Who is Dick Datchery?
Datchery’s identity has formed the most eagerly argued and controversial point of the plot beyond the fate of Drood. Who is this mysterious man and what is his purpose in coming to Cloisterham? Some have tried to understand the motives of this character, other have pointed to his curious unawareness of whether his hat is on or off, suggesting that his conspicuous hair is a wig, and Datchery is not a new character at all but a disguise for another character to return unknown to Cloisterham. But who?
A detective (professional or amateur)
Some have argued that he must be the detective needed to make this a true mystery story, though this leads to the question of who, if anyone has hired him. Time and again the figure of Grewgious has been suggested to be leading Datchery forward, which in turn has led to other suggestions that far from being a professional, Datchery is an acquaintance of the lawyer who owes him a debt. In Leon Garfield’s solution of 1980, Datchery is an actor friend of Bazzard hired for the occasion.
A new character with a personal vengeance
Other solutions have suggested more personal motives for Datchery’s interest in John Jasper and the disappearance of Edwin. In Thomas Power James’s continuation of 1874, Datchery was the son of Princess Puffer and brother of a woman wronged by John Jasper, for whose sake the desperate man was seeking revenge and retribution on the choirmaster. This idea was mapped out again in Edwin Harris’s 1932 solution, with the added complication that the Princess Puffer was the mother of Datchery and his unfortunate sister.
Obviously dependant on Edwin being alive, those who do think he has survived suggest he is hiding in plain sight as the old buffer living in Mrs Tope’s lodgings. Presumably this would mean Datchery’s investigations would not be into who killed Drood, but why.
Both on stage (1871) and screen (1935) Neville has doubled as Datchery. In both cases the cast of the original tale has been reduced, leaving Neville to fulfil the hero’s role in more ways than one, assuming the role of Datchery to return to Cloisterham to clear his name, unimpeded by suspicious or hostile residents. The idea of him as Datchery may account for his seclusion in London; when Rosa talks to Helena from Tartar’s chambers, Neville is neither seen nor heard – might Helena be covering her brother’s absence?
One of the more popular theories rests on the introduction, then subsequent absence, of Mr Grewgious’s assistant Bazzard. For many the only explanation for Dickens to create this character then despatch him without notice is in order for the melancholy man to fulfil his dramatic aspirations by playing the role of Datchery. That Bazzard is in the employ of Grewgious works also in his favour, as a number of solutionists believe Datchery, whoever he is, is most likely working with the assistance of the kindly lawyer. However, the cheerful old buffer roaming Cloisterham seems rather a marked departure from the dismal clerk in London, leading others to wonder whether Bazzard’s role in the plot is actually to assist Jasper rather than track him down in disguise.
In chapter 21, the heroic Tartar swears to help Grewgious, Crisparkle and Rosa, but have he and Grewgious already begun their own investigations? This was the idea that Percy Carden proposed in 1919. Certainly Tartar is fit to fill the role of hero, though whether he could convincingly assume the role of Datchery is uncertain – yet one tell-tale sign does seem to point to them being one and the same: their manner of speech. Both are prone to speaking in short, fragmentary sentences, as Carden demonstrates:
“Take my hat down for a moment from that peg will you? No I don’t want it. Look into it. What do you see written there? Datchery. Now you know my name, Dick Datchery. Hang it up again.”
“I beg your pardon. The beans.Runners. Scarlet. Next door at the back. I have noticed – my name is Tartar”.
The main issue with Tartar as Datchery is an apparent slip in chronology; Datchery appears in the text before Tartar has met Crisparkle and Grewgious and agreed to help them, so if he were Datchery it would involve a great deal of backstory to explain his involvement; to overcome this issue, Henry Jackson argued in 1911 that the ordering of chapters was incorrect (a consequence of Forster editing the work after Dickens's death), and that rather than Datchery's appearance being scheduled as chapter 18, it should instead occur immediately before chapter 23 to be the penultimate chapter of the surviving text.
J Cumming Walters wrote prolifically on the disappearance of Drood, and central to his argument was the idea that Datchery was none other than Helena Landless. The idea was controversial with Walters’ contemporaries coming out strongly either in support or attack of the idea of a cross-dressing heroine in Dickens’s last novel. Yet Dickens himself paves the way in chapter seven when Neville tells of the daring escapes he and his sister tried to make from their stepfather:
“Each time she dressed as a boy, and showed the daring of a man.”
Helena is reported to be far better at controlling her emotions than her brother, weathering the storm in Cloisterham while he is forced to flee. Might it be possible that in sympathy for her twin, she takes this daring act to investigate the unsuspecting residents of Cloisterham in order to clear her brother’s name?