Chapters 1-7 (or 8-14) of A Study in Scarlet, Or, Not the Alkali Flats!**

Plains! I mean plains!

Except it totally wasn’t as boring as I thought it was going to be (I must have been confusing this one with The Valley of Fear). I know later on, ACD was trying to get away from having to write Holmes which would explain the annoying interlude in VoF, but here it’s actually kind of necessary. I mean, sure, I miss Watson and Holmes, but apart from inserting some awkward soliloquies for exposition purposes, there really was no other way to get us this background information. Holmes may be able to deduce a lot (that it was an act of revenge and that a woman was involved in some way, to say nothing of the murderer’s identity), but even he would be hard pressed to ferret (no, Watson, that’s not a dig at you and your dog) out a lot of the details that are given here.

I’m afraid I don’t have very many notes for you – Baring-Gould is obviously as disappointed at Holmes and Watson’s absence as I am as there is a distinct lack of annotations (really only a handful!). The New Annotated is a little more forthcoming with historical information about the Mormons and some of the history of the American West, but nothing nearly as fun as can be found in Part I.

The main mystery that remains for Sherlock scholars is the identity of this portion’s author. Obviously, it can’t be Watson since he’s not there and it can’t be that he based his narrative on Lestrade’s notes taken from their interview with Jefferson Hope later on because it’s unlikely Hope would have details of the Ferriers’ early trials and tribulations. The best speculations are that Watson and his literary agent (ACD) allowed themselves some dramatic license based on Hope’s story.

It is never really revealed who, exactly, it was that helped Hope to recover Lucy’s ring by disguising himself as the little old lady. The NA points out that “Hope was a stranger to London. How could he know of Holmes or have a friend in London who would help him – and who, conveniently, was an expert female impersonator?” (NA, 194) When describing Hope earlier (immediately prior to apprehending him, I think), Holmes makes it sound as though he knows the identity of Hope’s accomplice, saying “We have a shrewd and desperate man to deal with, who is supported, as I have had occasion to prove, by another who is as clever as himself…I am bound to say that I consider these men to be more than a match for the official force.” (NA, 195). This has led many to conclude that the female impersonator was none other than good, old Professor Moriarty. I like the idea of it, but I don’t really think it makes sense. Would Moriarty be helping Hope just for the fun of it? How would Hope just happen to stumble across Moriarty in his search for someone to disguise himself as a woman? As NA points out, why would Hope be so wary of Holmes? This is the first published account of his work and would not yet have attained any sort of notoriety. Also, the scholars maintain that Moriarty would have charged Hope a considerable fee for his trouble, but Hope was barely scraping together an existence with his work as a cab driver and had been in dire financial straits prior to that, too – he says as much when talking about the difficulties he had trailing Drebber and Stangerson through Europe, so where did he get the cash that Moriarty no doubt would demand?

Since we are so short on notes this week, I thought I’d take a moment to share some illustrations of our favorite detective in action. Both annotateds are very good about showing us a wide variety of artists who had turned there hand to interpreting the Master, but I think NA outnumbers BG in that way. Of course, perhaps the most famous illustrations are those done by Sidney Paget:

His drawings have become the iconic Holmes and Watson, I think (at least for me they are).  Compare to the three other most frequent artists and tell me what you think. Here we have D.H. Friston’s interpretation:

Not bad, though I wouldn’t say Holmes is particularly great – mostly I just love Lestrade’s sexy plaid trousers in this one. Then we have Richard Gutschmidt’s illustrations (from a German translation of the book):

They’re no Paget, but I actually quite like these. And then we have the illustrations done by Charles Doyle, ACD’s father, which I find hilarious. Just wait – compared to the Paget drawings, Holmes and Watson are really quite grotesque here:

The comment from James Montgomery (BG, 186) just makes me laugh: “…How one shudders at the figures of Holmes and Watson – the former now clean shaven  and smiling vapidly in an ill-fitting toupee – the latter bearded like a Saxon chieftain!” He says “the former now clean shaven” because in another Charles Doyle illustration, Holmes, always described as being taller than Watson is the one with the monstrous beard. It’s just so wrong, the two of them looking like this, isn’t it?! And I have searched and searched and searched to show you (alas, to no avail) because there is an illustration, also done by Charles Doyle, of the Ferriers asleep under an outcropping with three buzzards perched above them, waiting for them to die. But Doyle’s drawn the buzzards impossibly big – I mean, these birds don’t need to wait for the Ferriers to die to eat them! Frankly, with monsters like these terrorizing the American Midwest, it’s amazing that anybody made it across.

Baring-Gould tells us that the Observer conducted a poll of its readers in which they were asked to vote on their favorite Sherlock Holmes stories, including both the short stories and the novels. This first publication, A Study in Scarlet, came in fourth place behind “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Sign of the [?] Four (BG, 234). I agree mostly – it is one of my favorites because this is where we get our introductions, and I do remember the “Speckled Band” being very exciting. I’m a little surpried that Hound of the Baskervilles didn’t come in first place mostly because I don’t remember anything particularly outstanding about The Sign of Four. But I think that’s next on our list, so we’ll find out, won’t we?

