“The Greek Interpreter” was published in September 1893 and took place Wednesday, September 12, 1888.
We finally get a little bit of information about Holmes family here. Not much, but it has set the Holmesians to salivating. Michael Harrison finds it interesting the Holmes mentions his grandparents (and his relation to the French painter, Vernet), but not his parents. This omission makes him ‘wonder whether Holmes and his brother may have been orphans brought up in separate households “possibly by some dutiful but somewhat unaffectionate relatives–possibly not”‘ (NA, 637). June Thomson also sees an unhappy childhood in Holmes and Mycroft’s pasts. ‘She concludes that Mycroft must have experienced this situation as well, observing that both brothers were bachelors without friends and decidedly unsociable’ (NA, 637).
Ah, Mycroft. The Holmesians have a lot to say about him, too, but first I’m going to take issue with Watson’s description of him. We all know that Mycroft is, to put it nicely, on the round side of things, but Watson describes his hand as being ‘like the flipper of a seal’ (NA, 643). Please excuse my nonexistent photo editing abilities, but this is what Mycroft always looks like in my head because of that:
He's holding his flippers because the Diogenes Club doesn't take to that kind of silliness too kindly.
I know they’re not a seal flippers, but that’s what my brain has come up with and is relentless with it. Seriously, every time:
Holmes is totally cool with it by now, but Watson's still getting used to it.
But enough of that. Many theories abound regarding Mycroft and his mysterious job in the government. J. S. Callaway ‘suggests that Mycroft Holmes was the head of the Secret Intelligence Service of the British government’ (NA, 663). Some Holmesians suggest that Mycroft was either Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales or Oscar Wilde. One theory even suggests that Mycroft is himself an anthropomorphic computer – ooh, maybe he’s a Cylon! But my favorite is Ronald Knox’s theory. In “The Bruce-Partington Plans” Holmes ‘reveals to Watson that Mycroft’s position is so important that: “occasionally he is the British Government.”‘ (NA, 639) The question then becomes why didn’t Holmes tell him this in the first place. ‘Ronald Knox dismisses Holmes’ lame explanation (“I did not know you quite so well in those days”) and . . . guessing that only the utmost discretion could have caused Holmes to keep his friend in the dark, Knox concludes, “he told Watson as little as possible about Mycroft . . . because there was a secret in Mycroft’s life which must at all costs be hushed up”‘ (NA, 639).
And what is his secret? Mycroft is in league with…Professor Moriarty. Dun dun DUUUUUUUUUNNNN! WE HAVE A MORIARTY SIGHTING!
- One of the questions here is why it took Mycroft so long to get Holmes involved in the case. Mr. Melas tells Mycroft that the baddies are starving somebody and he waits two days to call Holmes? ‘Ronald Knox intimates some ulterior, perhaps sinister, motive, explaining, “The case was clearly urgent; here you had a man starving; Mycroft, for all his indolence, would surely have called in his brother if he had not been squared in the interest of the villains”‘ (NA, 654).
- Knox also points out Mycroft’s seemingly foolish action of advertising in the papers for information. Surely the baddies would have seen it and know that Melas had betrayed them. ‘Knox sees this as further evidence that Mycroft, too clever to make such a naive error, was in league with the villains: “He was in effect sending a signal to his accomplices in Beckenham, to say, ‘Your secret is out, and the police are already on your track. Charcoal for two”‘ (NA, 655).
- Knox is also convinced that Mycroft purposefully wasted time by suggesting they visit J. Davenport in Lower Brixton in order to buy his confederates more time out in Breckenham. ‘Was Sherlock taken in by Mycroft’s conduct? Knox believes not. While Sherlock says nothing, “it is probable,” Knox asserts, “that Sherlock knew a good deal about his brother’s nefarious associations, and was at pains to conceal his knowledge”‘ (NA, 659).
Later it will become less clear whether Mycroft is a double agent ultimately working for Holmes or for Moriarty, but that’s all to come in “The Final Problem.”
Holmes’ description of the Diogenes Club as “the queerest club in London” and Mycroft as “one of the queerest men” leads Leslie to address whether or not the word had implications of homosexuality then as it does not. The answer? It did, despite the fact that ‘Watson uses it in many nonsexual contexts throughout the Canon’ (NA, 638). Graham Robb ‘slyly compares Holmes to Wilde as “the other leading wit and aesthete of the Decadent Nineties,” noting the detective’s love of “introspective” German music (any excuse for it),
his penchant for cleanliness, and his proud declaration that having “art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms” Remember also that Watson refers earlier to Holmes’ “aversion to women.” The sexuality of Sherlock Holmes is oft debated by scholars, whose views range from traditional (Holmes loves Irene Adler) to outlandish (Holmes was a woman)’ (NA, 639). And yet, you never give us sources, Leslie! The only one you mention (again!) is the erotica in which The Diogenes Club is an S&M club (The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, if you were wondering). Okay, to be fair, he also mentions a scenario in which Mycroft was a co-founder of the Playboy Club of London, but that was written for the Playboy Club’s member magazine (although Leslie calls it a tour de force, so I’m intrigued!). Poor Mycroft, he runs either a gay S&M club or the Playboy Club – no middle ground for Flipperman! Where are my scholarly essays, Leslie?!
I’m intrigued by what went on in these gentlemen’s clubs – did dudes just sit around and smoke and play cards and read the paper and make outlandish bets? I know they often had different ideologies – like there was a conservative club and a liberal club and a unionist club and a club for men who liked art and, obviously, a club for men who liked complete silence. Still, it seems like there must be more to it… I’ll just have to get a hold of Ralph Nevill’s London Clubs: Their History and Treasures and find out for myself, I guess!
My miscellaneous thoughts! [Let me show you them!]
- I think this is the first – I’ll have to keep my eyes open to see if it’s the only – time that Watson calls Holmes by his first name. It really threw me off for a while until I realized it was to help the reader keep the various Holmeses in the conversation straight. Though why he didn’t just call his Holmes Holmes and Mycroft Mycroft is beynd me!
- Leslie notes that ‘the villains’ choice of charcoal fumes–with its strange, almost cinematic (not to mention inefficient) effect–seems a puzzling one, especially in light of the fact that they had already dealt Melas a “vicious blow.” Yet they are hardly alone in their folly, as [my beloved] D. Martin Dakin marvels: “It is an odd thing how many of the scoundrels with whom Holmes had to deal seemed unable to resist the temptation to dispose of their victims by some complicated and lingering process which left them a chance to escape…” (NA, 661). [I guess this is just the precursor of sharks with lasers on their heads. Or…]
- Mr. Melas describing how they got him to go with them the second time says that ‘His visitor, on entering his rooms, had drawn a life-preserver from his sleeve, and had so impressed him with the fear of instant and inevitable death that he had kidnapped him for the second time’ (NA, 663). [Can someone explain what’s so scary about a life preserver and how the laughing man managed to hide one up his sleeve? (I presume it’s not, you know, a boating life preserver, but still…what is it?!]
- “The Greek Interpreter” takes place during the Jack the Ripper killings, in fact, the fourth had just occurred on September 8. Many of the Holmesians seem convinced that he had a hand in attempting to solve it (though it would have ultimately gone in the failures column), but there is no explanation as to why it’s never mentioned. Maybe because it would have been such a high-profile failure? Baring-Gould also mentions that there is a theory that Watson was Jack the Ripper (BG, 594), so maybe Holmes was trying to cover up for his friend. [Talk about dark!Watson. Also, I’m pretty sure I read a fic like that once…]
Only “The Naval Treaty” and then it’s the money short story – we’re almost to “The Final Problem”!
*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.