“The Red-Headed League” Or, The Misadventures of This Dude and Co.

“The Red-Headed League” was first published in August of 1891 and, as for when it took place, I think this was probably one of Baring-Gould’s favorites because pretty much every page of his annotation has notes about when this short story takes place. There are lots of inconsistencies to be had – the amount of time Jabez spent copying the encyclopedia (8 weeks or 9 weeks) which doesn’t add up with the time passed from when he answered the ad to when he approaches Holmes is the main one. But there are the usual arguments based on weather – Watson states that it’s autumn and Baring-Gould seems to believe him (this time) because of the fact that Jabez is wearing an overcoat (Couldn’t it have been an unusually cool summer day, Baring-Gould? No need to check your Victorian weather forecasts?). Baring-Gould, wild rebel that he is, stands by his dates of Saturday, October 29-Sunday, October 30 (apparently he’s one of only four scholars who cling to this dating system – explains why his annotation is the controversial one, though!).

Holmes calls Joseph Clay the fourth smartest man in London. I automatically assumed it was:

  1. Mycroft Holmes
  2. Sherlock Holmes
  3. Professor Moriarty
  4. This Dude

But apparently, people assumed that he was talking about his adversaries (frankly, I don’t think Holmes would have been so coy as to not include himself in this statement) and D. Martin Dakin’s list goes Moriarty, Moran (what?!), Charles Augustus Milverton (a blackmailer we will meet later on), and then This Dude (NA, 60). I have my doubts about This Dude, though. When he’s attempting to “manipulate” Jabez into answering the ad, he’s not very subtle – “Oh, if only I had red hair like yours, sir, then I would be able to answer this ad and get LOTS OF EASY MONEY. *gasp* Why, sir! What a coincidence! YOU have red hair! I daresay YOU should answer this ad and get LOTS OF EASY MONEY!” Also, most all of the scholars raise the questions of what This Dude and Co. did with all the dirt they were excavating out of Jabez’s basement and how the hell they were planning on making off with all the loot (i.e., over 900 pounds [not, like, quid, I mean, that it weighs 900 lbs.!]) (NA, 72). Moriarty would not be pleased.

And speaking of, this discussion brings us to, surprise, surprise, the touch of Moriarty! It is generally assumed that Joseph Clay, as the fourth smartest man in London, would not be working freelance and is therefore in cahoots with Moriarty (NA, 60). So! Moriarty is four for four!

I didn’t know it was a real quote! Have you ever seen The Great Mouse Detective? If not, you should remedy that as soon as possible. But in that movie, there is a scene, when Basil, Dr. Dawson, and Olivia go to collect Toby (from Holmes’ rooms, for some reason) from the upstairs 221B, that features sampled dialogue from a Basil Rathbone Holmes’ movie (presumably this one) where human!Sherlock Holmes says “…I observe that there is a good deal of German music on the programme…It is introspective and I want to introspect” (Okay, so it’s sort of paraphrased, but still – NA, 59). To which Watson replies, as they leave “But Holmes, that music is so frightfully dull!” And it makes me laugh EVERY TIME! Watch for yourselves:

Paget! I have a bone to pick with you!

Why is Watson so bizarrely fat?! Also! Why does Holmes look like Nicolas Cage?! Richard, you are now in the number one illustrator spot, but tread carefully, for I am a fickle mistress…

My miscellaneous thoughts, let me show you them! [These are my thoughts.]:

  • Seems that Jabez’s wrist tattoo is not that unusual. According to Leslie, “Tit-Bits for February 14, 1891, reported: ‘[T]here are a great many women who employ [the art of tattooing]. With women, the decoration is usually a bee, a butterfly, a spray of flowers, or a monogram. These ornaments are worn inside the wrist, so they may be hidden by the glove if necessary.'” (NA, 44) [So Jabez had the Victorian equivalent of a tramp stamp?]
  • At one point, Holmes quotes Tacitus, “a Roman historian, whose writings are the most trustworthy sources of knowledge of Roman Times. This epigram is from his Life of Agricola, regarded as one of the finest biographies ever written…” (NA, 45). [Ever written? If Leslie says so, it must be true and I suppose I have no choice but to read it.]
  • Apparently, when they were filming a version of “The Red-Headed League” (Leslie doesn’t tell us which), in order to find red-headed actors, they published an ad almost identical to the one Jabez answered. They were looking for twenty, but apparently 40 answered the ad and the director decided to use them all. (NA, 45) [I like this – life mirrors art (mirrors life? Or something. I’m lost.).]
  • In the New Annotated, there’s a photo of a bunch of men (I don’t know if they’re red-headed or not – it’s in black and white) – and I mean a BUNCH – in Fleet Street. It’s one of those Victorian photos were everyone’s all dour and blank-faced. Except for one older gentleman down in the lefthand corner who’s all :D. [I *heart* this grinning Victorian man!]
  • Holmes calls this “quite a three-pipe problem” and begs Watson not to speak to him for fifty minutes. R.D. Sherbrooke-Walker writes that “Three pipes of shag in fifty minutes…[is] not a feat – it [is] a monstrous abuse of the membrane of the nose and throat (NA, 57). [LOL! Self-destructive!Holmes is self-destructive. (And I would say ACD was not a pipe-smoker if he didn’t know this was overkill…)]
  • When Holmes and Watson go to the bank to apprehend This Dude and Co., they are accompanied by Peter Jones from Scotland Yard. There is speculation that this is actually Athelney Jones and that Watson was confused because “Peter Jones” was the name of a department store on the west side of Sloane Square that opened in 1877 (NA, 64). [If that’s the case, Athelney ought to be grateful there weren’t any Tesco stores nearby…]

Tune in again next week when I’ll be winging my way to Hawaii for my friend Cayt’s wedding, but we’ll still be discussing “A Case of Identity” (perhaps the easiest case in canon)!


*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.