The Blanched Soldier – Hounds Summary

Ralph Edwards – Fri, 10 Jun 1994

  • Are the ideas of Holmes exceedingly pertinacious?
  • What are examples of Watson’s superficiality?
  • In this case, where is Holmes superficial or pandering?
  • How does this case compare with others as to strangeness?
  • Can a “burden” be an ‘ideal helpmate’?
  • Were Watson’s previous marriage periods unselfish?
  • How were the chairs placed for evening visitors?
  • What beard would a “regular” have?
  • What is the “cut of a riding man”?
  • Would a guest be provided with estate stationery?
  • With brokerage fees as his true aim, did Dodd hoodwink Holmes?
  • Was the Colonel the sort to let his wife have her own correspondence?
  • What part of the House was Ralph as old as?
  • Would a single ship devote a year to go round the world?
  • Could the Emsworth family have put off Dodd more effectively?
  • Was Dodd inept in not making Ralph more sympathetic to his cause?
  • Wouldn’t Godfrey’s breath immediately fog the window?
  • Did a vision problem require Godfrey’s face to press upon the glass?
  • Is strolling back to the house consistent with getting the Holmes message mailed?
  • What time did it get dark in January?
  • How does body posture indicate melancholy?
  • Would thirty minutes allow for the five miles and two interviews?
  • Wasn’t Watson unmarried at this time of the Abbey School matter?
  • Were the lepers angry because of Godfrey’s uniform?
  • Who is Lord Roberts?
  • Did the idea of a faulty diagnosis originate with Holmes or with Sir James?
  • Was Sir James ahead of his time in thinking of autosuggestion as a cause of illness?
  • With telephones available, did Holmes minimize his time – and his fee?

Chris Redmond – Sun, 3 Sep 1995

Essential to a clear understanding of The Blanched Soldier is its background in the events of the South African War, which was recent history, if not still news, when it was published in 1926. Are there other Canonical stories that depend on the reader’s awareness of current affairs to the same degree?

Sonia Fetherston – Fri, 20 Feb 1998

The horror of illness and the power of friendship are central to our next account, The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier. My questions and comments this weekend:

  • The color white is a powerful cultural symbol representing many things, initiation and surrender being only two examples. What things might white symbolize in this particular story?
  • Would you rather be a guest at Colonel Emsworth’s house for a weekend…….or would you rather have James M. Dodd as a guest in your own home for a weekend? Think carefully now!
  • Why would the Emsworth family retain Mr. Kent, when a much better-qualified consultant like Sir James Saunders was present in England?
  • “I miss my Watson,” Holmes admits at one point. I do, too! But perhaps other Hounds disagree and don’t mind dispensing with the good doctor now and then?
    Watson is sometimes foggy about dates, but Holmes is specific: James and Godfrey joined the army in January, 1901. I looked at my own city’s newspaper for that month and year to learn more about those 31 days. There were many articles about politics and conflict in South Africa, but to be honest with you it was the *other* news that month which captivated me. In China, the new year began with the army on full alert, mistaking celebratory gunfire for a Boxer uprising. A baby princess, Isabelle, was christened in Paris. Major Walter Reed achieved an 80 percent success rate inoculating Cubans against Yellow Fever. The United States Congress considered stripping southern Blacks of their right to vote. In Nice, police arrested Russian Prince Victor Nakadchivez on charges of nihilism and plotting to take the life of the Tsar. Bloodshed and insurgency rocked the Philippines almost daily. Carrie Nation and her temperance ladies were jailed in Wichita after vandalizing two saloons in slightly less than 10 minutes. Twenty-six little children perished in an orphanage fire in Rochester. In Belgium, Queen Marie Henrietta was seriously ill with bronchitis, while in England Queen Victoria, that certain gracious lady, died surrounded by her family. An American capitalist offered to buy the Baker Street and Waterloo Underground from the faltering London & Globe Finance Corp. And interestingly enough in light of this week’s story, a news item from Honolulu reported that the bodies of two suspected lepers were found dumped in a nearby rock quarry. Maybe Godfrey was right when he worried about being dragged off to a horrible doom?

