The View Halloa – The Blanched Soldier

The Hounds have just concluded a week in which the question of Canonical authorship has been debated very earnestly, and it is certainly tempting to explain the varied quality of the Casebook tales by suggesting that some or all of them were written by persons unknown. “The Blanched Soldier” is a particularly easy target for suspicion, because it is purportedly written by Holmes, which is unusual, and because it is not a very good story, which is regrettable. But if we completely dismiss this tale as non-Canonical, we risk making any discussion of its text a pointless exercise. Therefore I hope that all good Hounds will at least provisionally accept the premise that “The Blanched Soldier” was written by Sherlock Holmes, not only so that we have enough to talk about on the list this week, but also so that we don’t deprive the good Watson of his wife! Next up: a few comments and questions on the story of the week, plus a naughty theory of my own.
Try it yourself, Holmes: It’s odd that Holmes should have written “The Blanched Soldier” so badly, when his accounts of “The Musgrave Ritual” and “The Gloria Scott” are wonderfully readable and exciting. Are we to believe that in his “declining years” Holmes forgot how to tell a story, or can we deduce that Watson must have done some heavy editing of Holmes’s previous accounts?

Or is it possible that Holmes was simply a better storyteller when he was unselfconsciously telling the tale to Watson than he was when he took pen in hand to write the case down? Is “The Blanched Soldier” so badly done because Holmes was making a clumsy attempt to imitate Watson’s style?

Holmes has been criticized for choosing this story to write when there must have been many more interesting cases in his notes. What purpose might Holmes have had in bringing this particular tale to light? Was he simply trying to dispel the rumors of the strange goings-on at Tuxbury Old Park?

Fathers and sons: Why do you suppose that Godfrey Emsworth joined the army as an enlisted man instead of an officer? (I believe he would have been called a “gentleman ranker” in those days.) Wouldn’t the wealthy scion of a retired officer have been much more likely to be an officer? Is there something fishy here, or was Godfrey’s military career at least partly intended to defy and annoy his bullying father?

Ralph the butler intrigues me. He is so much more affectionate towards Godfrey than the young man’s own father. Is it possible that Godfrey’s mother found Ralph to be a sympathetic partner at some point when the Colonel was off with his regiment? Was Godfrey actually Ralph’s son? Is this the real reason for the antagonism between Colonel Emsworth and Godfrey?

Is it likely that any medical man would mistake a case of ichthyosis for leprosy? Did cranky old Colonel Emsworth encourage Mr. Kent to come up with a discouraging diagnosis as a way of controlling Godfrey? Was there a Copper Beeches type of dirty work afoot at Tuxbury Old Park?

What do you think of Holmes’s involvement in this case? If he suspected leprosy all along, do you agree with his methods of verifying his theories? What do you think would have happened if Godfrey truly had leprosy?

The View Halloa – The Illustrious Client

As Spring turns to Summer, the Hounds turn to the Case Book, that strange territory where professors go ape, vampires and jellyfish invade Sussex, and Sherlock Holmes writes his own stories. But first, Holmes has to survive a case where he must try to prevent a crime without any cooperation from the intended victim. And what a villain! Baron Gruner, the Austrian murderer, who could take his place with pride beside Professor Moriarty and Grimesby Roylott as one of the Canonical bad guys we most love to despise. I trust that all good Hounds will bone up on their Chinese pottery and join us as we discuss the case of “The Illustrious Client.”
Handle with care: Holmes’s appointment with Sir James Damery was made by a note written in the third person. Who wrote the note? Sir James? A secretary? The illustrious client?

Sir James instantly connected the presence of Dr. Watson with the possibility of violence. Did Watson have such a reputation for handling the rough stuff? Why? Was this an early hint that the illustrious client didn’t much care what might happen to Baron Gruner, just as long as he was prevented from marrying Violet de Merville?

Why did Holmes visit Gruner at home? He must have known it would be useless to threaten or persuade him from his marriage plans. Did he simply want to see Gruner and the layout of his house? Did he accomplish anything else from this visit?

