“The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor” Or, what the what, Baring-Gould?!

“The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor” was first published in April of 1892 and takes place Friday, October 8, 1886. Now, I’m waiting for post-Holmes to work my way through all of Baring-Gould’s little essays that are sprinkled throughout his edition. They’re often relevant to the story they accompany, but they often reference other, subsequent stories, so I don’t want to get into them until I’m was sure I wouldn’t be giving anything away (and also, Josephine’s curled up on my lap at the moment, making it very difficult to see my book and to type), but he’s sort of forced my hand with his controversial dating techniques here. So I have to mention…something here.

Baring-Gould dates this story as taking place in 1886 because he assumes that Watson’s mention of it being a few weeks before his own marriage is referring to the marriage he celebrated circa November 1, 1886–two-and-a-half years before his marriage, circa May 1, 1889, to Mary Morstan’ (BG, 281).

…I know, right?!

And that’s all I’m going to say on the matter. For now. Like I said, I’ll come back to this once we’re doing with the stories, so for now, just mull that bit of wackiness over.

But that aside, once again I’m afraid the Holmesians have left us pretty high and dry as far as interesting discussion goes. I’ve looked ahead to when we might get back to the juicy details of Holmesiana…and it looks like it might be a little while. We’re very close to finishing The Adventures of… and once we get into The Memoirs of…, I’m thinking “The Yellow Face” and “The Musgrave Ritual” will probably have lots of things to discuss and then, of course, what I’m REALLY looking forward to…”The Final Problem.” And I’m basically chomping at the bit to get to “The Empty House.” SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT THAT I DON’T WANT TO GIVE AWAY JUST IN CASE! But there will be MUCH to discuss. I’M SURE OF IT.

But until then, one thing I thought was intriguing is the suggestion that Holmes is no ‘gentleman’ (NA, 298). When Lord Robert arrives, Holmes bows to him, calling him Lord St. Simon. Leslie suggests that his ‘undue deference to Lord Robert and his misuse of aristocratic titles have been cited by several scholars as “evidence” that Holmes may have lied about his country squire forbears (mentioned in “The Greek Interpreter”) […]. His subsequent subtle belittling of Lord Robert is characteristic of Holmes’ reverse snobbery about wealth and position’ (NA, 298). So the Holmesians run the gambit from Holmes being of, I don’t know, low birth? all the way to Holmes having royalty in his blood (I think it’s mentioned in…the one with the fourth cleverest man in London…“The Red-Headed League”. That’s the one.). Nice.

But if, as this subsequent belittling of Lord Robert suggests, Holmes doesn’t care about, and in fact disdains, ideas of status and titles, why would he lie about his ancestry? Did he figure that was the only way he could He seems to have such disregard for societal things like that – and it certainly doesn’t support his supposed Bohemian way of thinking, but I guess at a certain point you just have to be pragmatic about it.

I would be remiss in not taking a moment to discuss the dinner Holmes orders for his big confrontation. Leslie chooses to focus on a discussion of the mysterious pate de foie gras pie while Baring-Gould takes on the pheasant, but to discuss it appropriately, I’ll start with Leslie. In their undoubtedly awesome book Dining with Sherlock Holmes, Sonenschmidt and Rosenblatt ‘take gentle issue with the name of this dish [the pate de foie gras pie], [saying] “Much as we would like to vouch for Watson’s accuracy in this matter, the painful truth is that in culinary terms, one does not speak of pate de foie gras ‘pie'” They go on to explain that a pate, according to its original French definition, consists of meat, fish, vegetables, or fruit encased in pastry–that is, a pie. It is only recently that pate has come to mean the meat or fish variety alone’ (NA, 309). Sonnenschmidt and Rosenblatt conclude that ‘the diligent Watson added the word “pie” to clarify a term that was starting to become ambiguous [as “pate” was beginning to describe a meat or fish pie and “pie” was beginning to describe, well, a pie – basically, if I’m understanding correctly, Watson’s being redundant, basically calling it a pie of foie gras pie, right?]. The authors further note that they found two American cookbooks of the Victorian era that listed pate de foie gras as a pie filling, leading them to conclude that Watson was familiar with American cookbooks and had spent time in the United States’ (NA, 309). Whether they mean to imply that Watson was, you know, a fry cook or a Cookie on a wagon train or something, I’m not sure – but I’m on board the idea!

According to Baring-Gould [I lied, he does talk about the fowl, too.], Marie F. Rodell and Morris Rosenblum got into a flamewar about the whole pate de foie gras pie debacle. She questions it and Rosenblum replies by saying that ‘it is time to call a halt to the constant practice of imputing a faulty memory to Watson, especially when additional research can clear his memory! (BG, 295). Morris then goes on to list many, many previous uses of the term 1) as a leading product of Strasbourg, 2) in The Oxford English Dictionary, 3) in Thackeray’s Yellowplush Papers, and 4) from H.S. Leigh’s Carols of Cockayne (BG, 295). So basically, Marie…PWNED!

