“The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” Or, We forgive you, Holmes, after all, it IS Christmas…

First published in January 1892, “The Blue Carbuncle” takes place on Tuesday, December 27, 1887, according to a once again lone wolf Baring-Gould (most scholars place it in 1889 with a few in 1890). Never fear, we have weather reports to back him up! When Henry Baker appears to collect his waylaid goose, Holmes comments that ‘It is a cold night’ (BG, 458). Baring-Gould assures us that December 27, 1887 was a Tuesday (?) and a cold one. with temperatures of only 33 degrees in London (BG, 458) [Wait, why is the Times giving the temperature in Fahrenheit?]. I won’t go into as much detail here as I usually do about Baring-Gould’s sleuthing-out of the date, but I can’t resist him when he uses his weather reports!

Boy, are the Holmesians in an uproar over this one (well, it’s mostly Magistrate S. Tupper Bigelow [So was he a magistrate or was his first name actually Magistrate – you know, like Judge Reinhold?] who’s up in arms about it, but I can’t honestly say I blame him)!

  1. There is no reason to believe that the H.B. inside the hat and the Mrs. Henry Baker are in any way related. And even if they were, what is to keep them from being mother and son or daughter-in-law and father. Magistrate (I’m just going to call him Magistrate from now on because that’s how I roll) calls this ‘pure assumption’ (BG, 452). And Mr. Thomas L. Stix writes that ‘Even the casual student of the Sacred Writings will follow my meaning. The tobacco pouch found in the cabin of Black Peter Carey with the initials “P.C.” did not belong to Peter Carey at all, but to Patrick Cairns. And again, in “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor” the note which confused Lestrade…was from Francis Moulton, not Flora Miller…’ (BG, 453).
  2. Magistrate also disregards Holmes’ assumption that H.B.’s hat securer (and the fact that he has not had it replaced) points to ‘moral rather than mental retrogression, whether from undue addiction to alcohol or otherwise [which] causes foresight to deteriorate is obscure.’ Rather, he points to the efficiency of the ‘high-pressure salesman who sold Baker the hat’ pointing out that it likely had more to do with ‘Baker’s susceptibility to suggestion’ (BG, 454).
  3. He also finds fault with Holmes’ claim that Baker’s wife had ceased to love him, claiming the fact that Baker’s hat has not been brushed in weeks. Assuming that Mrs. Henry Baker is in fact his wife aside, Magistrate says ‘Englishmen, or so I have heard it said, do not ask their wives for permission to go out until the wives have carefully inspected them and their hats, and many wives, English and others, don’t know anything at all about their husbands’ hats or even care; they may even be abed when the master leaves for work in the morning; or possibly they dawdle over another cup of coffee while their beloveds rush for the 7:35. They may, indeed, even be slatterns, so that dusty hats on their husbands would be the last thing in the world they would notice; and all such may nevertheless be deeply in love with their husbands’ (BG, 455). Now I may disagree with some of his choice of words there, but you have to admit that he does have a point… Magistrate is one tough cookie!
  4. Holmes also falls for some Victorian quackery when he assumes that, due to the size of Baker’s hat and therefore his brain, the man is intellectual (NA, 202).
  5. Of the deduction that ‘the marks of moisture upon the inside [of the hat] are proof positive that the wearer perspired very freely, and could therefore, hardly be in the best of training’ (NA, 202), Magistrate scoffs that ‘this, of course, is “ineffable twaddle” and “unmitigated bleat” at their best. There cannot be a three-year-old hat in the world, now or then, whether worn by the finest Olympic athlete or a skid-row bum, that does not have evidence of perspiration on its inside or on its inner band. Everybody perspires in given circumstances’ (NA, 203). [Oh, Magistrate, you blustery man, you, I think I love you!]
  6. J.B. Mackenzie questions Holmes’ statement that the hat carries marks of tallow due to being carried upstairs by Baker with the hat in one hand and a candle in the other, leading to the conclusion that he does not have gas laid on in the house, deeming it unnecessary for ‘this individual to bring his hat upstairs at all, let alone busy his spare hand with it instead of simply putting it on his head. Mackenzie further remarks that grease from a candle in one hand would hardly have an easy transfer to a hat carried in the other’ (NA, 203). [Goodness, have they let him get away with anything?!]

