that turns out to actually happen in the real world now and then:
Of course, Doyle gives us a very complex characterization of St. Clair. He's not just some luckless chap who was forced into this life; he chose it because he could make more money this way. Despite being the son of a school master, Neville has a lot of natural arrogance that makes him a bit prickly.
One problem I do have with this story is that, like several of Doyle's tales, the story ends fairly abruptly, without some of the resolution and follow-up that we crave. We're left desiring to know how things ended up with the St. Clair family. How did Mrs. St. Clair react upon Neville's return? Did he confess the secrets of his lifestyle to her? (The Granada adaptation makes clear that he did, as they burn his begging clothes and accessories together). Did he keep his solemn oaths, and never take up begging again? Then how did he maintain his £700+ per year lifestyle? He could have gone back to being a reporter, but certainly he couldn't have maintained the Cedars and a family on £2 per week. Would they have to sell their estate? Could he take up a career on the stage? If not for his great shame and fear of "blotting his family's name," I suppose he could write a best-selling memoir (and how-to manual?). It seems certain that the St. Clair family was about to experience some significant changes, and the audience is left wanting for even the smallest scrap of what was in store for them. (I like to think that Mrs. St. Clair understood and forgave Neville, and not wanting to give up their lifestyle or uproot their family, approved and aided him in setting up a new beggar identity in a new location. And perhaps even took up begging herself, as well as their children. But that's just me...)
Still, the fact that we do want to know more demonstrates how well Doyle has sketched the characters and the situation. And it demonstrates how universal the terror of having a secret shame exposed can be, even if it is a fairly harmless one.
OTHER TRIFLES AND OBSERVATIONS:
**This story always prompts discussion of how realistic the idea of making a substantial living from begging is. The 2013 example above aside, the problem is that most of the cases people talk about are anecdotal or hearsay, without a lot firm evidence to back them up. Which isn't surprising, as we're dealing with what is largely a transient population that isn't filling out tax forms.
In The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, editor Leslie Klinger mentions (with no citation) a census which showed that in 1838, London had 8,000 professional beggars, who raked in over £365,000 that year--an average of £45 each. There's obviously a ton of wiggle room in such numbers, but certainly there was a at least some basis for Doyle believing that St. Clair's earnings were possible, if well above the average.
**Once again, we get a look at what a thoroughly solid and splendid chap Watson is. In the middle of the night, he will go to rescue a friend from a two day bender in an opium den, and even pay the guy's (no doubt sizable) tab!!
So of course, the 1964 BBC version completely eliminates the entire subplot--no Watson rescuing Isa Whitney, no Watson accidentally encountering Holmes in the opium den, leading to him accidentally joining the St. Clair investigation. Probably because making Watson look like anything but a helpless and perpetually befuddled buffoon was not on their agenda (and probably beyond Nigel Stick's abilities).
Many have commented that Mrs. Watson must have been furious with Watson going off on an adventure with Sherlock with no notice, perhaps even leading to divorce.
Poppycock! It wasn't so long ago, in The Boscombe Valley Mystery, that she was not only giving her blessing, but encouraging him to go on multi-day mystery-solving road trips with Holmes. Mary knew the role Holmes played in Watson's life, and in their getting together, and there's little reason to think her attitude had changed.
**For the second time, we have a woman who has no clear idea what her husband does for a living, or even where he works (see also A Case of Identity). Even for a male-dominated chauvinistic period such Victorian England, that is simply amazing to me. Especially as, in both cases, the lack of information was because the husband was hiding something. Ladies, for heaven's sake, at least get a work address for your spouse!!
**This picture is for my friend Dawn:
**Many commentators have taken the following passage...
As we approached, the door flew open, and a little blonde woman stood in the opening, clad in some sort of light mousseline de soie, with a touch of fluffy pink chiffon at her neck and wrists. She stood with her figure outlined against the flood of light, one hand upon the door, one half-raised in her eagerness, her body slightly bent, her head and face protruded, with eager eyes and parted lips, a standing question.
"Well?" she cried, "well?" And then, seeing that there were two of us, she gave a cry of hope which sank into a groan as she saw that my companion shook his head and shrugged his shoulders....as an indication that Mrs. St. Clair had romantic designs on Sherlock.
Needless to say, this is a fairly serious misreading. Very clearly, she gave a cry of hope at seeing two, which meant she was eager to see her husband again. And she's quite happy to bruise Holmes' ego when she shows him the letter she received from Neville.
**Watson tells us quite clearly that a) the story takes place in "June of '89" and b) that his part in the tale starts on "Friday, June 19th."
Of course, June 19th was a Wednesday in 1889.
This is the kind of thing that drives players of The Great Game nuts.
**Good heavens, after Mrs. St. Clair spots Neville, and after she heads off to find some police, why go to all the trouble of getting back into make-up and costume while trying to throw all your clothes into the river? Why not just leave the premises quickly, so you won't be found there in either guise? Or, why not just pick up an opium pipe and pretend to be a customer? Surely that's less shameful to him then being exposed as a beggar, right? Instead, Neville chooses the action that takes the longest, and guarantees that he'll be caught. Silly man...
**Mrs. St. Clair declares, "I am not hysterical, nor given to fainting." Of course, at least as related by Holmes, she DID faint earlier, at the sight of blood in the Golden Bar. Holmes wasn't there at the time, so was he misinformed? Or was this just Mrs. St. Clair's somewhat elliptical way of promising not to faint this time?
**For those who wish to paint Sherlock as a misogynist, this quote from Holmes cuts both ways: "I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner."
You can read this in a couple of ways. On the one hand Sherlock could be seen as saying that women are not analytical reasoners. On the other hand, he's acknowledging women's impression may be more valuable than reasoning, and in fact, in this case she is very much right. As always, Holmes' character and opinions are more complex than many want to admit...
SHERLOCK HOLMES WILL RETURN IN--THE BLUE CARBUNCLE!!!