I don’t blame Lomax, the sublibrarian, and since brainwork wasn’t Watson’s department, I don’t really blame Watson either. The only person left to blame is Holmes, and so I will ask: Why didn’t Holmes tell Watson to study Chinese pottery from Gruner’s own book? Did his headache prevent Holmes from thinking straight, or did he have his own reasons for making Watson’s difficult situation even worse?

Flame and Ice: It was Watson who first suggested that Holmes might visit Violet de Merville. Then Holmes jumped to the conclusion that Watson meant for him to try to talk some sense into her. But was that actually Watson’s idea? What else might Watson have had in mind as a reason to see the lady in person?

Concerning that visit, Watson wrote that Holmes’s “hard, dry statement needs some little editing to soften it into the terms of real life.” How so? Did Holmes actually make a big fool of himself in front of Miss de Merville? Did Watson have to clean up the account because of the bluntness with which Holmes expressed his warnings? Or was editing actually necessary because Kitty Winter’s remarks couldn’t be repeated verbatim in a family magazine?

Holmes’s interviews with Baron Gruner and Violet de Merville attained similar results of annoyance and frustration. Were the engaged couple opposites, as Holmes said, or were the two actually a pretty good match in terms of their personalities?

What sort of girl was Kitty Winter before Gruner got hold of her? We think of her as lower class because of her slang, but did she merely learn such speech patterns after her ruin? How old was she at the time Gruner got his hands on her?

How much is Holmes to blame for Kitty’s attack on Gruner? Was he simply careless, or was this a case of his silent endorsement of “private revenge?”

What do you think became of Gruner? Did he sail for American as planned? Did he ever catch up with Kitty Winter? Would his deformity inspire him to be even more vicious in the future?

The View Halloa – His Last Bow

I always find this story a sad and difficult one to read. First there is the tragedy of the First World War. Then there is the melancholy phrase, “Stand with me here upon the terrace, for it may be the last quiet talk that we shall ever have.” This cannot fail to remind Sherlockians of the many friends who have crossed the Reichenbach ahead of us. And then there is the annoying part: another irritating example of what apparently was – and still may be – the English attitude towards the Irish. This is made even more disturbing in its way by the Doylean connotations of the name Altamont.
But putting all that aside, the story has its good points, too. Isn’t it wonderful to think of Holmes at sixty years of age, still able to outwit his adversaries in fine style, with Watson at his side! So let’s pack the Pack into the old Ford and follow our headlights to the discussion of “His Last Bow.”

Bringing home the bacon: Holmes suggested that Von Bork might be released after his visit to Scotland Yard. Does this make sense in the light of all that Holmes had done to pass false information through Von Bork? But even if Von Bork stayed a prisoner, wouldn’t his capture itself have aroused suspicion that the information which passed through him was untrustworthy? Would there have been some other way for Holmes to get at Von Bork’s papers without tipping off the Germans that the game was up?

Did Von Bork think it strange that Altamont had a chauffeur? How did Holmes usually travel to meet Von Bork, if this was the first time Watson did the driving? Had Holmes ever been to Von Bork’s house before, or had they met in other places prior to that instance?

Canonical illustrations aside, who chloroformed Von Bork: Holmes or Watson?

To whom did the black cat belong? Did Martha take it with her? Did Watson adopt it?

“It is a good wine, Holmes”: Should Holmes have discussed Martha’s role at a moment when Von Bork might have awakened and overheard? Or did her disguise not matter at that point?

If Martha was Mrs. Hudson, wouldn’t you have expected Watson to register some surprise at seeing his erstwhile landlady in such an unexpected role?

How much of that Imperial Tokay did Holmes and Watson drink? Was that why Holmes was talking nonsense? Should Watson have been driving? Was that the real reason they stood upon the terrace: to clear their heads?