My crush on Magistrate continues – I’m a sucker for the snark – when he takes issue with Holmes’ commenting on the size of the blue carbuncle. Given its weight of 12.62 carats, Magistrate says that ‘such a gem would not be “rather smaller than a bean in size”‘ it would be the size of a well-nourished lima bean, if we must use beans as a comparative basis’ (BG, 457). ‘If we must use beans,’ indeed!

Based on Watson’s statement that the last few cases he’s published have not even featured an actual crime, we are presented with a few interesting stats on Holmes’ record courtesy of Mr. Robert Keith Leavitt: ‘In the 60 cases of record in the Writings, there are 37 definite felonies where the criminal was known to Mr. Sherlock Holmes. In no less than 14 of these cases did the celebrated detective take the law into his own hands and free the guilty person. In 23 cases the offender was taken by the police. In 7 cases justice was balked by suicide, by death at sea or by other acts of God. In 12 cases no crime was involved. And in 4 cases the criminal or criminals got away uncaught’ (BG, 467). If anybody feels moved to make me a flowchart here, I would love you forever! Incidentally, Leslie points out that Watson must not have been speaking of ‘crimes committed by Holmes or himself, such as throwing a smoke-bomb into a house and creating a near-riot (“A Scandal in Bohemia”) or washing a man’s face against his will (“The Man with the Twisted Lip”) (NA, 199). The latter seems rather silly, but according to Lawyer Irving M. Fenton (okay, Baring-Gould, that canNOT be his name, now you’re just being pretentious), ‘to wash a man’s face against his will is a technical assault’ (BG, 452). So already Holmes and Watson are racking up quite an impressive rap sheet!

And then there is the question of the 1,000-pound reward offered for the carbuncle. Mr. James C. Iraldi assumes that Holmes ‘quite evidently wasn’t going to split [it] with anyone’ (BG, 467). Leslie is much more generous with Holmes, assuming that he split the reward with Peterson AND Henry Baker (but not Watson) (NA, 224).

My miscellaneous thoughts [LET ME SHOW THEM TO YOU!]

