Ralph Edwards - Fri, 14 Apr 1995
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?
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:
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.
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 12 Apr 2001
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?
Rosemary Michaud - Thu, 17 Feb 2000
Return to Introducing the 60 Stories
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 12 Apr 2001