Good-night Mister Sherlock Holmes

March 21, 2009

“… but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position.”

So what was the deal with Sherlock Holmes and women? Was he a misogynist? Was he a homosexual? What?

He was not a homosexual.  In The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot, he specifically tells Watson:

“I have never loved, Watson, but if I did and if the woman I loved had met such an end, I might act even as our lawless lion- hunter has done.” [emphasis added]

In the Valley of Fear, Holmes makes a similar statement.  Speaking to Watson:

“Should I ever marry, Watson, I should hope to inspire my wife with some feeling which would prevent her from being walked off by a housekeeper when my corpse was lying within a few yards of her.” [emphasis added]

I think we can as easily rule-out Holmes as a misogynist too.  In  The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, Holmes is contemplating burgling Milverton’s home in order to retrieve some letters that compromise his female client.  Watson is quarrying him on the risks and Holmes counters with:

“Since it is morally justifiable, I have only to consider the question of personal risk. Surely a gentleman should not lay much stress upon this, when a lady is in most desperate need of his help?”

So there is no evidence that Holmes was a homosexual. There exists no real evidence that he was a  misogynist either. I think it more likely that Holmes was simply asexual.

Holmes did indeed enjoy the company of men over than women. Most of his professional contacts were men which was the norm for that era but even off-the-clock he preferred the company of men.  Watson was only able to cajole Holmes to visit Colonel Hayter – one of Watson’s patients from his service in Afghanistan – when he (Watson) assured Holmes there would be no women present.

“A little diplomacy was needed, but when Holmes understood that the establishment was a bachelor one, and that he would be allowed the fullest freedom, he fell in with my plans and a week after our return from Lyons we were under the Colonel’s roof.”

In The Sign of the Four, Holmes describes the lovely Mary Morstan – the woman Watson subsequently married – as a “unit”.

“What a very attractive woman!” I exclaimed, turning to my companion. He had lit his pipe again and was leaning back with drooping eyelids. “Is she?” he said languidly; “I did not observe.”

“You really are an automaton — a calculating machine,” I cried. “There is something positively inhuman in you at times.”

He smiled gently. “It is of the first importance,” he cried, “not to allow your judgment to be biased by personal qualities. A client is to me a mere unit, a factor in a problem. The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.

In fairness, Holmes reffered to all clients as “units”.

Mary Morstan was a unit and Violet Hunter was quickly forgotten after a successful conclusion to the Adventure of the Cooper Beaches and this was after Holmes took an initial interest in her:

I could see that Holmes was favourably impressed by the manner and speech of his new client.

Though after Holmes closed the case, he completely dismisses her:

As to Miss Violet Hunter, my friend Holmes, rather to my disappointment, manifested no further interest in her when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems.

One has to wonder, was Watson hopeful that Holmes and Miss Hunter would have something in common?

There’s really no mystery concerning Holmes’ attitude toward women and Watson succinctly sums in up in the very first short story; A Scandal in Bohemia:

It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer — excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.

And this from The Greek Interpreter:

His aversion to women, and his disinclination to form new friendships, were both typical of his unemotional character…

Sherlock Holmes is exactly what you think he is: Sherlock Holmes.


March 16, 2009

“It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles.”

The Man with the Twisted Lip is a neat little Sherlock Holmes story with more than one twist. The opium-den introduction instantly captures the reader and promises a wild ride. It also gives Dr. Watson an another opportunity to pontificate on the negative effect of drug use as he did in the opening pages of The Sign of the Four when speaking to Holmes about his (Holmes) cocaine use.

The story is straightforward enough and Holmes solves it but not before some consternation only resolved by pulling an all-nighter  “… sitting upon five pillows and consuming an ounce of shag.”

And to his credit, he acknowledges his blunder:

“I think, Watson, that you are now standing in the presence of one of the most absolute fools in Europe. I deserve to be kicked from here to Charing Cross. But I think I have the key of the affair now.”

And later:

“I confess that I have been as blind as a mole, but it is better to learn wisdom late than never to learn it at all.”

Just one question?

When Holmes scrubbed the make-up off of Neville St. Clair’s face, we find a “… a pale, sad-faced, refined-looking man, black-haired and smooth-skinned”.

