The Illustrious Client – Hounds Summary

Ralph Edwards – Sun, 5 Jun 1994

  • Why a 22-year wait to publish this case?
  • In what way was this the supreme moment of Holmes’ career?
  • Are drying room couches customary?
  • Was the Hammerford Will a Holmes/Watson case?
  • Was Damery a fop or a fashion plate?
  • In what cases was Watson linked to violence?
  • Is there an explanation for Damery wearing his gloves indoors?
  • Why both Carlton Club and XX.31?
  • Was “your fashionable consultants” a dig at Watson?
  • Was the marriage really a danger to Gruner?
  • What are color cards?
  • Are iron wills subject to hypnosis?
  • What were the visible signs of sin and sorrow?
  • How many “terrible years” were there?
  • Are hatred and blazing eyes limited to females?
  • How did Kitty know that Holmes’ only started that morning? Was she correct?
  • Do Holmes’s references to church, abbess, and bishops suggest a current interest in religious matters?
  • Did Holmes usually carry a stick?
  • Could Porky not have located the assailants?
  • Why didn’t Watson learn about Chinese pottery by reading Gruner’s book?
  • Would it be first growing dark at 8:30 PM in mid-September?
  • Would a “precise tidy cat of a man” have to “rummage furiously” in order to find a weapon in a drawer?
  • Did Holmes need Kitty Winter (who hadn’t been in Gruner’s house in over a year) to advise him where the diary was kept?
  • Compare “Woman’s heart and mind are insoluble puzzles to the male” and “Women of the De Merville type do not act like that.”
  • Why didn’t Gruner “hypnotize” Violet to regard the diary (if discovered) as a forgery?
  • What extenuating circumstances were there?
  • Why wasn’t Holmes prosecuted?

Chris Redmond – Fri, 15 Nov 1996

Baron Gruner is, by general consent, among the worst of the villains whom Sherlock Holmes encounters. Is it only the whiff of kinky sex in this story that makes him so, or is there something else about him — his nationality, perhaps — that makes him the man Sherlockians love to hate?

Sonia Fetherston – Fri, 13 Feb 1998

Two very different women whose destinies are tied to one very dreadful man — our next tale is, of course, The Adventure of the Illustrious Client. My questions and comments this weekend:

  • Why is the note to Holmes written in the third person?
  • Many Hounds disapprove of characters who exact their own vengeance. Kitty Winter is one of those characters — but honestly now, don’t we love her for it?
  • Did Gruner make those snapshots himself or was there another photographer?
  • Holmes is confounded by Violet and that “something indescribably annoying in the calm aloofness and supreme self complaisance” of her manner. Could it be she’s the mirror of his own annoying, aloof and self-complaisant side?
  • The Half Moon Street where Dr. Hill Barton was supposed to reside is located off Picadilly, not far from Buckingham Palace. Half Moon Street was a smart Regency address, and it still is a tony area. The street and its environs have a pleasing literary pedigree. In its heyday, Hazlitt, Shelley, and Boswell are said to have had addresses in Half Moon Street. Laurence Sterne and Richard Sheridan lived nearby. Oscar Wilde strolled past it almost daily, and his “Picture of Dorian Gray” was set a short distance away. Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey lived around the corner from Half Moon Street, and the area was also home to Wooster and Jeeves. Paul Theroux celebrated it in a couple of short stories collected under the title “Half Moon Street,” which were adapted into a mid-1980’s film by that name starring Michael Caine. Say…wasn’t that the same Michael Caine I saw a couple of years later, in “Without A Clue,” playing Sherlock Holmes?

Steve Clarkson – Fri, 16 Apr 1999

Colonel Sir James Damery was well-known for his tact and discretion, but even so, it was difficult for him to persuade Sherlock Holmes to enter a delicate matter because Sir James was sworn not to reveal the identity of the client on whose behalf he was working. When Holmes learned that a beautiful young woman of high social position was at risk at the hands of a predatory wife-killer, however, he agreed to take the case…even though it cost him a severe beating and put him at risk of being charged with burglary.

In a few minutes, the Mâitre de Chasse will unleash the Hounds on the trail of a clever and dangerous fox. The spoor will lead through the dark underbelly of London society; down among the dregs of humanity that populated London’s underworld. The Pack will be hard-pressed to bring this fox to ground.

This is a sordid story with a sordid ending, and every time I read it I want to hurry through and get on to something a bit brighter. But one character in particular strikes me as interesting: Miss Kitty Winter. Her diction and choice of words seem to vary between the gutter and something higher. I find myself wondering, “Could she have been a person of breeding — not of noble birth, perhaps, but of middle-class stock?” Then there is the imagery of the sponge: In ILLU Watson likens the transformation of the handsome and refined Gruner’s face to the effects of a foul sponge which left him hideous almost beyond words. In TWIS, a sponge also effected a transformation, from the hideous Hugh Boone to the sad-faced and refined Mr. Neville St. Clair.

In describing Miss Violet de Merville, Holmes said she was “as inflexible and remote as a snow image on a mountain.” Mount Rushmore aside, a “snow image on a mountain?” What could Holmes have had in mind? In any case, could hypnosis instill a fixation such as Miss de Merville had for Baron Gruner?

“By the Lord Harry, he won’t!” cried Holmes. Who was “Lord Harry?” A euphemism, perhaps? In his subsequent instructions to Watson, Holmes told him to tell Shinwell Johnson to get Miss Winter out of harm’s way and to study up on Chinese pottery. How did Watson know to get in touch with Johnson? And why didn’t it occur to either Holmes or Watson that the best way to study for an interview with Gruner was to read Gruner’s book on Chinese pottery? And that failing, why didn’t Lomax think to offer it to Watson as the latest and one of the more authoritative books on the subject?

Kitty Winter wanted to drag Gruner down into the mire where she resided, into “Hell, London,” but did she really attain her objective? Without a doubt she exacted a terrible revenge with her vitriol, but is it likely that she lowered his social position to the degree desired? IMHO, she did not. After the attack, Gruner still had two things going for him: wealth and gender. Given what we have seen of the man’s psyche, it is likely that once he had recovered to the extent possible from his maiming, he would have redoubled his efforts to locate her and punish her for her actions. And Holmes would not have been safe, either. After all, Gruner was able to accomplish what no other enemy of Holmes could do — he physically injured Holmes, rather severely at that. Even Professor James Moriarty was unable to attain that objective.

Poor Dr. Watson must have had some uneasy moments over his part in the debacle in Gruner’s house. If Holmes had been called into the dock, he would have been the only witness, and would have faced a true Hobson’s choice: To lie under oath; or to identify the burglar as his intimate friend Sherlock Holmes. And why wasn’t Holmes prosecuted for burglary? Why was he not charged as an accomplice in the vitriol-throwing, since he brought Kitty Winter to the scene? We must conclude that it was the prestige and wealth of the Illustrious Client which intervened on his behalf and rendered the British law more elastic.

As I said at the beginning, this is a sordid tale indeed.

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