The View Halloa – The Devil’s Foot

I can vividly remember my first reading of this story. I loved the eerie happenings, the suggestion of the supernatural, the daring scientific experiment that nearly went wrong, and the touching but not cloying buddy scene between Holmes and Watson, including Holmes’s relapse into his half-humorous, half-cynical attitude immediately after his brush with madness and death. “The Devil’s Foot” has everything I love best in the Canon, all rolled into a single tale. It even has one of the great Holmesian quotes, the now-famous exchange:

“I followed you.”
“I saw no one.”
“That is what you may expect to see when I follow you.”

Whether visible or invisible, I hope that the Hounds will follow me into the mystery and glamour of the moors near Poldhu Bay as we discuss this week’s thrilling story of “The Devil’s Foot.”
Strangest case I have handled: Watson opens the story by expressing his surprise that Holmes should have reminded him of the case. But isn’t it actually more peculiar that Holmes should have felt that it was all right for Watson to publish an account of a case in which Holmes allowed a criminal to go free? Granted that Watson was always doing things like that, but what did Leon Sterndale think of its publication?

Watson wrote that he and Holmes went to Cornwall so that Holmes could have “a complete change of scene and air.” But they could have achieved this in any number of locales. Was there perhaps some specific reason for their choice of Poldhu Bay? Had Holmes begun his language study back in London, and chose to follow up that of all his hobbies when the doctors suggested a rest cure? Or was there some other reason that caused Holmes to choose that particular time and place for a vacation – a time and place that happened to coincide with the presence of Dr. Leon Sterndale?

What was Sterndale’s work in Africa, anyway? Lion-hunting for a railroad construction company? Exploration? Medicine? Something else? Something which might have inspired Sherlock Holmes to keep him out of trouble in England and get him back to Africa without incident? Is this another link with Brother Mycroft, perhaps?

After the tragedy at Tredannick Wartha, Mrs. Porter the housekeeper sent a boy to the village to get help. This secured the services of Dr. Richardson and also apparently the “four strong men” who got the Tregennis brothers off to the asylum. Dr. Richardson ran into Mortimer Tregennis, who contacted the vicar. Then Mortimer and Roundhay got Holmes and Watson to come investigate. Now I’ll admit I was re-reading this story on the subway, so I might have missed something, but I didn’t see any mention of the police. Were the police were called in at all to investigate the death of Brenda Tregennis? What are we to make of that strange omission? Was this the reason that the police may have seemed resentful during their investigation of the death of Mortimer Tregennis?

We are devil-ridden, Mr. Holmes: What with devils and vicars and the like, “The Devil’s Foot” is a tale with a lot of religious overtones and undertones. And interestingly enough, all seven of the Christian sacraments are represented – either explicitly, symbolically or perversely – within the pages of this story. Would any Hounds care to play the game of “Find the Sacraments?” For those who didn’t have this list drilled into them in their childhood education, the seven sacraments are: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, Penance and Extreme Unction.

The View Halloa – Lady Frances Carfax

This story makes me glad that I didn’t live in those “good old days.” Although the world is far from perfect now, I’m glad that I didn’t have to survive in the days when it was apparently considered quite normal and acceptable for a woman to be subjected to a certain amount of unwanted male attention without any legal recourse, and without much sympathy from otherwise decent people. Look at poor Lady Frances! When she was imprisoned and nearly murdered by Holy Peters and his cohort, she could get help, but nobody seemed interested in protecting her from her stalker, Philip Green! All right, I suppose it’s possible that Green wasn’t so bad, and perhaps Lady Frances had given him some reason to believe that she returned his affection. If you have an opinion either way, perhaps you’d like to join the Hounds as we discuss this week’s story: “The Disappearance of Lady Carfax.”
The Hon. Philip Green: In my introduction, I referred to Philip Green as a “stalker.” By his account, he was nothing more than a very determined suitor, but Lady Frances seems to have been frightened of him, and it seems fairly certain that she went off with the “Shlessingers” at least in part to escape Green’s pursuit of her. On the other hand, Sherlock Holmes apparently thought Green was a decent man, and he trusted him with an important part of the search for Lady Frances. But was Holmes qualified to judge a man’s character when it came to his relationship with a women? Holmes described Lady Frances as “a stray chicken in a world of foxes,” but was Holmes letting a fox into the chicken coop by trusting Green? Is it significant that Holmes did not allow Green to accompany him on the rescue mission the morning of the funeral? Did this show that Holmes withheld his complete trust from this volatile man? But then, why associate with him at all?

