Chapters 1-7 of A Study in Scarlet, Or, Well, hello there, gentlemen!

All right, I have a feeling I may have too much to say here and I haven’t come up with a great way of organizing my thoughts, but there’s nothing for it but to get typing – MY THOUGHTS, LET ME SHOW YOU THEM!

Right off the bat, we have to take into consideration that Watson may be a slightly unreliable narrator. Much is made of his wandering war wound (shoulder or leg?) and that he occasionally becomes confused about the date. Fandom, however, is quite accommodating, happily explaining away the war wound with many theories (most involve him crouched down for some reason and having the bullet pass through his shoulder and leg in one fell swoop, others insist that the bullet must have gotten into his bloodstream and traveled from shoulder to leg; NA, 12). So far, no explanations have been supplied as to how Watson can lose a few days during his narrative, though, happily, he occasionally manages to corroborate his start date – or rather Lestrade does (Baring-Gould seems hyper-occupied with attention to the timekeeping or, more accurately, the lack thereof, throughout.). Stephen M. Black, however, has quite a nifty theory, namely that Watson was actually killed at Maiwand and his orderly, Murray, assumed his identity (instead of carrying him to safety, as Watson tells us), explaining his absentmindedness regarding facts here and there (NA, 13). I don’t think it’s true, but I am giddy at the lengths to which fandom has examined and theorized!

Another great mystery is Watson’s bull pup, mentioned once here and never again. As many people have pointed out, Watson is not really in a position to own a dog – at the moment, he’s living in a hotel (who would be unlikely to allow dogs; before that, he’d just spend a few months on a boat journeying back from Afghanistan; before that, he was recovering from typhoid in a hospital, another place unlikely to allow dogs; and before that, well, he was busy being almost killed (or killed) in battle. Again theories abound – that the dog suffered a fatal accident and Watson’s nerves were overcome (also in place to explain his confusion with dates) (NA, 25) or that Holmes, not being a dog person, eventually made him get rid of it (NA, 26) – though this seems unnecessarily cruel and I refuse to believe it of Holmes. Carol Woods even posits that what Watson actually owned was a ferret and when Holmes pointed this out to him, he was too embarrassed to mention the animal again (35). I just wonder why ACD even bothered to mention it – was he intending to do intricate plots involving the dog? It makes no sense!

Which brings us to Watson’s list. Oh, the list!

Sherlock Holmes – His Limits

  1. Knowledge of Literature. – Nil.
  2. ”                    ” Philosophy. – Nil.
  3. ”                    ” Astronomy. – Nil.
  4. ”                    ” Politics. – Feeble.
  5. ”                    ” Botany. – Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
  6. ”                    ” Geology. – Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks has shown me splashes uon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
  7. ”                    ” Chemistry. – Profound.
  8. ”                    ” Anatomy. – accurate, but unsystematic.
  9. ”                    ” Sensational Literature. – Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
  10. Plays the violin well.
  11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
  12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.

Well, ladies? Did I just describe your ideal man? I know, right?! Seriously, I don’t know if I’m the only one here with a crush on Holmes, but Richard Asher would say that I’m not, describing Holmes as being “enormously attractive to women” (NA, 31). My only response to this is “Hell, yes!” (Also, there is this odd interlude where Holmes picks up a random book [De jure inter Gentes] and starts telling Watson all about it, who then asks who the printer is. What?! Who cares, Watson?! But one of the notes says that “several scholars not surprisingly conclude that Holmes was a devoted bibliophile” (NA, 83) and I am even more smitten!)

Also, it is mentioned that Holmes gives a merry laugh at one point. I cannot express how much I love that Holmes has a merry laugh. Love. It. In fact, Sherlockians Charles E. and Edward S. Lauterbach have provided us with a handy Frequency Table* Showing the Number and Kind of Responses Sherlock Holmes Made to Humorous Situations and Comments in His 60 Recorded Adventures (NA, 27):

Smile 103 Amusement 9
Laugh 65 Cheer 7
Joke 58 Delight 7
Chuckle 31 Twinkle (I would seriously give an arm and a leg to see this.) 7
Humor 10 Mischellaneous (No, I don’t know what a “Miscellaneous” response to humor is, but it makes me laugh.) 19
Total 316

*Apologies for my awkward table, but HTML does not make it easy!

Oh, and Holmes’ cocaine habit (there is a phrase I’ve seen around teh intarwebs “I’m on it like Holmes on cocaine.” which I dearly long to work into everyday speech.). Here Watson notices that Holmes sometimes looks as though he’s using some kind of narcotic, but assures himself that Holmes’ “temperance and cleanliness…[forbid] such a notion.” But, of course, we know that Watson is wrong, though Dr. George F. McCleary decides that it is a deliberate deceit on the part of Holmes who is merely playing a joke on Watson (NA, 31). Again, I don’t think Holmes could be so cruel.

