Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Adventure Of The Cardboard Box--Too Scandalous To Reprint?!?

All right, so now we move on to The Adventure of The Cardboard Box.

Wait...what? You think that The Yellow Face is supposed to be next?

Well, there's a reason this is so confusing, even though we ultimately don't know what that reason is.

I'm tackling the stories in publication order, which in most cases is the same order the stories appear in the various collections.

But not in this case. Although Cardboard Box was published in The Strand after Silver Blaze and before Yellow Face, the story was completely omitted in the first British publication of The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes.

Odder still, the story was included in the first American edition of Memoirs. But that edition was almost immediately replaced with a "new' and "revised" edition that removed Cardboard Box.

The Cardboard Box was eventually published again in America, reprinted in the His Last Bow collection, two decades later.

Eventually sense prevailed, and British publishers eventually restored Cardboard Box to future editions of Memoirs. But to this day, most American-published version keep Cardboard Box with His Last Bow.

What's the deal? Amazingly enough, no one seems to know for sure. Various theories abound, without any actual proof or documentation. Some suggest that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself had the story removed because it involved adultery, and thus was not appropriate for younger readers. The story goes that the American publisher missed that memo, and quickly issued a new edition in line with Doyle's wishes so they wouldn't miss out on publishing his future works.

Others have suggested it was the somewhat graphic, violent subject matter--a brutal double murder, body parts severed--that Doyle and/or publishers thought rendered it too controversial and scandalous for readers.

Doyle, who was rarely shy about discussing the stories and their shortcomings, never mentioned the issue in his memoirs or letters. As far as I'm aware, we've never had the actual explanation from any party that might actually know--just speculation at the odd publishing behavior.

So, is Cardboard Box "too scandalous"? Does the adultery, or the violence, make it unsuitable for young readers, or American audiences of the era?

Obviously I'm not a Victorian, but it's difficult to see how. So far into the Canon, we've had several stories dealing with bigamy--just the prior story, Silver Blaze, in fact--and bigamy is just adultery that someone tried to illegally cover with an extra marriage. Straker/Derbyshire obviously did commit his having two wives somehow less salacious than a married person having an affair without the "cover" of a second wedlock? Yet that story was reprinted in Memoirs with no problem.

Of course, Cardboard Box does show a married woman having an affair, and single woman trying to start an affair with a married man. Not to put too fine a point on it, but perhaps it was the portrayal of female lust and adultery, as discreet and restrained as these depictions may seem by modern standards, that made Cardboard Box too unsavory for Doyle and/or publishers. Victorian double standards and all that.

As to the violence? We've seen plenty of murders in the Canon up to now, including people dying horribly by poisoned blow dart and writhing in agony from snake venom. And we've seen people have body parts severed in attempted murders. Perhaps it was the postmortem removal of the ears, the desecration of corpses, that made Cardboard Box so controversial to someone. And perhaps it was the mode of these killings--a red-hot crime of passion, with a drunken, jealous man bashing two peoples heads in with a club--that made the murders too "real" for Doyle's tastes. Rather than fantastical locked room killing with exotic tools, Jim Browner's actions were just nasty and brutish and all too real-world.

Yes, it's a tawdry, sad story...but is it really any worse than many other in the Canon?

I'm not aware of any protests or poor reaction to Cardboard Box's initial publication in The Strand--nothing that would justify burying the story. But in the months between then and the collection of the stories for Memoirs, Doyle (or his publishers?) had second thoughts for some reason. Did they receive complaints? Was their pressure from somewhere? Or did they somehow decide that the story just went too far (even though, by our lights, it certainly doesn't seem as though it did). We'll probably never know exactly why.

[Completely wild-ass-guess theory: Sherlock would surely chide me for theorizing with facts. But it strikes me as possible that Doyle perhaps based this story on a real life tragedy--it wouldn't be the only time he had done so. And perhaps some of the parties involved were less than pleased, and legal action was threatened. And perhaps not reprinting the story for 20+ years was part of the settlement. Just a thought.]

Thankfully, someone finally thought better of the self-censorship, or else one of Sherlock Holmes' best mysteries might have become lost to time. Now the biggest problem Cardboard Box presents is figuring out which collection the story is in--which depends on which side of the ocean your edition was published.