If Lady Frances recovered from her ordeal, do you think she and Green ever got together?

Holmes’s temporary eclipse : Trusting Philip Green was only one of many ways in which Holmes’s handling of the Carfax case could be considered below standard. First he sent Watson off to do all the legwork, and then he marched in himself with many a snide and completely unjustified remark about the good Doctor’s efforts. We complained about Holmes’s behavior in “The Dying Detective,” but at least he had a good reason for hurting Watson’s feelings in that instance. In this case, Holmes’s insults make no sense. Why did Holmes come to the Continent when his instincts told him that Lady Frances was in London? Why not just wire Watson to come home? And surely all he had to do to round up Philip Green was to tell him that Lady Frances was in London. Does this case show Holmes losing his grip? Was this one of the cases that made him decide to take early retirement?

The View Halloa – The Dying Detective

I never read this story without thinking of the Play-Within-a-Play from Hamlet. With his own little drama, Holmes demonstrated what had happened to Victor Savage, how it happened, who was responsible – and how monstrously cruel a death it was that the young man had suffered. Holmes may have shown little sympathy for Mrs. Hudson’s and Dr. Watson’s feelings in the course of this case, but his portrayal of the dead man’s sufferings reveals a great deal of compassion towards the victim of this horrible crime. Through Holmes’s oddly transparent performance, I think we get a glimpse into the depths of his passion to see justice done. Please join the Hounds as we discuss this week’s story: the bit of theatrical business known as “The Dying Detective.”
The Player King: Holmes’s play-acting apparently fooled Mrs. Hudson, Dr. Watson and Culverton Smith, but I doubt that it fooled many readers. Can anyone recall their first reading of this story, and whether or not it gave them even the briefest of worries about Holmes’s health or his sanity?

Did Holmes see Victor Savage during Savage’s illness? Would he have dared to mimic the symptoms without having seen them at first-hand?

Holmes apparently confided in Inspector Morton. Wasn’t it unusual for Holmes to trust the police before his case was complete? Why did he choose to involve one of them in this particular case?

Doctor Watson could have chosen many alternative ways to present this tale. For instance, he could have told us first of the death of Victor Savage and Holmes’s investigation into the affairs of Culverton Smith. Would the “dying detective” scenes have been more convincing and frightening to the reader if we first knew of Savage’s death and then saw Holmes apparently became ill? Or is the story more effective because we see and learn everything on the same time line along which Dr. Watson experienced it, even though perhaps we do so with a little more understanding of what was really going on?

Would you have liked the story better if Holmes had somehow tricked Smith into being infected with his own microbes?

Random questions: Why did Holmes have pictures of criminals pasted up all around him where he slept? Didn’t their faces trouble him? Did Holmes ever truly relax?

Why did Watson have to help Holmes with his coat at the story’s end?

Would the combined testimony of Holmes and Watson, along with the tangible ivory box, have been sufficient evidence to produce a conviction if the case came up for trial?

Questions by request: Mr. Culverton Smith is described as being “a planter” (Doubleday 935). What was he growing on his plantation?

Since Watson had to hide behind the head of the bed, we can assume that there was no closet and no other large piece of furniture in the room. Was this common in Victorian England in what we think of as a middle-class residence? How small was this bedroom likely to have been?

