Ralph Edwards - Fri, 10 Jun 1994
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?
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:
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,
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 16 Aug 2001
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?
Rosemary Michaud - Thu, 22 Jun 2000
Return to Introducing the 60 Stories
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 16 Aug 2001