**Another substantial piece of confusion caused by this story? The opening bit, where Sherlock performs like Poe's Dupin and predicts Watson's thoughts after a long silence? Well, Doyle or the editors must have decided that the bit was too good to lose when they decided not to reprint Cardboard Box. So they basically cut and paste the entire sequence onto the beginning of The Resident Patient! And even more confusingly, when Cardboard Box was restored to His Last Bow, they left the opening sequence there, without returning Resident Patient to its original status!! To this day, many collections have not restored Resident Patient to its original form!

So, depending upon your edition of the collected works, you very well might have the exact opening sequence in two different Holmes stories!!

**This is also an era when there is some confusion over the exact titles of stories. Most sources have no "prefix" appended to most of the story titles: The Resident Patient, The Cardboard Box, etc. Other editions append "The Adventure Of" to the beginning of every title except Silver Blaze. And some can't even be consistent about it, with the title listed in the table of contents not matching the title version they use in the actual story.

Quite annoying, really.

**Possibly more than any story, Cardboard Box makes Lestrade look like a pathetic little worm.It's bad enough to be a poor thinker, but to try and steal Holmes' reasoning as his own?

It starts with his not asking Holmes to come out to Croyden: "We have every hope of clearing the matter up, but we find a little difficulty in getting anything to work upon." So, a particularly unhumble way of saying, "the case is easy, but we have no idea where to start." Lestrade is too arrogant to actually admit he needs help.

He goes on to brush aside every suggestion Holmes gives him: about the knot, the string, the paper, the state of the ears, etc. He rejects Holmes' ideas out of hand.

Yet when Holmes hands him the solution, his face lights up--and if you read it the way I do, part of that delight is that Holmes has asked not to get any credit in the press for the case! More glory for Lestrade!

And when the "obtuse but resolute" Lestrade sends Holmes a letter outlining the results of the investigation, well...
In accordance with the scheme which we had formed in order to test our theories ["the 'we' is rather fine, Watson, is it not?"]...The affair proves, as I always thought it would, to be an extremely simple one...
What a weasel. He rejects Holmes' advice at every turn, but then claims the credit--even to Holmes himself!!

**The Granada adaptation is noteworthy because it is Jeremy Brett's last performance as Holmes. We miss you, Jeremy.

Unfortunately, the TV version is also notable because, for reasons unknown, they decided to completely take the mystery out of it. In the Cardboard Box story, Holmes notes that it is another case where they were "compelled to reason backwards from effects to causes." None of that for Granada, as they start off with the wedding of Jim Browner and Mary Cushing, and immediately follow that with a scene of Browner stalking Mary and Alec Fairbairn. We also see Susan Cushing finding out that Mary is missing, and trying to hire Holmes to find her! In other words, all of the mystery is taken out for the viewers; Holmes is just trying to find out what we've already been shown, and there's really no mystery left about who's ears are in the box! In the meantime, the production focuses on the melodrama. Boo!

Also, the story has been changed from August to December, so Susan Cushing opens the box of ears at a Christmas party!! Yay!

**We haven't had many untold tales teased to us lately, but finally we have one--not from Watson, but Lestrade, as he mentions "Aldrige, who helped us in the bogus laundry affair."

**Watson, seeming to respond to prior criticism from Holmes on his choice of story and manner of presentation: "It is, however, unfortunately impossible entirely to separate the sensational from the criminal." It would be difficult, for example, to present the facts of this case without sensationalism.

**Watson was so broke that he had to postpone a holiday. Patients not paying their bills, or is the practice not yet fully established? Or, perhaps, too much gambling on the ponies...

 **Watson describes Holmes' preference for the city:
He loved to lie in the very center of five millions of people, with his filaments stretching out and running through them, responsive to every little rumour or suspicion of unsolved crime.
 Careful, Doctor--that sounds very like how Holmes will describe Moriarty in just a few months. Are they really just two sides of the same coin?

**One flaw in Doyle's plot is this: if Browner believed that both Susan and Sarah still resided at the same address, why didn't he specifically address the package to Sarah, as opposed to just "Miss S. Cushing"? Did Browner not realize that both Susan and Sarah start with an S?!? We still might very well have had the wrong party open the package, even if Sarah did still live there!

**One flaw in Doyle's melodrama, at least to me, is that we never actually meet Sarah Cushing, and see her reaction to these events, as she is the instigator of much of what happens. Her falling into "brain fever" is a bit of a dramatic cop-out; it's shorthand for "she feels guilty and awful" without actually having to show any such thing. It ends up letting her character off the hook much too easily.

