On June 8, 1870, in the middle of composing the twelve part serial The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the story came to a jarring standstill when, after a long day's work on what would become his last set of characters, Charles Dickens suffered a stroke and passed away the following day. Chapman & Hall went on to publish the six installments that had been completed, leaving Drood, John Jasper, Rosa Bud, and company to wander about an endless stage with no curtain call. And even now, 145 years after the beguiling mystery of what happened to Edwin Drood first took hold, it shows no signs of letting up.
His last tale returns to a familiar theme for Dickens and that is one of orphans—or in the case here, four orphans, beginning with Edwin Drood and Rosa Bud. Their parents had been friends and wished for their kids to get hitched. Edwin and Rosa have decided they have no interest in becoming betrothed but keep it quiet as not to cause a scandal. That also gives Rosa time to find out if she will lose her inheritance if she doesn’t wed Edwin as dictated. Enter the second set of orphans: Neville and Helena Landless. Neville is instantly smitten with Rosa, and Helena and Rosa develop a strong bond as best friends. Neville doesn’t much care for Edwin’s less than gentlemanly manner with Rosa and becomes an instant foe.