“The Adventure of the Empty House” Or, back in the saddle again!

For me and Holmes! After being on auto-post for a month, I’m having to get back into the swing of things – I forgot how long it takes me to do these! (No dinner for me tonight! Um, I may actually be turning into Holmes, after all…)

“The Adventure of the Empty House” was published on September 26, 1903 and takes place Thursday, April 5, 1894.

Some of the Holmesians aren’t buying Watson’s fainting at Holmes’ return, seeing as he is an ex-soldier who has actually seen battle. Walter P. Armstrong Jr., who obviously falls into the Holmes-really-did-die-at-Reichenbach camp, thinks that ‘Watson did not faint at all, but in fact invented his dramatic reaction in a burst of poetic license. “A Watson who in real life had never fainted,” he reasons, “might easily in composing an imaginative account of an emotional scene which never happened depict Watson as fainting”‘ (NA, 789). Others, thought, like S.C. Roberts, figures that Watson’s in an emotional state given the recent death of his wife along with Holmes and sees nothing exraordinary about his fainting when faced with a resurrected Holmes. I’m kind of surprised there hasn’t been a zombie!Holmes book written amongst all the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Android Karenina, etc. hype. Where are my zombie Holmesians at?! Hmm, maybe that’ll be my new theory to get myself into the journals….

There is some discussion here that will tie into one of the theories later – Holmes mentions that he read Watson’s account of his death at Reichenbach “some months later” referring, presumably, to a short period of time after the incident at the falls. But Reichenbach actually happened in 1891 – Watson didn’t publish it until 1893. Sure, maybe Holmes was just all coked up and lost track of time, or maybe he read an early draft written by Watson….which he got how?

And who here doesn’t buy Holmes’ hooey about faking his death so that the criminals of London would get lazy? You can’t see me, but my hand is up, along with Leslie, Stanley McComas, and June Thomson. First of all, Moran, the main guy that Holmes is after now that Moriarty is gone, saw him alive! Uh, Holmes, I think the jig (gig?) is up. According to McComas, ‘Moran saw him alive, so Moran will believe he is dead. Every underworld character in London must have known Holmes was alive. Watson’s acceptance of this incongruous tale can only be put down to his shock at seeing Holmes again’ (NA, 793).

June Thomson sees Holmes’ tale as an ‘attempt to excuse the unexcusable.’ She says that ‘”while Holmes excels at scrutinising objective, external situations, he is far less adept at analysing his own actions and motivations, and thus has chosen to shift the burden of fault onto Watson’s shoulders. […] His first instinct when faced with the need to explain his own unacceptable behaviour was to look for something or someone else to blame, in this case, Watson’s inability to dissemble. By doing this, he could justify his conduct not only to Watson but also to himself.” Thomson is unsympathetic toward Watson, labelling him “not given himself to subtle psychological inquiry and prone anyway to believe Holmes was usually right”–which, in fact, he does here’ (NA, 794). Wow, that was a lot of quote of quoted quotes, but I think I got it – at any rate, I thought it was a fascinating read of Holmes’ story because it totally doesn’t make sense.

Are you also wondering why Moran didn’t just shoot Holmes with his fancy-schmancy airgun? Because I always did. According to Noah Andre Trudeau, Moran was actually planning on shooting Moriarty so he could take over as leader of the criminal world. He did this, but then as he aimed to fire on Holmes, his gun jammed, leaving him to ineffectually hurl rocks at Holmes (NA, 793).

Okay. I know what we all want here. And I’m going to give it to you, so here we go! A list of all the wild and crazy things Holmes may or may not have been doing during The Hiatus (NA, 815-825):

1. The Fundamentalists (i.e., Holmes did pretty much what he told Watson he did)

  • Boring! Who cares if he did what he said he did?