Additionally, while we do the the whole story from Browner, a murderous, drunken animal might not be the most reliable narrator of events.

**Speaking of "brain fever," this is the second time we've encountered it in the Canon, and it won't be the last. Debate continues amongst commentators whether it was a real malady, or some creation of Victorian literature. As a physician, one would think that Doyle would be describing an actual medical condition--albeit one not properly diagnosed by the medicine of the day (perhaps even a psychosomatic/mental reaction to great stress--no one ever seems to come down with brain fever unless they're experiencing some type of crisis in their life...?)

**Susan Cushing is...well, she's a pretty brittle, mean-spirited spinster.

Granted, nobody would be thrilled with finding two severed ears in the post, especially if they were completely in the dark about their origin.

But every single word she speaks is a complaint about how inconvenient and annoying the whole experience has been for her, and why can't everyone just go away and leave her alone!! "Oh, I am weary of questions!"? Lady, it's a double homicide!!

We sadly never see her informed that one of the ears belongs to murdered sister...somehow I expect Susan would be grousing about how Mary had gotten herself killed just to annoy her and cause her inconvenience.

**Holmes is quite excited that "he had purchased his own Stradivarius, which was worth at least five hundred guineas...for fifty-five shillings." Assuming it was indeed a real Stradivarius, and not one of many authorized copies that were around at the time, it's a pretty great deal--akin to finding a copy of Action Comics #1 at a garage sale. "Strad" violins have sold for as much as $16 million at auctions in the past few years...

**Holmes' speech at end is a great bit of existential despair:
What is the meaning of it, Watson?" said Holmes solemnly as he laid down the paper. "What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever.
Good question, Sherlock. Good question.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Silver Blaze--A Man Of Degenerate Principles?!?

It had to happen, of course.

We (as a culture) often end up tearing down and demystifying our heroes, after decades spent building them up. It's as if we can't stand to have role models purer than ourselves, so we have to interpret and deconstruct and twist until our humans have feet of clay, and then go further still to make them actual villains.

Hey, I'm as guilty as anyone; I once wrote an essay declaring that the true villain of The Wizard of Oz (movie version) was Glinda The Good Witch, who manipulated people and events until everyone that stood between her and ultimate power in Oz was removed.

Hey, we were all young once, and we all liked to flout authority figures by proving that our parents' heroes were really corrupt.

Which brings us to Silver Blaze.

It is one of the greatest of the Holmes mysteries, clever and fun, with all the clues laid out for the reader, so he can follow along and nod as Sherlock solves it..

Yet, for some unfathomable reason, a large contingent of commentators have decided that Holmes wagered on Silver Blaze in the race, an act which, depending on the writer, ranged from unethical to illegal.

Somehow, when Holmes says, "as I stand to win a little on this next race, I shall defer a lengthy explanation until a more fitting time," that supposedly indicates that he must have also wagered on the previous race, as well, having manipulated events so that the odds were high against Silver Blaze.

Where does this amazing inference come from? There is nothing in the text to support it.

Yet others have gone on to accuse Holmes of not only unfairly profiting from his knowledge that Silver Blaze would race, but also that he somehow was responsible for fixing the race, acting in collusion with the owner and trainer of Silver Blaze's biggest rival, Desborough to throw the race to the favorite.

Famous American sports columnist Red Smith even wrote an essay for the New York Herald Tribune, declaring that Sherlock "exhibited an ethical blind spot of shocking dimensions" regarding sports, and that it was "common knowledge that he was the architect of an extraordinary piece of skullduggery in connection with a horse race," and that "it has been established that Mr. Sherlock Holmes was a horse player of degenerate principles who thought nothing of fixing a race." He even accuses the detective of using his cocaine needle to inject horses to hinder their performance!!

All of this because Sherlock said that he had a bet on the following race!!

Of course, Doyle's story does show the thoroughness of corruption that sports betting can bring upon people. Everywhere in this story there is money, and lots of it. Start with Silver Blaze's owner: it cost Colonel Ross £50 to enter Silver Blaze in the race (half of which would be forfeited if Silver Blaze was scratched form the Wessex Cup), and he stood to win £1,000 if his horse won, in addition to any additional wagers he would have made.This was, as he have seen in the stories, ridiculously high finance for the era, when a single woman could live quite nicely on £60 per year. People--even parents--have been willing to imprison and even kill their children for much smaller amounts!