Oh, and also Holmes’ violin! His Stradivarius! There is discussion about his violin because Watson describes him as playing sonorous chords with the thing flung across his lap (not an easy feat, basically). Which, as a note on page 37 points out, would work if it really were a fiddle (as Watson calls it) with the flattened bridge, but surely not even Holmes would do that to his Stradivarius! There are also theories (though supported by what, I’m not sure) that it was the viola that he played, not the violin. One note speculates that Holmes models his style of playing after Paganini (NA, 91) to which I can only respond “Guh.”

As you can see, I really don’t think this story is as much about the mystery (though there is actually one to be solved) as it is about the introductions. Watson gives us enough information to hook us and to keep us coming back for more adventures!

And now, miscellaneous thoughts [These are my thoughts.]:

  • Many U.S. editions omit the “B” [from their address] (NA, 28). [What? Why?!]
  • Regarding Watson’s list of Holmes’ limits, Edgar W. Smith says that “A list of Watson’s own points might, at this juncture, have been headed by the specification: 1. Knowledge of Sherlock Holmes. – Nil.” (NA, 34). [Ooh, burn!]
  • Ian McQueen is dubious that Watson would have had sufficient time to acquire a marked degree of facial tanning… It may be that Holmes was not so quick with his inference about Afghanistan as Watson would have the reader believe (NA, 42). [Aww, Watson’s trying to make Holmes look extra clever for us!]
  • And on the return side, “This statement (‘it’s useful to obtain the facts, although I don’t really need them’) seems to fly in the face of Holmes’ own careful doctrine respecting theorising in advance of the evidence, expressed earlier. It appears to be Holmes trying to impress his newfound colleague on their first case together” (NA, 66). [I am beside myself with teh cute!]
  • Here was an opportunity of taking the conceit out of [Holmes]. He little thought of this when he made that random shot. “May I ask, my lad,” I said, in the blandest voice, “what your trade may be?” “Commissionaire, sir,” he said, gruffly. “Uniform away for repairs.” “And you were?” I asked, with a slightly malicious glance at my companion. “A sergeant, sir, Royal Marine Light Infantry, sir. No answer? Right, sir.” (NA, 46) [Watson, you are too cute for words. Also? PWNED!]
  • “What’s that little thing of Chopin’s she plays so magnificently: Tra-la-la-lira-lira-lay.” (NA, 77) This one line is followed by perhaps the longest note yet, approximately a full page of theories regarding which of Chopin’s pieces he’s referring to here (made all the more difficult by the fact that Holmes is going to see a lady violinist give a concert and Chopin never wrote anything for the solo violin). [Such attentiont to detail! So much love, fandom. So much love. How many essays were written based on this one sentence?!]
  • On the aforementioned concert: “It was magnificent,” [Holmes] said, as he took his seat. “Do you remember what Darwin says about music? He claims that the power of producing and appreciating it existed among the human race long before the power of speech was arrived at. Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood.” “That’s a rather broad idea,” I remarked.” (NA, 80) [Is there no romance in your soul, Watson? You are as bad as J’s Harris!]
  • In response to Gregson’s theory: “It’s quite exciting,” said Sherlock Holmes, with a yawn. “What happened next?” (NA, 106) [ILU, Holmes!]
  • The latter suggestion [that Stangerson was actually in Engand looking for Watson] is especially intriguing in light of Arthur Conan Doyle’s play Angels of Darkness, which places Dr. Watson in San Francisco, where he meets Jefferson Hope, who, with his dying breath, urges Watson to marry Lucy Ferrier! (NA, 113) [ACD’s what now with Watson where now?!]
  • “[Holmes’] eyes were sharp and piercing.” They were gray eyes, as we are told later on numerous occasions (BG, 154) [Mmm, dreamy…]
  • “[Holmes’] teeth may have detracted slightly from this impressive appearance for with his excessive consumption of shag they must have been heavily tobacco-stained and moreover we know that the left canine tooth had been knocked out by Mathews in the waiting-room at Charing Cross (“The Adventure of the Empty House”); but perhaps he wore a denture.” (BG, 154) [Great. Now I’m picturing Holmes with a grill…]
  • “Then I picked up a magazine from the table and attempted to while away the time with it, while my companion munched silently at his toast.” (BG, 158) Baring-Gould notes that “How Holmes accomplished this minor miracle is not known.” [I am dead with the laughing. Baring-Gould has a sense of humor!]
  • On a note describing who Dupin is “Ratiocinative hero of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), “The Purloined Letter” (1845) and “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1842). (BG, 162) [What the hell is this word?! Using the process of exact thinking or a reasoned train of thought. Thank you, Merriam-Webster! Dumb it down a little, Baring-Gould.]
  • “Here is another indication that the year of A Study in Scarlet was indeed 1881 [Baring-Gould likes to use the weather to prove things like this – he’ll try it again later based on a comment that there had previously been no rain for a week.] Weather reports from the Times of London show that Friday, March 4, 1881 was ‘wet and unsettled,’ and the forecast was for ‘dull and cold, rain or snow.’ Saturday, March 4, 1882, on the other hand, was ‘cloudy’ but ‘generally fine.'” (BG, 166) [When is the weather in London NOT like this in March?! This proves nothing!]
  • Upon astounding the constable who discovered Drebber’s body by knowing impossible things about the case, he asks him “Where was you hid to see all that?” According to a note from Baring-Gould (177), “That Holmes was indeed on the spot at the time of the murder – disguised as the cab horse ‘with three old shoes and one new one on his off foreleg’ – was the astounding theory put forward by the late Robert S.  Morgan in his volume Spotlight on a Simple Case, a tour de force that must be read to be believed.” [INDEED! I think we all know what this means… WANT!]