Smooth-skinned? Here is a man who hasn’t shaved in three days and Doyle describes him as smooth-skinned?  If we give Doyle the benefit of the doubt, maybe by smooth-skinned, he meant smooth as opposed to the rough-skin created by the make-up for the disguise.

It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles.

As an aside, I seriously considered trying this ploy when I was once at “low-water”. I wasn’t necessarily going to use make-up but I was going to wear dark-glasses and carry a cane for the visually-impaired. I went as far as to buy a cane (off of eBay) but never went through with it.

March 14, 2009

“… the calculation is a simple one.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark Loper @ 8:33 am
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In Silver Blaze, Holmes and Watson are on a train going to Exeter. Holmes has been reading all the papers have to say about the disappearance of the horse, Silver Blaze. Apparently satisfied, he thrusts the papers under the seat and comments to Watson:

“We are going well,” said he, looking out of the window, and glancing at his watch. “Our rate at present is fifty-three and a half miles an hour.”

“I have not observed the quarter-mile posts,” said I.

“Nor have I. But the telegraph posts upon this line are sixty yards apart, and the calculation is a simple one.

So how did Holmes calculate the speed of the train? According to Watson, Holmes was looking out of the window then glanced at his watch so we will assume he counted a set number of poles, then noted elapsed time.

Let’s assume Holmes decided to count, say, 26 posts (or 25 sixty-yard intervals), how many seconds would have elapsed when he again looked at his watch? We know that the rate of the train divided into the distance equals elapsed time (Rate x Time = Distance → Time = Distance ÷ Rate). In this case we know the rate is 53.5 mph and the distance of the 25 posts is 1500 yards (the posts are 60 yards apart).  After Holmes counted, the 26th post, he would have consulted his watch and noted 57.35 seconds elapsed time.  The calculation would have been: 1500 yards/57.35 seconds = 53.5 mph. Maybe not a simple calculation but for Holmes, apparently it was.

But wait, we’re talking Sherlock Holmes here, surely thee is a better way.

Suppose Holmes noted the time interval between any two posts (60 yards)?  The elapsed time would have to be 2.33374 seconds which would be difficult to note on a simple pocket-watch but the distance between any four posts (180 yards) would be 7.001 seconds, a much easier determination and 180 yards in 7.001 seconds is a relatively simple calculation and yields: 53.509 miles per hour.


March 12, 2009

“The curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

I believe The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes to be the best of the Sherlock Holmes stories. This is only opinion and others will obviously disagree with me — and this is not to say there’re aren’t some great stories in the other collections and that there aren’t some average stories among the Memoirs — but these, ah, these seem to me to depict Holmes at his very finest.

Silver Blaze — the first story in the collection — is a perennial favorite among Holmes fans (and one of Doyle’s favorites too).  It has a little something for everyone and one line in particular has found its way into English speaker’s lexicon:  “The curious incident of the dog in the night-time” has become almost cliche for something that is counter-intuitive and is sure to ferret out Holmes fans if uttered in a group of any size.

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.


Holmes handily solves the problem — though Watson too was first rate, recognizing the possibility Silver Blaze walking out of the stable behind the stable boy and the likelihood John Straker’s leg wound was accidentally self inflected.  Holmes makes the pivotal conclusion Fitzroy Simpson could not have anticipated curried-mutton was to be served the night of the horse abduction (which would have masked the taste of the powered opium) thereby eliminating him as a suspect. And of course the curious incident of the dog in the night-time in which Holmes garners a clue based on what the dog did not do.

The story itself is very tightly written but there were a couple errors or inconsistencies describing the sport of horse racing which Author Conan Doyle acknowledges in an essay entitled “Highlights of Sherlock Holmes”:

“I have, for example, never been a racing man, and yet I ventured to write “Silver Blaze”, in which the mystery depends upon the laws of training and racing. The story is alright, and Holmes may have been at the top of his form, but my ignorance cries aloud to heaven. I read an excellent and damaging criticism of the story in some sporting paper, written clearly by a man who did know, in which he explained the exact penalties which would have come upon every one concerned if they had acted as I described. Half would have been in jail and the other half warned off the turf forever.”

