“The Boscombe Valley Mystery” Or, In which Holmes is apparently a sentimental fool…

“The Boscombe Valley Mystery” was published in October of 1891 and, according to Baring-Gould and Whittaker’s Almanack (and its records of rain and barometric pressure for June of 1889), takes place Saturday, June 8, to Sunday, June 9, 1889.

Moriarty makes his “appearance” quite early on! Did you notice? The name of the girl who witnesses James McCarthy’s argument with his father before his murder was Patience Moran! S. Tupper Bigelow theorizes that in a few years time she will go to work for her mother’s brother, none other than Jabez Wilson from “The Red’Headed League” and that her uncle on her father’s side is…dun dun DUH…Colonel Sebastian Moran, right-hand man to the Professor (NA, 106)! (All this makes even more sense if you assume that, being Moran’s niece, she was in on the plan and working in cahoots with Joseph Clay.) So, yes, I’m stretching things a bit to call this a Moriarty appearance, but I like that there may at least be a hint of him here.

There is much speculation on Holmes’ reading material in this story. On the train, once he’s finished reading through the papers, he turns his attention to his “pocket Petrarch.” So much discussion on one little detail! There are arguments over what edition he’s reading – Madeleine Stern assumes that it is the “charming Il Petrarca printed in italic letter at Lyons in 1550, ruled in red, an dadorned with the delicate heart-shaped woodcut medallion showing portraits of Petrarch and Laura by Bernard Salomon” (BG, 140) while S.F. Blake scoffs that it is unlikely that “any true bibliophile would carry in his pocket so rare an item as a 339-year-old volume of so noted a writer as Petrarch? Surely, if he indeed possessed this item, he would have left it safe at home with his other bibliographical treasures…, and contented himself on a railway journey with one of the more modern and less irreplaceable issues. At least 19 different 12mo, 16mo, or 32mo editions in Italian were published in the nineteenth century (up to 1886), but [his] own guess is that Holmes carried the Bohn 1859 edition in English” (BG, 140). I find it unlikely that Holmes would be reading a translation, but other than that, I would like to know Blake’s reasoning here! I guess I’ll just have to forage around for his essay “Sherlock Holmes and the Italian Cipher” and see for myself.

But wait, there’s more! H.B. Williams “points to the fact that in the sonnets of Petrarch are to be found the portrayal of perfect love which can never be consummated, and suggests that Holmes made Petrarch his pocket companion because the sonnets ‘mirrored a torture forever burning within the core of his [own] being’ – his love ‘for a woman who could never be possessed,’ Irene Adler” (BG, 140). Later, Holmes engages Watson in a discussion of George Meredith, leading Mr. Williams to conclude that because “George Meredith is also one of that suffering brotherhood who loves one who belongs to another, and thus, is forever lost…in [Holmes’] desire to talk about George Meredith he found surcease from the strain of trying to keep The Woman locked within his breast” (BG, 144). To both of these (but particularly the last one) I say ‘Oh, give me a break!’ Holmes would sneer so hard at this drivel! The Holmes/Irene shippers really go for the sentimental drivel, don’t they?

Even though we are far outside of London, good old Lestrade appears to give Holmes the opportunity to do some Scotland Yard snarking:

“We have got to the deductions and the inferences,” said Lestrade, winking at me. “I find it hard enough to tackle facts, Holmes, without flying away after theories and fancies.”

“You are right,” said Holmes, demurely; “you do find it very hard to tackle the facts.” (NA, 120)

PWNED, Lestrade! Honestly, why do you even bother?

“The Boscombe Valley Mystery” gives us an example of Holmes taking the law into his own hands. After confronting Turner and learning the story behind McCarthy’s murder, he takes the confession in case it’s needed to secure James McCarthy’s freedom and then basically lets him go free. True, Turner doesn’t last too much longer, but this is a complete disregard of the law! As Leslie points out, rather than just standing trial for McCarthy’s murder, he would actually be standing trial for numerous crimes committed in Australia as well. “By his own admission, Turner was a multiple murderer and thief, and Holmes’ sympathy seems sadly misplaced” (NA, 131). John Ball Jr. uses this instance “as another confirmation of Holmes’ ‘high official position’ in the British government…[since] even though Holmes gave Lestrade a unique description of the murderer, Lestrade made no arrest. ‘It is inconceivable that a Scotland Yard inspector would let a known murderer off scot free unless he was under direct orders to do so'” (NA, 131). Intriguing, no? So Mycroft may not be the only Holmes with mysterious connections to the British government.

  • Mr. S.C. Roberts speculates that “it is at least doubtful that Holmes could be induced to be best man [at Watson’s wedding to Mary Morstan] ‘since Watson would hardly be likely to omit a record of so personal a tribute.’ T.S. Blakeney, however, comments that “since Watson never records his wedding, he could hardly mention what part in it Holmes may have played” (BG, 134). [Although I think it’s sad, I also think Roberts is likely to be right and perhaps it is out of deference to Holmes’ displeasure at his leaving Baker Street that Watson doesn’t speak of that day.]
  • Baring-Gould seems fascinated with Watson’s domestic life with Mary, questioning why a busy medico such as himself would be breakfasting so late in the day (it’s 10:45 in the morning when Holmes’ telegram arrives). [I can’t think what a good (or bad) reason for it would be, but I agree that it does seem odd. Unless Watson is actually a hobbit and having an early elevensies?]
  • In one of his many discussions regarding this short story’s dates, Baring-Gould states that “with Bigelow, Morley, Pattrick, and Zeisler dissenting – all of these vote for 1890 – all other chronologists accept 1889 as the year of the adventure” (BG, 135). [I kind of want to tally all of these up and see which Sherlockians are BFFS. Hmm, just quickly…the other story that had such clear lines drawn was “The Red-Headed League” (so far) and Baring-Gould says that he, along with Knox (1888), Folsom (BG doesn’t give us a specific year for Folsom, so I assume he agreed with BG that it was 1887), and Zeisler (1889) are again in the minority with almost all other scholars dating it at 1890. So far, no alliances, although Zeisler is standing out as the rebel.]
  • Baring-Gould is actually capable of discussing the weather even when it is not related to sleuthing out the date. When Holmes returns from talking to James McCarthy at the jail (and leaving Watson sprawled on a couch reading the Victorian equivalent of a trashy novel), there is some confusion from his reading of the barometer as still being high at 29. Apparently this is actually very low and, if it wasn’t already raining, it should have been imminently (NA, 114). [Well, as J would say, the barometer is perhaps describing what the weather was like the previous week instead.]
  • Watson ties up the remaining threads for us, writing that “Old Turner lived for seven months after our interview, but he is now dead; and there is every prospect that the son and daughter may come to live happily together, in ignorance of the black cloud which rests upon their past.” Leslie remarks that “after publication of Turner’s confession in Watson’s 1891 account of “The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” it is inconceivable how James and Alice could” (NA, 132). [D’oh! Open mouth, insert foot, Watson!]

And that’s it for this week. Next up is “The Five Orange Pips.” See you next Tuesday!


*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.

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