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

  • There is once again much discussion of where the action is really taking place. The Mormons discover the Ferriers near Sierra Blanco, which can’t seem to be located on any map. Wayne Melander “carefully traces the path of the Mormons and identifies the peak in question as Oregon Buttes, near South Pass, Wyoming, chalking up the grammatically incorrect ‘Sierra Blanco’ to the travellers’ having misheard their guide.” (NA, 124) [Now, say those two with me – Oregon Buttes, Sierra Blanco. I think you see where I’m going with this.]
  • During Hope’s explanation/confession, he mentions that he managed to have a copy of the key to the house in Lauristen Garden[s] made. “Edwards suggests that if Holmes had looked at the lock when he first viewed the crime scene, he would have observed that it had not been forced. This would have led him…to question the ‘gentleman who had been engaged in looking over some houses in the Brixton Road’… This witness, in turn, would have reported that they key had been lost but returned by the cabman. In this way, Holmes might have quickly been introduced to the criminal.” (NA, 185) [It does seem like a fairly obvious thing for Holmes to have overlooked, but, as Edwards says “We can all do it, when it has been done.”]
  • During his confession, Hope states that when he was summoned by a Baker Street Irregular to Baker Street, he “went round, suspecting no harm” (NA, 194). “It is this naive statement that prompts C.B.H. Vaill to nominate Hope as ‘Number One Dolt.'” (NA, 194). [I’m inclined to agree – I mean, what was Hope thinking? “La, la, la, I’ve just committed two murders and now I’m being summoned by name to 221B Baker Street, surely nothing’s about to go wrong!”] And, as we saw in the discussion of the disguisee, it seems Hope must have (though no one’s sure how) been aware of Holmes’ occupation, so he should have, ironically, seen the writing on the wall. There is speculation that Hope’s willingness to go along to Baker Street was actually motivated by a desire to commit suicide (because of his aortic aneurism) which does kind of make sense, but we can’t be sure, of course.
  • When discussing the fact that Lestrade and Gregson will get credit for solving the case in the papers: “What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence,” returned my companion, bitterly. “The question is, what can you make people believe that you have done?…” (NA, 196). [Wow, bitter already? Got a ways more to go, Holmes.]
  • There is lots of discussion (surprise, surprise) in Baring-Gould of the number of days the case actually took to complete – 1, 2, or 3 days (Honestly, the man is obsessed with timelines!). One scholar, Dr. Zeisler, explains this away by chalking the confusion up to one of two errors “…first, due to the fact that when Watson wrote his chronicle some six years after the events he himself was confused by the rapidity with which they had occurred; it is not strange if they seemed in retrospect to have occupied most of three days instead of two days; secondly it is possible, of course, that Watson wrote ‘2’ in his manuscript, and that the typesetter read ‘3’ – for Watson’s calligraphy was not quite perfect.” (BG, 231) [Well, he is a doctor, after all…]

So I’ll leave you with those thoughts on A Study in Scarlet and we’ll be moving on to chapters 1-6 of The Sign of Four for next week!

*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.

**Inspired by the diligence paid to dates by Baring-Gould, I have decided that I, too, should make an effort to help nail down the timeline. Therefore:

  • A Study in Scarlet was first published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887.
  • A Study in Scarlet, or at least Holmes and Watson’s role in it all, takes place in 1881 (early March, Baring-Gould would have us believe [based on the weather, to which I say *scoff*]).
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9 thoughts on “Chapters 1-7 (or 8-14) of A Study in Scarlet, Or, Not the Alkali Flats!**

  1. I also liked the Gutschmidt pictures very much when I saw them in NA. NA has lots of Gutschmidt’s engravings and they’re consistently good. Alkali Plains, by the way, not Flats. It’s Salt Flats. I saw Charles Doyle’s buzzards – they are huge! They’re in NA somewhere. So is it Four or The Four?

    • Whoops! I was so worried I’d be bored to death by them, I got their name wrong!

      As for Four or The Four, you’ll have to tune in next week to find out…

  2. Nice post – found it from your mention of Beeton’s Christmas Annual, which is a special interest of mine as I keep track of all the known copies still in existence.

    I always enjoyed the beginning of A Study in Scarlet, but thought most of the book was weak compared to the other Holmes novels. And the short stories are generally better than the novels. Looking forward to your discussion of Sign of the Four next week – it’s my favorite Holmes long story.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I agree – things are so much better when Holmes and Watson are around for the whole time (I’m not looking forward to Valley of Fear again!).

    • Oh, me, too – I’d forgotten about that part! (And whose dog was it? Mrs. Hudson’s?! Does Holmes just keep a sick dog around for these sorts of situations?) And, for some reason, everyone seemed to want to illustrate it – there were at least two drawings of that scene and I was like ‘Oh, come on, guys, that’s not something I want to see!’ D:

  3. I agree the terrier scene is awkward. But remember that Mrs. Hudson had been after Watson (as a doctor) to put the dog out of its misery. So although it’s not pleasant, it’s only Holmes’ cold-bloodedness that keeps it from being a compassionate act. I think animals would customarily be put down by a bullet in those days; the poison was pretty much instantaneous.

    I’ve gotten a little ahead, and I also liked Sign/Four better than Study. I also agree that the Adventures and Memoirs are the best stories, but Hound is my favorite long book. We’ll see if that remains my opinion as we read them sequentially.

    • No, I know in the scheme of things it’s for the best, but it still sort of comes out of nowhere and I maintain my question about whose dog it is. Plus I’m not sure why illustrators thought that would be a fun scene to share with the reader…

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