Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Study in Scarlet

SHERLOCK HOLMES— his limits.  
1. Knowledge of Literature.— Nil.  
2.                           Philosophy.— Nil.  
3.                           Astronomy.— Nil.  
4.                           Politics.— Feeble.  
5.                           Botany.— Variable.   Well up in belladonna
                                                opium and poisons generally.
                                                knows nothing of practical gardening.
6.                           Geology.— Practical, but limited.                                                            
                                                  Tells at a glance different soils
                                                  from each other.  After walks has
                                                  shown me splashes upon his trousers,
                                                  and told me by their colour and
                                                  consistence in what part of London
                                                  he has received them.
7.                           Chemistry.— Profound.  
8.                           Anatomy.— Accurate, but unsystematic.  
9.                           Sensational Literature.— Immense. He appears
                                                                       to know every detail of every horror
                                                                       perpetrated in the century.
10. Plays the violin well.  
11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.  
12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.

~A Study in Scarlet, Chapter 2

The greatest detective in the history of British law never bothered himself with the fact that the earth revolved around the sun. In fact, until Watson enlightened him he was ignorant of the entire existence of the Solar System. This original and (in spite of his queer lack of fundamental knowledge) brilliant man proved a strange puzzle to his flat mate until Watson discovered that Sherlock Holmes practiced crime consultation--the only private consulting detective in the world. Often drawing on his own blood for chemical experiments, and partaking of a  seven percent solution when his mind stagnated without occupation, Sherlock Holmes provided his fellow lodger and Afghan veteran with all the literary material required for a life and then some. We still don't know the story of the giant rat of Sumatra, nor the man with the aluminum crutch, however much they tantalize us. Alas, we never shall.

But in spite of our lack of these mysteries, we have plenty of others. I took great pleasure this Sunday afternoon in beginning The Complete Sherlock Holmes for the first time in many years, and re-visiting A Study in Scarlet brought back many fond memories--the Persian slipper with the tobacco in it--the correspondence pinned to the mantle with a jack-knife--and all the trivia in which Sherlock Holmes fans unite.

I was twelve when I read A Study in Scarlet for the first time. It's hard to fathom, but there may perhaps be some bibliophiles who have not enjoyed these mysteries, and so I present A Study in Scarlet to encourage you to begin your acquaintance. Or perhaps for some of you, to rediscover it.

The Story

Dr. John Watson returns from the wars in Afghanistan with a  pension after a Jezail bullet in the leg and a long bout with fever. (Or is the bullet in the arm? Or perhaps both? It's a migrating bullet throughout all the stories.) Army pension isn't enough to live on without a companion to supplement it, and as his new acquaintance Sherlock Holmes is of a similar mind, they agree to take a flat at the famous 221 B Baker Street apartments, run by the remarkable and long-suffering Mrs. Hudson.
It wasn't polite then to ask what a man did for a living unless it was offered; as Holmes didn't offer it, Watson was left to discover it for himself. An old Jew, a rich young woman, and bull-dog faced police inspector present themselves at Holmes door the following week, during which times he requested the sitting-room for his own private use. Finally Watson can bear it no longer, and he comes out with the questions that Holmes has been waiting for: "How do you earn your living?"

"Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one in the world. I'm a consulting detective, if you can understand what that is. Here in London we have lots of Government detectives and lots of private ones. When these fellows are at fault they come to me, and I manage to put them on the right scent. They lay all the evidence before me, and I am generally able, by the help of my knowledge of the history of crime, to set them straight. There is a strong family resemblance about misdeeds, and if you have all the details of a thousand at your finger ends, it is odd if you can't unravel the thousand and first." ~ A Study in Scarlet, Chapter 2
 Holmes invites Watson to observe him at work in his next mystery, which happens to be a request from Inspector Gregson and Inspector Lestrade, two rivals from Scotland Yard who can make neither heads nor tails of the latest murder. The body is that of a man in his mid-forties, found in an abandoned house with blood all around it, but no wound on the figure itself. Their only clues are a woman's gold wedding ring and the word "Rache" scrawled with blood on the wall.

The game is afoot.

My Thoughts
Mild language, though not nearly as much as BBC puts in the radio dramas written by Bert Coules.
This mystery, since it involves the Mormons, is not politically correct and many scholars cough out their apologies for it like they do for Jules Verne's works. Altogether the plot is tightly written and fairly clean, exploring the ideas of justice and vengeance in an interesting and plausible manner. Doyle doesn't evaluate the character's ideas for you; indeed, he rarely ever does in Sherlock Holmes, so you have to determine whether they were right or wrong aside from the book. I thought his conclusion was a good one, though not perfect.
I will add that the seven percent solution doesn't really have any bearing on this mystery. Holmes did use cocaine for a time, but under Watson's good influence the habit dwindled away to nothing.
It was good to revisit these two fellows, and I greatly look forward to reading more. For the mystery lover and the connoisseur of British fiction, this is a must-read.

Thanks for casting your votes on the poll! The ayes have it for "When Bibliophiles Play", which is an excellent topic. The first post in this series will be posted in Friday.

And if any of my readers are at the MI home school convention this weekend, I would love to meet you there. :)

Lady Bibliophile

1 comment:

  1. Hehe! Sounds like a fun and intriguing read! **nods** I'd love to read it sometime.
    I'm interested in what you write for "When Bibliophiles Play!" :D
    And I can't wait to see you at the conference! ;)


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