The View Halloa – The Bruce-Partington Plans

Now let me see if I’ve got this straight. Some vital, top-secret submarine plans are missing. The prime minister is upset. The admiralty is buzzing like an overturned bee-hive. Scotland Yard is on the case already; they have a habit of putting their oar in whenever a dead body is discovered in suspicious circumstances. Well, Inspector Lestrade is a good man who has solved a lot of difficult cases. Of course, this case involves national security, so it really goes beyond the authority of even the official police. I know! We’ll put that fellow Holmes onto it. He may not look like much, but he has a younger brother who is an amateur detective…. Ah yes, it is one of the perpetual wonders of the Canon that it can take the implausible and make us believe, at least for a while, that events truly took place just the way Watson wrote it down. So forget your dress-circle tickets to the theatre! Leave your sweetie on the corner and join the Hounds as they plunge into the fog in pursuit of “The Bruce Partington Plans.”
Who you gonna call? In my introduction to this week’s case, I expressed some doubts that Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes would really have been called in to help in the investigation. In the England of 1895, were there any official channels to deal with such a situation as the theft of secret documents? Hugo Oberstein seems to have been a free-lance spy, but was it necessary to employ a free-lance detective to track him down? Were there counter-intelligence agents in the British government in those days?

At the beginning of the story, Inspector Lestrade proposed a very reasonable theory to explain the circumstances surrounding the theft of the plans. And yet Mycroft Holmes insisted, “All my instincts are against this explanation.” Did Mycroft know more than he was willing to tell? Did he know Cadogan West personally? Was he already suspicious of the Walter brothers?

Cadogan West: Cadogan West was a junior clerk whose duties “brought him into daily, personal contact with the plans. No one else had the handling of them.” But what was he doing when he handled the plans? Was he making copies? Building a model? Researching the patents? Testing various materials for construction? Was anyone actually engaged in building the submarine, or did it just make the Admiralty happy to have the plans around?

Cadogan West was twenty-seven at the time of his death, and he had already spent ten years in government service. Despite his youth, Sidney Johnson testified that West was one of the people who possessed the technical knowledge to copy the submarine plans had he desired to do so. But how did West come by his technical knowledge if he started work at the age of seventeen? I know that people went off to college at younger ages than they do now, but isn’t seventeen a bit young to graduate under any system? Was Cadogan West a prodigy? Would the Admiralty have given him an opportunity to acquire his technical knowledge on the job?

The View Halloa – The Red Circle

Put a candle in the window and practice counting out the alphabet; it’s time to discuss “The Red Circle.”
Questions by request: Isn’t killing people still against the law, even if the person who was killed was a murderer? Did Gennaro Lucca have to stand trial, and if so, what was the verdict likely to have been?

Watson describes Detective Leverton as “a quiet, businesslike young man.” How does Watson know that, if he only just met Leverton?

Emilia Lucca said that Gennaro had been trying to contact the Italian and American police. Why didn’t he try the British police? Or Sherlock Holmes?

Some vexed questions: The improbable candle-flash code, using the English alphabet to form Italian words, is much discussed by Sherlockians, usually with the implication that Watson (or Doyle) got it wrong. But if we approach the issue with the idea that the code was exactly what Watson said it was, can we think of any reason why the Luccas might have employed such a code?

Although “The Red Circle” may not make the top ten list of our favorite Canonical tales, it may take the prize in at least one area of achievement: it is almost impossible to assign a date to it. Baring-Gould relies on the “fingerprint theory” to date the story in 1902, but others cite Watson’s implied residence in Baker Street in order to set the story earlier. The issue may never be settled, but I would like to point out an odd moment in this story that might suggest a few possibilities. The thing that struck me as strange is Watson’s question to Holmes: “Why should you go further in it? What have you to gain from it?” Since when does Watson try to talk Holmes out of taking a case? I can think of at least one other story where he does: “The Devil’s Foot,” when Holmes was unwell. What say the Hounds to these lines of thought?

The View Halloa – The Cardboard Box

This may not qualify as a great detective story in the classic sense of clever clues that result in a surprise solution. It may not be considered one of the greatest of the Sherlock Holmes stories, where we seem to prize most those stories with suspenseful vigils and legendary villains. But consider how deftly this week’s story leads us from the fantastic contents of the cardboard box into a lesson in how inevitable human passions and failings can lead to tragedy. Then take time to marvel at how subtly the mood changes from Holmes’s initial eagerness and flippancy to his heartfelt summation of the case — and our lives generally.
The story begins with

