Charles Augustus Milverton – Hounds Summary

Ralph Edwards – Fri, 14 Apr 1995

  • Can you surmise what really happened?
  • Why was there electricity in Hampstead but not in Baker Street?
  • Was it unlike Holmes not to study the calling card?
  • Shouldn’t Holmes have had someone else interview Milverton for him?
  • If hundreds turned white, how rampant was questionable conduct?
  • Is blackmail less likely today?
  • Who determined the Lady Eva’s beauty standing?
  • Did the impecunious young squire sell the letters?
  • How would Milverton have delivered the letters?
  • Could Milverton hold back some letters for future blackmail?
  • Did fear of blackmail serve a useful social function?
  • Was social class a reason to rank spousal abuse as less serious than blackmail?
  • Is an intellectual head apt to be bald?
  • Was refusing to shake hands good salesmanship?
  • What would an imprudent sprightly letter say?
  • Was Milverton wise to let Watson listen in? Compare Watson’s function as a witness in this story and in DYIN.
  • Is it blackmail if the price is impossibly high?
  • Does “swagger” refer to a stick?
  • Was “walking out” customary in winter?
  • What are money bags?
  • What did Holmes wear as silent shoes?
  • Would a theatergoer wear tennis shoes?
  • Are the great criminals (and great detectives) unmarried?
  • Why were Holmes and Watson presumably unarmed?
  • Can night vision be cultivated?
  • Does a bullet to the chest result in falling forward?
  • How did the “woman” get away safely?
  • Did Agatha employ Holmes in a second “Case of Identity”?
  • Did the objective warrant interrupting lunch?

Chris Redmond – Sat, 6 Jul 1996

Holmes seems to view Milverton with special loathing, chiefly because of the nature of his crime (blackmail, rather than mere murder) though perhaps also because of the oily pleasure with which he does his evil deeds. And yet to deal with the case, he stoops to a form of love and betrayal not very different from what must have befallen Milverton’s victims, and he laughs as he does it. What moral distinction can be made?

Sonia Fetherston – Fri, 26 Sep 1997

Psssst! Wanna buy a compromising letter? Read The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton this weekend, and then answer that question. While you’re at it, give some thought to the following questions, and comments, as you turn the pages:

  • Why was Holmes out rambling with Watson at the beginning of this story, deliberately missing the appointment he’d made with Milverton?
  • Milverton paid a lot of money for the letters he acquired. How might a Victorian Era blackmailer know he’s buying a genuine article, and not a forgery? If I sold Milverton a bogus document, is his the sort of character who would seek revenge?
  • Why the explicit religious imagery in this story? We’ve got the Evil One/snake (Milverton), Eve (Lady Eva), and Sts. George/Margaret (Sherlock Holmes) tilting with the dragon (safe).
  • Why does Holmes become so infuriated when the topic of blackmail comes up? We seldom see him get this worked up.
  • My favorite moment of levity in the entire canon takes place near the end of CHAS, when Lestrade ticks off the particulars of the suspect who got away and Holmes exclaims, “Why, it might be a description of Watson!” It’s exactly timed to break the reader’s tension — and this is a tense story, isn’t it? I can’t help but hear Watson’s unchronicled gasp in response! And then the tension returns right away, when they stand outside the window looking at the shooter’s picture. It’s very oppressive, but a consistent favorite nevertheless.

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 11 Dec 1998

The coming week’s Adventure is not about a rough with a bludgeon. It’s about a man who “‘methodically and at his leisure tortures the soul and wrings the nerves in order to add to his already swollen money-bags.'” This is Charles Augustus Milverton, “‘the worst man in London,'” a pitiless blackmailer who threatens to cause the cancellation of the forthcoming wedding of the beautiful Lady Eva Blackwell to the Earl of Dovercourt.

As the Adventure opens, Holmes is put in the unsavory position of an intermediary trying to negotiate the price for which Milverton will surrender several “sprightly” letters which compromise Lady Eva. Despite his best efforts, no agreement is reached, and an effort to wrest the letters from Milverton by force is foiled when the blackmailer displays a large revolver and expresses his intent to use it should force be attempted.

Frustrated beyond measure, Holmes makes a crucial decision to become a felon in the eyes of the law by cracking Milverton’s safe, in which the letters of Lady Eva are kept. The loyal Watson persuades Holmes to allow him to take part in the enterprise. As the burglary proceeds, an unexpected and bloody turn of events leaves Milverton dead and Holmes and Watson fleeing from the pursuit of Milverton’s household servants.

In a few minutes the Mâitre de Chasse will loose the Hounds upon a quest for the facts surrounding Milverton’s death. The mystery is not how the blackmailer died, but at whose hand?

Like the counterfeiter, the blackmailer is in a class by himself as a public danger. I suspect that few if any of us could find it in our hearts to pity Charles Augustus Milverton for his violent departure from this earth. Evidently, he was unmarried, and I have sometimes wondered what happened to the contents of his “swollen money-bags” after his demise.

Even though Watson says that Milverton’s killer had died before this story was published in 1904, might it not have been possible to ascertain the identity of his murderess by discovering which widowed peeress(es) had died recently, and going back five years to determine which of their husbands had died in 1899? Is this another case of Watson “telling all” when possible survivors in the family might be embarrassed?

Says Holmes, “‘Heaven help the man, and still more the woman, whose secret and reputation come into the power of Milverton.'” Whyso a woman more than a man?

If Agatha locked the dog up so that “Escott” could have a “clear run” at meeting her clandestinely, wouldn’t she have been waiting up for her “fiancée” on the night of the burglary? Another thought: What if Agatha had connected her master’s murder with the sudden disappearance of the ardent “Escott” and given the police a description of the man who showed inordinate interest in Milverton’s habits and the grounds surrounding Appledore Towers? Apparently, Holmes discounted this contingency, but was he justified in doing so?

When Watson discovered that the outer door to Milverton’s study was in fact unlocked, Holmes formed a contingency plan, whispered to Watson, that included hiding behind the drapes in Milverton’s study should anyone chance to interrupt before he had opened the safe. Was this a wise strategy?

We know that Milverton’s killer was a woman of high social postion, but does “a high diamond tiara” and “Court dress” indicate some level of royalty?

Finally, from a purely literary standpoint, was it necessary for Watson to accompany Holmes on his excursion into burglary?