Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons--The South Shall Rise Again?!?

I've gone off on some odd tangents in some of my essays on various stories in the Canon.

But this may be the oddest, having relatively little to do with the story itself (which is quite a nice tale, by the way). But whenever I read The Adventure of The Six Napoleons, I always find myself fixating on one question:

Why are there so many statues and busts of Napoleon in Victorian (or Edwardian) England?

Let me begin by saying that I'm not looking for a debate on the historical record of Napoleon. He has as many defenders as detractors, as many admirers as harsh critics. Suffice it to say, his legacy is still to this day a fairly controversial one. As Max Hastings wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, there is still great argument over whether Bonaparte was "an enlightened despot who laid the foundations of modern Europe or, instead, a megalomaniac who wrought greater misery than any man before the coming of Hitler." There's no way I grok enough history to make any intelligent commentary on either side of the issue.

But to England? Napoleon was a hated, mortal enemy. They fought in several wars; Britain still treats anniversaries of major military victories over Napoleon as major national celebrations; Napoleon actually planned to invade England at one point!!

You would think, therefore, that a nation as quick and proud to celebrate their superiority as Great Britain wouldn't have a lot of truck with statues and busts of a hated, vanquished enemy. Yet, Sherlock Holmes opines while pondering the case, "Considering how many hundreds of statues of the great Emperor must exist in London..." The manager of Gelder & Co. confirms this, saying that from his company alone "hundreds of casts had been taken from a marble copy of Devine's head of Napoleon."

Assuming that this isn't just something that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has pulled out of thin air as the basis for the story, why were there (at least) hundreds of statues and busts of England's hated rival about the country? Who was so interested in celebrating a conquered enemy?

Surely, some museums would want some, and perhaps schools? The story establishes that Dr. Barnicot, who had purchased two of the busts, was "an enthusiastic admirer of Napoleon, and his house is full of books, pictures, and relics of the French Emperor." (The 1965 BBC adaptation has Holmes and company go and interview Barnicot, and makes clear that he is a bit of an obsessive nutter)

Journalist Horace Harker just purchased one for his room, without any explanation of why he chose Napoleon. And no reason is given for why Josiah Brown of Chiswick or Mr. Sandeford of Reading made their choices in decorating their abodes. (Again interestingly, the BBC 1965 version had it that Mrs. Brown had purchased the bust, not knowing that it was Napoleon---she just thought it resembled her husband, so she bought it as a present for him!)

These can't be atypical cases, if Gelder & Co thought it worthwhile to churn out hundreds of these things. And if they did, no doubt other companies followed suit. Was there really that large a market for busts and statues of defeated enemies of the realm?

Maybe it's because it's now the 21st century, or because I'm a dopey American, but that just seems odd to me. Not to go all Godwin's Law here, but you wouldn't expect to see, say, hundreds of busts of Hitler adorning homes and offices throughout London, would you (or, to be less provocative, Mussolini?)? And if so, people possessing them would not be well thought of by most, right?

Of course, plenty of places in, say, the U.S. southern areas have art celebrating various heroes of their side in the Civil War. But then again, that's why it's not analogous--Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were defeated, but they were on the South's side. You're not going to see a lot of those busts in the northern states.

So is this just some English habit of celebrating the underdog? Did the intervening 80 or 90 years since the wars making it safe to admire Napoleon and his legacy again? Perhaps--just maybe--there was a certain longing amongst the English population for a radical, revolutionary reformer to upturn the applecart and restructure society--the admiration for a defeated foe actually being a (perhaps subconscious) critique of current leadership?

Again, I'm ill-qualified to render any serious verdict here. But every time I read this story, that's the first thought that pops into my head--"Why the hell are there so many busts of Napoleon floating around England?"


**My trivial obsessions aside, Six Napoleons is still a corking good story. A good gimmick, lots of interesting characters, Sherlock Holmes at his sharpest, a touching payoff between Holmes and Lestrade...good stuff.

**Between this story and the Blue Carbuncle, I'm forced to ask--just how many famous stolen jewels were there stashed in emergency hiding places in London? Is, say, the Hope Diamond stashed inside a potted plant? Are the Graff Diamonds cooked inside a very special doughnut waiting to be claimed?

**Speaking of the Blue Carbuncle, Six Napoleons is often compared to that story. And it's a fair cop, as far as the "famous stolen jewel stuffed in unlikely hiding spot" gimmick is used in both.

But it's not really the same story. In Blue Carbuncle, Holmes was working backwards--he found the jewel, and then he traced it back to the thief. In Six Napoleons, it was the opposite--he started by trying to track the party responsible for odd crimes, and ended up finding the pearl at the end.