The corrosive effect of this much money floating around touches almost everyone in the story. Young Fitzroy Simpson, who had "squandered a fortune on the turf," and as a bookie had bet £5,000 against the favorite. Facing huge potential losses, he made lengthy road trip--and was willing to bribe servants--just to get some more information on the horses. The trainer of Desborough, Silas Brown, was "known to have large bets on the event," which is doubtless what caused him to conceal Silver Blaze after his initial reaction to simply return him. And of course, there is John Straker, whose massive debts led him to the conclusion that the only way to right his finances was by fixing the horse race.

So, perhaps it was inevitable that some might suspect that, as everyone else is corrupted, than Sherlock Holmes himself must become tainted by the temptation of large sums of money. Sure, nothing else in the Canon might suggest that, and the story itself provides zero evidence. But some can't let that stop them from baselessly asserting that the great detective would suddenly abandon his anti-crime stance for a chance at some small amount of lucre.

Part of the problem is the way in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle presents the story. Doyle admitted in his autobiography that his knowledge of "the laws of training and racing" was lacking, and that his "ignorance" hurt the realism of the story; had events occurred as he described, "Half (the characters) would have been in jail, and the other half warned off the turf forever."

Yes, Holmes kept Silver Blaze's identity concealed (at least from Colonel Ross, as a bit of puckish revenge for Ross' disdain towards Holmes)--but surely the racing stewards would never have allowed some other horse to race in Silver Blaze's slot, and they would have pulled his name from the race. They would have required absolute proof that this was the same horse, and thus everyone would know prior to the running that this was indeed the correct horse. This is likely the part of the story where Doyle was bemoaning his ignorance.

And it wasn't a terribly well-kept secret: in the 24 hours before the race, the odds against Silver Blaze dropped from 15-1 to 3-1--the same as they originally were--and at race time the odds were 5-4, strongly suggesting that word had gotten out, and large amounts of money were being bet on the allegedly missing horse. It's unlikely that any one person's bets could move the odds that much--especially the man Red Smith described as "practically always broke," allegedly because of his drug habits.

It seems clear that the situation with Silver Blaze was fairly widely known--except by Colonel Ross. Surely Fitzroy Simpson wasn't the only tout lurking about Dartmoor; and Silas Brown, who now stood to lose a substantial amount of money on the race, would likely look to cut his losses by discreetly selling information.

Furthermore, word had surely gotten about that Sherlock Holmes himself had guaranteed that the horse would appear, and would be attending the race in person. Holmes had certainly attained enough notoriety by this point that the press would have picked up on his involvement in the case, and someone would have reported on his pronouncement. It would seem that only Colonel Ross was still pessimistic about the horse showing up. With all this information out there, and the odds dropping outrageously, it seems unfair in the extreme to accuse Holmes of fixing the race, let alone profiting unfairly from his knowledge.

Also, Holmes doubtless claimed the "large reward" that Ross had posted for the return of the horse--certainly he would have no need to jigger the race to make money.

And even if Sherlock had wagered, would it have even been unethical? Simmons was trying to buy access to knowledge that others didn't have about the horses. That's neither illegal or unethical--that's why touts exist. In what way would Sherlock's wagering based upon knowledge he had obtained be any different? Trainers and groomsman and touts and bookies and high society were all wagering on the race, and all hoping they had special knowledge and insight to give them on edge on other bettors--and given the precipitous drop in the odds, many of these gamblers had (or at least suspected) precisely the same information that Sherlock had--that Silver Blaze would race. If you accept the legitimacy of wagering on horse races, I can see no reason to proclaim a (hypothetical) bet by the detective as any less ethical than any other.

But parsing the ethics is unnecessary, anyway. If you believe that Holmes had a duty not to bet on Silver Blaze, well, there's not a scintilla of indication in the story that he actually did. Why, in heaven's name, would we assume otherwise?


**The Granada adaptation of Silver Blaze takes away both the doubt and the ethical questions over Sherlock's betting. They correct Doyle's mistake by having Holmes reveal that the mystery horse is Silver Blaze well before the race--publicly, so everyone can see--eliminating any chance or serious charges of race-fixing. They also show Holmes placing a (small) wager on the race, but after the odds had already dropped to a meager 5-4...and while he wins the bet, it is merely for a small amount of cash, certainly not some life-changing amount of wealth.

