“The Adventure of the Speckled Band” Or, It’s my favorite, but I guess it’s not interesting?

“The Adventure of the Speckled Band” was first published in February of 1892. Apparently, there is actually very little dissension among the Scholars as to when this story takes place, though Baring-Gould disagrees when it comes to the date, believing it to have taken place on Friday, April 6 rather than Wednesday, April 4 of 1883. And what’s he basing that on? Why the weather, of course! Watson mentions it is a perfect day when he and Holmes head out to Stoke Moran and the weather reports state that ‘the sun shone for only two hours and two minutes’ on Wednesday, April 4 but that it ‘shone for nine hours and two minutes’ on April 6. (The sun also ‘shone for nine hours and eight minutes’ on the Monday, April 2, but Baring-Gould points out that it can’t have been a Monday, otherwise the repairs on the west wing would have started on a Saturday, something he finds unlikely.) (BG, 253)

Okay. Leslie has a note that I can’t really make heads or tails of – I mean, I understand what he’s talking about, but I’m not sure I’m grasping the significance of it all. Here it is, in its entirety (and it’s a doozy!), see if you fare any better (and if you do, explain it to me!):

There are revisionist theories respecting “The Speckled Band.” Several argue that Helen Stoner murdered Julia and Dr. Roylott, and probably her mother as well. Vivian Darkbloom, in the self-described “somewhat revisionist” essay “Holmes Is Where the Heart Is, or Tooth-Tooth, Tootsie,” suggests that Holmes murdered Dr. Roylott, to clear the way for an illicit liaison with Helen Stoner. Roylott’s behaviour, the essay contends, was not that of a murderer but of a man attempting to scare off a suitor. The essay appeared in the December 1976 issue of the Sherlockian journal Baker Street Miscellanea, and the editors reported that “the anagramatically pseudonymous Vivian Darkbloom has not seen fit to furnish us with any personal data, and considering the scandalously iconoclastic thrust of her principal thesis, we are not surprised. The author appears to be California-based, also engaged in medical studies, and a student of the works of Vladimir Nabakov as well as John H. Watson’s…” A character named “Vivian Darkbloom” appeared in Stanley Kubrick’s 1961 film version of Nabokov’s Lolita, for which Nabokov wrote the screenplay, and in “Vladimir Nabokov: In Tribute to Sherlock Holmes,” Andrew Page analyses references and images in Nabokov’s Lolita, The Defense, Pnin, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Despair, and Pale Fire that demonstrate the author’s familiarity with and affection for the Canon. (NA, 258)

I mean, I get that they think Nabokov was actually writing and submitting Holmes essays, but I’m not sure I get why it seems to be so significant. Am I missing something? Thoughts? Help?

The same note continues, though not about Nabokov, and tells us that Wayne B. Swift in his awesomely titled essay “On the Sinister Affair of the Darkbloom Paper,” suggests that the conclusions of the ‘”alleged person named Vivian Darkbloom,” pointing the finger of guilt at Helen Stoner and denouncing the published account as a Moriarty plot to discredit Holmes’ (NA, 258). So, after time off for two adventures, Moriarty returns to us! Sort of. But I like that the Holmesians can write essays about other people’s essays. Maybe meta is my ticket into the Irregulars!

There is also immense speculation on what kind of snake the speckled band actually is since, as Leslie pointed out earlier, its characteristics don’t match any that exist. Whichever kind of snake it was, it had to have several specific qualities:

  1. It was an Indian snake.
  2. Its fangs left two little dark punctures in its victims.
  3. In color it was yellow with brown specks.
  4. Its hiss is ‘gentle’ and ‘soothing, like that of a small jet of steam escaping from a tea-kettle.’
  5. It was perhaps three feet in length.
  6. Its bite caused death in 10 seconds (in the case of Dr. Roylott, at least [Julia lasted a bit longer] – this characteristic is often discarded, with scholars speculating that Roylott actually died of a heart attack before the snake ever bit him or that he was, in fact, still alive but in a catatonic state when Holmes and Watson found him].
  7. It has a ‘squat, diamond-shaped head.’
  8. It had a ‘puffed neck.’
  9. The snake is trained to return to Roylott’s room by a whistle.
  10. Roylott had trained it by using a saucer of milk as a reward.
  11. The snake has to be able to easily crawl down and then, the difficult part, back up a rope.