So. The pheasant. According to Fletcher Pratt, Holmes chose to serve both woodcock and the pheasant for political reasons, ‘subtly flattering his guests that although they were Americans, they would know enough about the haute cuisine to be able to express an intelligent choice between the cold woodcock and the cold pheasant; that they would savor the fine distinction between the two and perhaps take a slice of each’ (BG, 294). Pratt goes on to discuss the fact that there are only two possible recipes that could have been used for the fowl, both of which involve aspic – which is basically meat Jell-o. Horrifying, no?! In one of the recipes, the bird ‘appears in aspic in the center of a block of ice–which was impossible because the supper had to wait from 5:00 until after 9:00 [And sounds very difficult to eat – do you have to chip the bird out of the ice? How does the aspic hold up under such treatment?]‘ (BG, 294). The other recipe involves pate which, he points out, would have been a lot of pie on the table and so he concludes that the pheasant was in anspic, sliced and decorated with truffles coated with a sauce and served on a low bed of semolina. The woodcock would be gently poachd, their skins removed, and the birds themselves coated with chaud froid sauce and aspic [The Victorians really loved their meaty gelatin, didn’t they?], surrounded by cockscombs and mushrooms’ (BG, 294). It doesn’t sound very tasty to me, but I am weirdly fascinated by what Holmes and Watson would have been having for dinner!

During Hatty’s telling of her side of the story, Leslie chides Holmes and Watson for not thinking ‘to censure Lord Robert for his abominable treatment of poor Flora Millar’ and points out that ‘Holmes himself is no slave to chivalry, as evidenced by his similarly casual use and subsequent dropping of the maid Agatha in “Charles Augustus Milverton” (NA, 303). This may be an instance of confusing canon with fandom, but did Holmes assure Watson that she was using him to make her beau jealous? Okay, now I’m going to be really embarrassed if I’ve got that wrong (this started to happen with Harry Potter, too). I’m going to skip ahead and check. Hold on a second… AHA!

‘You’ll be interested to hear that I’m engaged […] To Milverton’s housemaid.’

‘Good heavens, Holmes!’

‘I wanted information, Watson.’

‘Surely you have gone to far?’ [Good old chivalrous Watson. Scourge of three continents, indeed, old boy!]

‘It was a most necessary step. […]’

‘But the girl, Holmes?’

He shrugged his shoulders. ‘You can’t help it, my dear Watson. You must play your cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table. [What a cad, right? But wait!] However, I rejoice to say that I have a hated rival, who will certainly cut me out the instant my back is turned.’ (CM 575-576)

So, yes, perhaps, especially given his already low opinion of Lord Robert, Holmes (but certainly Watson) should have mentioned something here. But I feel that Leslie is unfairly calling him ‘no slave to chivalry.’ Plus, he was totally going to pull a BAMF on what’s-his-name, you know, what’s-her-name’s stepfather who posed as her fiancee to keep her from ever marrying so that he and his wife could keep her money in “A Case of Identity” and horsewhip him since she had no one else to do it for her. I’d say that’s pretty chivalrous.

After the case has been solved and Holmes and Watson are left alone together, Holmes instructs him to ‘Draw your chair up, and hand me my violin, for the only problem we have still to solve is how to while away these bleak autumnal evenings’ (NA, 318). As this is just weeks before Watson is to be married, there is probably an unspoken gloominess, particularly on Holmes’ part, I imagine, that this is one of the last few times the evening will be whiled away in this manner. Leslie says that ‘It is perhaps telling that the two men, despite their intimate acquaintance, felt little need to discuss Watson’s impending marriage and necessary departure from 221B Baker Street. June Thomson […] notes that Holmes and Watson shared an “essentially male friendship” in which personal matters were not generally shared (if such conversation did take place, she concedes, it was never recorded). Thomson continues, “Both men must have realized it [Watson’s leaving] was inevitable but preferred not to speak of it, let alone openly express their feelings about such a parting or the immense changes it would bring to both their lives’ (NA, 318). [Awww, poor repressed Victorian men!]

My miscellaneous thoughts! [Let me show you them.]

  • Lord Robert begins his meeting with Holmes by saying, “A most painful matter to me, as you can most readily imagine, Mr. Holmes. I have been cut to the quick. I understand that you have already managed several delicate cases of this sort, sir, though I presume that they were hardly from the same class of society.””No, I am descending.” [Oh, SNAP!]
  • When noting the contents of Frank’s hotel bill (Room = $2.00, breakfast and lunch = $0.62 each, a cocktail = $0.25, and a glass of sherry = $0.62), Baring-Gould notes that ‘we are later told that the bill was rendered by “one of the most expensive hotels” in London. Ebeu fugaces! [The hell, Baring-Gould?! Oh. It’s a Horace quote – ‘Alas! The fleeting years glide on.’ Thanks, Edward!]
  • Hatty says that her father, objecting to her relationship with Frank, took her to ‘Frisco. Which Leslie (and Eddie Izzard) points out is a ‘name guaranteed to boil the blood of any current resident of the City’ (NA, 311). [Why DOES ‘Frisco bother them so much? I’ve always wondered that. Can anyone explain?]
  • Baring-Gould notes that ‘Conan Doyle’s own opinion of “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor” was a low one. In a letter to a friend, he put the story “about the bottom of the list” (BG, 300). [He doesn’t explain why and I wonder what his reasons were. It’s not as forgettable as “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” nor as easy a mystery as “A Case of Identity”…]

Hmm, every time I say that there’s not much to talk about, I seem to be able to dredge up enough things to write a massive post after all… Anyway, up next week is “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet” where we’ll meet another one-legged man and discover Holmes’ bank account balance. I’m sure 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.

And this week, we have a special guest source! CM = The Doubleday edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes with a preface by Christopher Morley. Of the hideous dressing-gown-inspired tie! Wow, I was self-referential this week…

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