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 23 Apr 1999

Danger and the threat of death forge strong bonds of friendship. So it was with James Dodd and Godfrey Emsworth, who faced the rifles of the Boers as comrades-in-arms. Godfrey was seriously wounded in battle and sent to hospital, whence he returned to his father’s home in England for further convalescence. It was only natural for James to wish to visit his friend after his own return home. But there was a problem: communications from Godfrey had abruptly stopped after he left the hospital, and efforts to contact him at his father’s home were frustrated by Godfrey’s father, the curmudgeonly Colonel Emsworth, who brusquely informed James by letter that Godfrey was traveling for his health and could not be contacted.

James prevailed upon Godfrey’s mother to invite him to Tuxbury Old Hall, where he was once more informed by Godfrey’s father that his son was traveling for his health and could not be reached. Imagine James’s surprise, then, when he saw Godfrey peering in at him through the bedroom window one night. Godfrey’s physical appearance was strange ñ it was as though his skin had been bleached to a ghostly white. James tried to find where Godfrey was staying, or being confined, only to be ordered off the property by Colonel Emsworth. Puzzled and disturbed, James sought the help of Sherlock Holmes.

In a few minutes the Mâitre de Chasse will sound the beginning of the Hounds’ investigation of this curious affair. While the end of the scent will reveal no crime, it will serve to demonstrate the strange vicissitudes of war.

This story is rather different in a couple of respects: it doesn’t involve any crime; and it is one of the few written by Holmes. Holmes seems to have used the opportunity to chastise Watson rather severely, saying, “A confederate who foresees your conclusions and course of action is always dangerous…” (Dangerous? To whom, and how?) He continues, “…but one to whom each development comes as a perpetual surprise, and to whom the future is always a closed book, is indeed an ideal helpmate.” (A helpmate? Or a foil?) A little farther on, Holmes criticizes Watson for being “selfish” in taking a wife. Now, really!

BLAN strikes me as Doyle’s effort to present a case in clinical terms; as the instructional “classroom” exercise Holmes so often advocated. The problem, as Doyle quickly discovered, is that a lecture isn’t necessarily interesting. Pedantic classroom presentations can result in the students falling asleep. Hence, there comes a time in this story when Doyle, through Holmes, laments, “And here it is that I miss my Watson.” So do we all.

Holmes did well to let Watson write most of the stories. Either Holmes is referring to an unchronicled case, that of the “Abbey School” which involved the “Duke of Greyminster,” or he had forgotten that it was the Priory School and the Duke of Holdernesse. Could it be that Holmes’s vaunted memory was wont to slip a little over such trifles? One would think that he would tend to remember PRIO if only because he received his largest recorded monetary fee in that case.

Holmes writes, “It was by concealing such links in the chain that Watson was enabled to produce his meretricious results.” In the first place, Watson didn’t conceal the so-called links, he just didn’t understand their signficance until after they were explained to him. And “meretricious” is a word derived from the Latin word for “prostitute,” and means to attract attention in a vulgar way. Is Holmes mistaking Watson’s wonder and admiration for vulgar showmanship?

James Dodd says, “…I knew that [Godfrey Emsworth] was heir to a lot of money, and also that his father and he did not always hit it off too well.” What is the relationship between these two disparate facts? Had Godfrey already come into his inheritance, or was this a reference to what he could expect to inherit from his father’s estate?

If Godfrey’s mother was a co-conspirator in the sequestration of her son, why did she take the risk of bringing Dodd down to Tuxbury Old Hall? She is described as “a gentle little white mouse of a woman,” and I marvel that she took so bold a step without consulting her domineering husband first. (If she had consulted him, I very much doubt that he would have given his approval.)
And a couple of bits and pieces: what is “the cut of a riding-man,” and what kind of disinfectant has a tarry odor? And why did old Ralph have to wear gloves just to fetch Godfrey’s meals, while apparently Mr. Kent wore none?