And of course, whereas in Carbuncle Holmes displayed some holiday mercy and allowed the thief to flee, this case involved a murder--and Sherlock was not about to allow Beppo to go free.

**This story tests how you may feel about play fair mysteries.

The revelation at the end--"let me introduce you to the famous black pearl of the Borgias!" comes completely out of nowhere. There's not a clue or a hint that anything like that is in the offing, and the reader is completely in the dark. The murder victim had the same last name as the maid at a famous robbery? Well, that would have been nice to know before the big reveal. Instead, the reader doesn't even know that there was a robbery, let alone that a maid may have been involved.

Now, I don't think this hurts the story--it's still a smashing success, not a bust. But since in modern mysteries, where the reader has become accustomed to having the author/lead detective share clues with us so we can at least pretend to have a chance to solve the mystery, I can see where this out of left field resolution could be a bit unsatisfying to some.

We should contrast this, however, with the BBC 1965 version, which begins with Holmes returning a check to the Prince of Colonna, as he was unable to find the pearl after it was stolen. Well, this does introduce the MacGuffin ahead of time, so the ending is no longer a complete surprise.

However, it also sets off the "too big a coincidence" alarms: right after announcing a failure in a case, Lestrade brings to Holmes' attention a complete independent case--which magically provides the resolution to the first case!! So perhaps that version is more nearly play fair--although no clue is given that the two cases are related until near the end--but also more clunky and coincidental and unconvincing.

I'm fine with the prose version--every mystery doesn't have to be "play fair." Sometimes, the journey to the solution is as (or more) important than the solution.

**Doyle adopts a new technique of presenting long interviews here--Watson merely summarizes these conversations, seemingly only presenting the interviewees answers. But look more closely--the ways Watson writes it up, we can tell what the questions are, and the interviewees' personalities come through quite clearly.

It's really quite a clever conceit, and manages to condense what would be a multi-page interrogation to a (longish) single paragraph without our losing any information. Here, for example, is the conversation with the first shop owner, Morse Hudson:
"Yes, sir. On my very counter, sir," said he. "What we pay rates and taxes for I don't know, when any ruffian can come in and break one's goods. Yes, sir, it was I who sold Dr. Barnicot his two statues. Disgraceful, sir! A Nihilist plot--that's what I make it. No one but an anarchist would go about breaking statues. Red republicans--that's what I call 'em. Who did I get the statues from? I don't see what that has to do with it. Well, if you really want to know, I got them from Gelder & Co., in Church Street, Stepney. They are a well-known house in the trade, and have been this twenty years. How many had I? Three--two and one are three--two of Dr. Barnicot's, and one smashed in broad daylight on my own counter. Do I know that photograph? No, I don't. Yes, I do, though. Why, it's Beppo. He was a kind of Italian piece-work man, who made himself useful in the shop. He could carve a bit, and gild and frame, and do odd jobs. The fellow left me last week, and I've heard nothing of him since. No, I don't know where he came from nor where he went to. I had nothing against him while he was here. He was gone two days before the bust was smashed."
 A Nihilist plot! Red republicans!! What we pay taxes for? Wonderful stuff--Doyle manages to convey lots of information in a more compact way without sacrificing character moments.

Doyle uses this technique three times in the story, and really, it works very well. You wouldn't want to use it every time--especially when you want to see Holmes using some of his cleverness to wheedle information form people--but here it works quite well.

**Some commentators have opined that Morse Hudson must actually be the Hudson from The Gloria Scott, AND the (ex?)husband of Mrs. Hudson, as well.

C'mon, guys, this is reasoning unworthy of the Great Detective. Seriously, are we to believe that everyone with the common surname of Hudson is actually the same person,or related to the same person?!?

**There are lots of great character moments here, but my favorite is probably Harker, the journalist, who is far more worried about getting shut out on a big story than he is about a dead body on his doorstep: "If I had come in here as a journalist, I should have interviewed myself and had two columns in every evening paper. As it is, I am giving away valuable copy by telling my story over and over to a string of different people, and I can make no use of it myself."

Fun stuff, and not the only jibes Doyle takes at journalists in this story...

**As mentioned above, whereas Doyle doesn't do too much with Dr. Barnicot, BBC 1965 has us meet him, and plays him up as a full-on obsessive eccentric. He has some remarkably obscure Napoleonia in his collection, and is quite certain the the bust smashing is a plot by those who wish to hurt the emperor's reputation. Funny stuff.

**So wait--this story has both Kennington and Kensington as locations?? Please, Sir Arthur, are you trying to confuse your dim American readers?

