“The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” Or, That cat Charles Augustus Milverton is one bad mother–SHUT YOUR MOUTH!

“The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton” was first published in March of 1904 and takes place, after much discussion and dissension among the chronologists, Thursday, January 5 to Saturday, January 14, 1899.

One of the chronologists uses Watson’s horror at Holmes’ suggestion of going housebreaking to date the story to early in their career, when Watson was not yet used to Holmes’ occasional disregard for the law. Leslie suggests that it was ‘likely to have been inserted by him later for dramatic effect’ (NA, 1017). I, on the other hand, think he was trying to lessen his guilt, thinking ‘Hmm, best to not make myself sound too enthusiastic about joining in the housebreaking.’ Baring-Gould offers yet another option – he points out that the date that they were breaking into Appledore Towers was a Friday the 13th and suggests that Watson may have been feeling a bit superstitious (BG, 571)!

Another attempt at dating the adventure comes from the use of the word snick to describe the sound of the lightswitch in Milverton’s home. According to William E. Plimental, lightswitches were not in public use by the dates normally assigned to CAM – instead, he dates the adventure to 1900 or 1901 which is later than most chronologists do (NA, 1022). Baring-Gould goes into further detail about this, though. Gavin Brend pointed out that electricity only became available in Hampstead in 1894 which would mean that this adventure must have taken place after Holmes’ return (BG, 567). But Elliot Kimball points out that, as someone who appreciates luxury, it was entirely possible that Milverton would have had his own little power plant which could have been installed as early as 1880 and that the question of the electricity can’t be relied upon for dating the story.

There is much discussion over Holmes’ treatment of Milverton’s maid, Agatha. Rather than just a flirtation, David Galerstein ‘points out that it was winter and the weather was sever; it is therefore obvious that Holmes and Milverton’s maid would have to meet indoors, in her bedroom. Only by sleeping with the maid, Galerstein insists, could Holmes acquire the inside information he so urgently needed’ (NA, 1016). Judy L. Buddle agrees, suggesting that ‘Holmes’ “swagger” evidences some enthusiasm for the job’ (NA, 1016). Alan Wilson even goes so far s to suggest that Holmes and Agatha had a son, named Sylvanus Escott, for some reason (NA, 1016). Quite scandalous, Holmes!

Good old D. Martin Dakin comes to the aid of the manipulated Agatha, chastising Holmes for placing the happiness of a society lady above that of a housemaid. Dakin dismisses Holmes’ claim that his hated rival will quickly step in after Holmes abandons her as being based on the ‘Victorian tradition that the affaires de coeur of domestic servants were something comic and not to be taken seriously’ (NA, 1017).

Brad Keefauver, though, seems to think that Holmes’ fake engagement was mutually beneficial and that perhaps it was even Agatha being the manipulator. According to Keefauver, ‘What man, carefully trying to win a girl’s heart, proposes after seeing her for only a few days, especially if he knows his intentions aren’t sincere? Holmes could have gained the information he needed by simply romancing her; he needn’t have asked her to marry him . . . unless, of course, it was Agatha who forced the proposal out of him’ (NA, 1017). Though it was still rather cruel of him to accept, even if it was Agatha’s idea, knowing he would eventually abandon her.

This story also features a two-mile run across Hampstead Heath, the truth of which many Holmesians doubt. Gavin Brend points out that ‘”by the time a runner has travelled one mile (let alone two), he will have a fairly accurate idea of the pursuit behind him” Since Watson makes no mention of such a chase, Brend disabuses the notion that he and Holmes felt compelled to run for two miles–although he does allow that they may have travelled two miles across Hampstead Heath, running part of the way’ (NA, 1028).

Only one Holmesian, it would seem, brings up the possibility that it was, in fact, Holmes who killed Milverton. This surprises me, well, for one, knowing how the Holmesians do love their wacky theories, but it also kind of makes sense with a lot of the vagaries of Watson’s details. But Bruce Harris is the only one who has come out and said it, theorizing that ‘Holmes and Milverton had a homosexual affair […] and that Holmes eliminated him to suppress the evidence’ (NA, 1029). Apparently this idea didn’t go over well with the other Holmesians – John Linsenmeyer ‘voices his “strong conviction” that while Holmes might have killed Milverton for “good and sufficient reason . . . .[Harris’] suggestion . . . is unacceptable’ (NA, 1029).

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

  • Milverton lived in Hampstead, ‘a residential borough (now part of Camden) popular witht eh artistic and literary crowd’ which was ‘the home of George Du Maurier, John Keats, and Karl Marx, among others. Hampstead’s Highgate Cemetary contains the graves of several luminaries, including Marx, George Eliot, Michael Faraday, Christina Rossetti, and Herbert Spencer’ (NA, 1007). [Milverton lived where I lived! Though I never attempted to blackmail anyone while I was there.]
  • Leslie takes Watson’s rubber-soled tennis shoes to task, wondering why in the world he would have had sneakers on hand. Watson’s would must not have been acting up at this time because, as Leslie points out ‘the plague of wearing tennis shoes as daily wear had not yet affected men’s fashions’ (NA, 1018). [Oh, I’ve missed snarky!Leslie – and now we know that he favors a more formal dress code.]
  • Based on the complexity of Holmes and Watson’s escape from Milverton’s home after his murder, D. Martin Dakin ‘believes that the woman, having infiltrated Milverton’s household as a servant, returned to some other portion of the house to resume her duties, providing her with the perfect cover’ (NA, 1026). [Rather a clever criminal, I’d say!]
  • When Holmes compares Milverton to the serpents at the London Zoo, Baring-Gould says that ‘it is unfortunate that the Zoo, in Holmes’ day, did not have a panda on display, for it seems likely that Holmes would have encountered the animal during his Tibetan expedition, and would have been happy to renew its acquaintance’ (BG, 559). [‘To renew its acquaintance’? How darling, Baring-Gould!]

Tune in next week for “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”!

*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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