In his 1874 biography of Dickens, Forster recorded the following conversations held with his friend regarding the events of Cloisterham.
His first fancy for the tale was expressed in a letter in the middle of July, “What should you think of the idea of a story beginning in this way? – Two people, boy and girl, or very young, going apart from one another, pledged to be married after many years – at the end of the book. The interest to arise out of the tracing of their separate ways, and the impossibility of telling what will be done with that impending fate. This was laid aside; but it left a marked trace on the story as afterwards designed, in the position of Edwin Drood and his betrothed.
I first heard of the later design in a letter dated “Friday the 6th of August 1869” in which after speaking with the usual unstinted praise he bestowed always on what moved him in others, of a little tale he had received for his journal, he spoke of the change that had occurred to him for the new tale by himself. “I laid aside the fancy I told you of, and have a very curious and new idea for my new story. Not a communicable idea (or the interest of the book would be gone), but a very strong one, though difficult to work”. The story, I learnt immediately afterward, was to be that of the murder of a nephew by his uncle; the originality of which was to consist in the review of the murderer’s career by himself at the close, when its temptations were to be dwelt upon as if, not he the culprit, but some other man were the tempted. The last chapters were to be written in the condemned cell, to which his wickedness, all elaborately elicited from him as if told of another, had brought him. Discovery by the murderer of the utter needlessness of the murder for its object, was to follow hard upon commission of the deed; but all discover of the murderer was to be baffled till towards the close, when, by means of a gold ring which had resisted the corrosive effects of the lime into which he had thrown the body, not only the person murdered was to be identified but the locality of the crime and the man who committed it. So much was told to me before any of the book was written; and it will be recollected that the ring, taken by Drood to be given to his betrothed only if their engagement went on, was brought away with him from their last interview. Rosa was to marry Tartar, and Crisparkle the sister of Landless, who was himself, I think, to have perished in assisting Tartar finally to unmask and seize the murderer.
Several subsequent critics have suggested either that Dickens is lying to Forster, Forster is not remembering the details correctly, or that Forster is deliberately falsifying information to suggest that he was close enough to Dickens at the end of his life to be trusted with the great secret of how Drood ends. In response to these critics, Dickens’s daughter Kate Peruginni made a spririted defence of Forster in the Pall Mall Magazine in June 1906: “From the beginning of their friendship to the end of my father’s life the relations between the two friends remained unchanged; and the notion that has been spread abroad that my father wilfully misled Mr Forster in what he told him of the plot of Edwin Drood should be abandoned, as it does not correspond with the knowledge of those who understood the dignity of my father’s character, and were also aware of the perfectly frank terms upon which he lived with Mr Forster. If my father again changed his plan for the story of Edwin Drood the first thing he would naturally do would be to write to Mr Forster and inform him of the alteration…It is very often those who most doubt Mr Forster’s accuracy on this point who are in the habit of turning to his book when they are in the search of facts to establish some theory of their own; and they do not hesitate to do this, because they know that whatever views they may hold upon the work itself, or the manner in which it was written, absolute truth is to be found in its pages.”