Ralph Edwards - Fri, 12 Aug 94
A number of late Canonical tales seem to be dark reflections of earlier
ones. Could this tale possibly have been written by an author who had not
previously -- some 35 years, half a lifetime, previously -- written Silver
Smoke curls from Sherlock Holmes' oldest and foulest pipe.....as well as from a furnace that hasn't been lit for some time! We move on to one of the canon's more macabre tales, The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place. My questions and comments:
John Mason, the head trainer for Sir Robert Norberton's stable of
race horses, was a hard-bitten man with "a firm, austere expression which
is only seen upon those who have to control horses or boys". One would
surmise correctly that it would take a good deal to perturb Mr. Mason.
And yet, the recent goings-on at Shoscombe Old Place had upset him to the
point where he decided to call in Sherlock Holmes.
In a few minutes, the Mâitre de Chasse will sound the hunting horn and begin the chase of a mysterious quarry. The scent will lead to a "haunted" crypt beneath a ruined chapel, a central furnace in which human bones had been incinerated, a corpse in a winding-cloth straight out of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher", and a stakes race upon which ownership of Shoscombe Old Place depends.
Watson said of the enigmatic Sir Robert Norberton that he should
have been "a buck of the Regency". Politically, the Regency was the period
from 1811 to 1820. These were the times when, due to illness, George III
was considered incapable of fulfilling his role as monarch. In 1811, the
Regency Act was passed and George III's eldest son, George, Prince of Wales,
became Prince Regent and ruled in the King's place. The era of the Regency
was notable for many things, among them the tendency of the landed gentry
to live their lives to the fullest. The spirit of Squire Western (Fielding,
"Tom Jones") lived on in those times. But under the tranquil veneer of
the countryside lay a penchant for sudden and ferocious violence. It is
in that context that the reader is expected to view Sir Robert.
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 18 Oct 2001
I am bemused by Holmes's deductions as he peered through the low-power microscope. How would a scientist visually identify glue, even microscopically, as compared to other brown, globular matter? In the same vein, how could the observer identify "hairs" as being from a tweed coat as opposed to cashmere, astrachan, or, in the case of a cap, the wearer's head? Wouldn't other, more definitive tests be required for positive identification -- or did such tests exist at the time?
If Sir Robert Norberton exercised and trained Shoscombe Prince's half-brother for the benefit of the touts, when and where did he exercise and train Shoscombe Prince without the touts' knowledge? Can two horses be so alike in appearance and gait as to be indistinguishable one from the other? And wouldn't the odds-makers be even a little suspicious when Sir Robert was wagering everything he could raise on a horse that was rated at 100-to-1? As Holmes remarked under similar circumstances in SILV, "Hum! Somebody knows something, that is clear."
Holmes and Watson left their spoon-bait for jack at the inn, and Watson writes, "That absolved us from fishing for the day." Yet later that same day, without returning to the inn, Holmes and Watson managed to catch enough trout for supper that evening. What did they use for bait, and if they had lures of some kind, why did Watson feel "absolved" from having to fish? Could it be that he was no admirer of Izaak Walton?
There is another hint of adultery in this story; it would appear that Doyle had a fascination for the subject. Or was he aware of the power of titillation upon the minds of potential readers? In any case, did Sir Robert really carry on an affair with Carrie Evans Norlett, as was widely bruited about? Why would her husband connive with Sir Robert to carry on the pretense that Lady Beatrice was still alive if he was being cuckolded by Sir Robert?
Rosemary Michaud - Thu, 24 Aug 2000
Return to Introducing the 60 Stories
Brad Keefauver - Thu, 18 Oct 2001