Discussion of The Moonstone and The Mystery of Edwin Drood ultimately leads to a comparison of Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens. Dickens scholars have tended to look upon Collins as his protogee, while Collins scholars tend to see this as rather restrictive and patronising. Dickens certainly encouraged Collins in his career and the two were great friends, but Collins had far greater success as a writer of sensation fiction, and the idea that Dickens’s last story may be treading into Collins’s territory has often led to ideas of conflict. Dickens, rather patronisingly, once offers to help Collins while sick by writing the next number of the Woman in White for him, believing he was perfectly capable of adapting Collins’s style so that no-one would know the difference. In turn, Collins said of Drood that it was the last laboured work of a melancholy brain.
The Moonstone and Drood have opium in common, and the idea that the drug can prompt someone to commit a crime, but also, potentially, that taking the drug again can help the villain remember the crime, and to this purpose solutionists have pointed to the obscure statement by Dickens, when describing Miss Twinkleton, that a man when drunk may lose his watch, and not find it, but upon drinking, will remember where he mislaid it. The Moonstone is hailed as the first full-length English detective novel, and Inspector Cuff may therefore be a precedent of Dick Datchery, but then Cuff himself may be a descendant of Dickens’s Inspector Bucket in Bleak House, both being inspired by the real detective Inspector Field.
Two other Collins stories have been linked to Drood at various times – the first, Miss or Mrs?, features a smooth-talking villain who increasingly fails to suppress his darker, violent side from public gaze, and who lusts after a woman who is in love with someone else, leading to murderous intentions. The second, The Haunted Hotel, as proposed in The D Case, features a crime in which the victim’s body is swapped for another to obscure the true cause of death, and is then hidden away in a secret passage (incidentally, the story also features a brother and sister of foreign descent as the murderers, should anyone wish to suspect Neville and Helena of Drood’s downfall).
What these several parallels show, if anything, is that rather than one Collins story inspiring Dickens, or vice versa, there is instead evidence of several crossover of ideas, whether conscious or subconscious, as might be expected between two authors who are closefriends. The question remains therefore whether any of Collins’s stories would have been echoed In the closing chapters of Edwin Drood.