I noticed at least one of these when I first read Silver Blaze. It occurred to me that Silas Brown — the horse-faker who, at Holmes instruction, was holding Silver Blaze at Mapleton until the day of the race — stood to gain a great deal even though he was culpable in the abduction of the horse. Brown was the only one who knew Silver Blaze was going to run (other than Holmes) so he could have — and apparently did — influence the betting in his favor. It’s unlike Holmes to allow a criminal to profit.

No, other than the errors that Doyle has himself acknowledged, Sliver Blaze is Holmes at his finest. The only irregularity I found — and remember, Holmes is held to a higher standard than regular men — concerned Dawson the stable-boy from Mapleton.  Holmes offered Dawson a half-crown for information about the missing horse but he was prevented from collecting by the arrival Silas Brown.  Yet there is no mention of any further interaction between Dawson and Holmes. Surely Holmes didn’t stiff the kid?

That is not at all like Holmes.  We’ll assume he left it atop a fence post on his way off the Mapleton property. No doubt young Dawson was watching from a distance and Holmes would surly have been aware of that.

I also wondered how Silas Brown was able to keep the disguised Silver Blaze hidden until race day?  Probably Holmes had it right when he observed of Mr. Brown:

“Oh, an old horse-faker like him has many a dodge.”

March 10, 2009

The wages of sin, Watson – the wages of sin!

In an exchange between Sherlock Holmes and John Openshaw in The Five Orange Pips, Holmes acknowledges four defeats:

“He said that you could solve anything.”

“He said too much.”

“That you are never beaten.”

“I have been beaten four times—three times by men, and once by a woman.”

We can be reasonably sure the woman Mr. Holmes refers to is Irene Adler from A Scandal in Bohemia. The remaining three (men) are not altogether clear but surely Mr. Holmes counts the defeat he suffered at the hands of Baron Adelbert Gruner in the The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.

While it is true Holmes brought the case to a successful resolution, he could have never done it without the unexpected — and serendipitous — actions of Miss Kitty Winter. Holmes dispatched Watson to occupy Baron Gruner while he (Holmes) attempts to burgle the Baron’s house. In the process, the Baron hears Holmes and rushes into the room being burgled.

Watson describes the incident:

“The window leading out to the garden was wide open. Beside it, looking like some terrible ghost, his head gin with bloody bandages, his face drawn and white, stood Sherlock Holmes. The next instant he was through the gap, and I heard the crash of his body among the laurel bushes outside. With a howl of rage the master of the house rushed after him to the open window.

And then! It was done in an instant, and yet I clearly saw it. An arm – a woman’s arm – shot out from among the leaves. At the same instant the Baron uttered a horrible cry – a yell which will always ring in my memory. He clapped his two hands to his face and rushed round the room, beating his head horribly against the walls. Then he fell upon the carpet, rolling and writhing, while scream after scream resounded through the house.”

Had not Miss Winter stopped the Baron, by throwing vitriol in his face, surely he would have apprehended or accosted Holmes.  How could he not? Holmes was injured (and had only just gotten out of the hospital) and unarmed, all the baron had to do was overpower Holmes and retrieve his property.

Was the Baron up to it? Well, Holmes himself considers the Baron:

“Mighty dangerous. I disregard the blusterer, but this is the sort of man who says rather less than he means.”

And Miss Winter notes:

“Adelbert is no coward. His worst enemy couldn’t say that of him. He can look after himself.”

So it’s pretty clear the Baron could have easily handled an injured and unarmed Holmes.

Holmes may not have been up to snuff mentally either.  How could Sherlock Holmes not have noticed that Kitty Winter secreted a bottle of vitriol under her coat?

“Therefore I gathered the girl up at the last moment. How could I guess what the little packet was that she carried so carefully under her cloak? I thought she had come altogether on my business, but it seems she had some of her own.”

He apparently observed that she had something under her cloak because she carried it carefully, but he failed to make the connection to the case. I suggest he was off his game, possibly do to his injuries, making it even more likely the Baron would have bested him had not Kitty Winters intervened.

Clearly Baron Gruner is one of the three men who have beaten Holmes. Now, who were the other two?

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