**A picky meta-point: this collection is entitled The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes? Holmes wrote or narrated none of these stories! If anything, it should be titled The Memoirs Of John Watson, M.D. Or, perhaps something along the lime of My Memoirs Of My Cases With Sherlock Holmes by John Watson. Yeah, I know I'm being unreasonably pedantic...

**The forgotten victim in all this: poor Mrs. Straker. She's clearly quite distraught over the death of her husband, and anxious for the capture and punishment of the killer. We don't don't stick around to see, but in short order she discovers that a) her husband wasn't the victim who heroically died protecting the horse, he was the crook, and b) he had a second wife who had driven him into bankruptcy and crime. That's a rough day of revelations, especially when she finds that her "comfortably off" husband left her nothing but debts.

**The question of William Derbyshire is an interesting one. As with any case of bigamy, you wonder how Straker found enough time to maintain two lives. Was Mrs. Derbyshire content to have her husband away most of the time? After all, being a horse trainer is a full time position, and one imagines he couldn't sneak away from Dartmoor to London too often.

Of course, given the kind of deception that bigamy involves, we also have to wonder how honest a jockey and trainer Straker had been over the past dozen years. Someone so fundamentally dishonest as to pull off the two wives business surely was willing to take other liberties over the years. perhaps subtly throwing a race or two over the years? As Holmes notes, it is not an uncommon practice.

I am a bit skeptical and unbelieving, though, when Sherlock declares that the expensive dress-loving Mrs Derbyshire "had plunged him over head and ears in debt, and so led him into this miserable plot." It seems unfair to blame her, especially since she is as likely just as much a victim of Straker's duplicity as his "real" wife. No, let's leave the culpability with the culprit, please--let's not blame the wife for the husband's sins.

**Another question--was Straker planning to bet against Silver Blaze himself, or was he acting on someone else's behest? Given his dire financial situation, he might not have had a lot of money available to wager. Plus, if he were caught wagering against his own horse, the plot would be pretty immediately revealed.

No, for a man in Straker's position, the safer and surer payday would be to take a large payment from someone else to fix the race. And honestly, this would be one of the few times in the early cases where I think it might be appropriate to invoke Moriarty as the secret crime-master. That kind of low-risk, high-payoff enterprise would be right up his bailiwick, and if we were to get cheeky we could suggest he was using his mathematical prowess to figure the best way to massage the gambling odds.

Unfortunately, Straker's death means we'll likely never know...

**This is the third case involving bigamy (Boscombe Valley, Noble Bachelor). Was bigamy really that common a problem in Victorian England?

**This is the second case in which the "murderer" is revealed to be an animal. It won't be the last...

**This picture is for my friend Dawn:

She hates Sherlock Holmes, but loves dogs.

**One of the greatest exchanges in the history of detection:
"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?" 

"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." 

"The dog did nothing in the night-time." 

"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
Wonderful use of negative inference. And a great bit of dialogue, wisdom delivered as what sounds like wise-ass repartee.

But is it necessarily true? Sure, the dog didn't bark. But he could have been drugged even more easily than Hunter was...just toss him an opium-laced piece of meat or cheese. Trust me, dogs are not so picky as to need to disguise the taste with curry. So conceivably, it still could have been someone unknown to the dog (and the household) who took the horse.

**If you like, I can show you dozens and dozens of articles arguing whether or not Holmes could have accuratey judged the trains speed by counting telegraph posts. Really, there are no nerds like Holmes nerds.

**Doyle has Holmes unknowingly make a commentary on what trying to ferret out actual news in the age of instant social media:
The tragedy has been so uncommon, so complete and of such personal importance to so many people, that we are suffering from a plethora of surmise, conjecture, and hypothesis. The difficulty is to detach the framework of fact--of absolute undeniable fact--from the embellishments of theorists and reporters.
Yeah, that's about right, as anyone who has followed Twitter too closely during a "news event" can testify.

** There are some surprisingly large differences in the texts between the British and Americans texts in this story. The original British publication says that Silver Blaze is "from the Isomony stock;" the American says that he was from "Somony stock." As Isomony was an actual thoroughbred, that's a pretty big difference.

Similarly, Lord Blackwater's stables are called "Capleton" in the British, and "Mapleton" in the American.

There are many such differences between the editions in this story--and indeed all the stories in Memoirs. Sometimes whole sentences are added or dropped, sometimes seemingly changing the meaning completely.

