sync throughout. And there are other surreal disjunctions besides. Dickens might have known Donne’s “Lecture Upon the Shadow” – “Stand still, and I will read to thee / A lecture, love, in love’s philosophy” (1–2) – also a discourse on love in a sunny English garden – and, if so, introduced it here, but his primary point of departure is The Song of Solomon, with Rosebud standing in for the “rose of Sharon.”
That Hebrew love poem would have furnished the “right” sound track for a colloquy of lovers in a nunnery garden, but here there is no equality of purpose and, instead, the one-sided harangue of a man deranged. The garden is presumably a hortus conclusus even though Dickens does not spell this out, and, like its counterpart in the poem, represents virginity: “A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed” (3.12). This makes Jasper’s violent speech all the more disconcerting. The circumstances require a gentle, persuasive wooing, but he opts instead for a full frontal assault. The twice-invoked windows of the school – “he folds his hands upon the sun-dial and leans his chin upon them, so that his talk would seem from the windows (faces occasionally come and go there) to be of the airiest and the playfullest” (222; ch. 19) – also evoke (and parody) the Song of Songs, for there the beloved “standeth...