So, yeah. Long post is long. And there’s so much more that I thought was super-cool in the annotateds that, in deference to the fact that not everybody may share my enthusiasm, I’ve decided to skip over despite really, really wanting to share (speculation regarding Lestrade, Gregson, Mrs. Hudson, Stamford and his many professions, Holmes’ eyesight [I maintain that he just likes the sound of Watson’s voice], the location of Lauriston Garden[s], the location of the nearest cab rank or newspaper stall, and whether or not Holmes might actually be a lawyer or even an American among many others!

See you next Tuesday for part 2 (chapters 1-6 or 8-13, depending on how your book is numbered) of A Study in Scarlet. I fully expect to be able to rein myself in next time, because the introductions are over but mostly because we’re off to the dreaded Alakali Flats. Be strong! Don’t let the boredom get you!

*Most of my notes, I think, come from the New Annotated simply because I find its format easier to work through and it is, therefore, the version that I’m reading first (I’m only reading the notes in the Baring-Gould). Much of the information is doubled up, but there is some that is unique to either volume, so if you see NA, that’s the Baring-Gould edition and BG is the New Annotated. No, I’m totally kidding – it’s the other way (the logical way) round.

6 thoughts on “Chapters 1-7 of A Study in Scarlet, Or, Well, hello there, gentlemen!

  1. I am very amused by these comments, and that people will spend their lifetimes analyzing stories in this way gives me some small hope for humankind (in the same way that Civil War reenactors warm my heart). Today I came home from work and read A Study in Scarlet (without the annotations) and enjoyed being re-introduced to Holmes & Watson after lo, these many years. I kind of like Watson, though I keep having to shake off the image of the bumbling old-timer from the black-and-white movies. I like his claim that he is extremely lazy, and that he has a set of vices he will claim at a later date. And I enjoyed too the journey to the “alkali flats” because it fits in with my current obsession with Big Love. I look forward to your part 2!

    • Oh, don’t get me wrong – I know I gush endlessly over the wonder that is Holmes, but I do definitely have a soft spot for Watson (especially now that I’ve seen Hotson – besides being highly dreamy, the new Watson is definitely keeping up with Holmes brains [and brawn]-wise.

      I’m glad you liked the Alkali Flats part – I just have this memory of it being very boring and wondering when we’d get back to Holmes and Watson (the same things happens in Valley of Fear IIRC). I’ll be interested to see if I have a better reaction to it this time around.

      Glad you’re reading along, too!

  2. I enjoyed your notes from the Annotated versions. Christopher Morley’s preface to the complete edition (mine that you have – tan cover) talks about some of these things also. I finished the book, skimming the Alkali Plain since I’d read it before. I will try to start reading it to Mom soon, or letting her read it for herself. She may require me to read her the entire Utah part. I always enjoy the scenes of H & W getting to know one another.

    • Those are everybody’s favorite part! Even BG says somewhere (I think in one of the many essays littered amongst the stories – his annotated is so disorganized!) that it’s really the domestic scenes that keep the reader coming back for more. I guess there’s just something appealing about seeing the genius at home! Probably because we all wish we were Holmes’ BFF Watson.

    • Yeah, I think I was a little overenthusiastic about the lovely Sherlock Holmes and it sort of descended into mindless fangirling! But once I’ve re-acclimated myself to Holmes’ awesomeness, hopefully things’ll be a bit more coherent. 😉

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