  • ‘I had called upon my friend Sherlock Holmes upon the second morning after Christmas, with the intention of wishing him the compliments of the season. He was lounging upon the sofa in a purple dressing-gown,…(NA, 197). [Actually, I’ll stop right there. Second sentence in and we have dressing-gown mention!]
  • When describing how the bowler hat came into his possession, Holmes says that ‘Peterson, who, as you know, is a very honest fellow, was returning home from some small jollification…’ (NA, 199). [I like this word and shall endeavor to use it. Goodbye, happy hours; hello, jollifications!]
  • When Holmes lists his “conclusions” (there really ought to be some way of distinguishing air quotes in writing because I’m using them here, to the assured pleasure of Holmesians everywhere, I’m sure) based on the hat, Watson is astounded (as well he should be), saying ‘You are certainly joking, Holmes.’ ‘Not in the least. Is it possible that even now, when I give you these results, you are unable to see how they are attained?’ To this, Watson responds ‘I have no doubt that I am very stupid; but I must confess that I am unable to follow you…’ (NA, 202). [The italics are mine, but it makes me laugh EVERY TIME. I assume this is to be said sarcastically a la J’s ‘Pray do not inconvenience yourself, madam, if my shoulder is of any accommodation to you.’ And I’m off again! My apologies, it may just be me. Ignore my giggles.]
  • ‘A persistent rumor has it that when the first Strands containing “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” appeared on the stalls, the story [when Holmes instructs Peterson to run the ad for the goose in the evening papers] read; “run down to Willing’s…” The Strand’s editors, catching the fact that Willing’s Advertising Agency was being given a free advertisement, quietly changed the line to read “run down to the advertising agency.” If issues of the Strand containing the original wording do exist, they are certainly a collector’s item–and one which no collector to our knowledge admits having’ (BG, 457). [Ooh, a holy grail for Holmesians!]
  • Holmes and Watson’s jaunt to the Alpha Inn has been clocked at about one and 5/8 miles. Given that they completed the distance in a quarter of an hour, this puts them at a rate of a mile in 9 1/2 minutes! (BG, 459) [Wow, they were booking it, weren’t they? Oh, and I see – this must be an argument against a leg wound for Watson given that this bit of mathematics was worked out by H.W. Bell in his essay ‘A Note on Dr. Watson’s Wound’…]
  • Baring-Gould kindly tells us that the goose salesman at Covent Garden Market [Not likely, says everybody, seeing as Covent Garden Market was never a poultry market but a flower, fruit, and vegetable market. Watson was obviously confusing it with Leadenhall market (BG, 460)] paid $1.87 for his twenty-four geese from Mrs. Oakshott (translating from 7s. 6d. [Somebody needs to explain to me what those stand for – I would have assumed it’s 7 shillings, but I can’t think of what the ‘d’ would have stood for. Also, I have never been able to get my head around the pre-decimal British money – it’s as confusing as galleons and knuts to me!] [Oh, but what I’m trying to say here is to compliment Baring-Gould on being a very conscientious editor – Leslie never does these conversions for me – I have to rely upon Baring-Gould for them instead!]
  • ‘Here we are [Sunset and Camden]!’ said Holmes, cheerily, as we filed into the room (NA, 218).
  • Magistrate also takes issue with Ryder’s description of his chosen goose as being a white barred-tail goose, saying that there is no such thing (BG, 463). [Now you’re just being greedy with the details, Magistrate!]
  • When Holmes lets Ryder go, he says that he supposes he is ‘commuting a felony.’ British Counsel E.J.C. [What kind of a name is that?!] ‘concludes that no typographical error has occurred and that Holmes meant “commuting” [instead of condoning, committing, or compounding a felony] in the sense of exchanging Ryder’s punishment for one less severe. However, in England, according to E.J.C., the power to commute “is a prerogative of the Crown and may not be delegated to a subject.” Baring-Gould ponders, “Is Holmes by any chance hinting here that he–like John Clay–had royal blood in his veins? These are deep waters, indeed…’ (NA, 224). [Ha! Intriguing…It might even help explain Mycroft’s seemingly endless influence. Though, if I’m honest, I think ACD was just playing at Fenimore Cooper here.]
  • Yes, I’m a dirty thief, stealing a Getty Image like this, but just look at it!

    What is this crazy contraption ACD and his wife are riding?! (And why do I kind of want one?)

  • And do you notice who has been conspicuously absent from our last two adventures? That’s right! Our Moriarty toll has taken a couple of hits here. No sign of him in either “The Man With the Twisted Lip” or “The Blue Carbuncle”! I shall comfort myself with the knowledge that he was undoubtedly busy kicking a puppy or smashing a small child’s sand castle but will soon return and in top form!

Whew! Join me next week when we’ll be talking about one of my favorites “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”! It’s very exciting – trust me, you won’t want to miss it!

*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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8 thoughts on ““The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” Or, We forgive you, Holmes, after all, it IS Christmas…

  1. Times in Fahrenheit: Metric system wasn’t in effect then. Remember, the alternative to metric is the “English” system . . .
    Assault and/or battery: Washing a man’s face, if the man finds it offensive since it’s without permission, is a battery, not an assault, in Illinois. Obviously different in England, I guess.

    • Well, that makes no sense at all. So England is on the metric system and we’re on the English system?!

      Goddamn commie metric system. /Eddie Izzard

  2. Magistrate says, “Unwarranted assumption and poppycock. How do you know it’s Doyle’s wife?” I like Magistrate, but he’s a little hard on Holmes. After all, Holmes was right, even as to the big-brain-smartness deduction.

    • I guess technically I don’t KNOW that it’s ACD’s wife, but Leslie tells me that it is and I choose to believe him. Why would he lie to me?

    • He got lucky with the big hat=big brain deduction because I assume ACD believed it at the time. I’m always so relieved that Holmes retired to keep bees and not to photograph fairies in his backyard…

  3. J.B. Mackenzie’s objection seemed to me a bit silly. Holmes’s deduction wasn’t based on how Henry Baker got the candle stains-he simply made a hypothesis- it was based on the fact that he’s got the CANDLE stains! So much tallow stain should mean that he doesn’t have gas laid on in his house.

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