Whether this was a symptom of the rush to get new Holmes stories into print across the pond, or just sloppy editing somewhere along the line, I can't say. But next week, we'll see the biggest example of the differences across the ocean.

**Once again, Doyle uses gypsies as a red herring, and once again we never meet them. We are being deprived of the joy of seeing Sherlock Holmes vs Gypsies!!

**Inspector Gregory is presented in the most favorable light of any police officer Holmes ever encounters. He is "excellently competent," and seems to anticipate every one of Holmes questions and needs, even if he himself isn't (yet) capable of making the deductional leaps that Sherlock is. It's a shame that we never get to see him again, to see how he has advanced...

**Gregory and Holmes have a very nice discussion of circumstantial evidence, and how likely it might be to stand up in a courtroom. Gregory insists, "I really think we have enough to go before a jury," while Holmes demurs: "A clever counsel would tear it all to rags."

The back and forth is rather like watching the district attorneys on Law & Order argue over whether they're ready for trial. And the discussion is an enlightening examination of why having enough evidence to arrest someone isn't the same as having enough to convict them.

**When Holmes first confronts Silas Brown with what he knows: "Holmes leaned forward and whispered something in the trainer's ear. He started violently and flushed to the temples."

I think we know damn well what Holmes whispered to him, right?

Hail Hydra!


**He may be a few decades early, but Holmes pretty much nails the creed of the noir private eye: "I follow my own methods, and tell as much or as little as I choose. That is the advantage of being unofficial." You and Jim Rockford, Sherlock.

Of course, such a code will get you accused of fixing horse races and being unethical, so watch yourself!


Sunday, September 14, 2014

An Apology


 Rather like the dog that did nothing in the night-time...

...I did nothing this week.

Or, let's just say that I bit off more than I could chew in several areas, let things get away from me, and just couldn't get to my Silver Blaze write-up.

Mea culpa.

So let's just call this a week off between Holmes collections, and I'll be back next week with Silver Blaze. I promise.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Adventure Of The Copper Beeches--Detective Dunsel!

There is a danger, when writing a series of adventure stories about a character, that the author so gets caught in the presenting the heroes opinions and mannerisms, that she forgets to have the character actually do anything in the story. Oh, there character is there, and opines, and takes a train ride, occasionally runs up and down corridors and such...but they have absolutely no interaction with the plot or it's outcome. The author has forgot to have them impact on the events, so the resolution would have been 100% the same had our hero never been involved (See, for example, the Doctor Who episode The Planet Of The Ood).

Which brings us to The Adventure Of The Copper Beeches.

It is ironic, but surely not intentionally so, that in a story in which Arthur Conan Doyle has Holmes spend the first few pages complaining that Watson's storytelling focuses on the trivial while ignoring logic and deduction, Doyle then proceeds to give us a story were deduction and logic play no part whatsoever in the resolution. perhaps it is Watson's revenge...

We spend a lot of time with Holmes in Copper Beeches, and he says an awful lot of clever things. There's a train trip to the country, a grand Gothic mystery with odd servants and frightened governesses and mysterious watchers, there are dog attacks and secret plans...yet all of that merely distracts us from the fact that had Holmes not showed up, the resolution would have been exactly the same (save, perhaps, that Rucastle might not have been mauled by the dog).

Had Miss Violet Hunter never come to consult Holmes, she would have still had taken the job--her "mind was made up that she would accept it." Had Holmes never gone up to the Copper Beeches, events would have transpired in exactly the same manner: Mr. Fowler had already bribed Mrs. Toller to get her husband drunk and have a ladder ready--they knew nothing of Holmes' interest in the case, nor of his impending visit. Had Holmes never gotten involved, Alice Rucastle would have escaped at the exact same day and time, she and Fowler would still have been wed the next day, and they would still be living in Mauritius.

One could argue that, had Holmes and Watson not gone to Copper Beeches, Rucastle wouldn't have found strangers in the house at the same time he found Alice escaped, and therefore he might not have unleashed the mastiff. So, you could suggest that the villain only received his just desserts because of the detective's presence.

But the damsel would have been rescued without Holmes' involvement. And he displays no great feats of deduction--prior to his journey to the estate, he has merely narrowed down to "seven separate explanations" for the curious facts of the case. And he only arrives at the correct solutions after Violet Hunter has told her fortnight's experience, and she herself had already come to the same conclusion.

