Last week I did a performance for the Sherlock Holmes Society in which I touched upon Sir Arthur Conan's Doyle rather naive belief in Spiritualism. I thought therefore I would repeat an anecdote which I recounted in one of my Dickens's newsletters back in May, 2013.
At one of his later séances, Conan Doyle claimed to have communicated with the spirit of Charles Dickens. The séance was conducted by the double handed act of Florizel von Reuter and his mother. Apparently she would point so rapidly to letters on the Ouija board that it was impossible to follow what was spelt out: fortunately her son was on hand to write the words down!
Conan Doyle reported the encounter in a chapter titled 'The Alleged Posthumous Writings Of Known Authors' in his 1930 book The Edge of the Unknown (the year he died). Conan Doyle was convinced it was the spirit of Charles Dickens because the latter revealed what had happened to Edwin Drood in Dickens's final, uncompleted book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Drood was not, as the logical narrative of the book seems to suggest, murdered after all; but instead was hidden by another character in a large cupboard.
Conan Doyle was convinced of the truth of this - partly because Florizel claimed never to have read Edwin Drood, whilst his mother only had a “very vague memory” of it; and also because this was "a solution entirely new" to him. He concluded that “this seems to me to be exceedingly important, both from a literary and from a psychic point of view”.
The Mystery of Edwin Drood was completed by a number of writers; although none of them came up with the ending which Conan Doyle thought came direct from the author's mouth. A medium finished the book by channelling the spirit of Charles Dickens. Dickens's son wrote that he had never read it but understood that it offered "sad proof of how quickly the faculties deteriorate after death".