Leslie narrows these characteristics down to four: fast-acting venom, inclination to climb up and down a rope and to rear, its color and the shape of its head, and of Indian origins. Based on these, he lists all the possibilities that have ever been considered in a neat table. They are numerous, to say the least: Puff adder, River-jack viper, Russell’s viper, Saw-scaled viper, Temple viper, Krait, Cobra, Skink, Gila monster, Constrictor or choke snake, and Western Taipan (NA, 258). The Russell’s viper seems to meet the most of the necessary characteristics, but even it isn’t a perfect fit. My favorite explanation comes from Laurence Klauber who suggests that Roylott bred his own little monster – ‘a sinister combination of the Mexican Gila monster and the spectacled or Indian cobra [which would] unite the intelligence and agility of the lizard with the inimical disposition of the snake’ (BG, 266).

I’m afraid that despite this being one of my (and one of ACD’s and the readers’ of the Observer [BG, 262]) favorites, the annotations just weren’t inspiring me this week. Therefore, my miscellaneous thoughts [LET ME SHOW THEM TO YOU]!

  • ‘Scholars have delighted in the minutiae  of “The Speckled Band,” arguing over the identity of the “speckled band” (whose characteristics defy those known to science), whether Holmes again takes justice into his own hands or an accident occurs [Ooh, I like where we’re going already!], and the geographical sources of cheetahs and baboons’ (NA, 227).
  • ‘It was early in April, in the year ’83, that I woke one morning to find Sherlock Holmes standing, fully dressed, by the side of my bed’ (NA, 228). [How very Edward Cullen of you, Holmes! Keep an eye on him, Watson, and if he starts sparkling, well, you’re on your own, actually.]
  • Upon waking Watson in such a, let’s face it, creepy [And I say that lovingly, Holmes, but it is!] way, Holmes says ‘Very sorry to knock you up, Watson, […] but it’s the common lot this morning. Mrs. Hudson has been knocked up, she retorted upon me, and I on you.’ To which Watson responds, ‘What is it, then? A fire?’ (NA, 228) [Very orderly proceedings for a fire, Watson. Honestly, man, get your head in the game!]
  • James Edward Holroyd questions the urgency of Helen Stoner’s visit given the fact that Holmes took the time to get dressed, saying ‘…Why waste valuable minutes getting into his own clothes before rousing Watson? Why not have slipped on one of his many dressing gowns?’ (BG, 243) [I wonder if Holroyd has actually been paying attention because I wouldn’t call 1-3 dressing gowns ‘many.’]
  • Roger T. Clapp, in his essay ‘The Curious Problem of the Railway Timetables’ notes that ‘there is only one correct train time given in the entire Canon’ (NA, 230). [The Holmesians are very greedy with their details, as I’ve mentioned before, and have left virtually no stone unturned for us budding Irregulars. Though as far as combing through period editions of a Bradshaw and the ABC Railway Guide and cross-referencing them with every mention of train times in the entire Canon, I have to say ‘better him than me’!]

And I’m afraid that’s it! Tune in next week for “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb.”

*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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7 thoughts on ““The Adventure of the Speckled Band” Or, It’s my favorite, but I guess it’s not interesting?

  1. Gila monster (lizard!) / snake hybrid is absurd. I do think the scene in the dark, waiting for something to happen, is a great one. I can’t figure the cheetah and baboon roaming the grounds – unless the place is set up like a zoo, with moats and fences, what would keep either of them in? And both would be potentially dangerous to the villagers, of course. By the way, I think Helen killed Dr. Roylott because he threatened to make her eat her asparagus before leaving the table. Just a thought.

    • Well, I don’t think he was really serious – just trying to come up with some sort of explanation as to why NO snake exists that fits Holmes’ description. Besides that ACD really didn’t know much about snakes, I guess. But that’s no fun!

      Wow, that’s dark, Dad. So when I was growing up, you were afraid I was going to stage your elaborate murder?

  2. I was pretty sure you wouldn’t handle the required snake. You might have tried to use Snowy instead, though. Perhaps I should have been more wary.

  3. Surely all those snake scholars are avoiding a basic fact that they might have learned in grade school – snakes are deaf. Perhaps this is the most charming attribute a poisonous animal may have. When approached by one, you may holler “help! I’m being approached by a poisonous snake!” as loudly as you want. It will not provoke the snake.
    Rikki Tikki Tavi notwithstanding, snakes do not converse, and cannot be trained to repsond to whistles.

  4. It is interesting that some people do not find Vladimir Nabokov’s comment on Sherlock Holmes interesting bearing in mind that Nabokov was a huge fan of Holmes almost as much as he was a Dickensian. See “Lectures on Literature”, the chapter on Bleak House in which he finds that Inspector Bucket is a forerunner of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

  5. I always thought Watson was being sarcastic/bitchy with the “What is it, a fire?” remark. He actually makes quite a few comments throughout the stories (though I’m blanking at the moment) that he doesn’t describe with “I said, sarcastically” or anything of that sort, but still can be interpreted as sarcastic just as easily as they can be interpreted as genuine. He does admit to having a somewhat sneaky sense of humor, after all.

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