2. The Hiatus Never Happened (i.e., What it says on the box)

  • Turns out I was wrong about Walter P. Armstrong, Jr. – he’s the leading proponent of this school of thought, arguing that ‘”Holmes did not return. He did not return because he had never been away… Not only was Holmes in London, but he was living in the same house with Watson all the time. Watson deceived us. But we cannot blame him, for the deception was necessary in order to trap the wily members of the Moriarty gang who remained.'”
  • Richard Lancelyn Green agrees, saying that ‘the only logical place where Holmes could have gone into hiding and, at the same time, maintain contact with the criminal world was in London. He returned to live at 221B, venturing forth in disguise, and only Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, and Lestrade (What?! Lestrade but not Watson?!) were in his confidence.’
  • Then we have a couple of Holmesians who think it was a replacement Holmes who came back – Anthony Boucher chooses Holmes’ cousin Sherrinford while Stefan Ernston concludes that it’s Holmes’ sister instead. But Harry Halen gets his own bullet point for his version of the imposter theory.
  • He thinks that ‘In Tibet [Holmes] underwent a “tantric materialization ritual” that resulted in Sherlock Holmes II, a live copy of the detective–a phantom body with almost all the intellectual and physical faculties of the original. In the company of his newly-born identical brother, the real Holmes, in the guise of a tobacco merchant named Anaxagoras Gurr, arrived in Russia at the invitation of Anton Chekhov. The two Holmeses parted in Riga: the phantom Holmes returned to London and the real Holmes began working in Russia, first in the Baltic provinces.’ I…don’t even know what to say to that one.
  • Robert Keller goes the Scooby Doo route, proposing that Holmes did actually die at  Reichenbach and then returned to be “the world’s first consulting ghost.”‘

3. The Hiatus Was Spent Elsewhere (i.e., In useful ways, just…elsewhere)

  • Quite a few Holmesians think he went to the States and worked on the Lizzie Borden case. Jon Borden Sisson even concludes that Holmes committed the murders because he was having an affair with Lizzie.
  • There are also many Holmes the Spy theories, spying in Russia, spying in Egypt, and spying in Persia being the two main locales.
  • Alan Olding thinks that Holmes may have spent some time in Australia.
  • Bob Reyom, thinks Holmes spent the Hiatus studying the motets of Orlando di Lasso and Gordon R. Speck considers that Holmes spent some time in Cremona collecting samples from the Stradivari workshop and then headed to Montpel(l)ier to analyze them.

4. Ah, Here Come the Crazies (i.e., there was a Hiatus, just not what you’re expecting [seriously, no one could have come up with a couple of these])

  • Benjamin Grosbayne–Holmes married Irene Adler, became a distinguished operatic conductor, and toured the musical centres of the world with his wife.
  • Martin J. King–Holmes went to Hoboken, NJ, and shacked up with Irene, resulting in the birth of their son, Nero Wolfe.
  • Stanley McComas–Holmes and Irene got married in Florence and then spent the next three years travelling around Asia.
  • Alastair Martin–The way Leslie words it is a little confusing, so I’m just going to quote it directly. Moriarty is ‘the widow of Count Dracula whom Holmes encountered at the Reichenbach, wed, and spent three years with during the Great Hiatus.’ Now does that mean it’s Moriarty, widow of Count Dracula, that Holmes encountered and then wed or that it’s Moriarty, widow of Count Dracula that Holmes encountered at Reichenbach, and then wed. Either way, wow, Martin. But just when you think it can’t get any crazier, enter…
  • James Nelson–In Tibet, Holmes met and mated with THE ABOMINABLE SNOW-WOMAN. What the what?! I don’t even…

I actually do have some miscellaneous thoughts on this one [Let me show you them!]:

  • The book Watson notices when he’s helping Holmes the mysterious bookseller pick up his books is called The Origin of Tree Worship. Problem is, no such book exists. S. Tupper Bigelow, really coming through with the research here, notes that the closest match is James Ferguson’s 1868 book Tree and Serpent Worship: Illustrations of mythology and art in India in the first and fourth centuries after Christ from the sculptures of the Buddhist Topes at Sanchi and Amravati prepared under the authority of the Secretary of State for India in Council with Introductory Essays and descriptions of the plates which not only has a hell of a subtitle there, it also weighs over 11 pounds! (NA, 786) [Sounds like quite a book!]
  • Along similar lines, Leslie notes that ‘book collectors argue unendingly over the exact “five volumes” carried by Holmes’ (NA, 789). [Aw, Holmesians! You got me again!]

And I’m super-hungry, so I’m going to call it there. So he’s back! And we’ll be reading about what he’s up to next in “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder.”

*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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2 thoughts on ““The Adventure of the Empty House” Or, back in the saddle again!

  1. Forget the three years – I want to hear about the four months!

    (By the way, ever read Jamyang Norbu’s book on the Hiatus? Talk about your Tibetan acid trips… It’s actually a pretty good pastiche until you get to the ninja. From there, it rockets down the roller coaster into the blackest pit of craziness. Check it out; you’ll have a good laugh.)

    • I’m not usually big on the pastiches (I prefer the crazy “research”-based essays, really), but if there are ninjas involved, I’m really not sure I could resist! I’m surprised Leslie didn’t mention it, but I guess there’s probably just so much on the Hiatus that he had to leave someone out…

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