Copper Beeches certainly isn't a bad Sherlock Holmes story, or a boring one. It's a grand Gothic melodrama, and we do learn a fair bit about Holmes in the story. But for all the good bits, Doyle neglected to makes Holmes necessary to the story, which diminished its impact quite a bit.

I think there's a lesson there for aspiring writers--it's not enough to have your hero present in the story--you got to remember to make his participation crucial to the outcome, or why even bother to have him there?


**This story does contain my favorite piece of prose from Doyle, as our heroes take a train through the bucolic countryside, and Watson waxes poetic about how lovely it is. Holmes does not agree:
"Do you know, Watson," said he, "that it is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there."

"Good heavens!" I cried. "Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?"

"They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."

"You horrify me!"

"But the reason is very obvious. The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard's blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser. Had this lady who appeals to us for help gone to live in Winchester, I should never have had a fear for her. It is the five miles of country which makes the danger.
It's a wonderful bit, emphasizing how obsessed Holmes is with his chosen field, so much so that he can't ignore it even to enjoy the scenery.

Of course, the question is, how true it might be. In 1892, the average London reader would still have the Jack The Ripper murders very fresh in his mind, which at the very least showed that the "pressure of public opinion" and "indignation among the neighbours" weren't the great preventative to vile crimes that Holmes thought they were.

Of course, on a very general level, Holmes has a point--whereas densely populated cities get the rap of being crime-infested, plenty of bad stuff goes on in rural areas. But claiming the countryside had "a more dreadful record of sin" is simply silly and argumentative.

**Not to accuse Sir Arthur of overusing a plot, but in the 12 stories in the Adventures collection, this is the 3rd which revolves around a young woman's family going to extreme lengths to prevent her from marrying, so that they can control her inheritance.

Even as a recognition of the difficulties and pressures single women faced in Victorian times, that's a little much. Surely there are other plot devices that could be used to illustrate the point, without the repetition.

Then again, maybe in the 1890s, ladies being catfished/murdered/imprisoned by their parents or step-parents to keep them from marrying was a social epidemic...

**Meanwhile, the biggest question is--why the hell isn't Jephro Rucastle in jail? Or his wife?

I'm no scholar of the era's laws, but I would have to believe that imprisoning an adult woman against her will until she signs over her wealth to you was a felony--perhaps multiple felonies--and hiring a look-alike to cover up your deed proves that Rucastle believed it would be actionable if the authorities became involved. And since it wouldn't make a lot of sense to free Alice is she ever did relent and sign, one can't help but wonder if murder wasn't in the offing, as well.

(Note--this is why Holmes certainly should have stepped in to expose Windibank in A Case Of Identity, or at least alert Mary Sutherland to his cruel schemes. That cad was only a few steps away from replicating Jephro Rucastle's crimes, it seems.)

Granted, Rucastle was "horribly mangled" by his own pet, and lived the rest of his life "a broken man, kept alive solely through the care of his devoted wife." But is that really punishment enough? Shouldn't the law get involved? And Mrs. Rucastle was at least an accomplice in the kidnapping/extortion--why shouldn't she be turned over to the authorities?

Yet Alice and Fowler did take off immediately, getting married and leaving the country. So perhaps they weren't interested in pressing charges, and just wanted to get on with their lives. And without Alice available, it might have been impossible to prove a case--neither Holmes nor Watson nor Violet Hunter ever so much as set eyes on Alice, or heard her voice. Their testimony alone couldn't even prove she existed, let alone that was she was being held under duress. So, perhaps without Alice's cooperation, there was no point in going to the authorities...

**How large was Alice Rucastle's inheritance? If Jephro is willing to spend £120 per year to access it, than clearly it was much greater than that, or else the whole ruse isn't financially worth it. (For what it's worth, the BBC '64 version stipulates that Alice's mother's estate was £180,000, 80% of which went to Alice.)

Of course, it's also possible that Jephro Rucastle had no intention of fulfilling that salary, and once Fowler was successfully fooled, he would fire Violet--or worse...

**Does every individual house have a name in England? Seriously, every time Holmes and Watson travel outside of London, they end up at Copper Beeches or Fairbank or The Cedars or Pondicherry Lodge or...I'm just saying, I've never lived in a house with it's own name. Must be an English thing...

**These pictures are for my friend Dawn:

She hates Sherlock Holmes, but she likes dogs.

 (Please don't tell her the dog dies...)

