“It has often been remarked that woman have a curious power of divining the characters of men”(75). This quotation from The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens reflects the opposite of what a typical Dickensian society is supposedly based upon. In this standard society, the plot would be based around the life of a dominant male. Although the title reflects a male name, the movement in the novel is directly related to the exploits of a particular character, Rosa Bud.
Fondly called Rosebud by her peers, she is the apple of every man’s eye and the envy of every woman’s. She takes control in the plot not because she evidences forceful or masculine qualities, but because the powerful characters in Cloisterham, males, are all in love or feel a kinship to Rosebud. The power is therefore transferred into her hands as a result of her ability to influence these characters through their love and admiration for her. Attending school at a nunnery, Rosa’s female friends rarely have any contact with men.
Through her betrothal to Edwin Drood, Rosa is the only woman within the nunnery that has a man to court her. She is the only woman mentioned, in the nunnery, that is going to be married off to a man, not God. Rosa capitalizes on this situation by leading the other girls in the nunnery to be her “poor pets”(118). She realizes that the girls as well as the head of the school, Miss Twinkleton, who describes Rosa as her “pet pupil”(14), look at her to be the embodiment of romance because of her prospective marriage. Miss Twinkleton and the girls live their love lives through Rosa, “over her shoulder”(51). Rosa feeds into the situation by making sure that the girls are watching her and letting Edwin know that they “must get married . . . the poor girls would be so dreadfully disappointed” (17). She uses her power over Edwin, which is given through love and devotion to her and both of their parent’s wishes for them to be married, as a way to stay in control at the nunnery. She is the object of the gaze to all of the girls and Miss Twinkleton, “nothing escapes their notice”(18). Realizing that she is the object of their gaze, she remains in control by showing the girls what she has with Edwin from afar. The girls are under the impression that Edwin and Rosa are in a perfect relationship when, in actuality Rosa decides that they have to “pretend that you (Edwin) are engaged to somebody else, and I’ll (Rosa) pretend that I am not engaged to anybody, and then we shan’t quarrel (17). The two have to pretend that they are not engaged to avoid arguments, which, combined with the constant eye of the nunnery girls fixed upon them, implies that one of the only reasons that they remain engaged is to put on show for the girls. Rosa hopes that they will continue to think that she is the emblem of romance and continue to envy as well as adore her. It can also be proven, by the way Rosa is overly aware of the girl’s watchful eyes, that she keeps her engagement to Edwin until much later in the book to preserve the power in the nunnery. She does not tell anyone in the nun’s house of her trouble’s concerning the engagement to accomplish this sense of having something the girls will never have. Thus, causing her to be held in high regard. Edwin Drood comes to Cloisterham somewhat to see his uncle, Jasper, but mostly to see Rosebud, whom he is engaged to. The tension between Jasper and Edwin concerning Rosa is evident from the beginning of the book. The tension comes wholly from Jasper’s side because Edwin acts as if he is oblivious to it. It begins when Jasper questions Drood on “when she (Rosa)”(10) spoke of him and “how she (Rosa) phrased”(10) these comments that she had told Drood. This high level of interest implies that Jasper is interested in Rosa as more than just a music student or his nephew’s fiance. This situation between Rosa and Jasper is magnified when Rosa begins to cry while singing to the piano. Jasper “followed her lips most attentively”(49), which makes Rosa most uncomfortable. She breaks into a “burst of tears”(51) and runs from the room. Edwin is still unaware of what is wrong and concludes that Rosa “is not used to an audience”(51). This situation may imply that Jasper is controlling Rosa with fright and therefore taking charge of the book, but it is necessary to look at how the situation, how Rosa ended up at Jasper’s home, came about. Jasper had this particular group of people over as a way to meet the Landless twins, Helena and Neville. He wanted to introduce them to his friends and nephew. More likely it was a way to be closer to Rosa, because of his affection for her. Since Rosa lives in a nunnery, there is very little time for opportunity outside of her peers also living there. Jasper has fallen in love with Rosa through the time that he has spent with her during her music lessons, which he is providing for her. To have more contact with her Jasper devises a situation where it would seem natural for him to invite Rosa.
Jasper’s feelings are confirmed toward the end of the novel when he confesses that he “loves her madly”(173). This is something that Rosa has always known or felt since the times of her music lessons. Rosa does not put an abrupt stop to his feelings. Instead of telling him point blank that she does not return his feelings, she remains quiet and just “moves her hand”(175) as if to keep the door open on whether or not she returns his strong emotions. The piano scene, where Rosa runs crying, provides Rosa with another confidant, Helena. When Rosa begins to weep, Helena is the one that comforts her. Rosa builds a confidence with Helena through flattery. She states that Helena is so “womanly and handsome”(52) while she is such a “mite of a thing”(52). This sets up Helena to reveal her “fascination”(52) with Rosa, thus giving the power in the friendship to Rosa. The compliments toward Helena stop as soon as Rosa is given her desired reaction, showing the reader that the adoration from Rosa to Helena is not genuine. The scene, again, could seem that Helena is comforting Rosa, implying that Helena is the strong one that guides Rosa, but it is evident by the end of their conversation that Rosa is the one who is admired.
A further example of how Rosa takes control of the characters in Cloisterham is that she does not tell one other character in the novel exactly what is going on in each aspect of her life. When she is speaking to the girls at the nunnery, she leaves out the details about her and Edwin relationship. As stated earlier, she makes it seem that her and Edwin’s relationship is perfect and leaves out the details that they have to pretend that they are in love when both of them know that their relationship has reached a platonic plateau. It can be proven that they are not interesting in each other romantically by the conversation that takes place where they both have to pretend that they are “not engaged”(17). Addition to leaving important facts out of her story to the nunnery girls, Rosa also leaves out relevant details when speaking to Helena. After Rosa runs off from singing by the piano, she confides to Helena that she was “feeling frightened”(53) when Jasper watched her “lips so closely”(53), but she fails to give Helena the details of her relationship with Edwin. So, in short, the nunnery girls know nothing about Rosa’s love life, although they think that they do, and although Helena is not as gullible as the girls at the nunnery she most certainly feels that she knows what is going on with Rosa and Edwin as well as Rosa and Jasper. She states that Edwin must “love her with all of his heart”(53), which proves that she is kept in the dark about Rosa and Edwin’s true feelings for each other. This proves that no one knows exactly what is going on with Rosa and all of her admirers. It can be said from the information gathered that Rosa tries to keep bits of information from people so that she is the only one that has all of the control. The squabble that occurs between Neville and Edwin is a result that Neville feels that Edwin does not appreciate Rosa and his “good fortune that is not by any means necessarily a result of his good merits”(60). Neville has affection for Rosa after just meeting her a few nights ago. The argument results in Neville flinging his “dregs of wine at Edwin Drood”(61). This scene reflects Rosa’s ability to take new people that come to Cloisterham and get them to instantly feel a kinship to her. She has the capacity to force Neville into “rising in a fury”(61), after just recently meeting him.
The plot line in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, although written in the 19th century, reflects the life of Rose Bud. Though she does not appear to be the main character in the novel, the plot revolves around her actions and opinions. Her secrecy about certain things to different characters enables her to accomplish this. Every other character’s fascination with her makes it easy for her to make allies and create confidant, all working in her favor.
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