The famous mind-reading episode that we have already seen in “The Resident Patient,” but here we find it in its original and proper home. It is a clever scene, to be sure, but why did Watson choose to report it rather than to commence the story of “The Cardboard Box” immediately after the apology/teaser of the opening paragraph? As an additional, or perhaps an alternative question, why did Holmes choose to spend so much time on the mind-reading episode before he got around to asking Watson if he wanted to go to Croydon?
In his crazed jealousy, Jim Browner cut and mailed his victims’ ears under the power of his own suggestion – the threat he had made to Sarah Cushing. (Though his original threat had only mentioned Fairbairn’s ear, in fact.) Why the ears? I seem to recall an ear-cropping incident in the Brigadier Gerard stories, too. Was this a common extra-legal punishment at one time? Did ear-slicing enjoy a “European vogue?!”

The story begins with a reference to Watson’s “depleted bank account,” and with a newspaper article located “under the financial column.” Are these money references an oblique hint to the reader concerning another possible money matter? That is, was Sarah Cushing a sometime prostitute? When she “let lodgings to sailors,” was this a euphemism for running a house of ill repute? Was it her intention to recruit her pretty sister Mary into the profession? Was there a plan in the works for Fairbairn to compromise Mary in an effort to make her more willing to go along with Sarah’s business plans?

And speaking of mind over matter: Do you think that Mary Browner and Alec Fairbairn ever actually consummated their relationship? Mary was obviously not overly perceptive, or she would have seen her sister’s attraction to Jim, and been more aware of Sarah’s subsequent efforts to cause trouble between husband and wife. Is it possible that Mary was such an innocent that she truly saw no harm in a friendship with a man other than her husband, especially if that friendship was endorsed by her big sister?

The View Halloa – Wisteria Lodge

The first time I read this story, I felt so sorry for Holmes! He looked rather foolish compared to the clever Inspector Baynes. Had it not been for his enlistment of the ex-gardener to watch over the gate and rescue Miss Burnet, Holmes would have come out of the case without any credit at all. It’s been said on list that we are sometimes too quick to criticize Sherlock Holmes, but this is one where it might be difficult to see the positive side. In a moment, a few comments and questions to start off the Hounds’ pursuit of the difficult and unpopular case of “Wisteria Lodge.”
Inspector Baynes: Inspector Baynes is the rare member of the official police who was able to score a clear victory over Sherlock Holmes at his own game, so much so that Holmes seems almost superfluous to the story. I was particularly disappointed that Holmes had to be told the true identity of “Henderson.” This is just the kind of thing that Holmes generally found out for himself! Why didn’t he know it?

Here’s an idea: Sometime during the Great Hiatus – let’s say it was in 1892, the seemingly impossible date of this case – Watson, still interested in the art of detection despite Holmes’s death, heard of the Wisteria Lodge/High Gables incident and decided to write up a detective adventure featuring the wily Inspector Baynes. Alas, no publisher would touch the story of an unknown provincial policeman, and the account never saw the light of day in its original form. Years later, when Holmes had gone into retirement, Watson decided to work up the story as if Holmes had been marginally involved, thus ensuring that it would be published. This idea would explain some of the problems of the story. What do the Hounds think?

The difficulty of the situation: In my opinion, this is one adventure where the changes made for the Granada television version actually improved the story (if you leave out those annoying mirror tricks in the camera shots, that is.) We saw “first hand” many more of the people and scenes that were presented to us as third-person accounts in the written version. Even the somewhat forced scene where Holmes and Watson ended up inside High Gable at least gave us a glimpse of the terrible Don Murillo and his henchman, and seemed preferable to the pointless days Holmes spent with his spud and his tin box in the story as it was originally written. My reason for bringing this up is Holmes’s statement in “Wisteria Lodge” that he could not act sooner because, “There is nothing upon which we can apply for a warrant” to search High Gable. This doesn’t seem quite right to me. Did Holmes discuss the question of a warrant with Inspector Baynes before reaching this conclusion? It does not appear that he did. And why not? Because he didn’t want to tip his hand to the official police? Because he wanted the full credit for solving the case? What do the Hounds think of Holmes’s methods here? What was he waiting for? What should he have done?