**One of the more annoying things about a lot of Holmes commentary is the fact that every time a women who is not a complete ninny turns up, everyone decides that she is really after Holmes romantically, or he after her.One compliment from the detective, it seems, is enough to make everyone see sparks flying, despite what Watson wrote about in Scandal In Bohemia about there being "but one woman."

It might be forgivable in this case, though, as Watson himself seems to be trying to play matchmaker between Holmes and Violet Hunter. Despite several compliments that Holmes pays to Miss Hunter during the case, Watson confesses disappointment that Holmes doesn't pursue her romantically.

**An innocent phrase also sets off a torrent of commentator speculation. When Holmes says, "I confess that it is not the situation which I should like to see a sister of mine apply for," it seems to me to be clearly a hypothetical statement. Yet it has launched countless discussions as to whether it indicates that Holmes does have a sister or not.

Some have even gone so far as to claim that this statement shows that Violet Hunter herself is Holmes' sister, or perhaps half-sister.

Now, you would think that Holmes or Watson or Hunter would have at least mentioned it, if that were the case. But never let common sense deter fanboy speculation. In Robert Schutz's essay "Half-Sister; No Mystery" (as cited in the original Annotated Sherlock Holmes), he declares, "There is no direct evidence to contradict the assumption that Holmes' mother married a Mr. Hunter after the death of Sherlock's father, and gave birth to a daughter named Violet, twelve years after the birth of Sherlock."

Well, true. But there is also no direct evidence to contradict the assumption that Violet Hunter is a Terminator sent from the future to kill John Conner's great-great grandfather. Which is what you get when you make nutty assumptions without a shred of evidence in the first place...

**Holmes takes a very clear stand on nature vs. nurture when it comes to children's behavior: "I have frequently gained my first real insight into the character of parents by studying their children. This child's disposition is abnormally cruel, merely for cruelty's sake, and whether he derives this from his smiling father, as I should suspect, or from his mother, it bodes evil for the poor girl who is in their power."

So, nurture, then.

Given Miss Hunter's description ("Giving pain to any creature weaker than himself seems to be his one idea of amusement, and he shows quite remarkable talent in planning the capture of mice, little birds, and insects."), the young Rucastle sure seems like a serial killer waiting to happen...

**Things I learned: the use of the term "electric blue" as a dress color felt anachronistic to me when I heard it in the adaptations. After all, electricity was hardly an everyday phenomenon yet in 1892.

But Doyle himself used it in the story, and Wikipedia tells me that "the first recorded us of electric blue as a color name was in 1884," and that "the color was in vogue in the 1890s."

Arthur Conan Doyle: fashionista!

**Was saving a lady's cut hair a thing in Victorian times? As a modern dude, Alice's shorn locks being saved and found by Violet, who also had an "identical" rope of hair, strikes me as a tad too contrived and coincidental.

Of course, women did often sell their hair to wigmakers back in the day. And I suppose there was, I don't know, sentimental value? Why else pack it and bring it to your new home?

And perhaps the Rucastle's had envisioned using Alice's hair a part of some other deception...

**The Granada adaptation "introduces" Natasha Richardson. It's not her first role, but it is her first major part, and boy, is she pretty:

Joss Ackland plays the evil Rucastle, which gives him a unique distinction: he's the only person to play a Sherlock Holmes villain, a Lethal Weapon villain, and a Bill & Ted villain.

Yes, I'm a loser.

**The idea for this story apparently came from Doyle's mother, as she wrote him that his next story should include a girl with "beautiful golden hair: who kidnapped and her hair shorn should be made to impersonate some other girl for a villainous purpose."

You go, Mrs. Doyle!

**Before they arrive at Copper Beeches, Holmes has "seven separate explanations, each of which can cover the facts as fa as we know them."

We know two of them. At the first meeting, Violet suggests that Mrs. Rucastle is a lunatic, and he humors her to keep her from being put away (a solution Holmes says is the "most probable"). And then there is the correct solution: She's being hired to impersonate someone who is being held under duress.

Well, what are the other 5 explanations? BBC '64 has Watson suggest one: that the mysterious watcher (Fowler) is a villain who means Alice harm, and Violet's impersonation is to protect her.

OK, so what are the other 4?

**Poor Holmes. He complains, "the days of the great cases are past. Man, or at least criminal man, has lost all enterprise and originality."

Dude, be careful of what you wish for!! Moriarty is in the offing!