**This might be a dumb question--why didn't Beppo just buy the last of Hudson's busts (or have one of his friends do it for him)? It only cost a few shillings. By buying it, and breaking it home, he would avoided the risks of smashing there in shop: being recognized, and perhaps being caught. He might have also avoided the case becoming interesting enough to interest Scotland Yard (and Sherlock Holmes).

**Doyle's use of language is wonderful throughout this story. When Sherlock describes our mysterious bust-smasher as a "promiscuous iconoclast," well, that may be the best thing ever written in the English language.

(Not really, but it is a wonderful turn of phrase)

**I believe this story brigs us the first real discussion of psychology in the Canon. Usually Holmes and Watson will go on about corrupt bloodlines and inherited tendencies for evil and atavism and the like. But here Watson refers to "modern French psychologists" and the "idee fixe."

Holmes seems to be dismissive, but please note that it's only for this particular case--even if deranged, the mystery villain had access to a lot of information, and on closer examination seemed to be a canny planner (not that that would necessarily rule out mental disease). But Holmes doesn't challenge the work of psychologists in general...

**More untold tales. Holmes himself alerts us how "the dreadful business of the Abernetty family was first brought to my notice by the depth which the parsley had sunk into the butter upon a hot day," one of the more famous apocryphal references in the Canon. And later he has Watson fetch the materials on the "Conk-Singleton forgery case."

**More canny social commentary from Doyle, as Holmes notes the crowds surrounding Harker's home: "It's attempted murder at the least. Nothing less will hold the London message-boy. There's a deed of violence indicated in that fellow's round shoulders and outstretched neck."

**Harker, upon discovering a corpse on his stoop: "I had just time to blow on my police-whistle, and then I must have fainted."

See, Victorian men fainted, too. Watson's spell in The Empty House had far greater provocation, as well...

**More great language: "this presentment of the great emperor, which seemed to raise such frantic and destructive hatred in the mind of the unknown."

**Holmes using the press to mislead a suspect:
Tell him for me that I have quite made up my mind, and that it is certain that a dangerous homicidal lunatic, with Napoleonic delusions, was in his house last night. It will be useful for his article."
Lestrade stared.
"You don't seriously believe that?"
Holmes smiled. "Don't I? Well, perhaps I don't. But I am sure that it will interest Mr. Horace Harker and the subscribers of the Central Press Syndicate..
And of course, Sherlock later tells his partner, "The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if you only know how to use it."

Someone once wrote that they thought this was the first literary example of a hero planting false information in the media to entrap a suspect (sorry, I simply can't remember where I read that? Any clues, peeps?) Certainly, Sherlock had place false classified advertisements before, but getting a newspaper to run a false story is quite another matter entirely, one that has almost become a cliche in crime fiction. To think that it, like so much else, started with Holmes over a century ago!

**Both the BBC 1965 and the Granada adaptations eliminated the Harding Brothers shop from the story--all six bust were purchased and resold by Morse Hudson in their versions. A sensible move for economy in storytelling.

**On the drive to Stepney: "In rapid succession we passed through the fringe of fashionable London, hotel London, theatrical London, literary London, commercial London, and, finally, maritime London, till we came to a riverside city of a hundred thousand souls, where the tenement houses swelter and reek with the outcasts of Europe."

Some have objected that seeing all of these areas on this journey was impossible, while others have explanations and workarounds to make it work.

Pish posh, people--you're missing the forest for the trees!! Just sit back and enjoy the prose!

**The mafia "red herring" may not have been entirely incorrect. It is certainly possible that the theft of the black pearl was a job done by or for for the mafia, after all. We'll see more of these criminals later...

**Holmes: "...well, it all depends upon a factor which is completely outside our control. But I have great hopes--in fact, the betting is exactly two to one--that if you will come with us to-night I shall be able to help you to lay him by the heels."

Sherlock Holmes admitting that something is beyond his control!!

**More grist for those who, like me, insist that Watson is not a dunderhead:
 ...and, though I could not yet perceive the goal which we would reach, I understood clearly that Holmes expected this grotesque criminal to make an attempt upon the two remaining busts, one of which, I remembered, was at Chiswick. No doubt the object of our journey was to catch him in the very act, and I could not but admire the cunning with which my friend had inserted a wrong clue in the evening paper, so as to give the fellow the idea that he could continue his scheme with impunity.
Watson was certainly able to follow Holmes' reasoning and methods more closely than Lestrade, even if the ultimate answer remained beyond him (mainly because Sherlock was keeping all of the good information to himself).

**The story works only if the pearl happens to not be in the first 4 busts Beppo smashes. Otherwise, he gets away with the pearl and the murder.

That is akin to playing Russian Roulette and having the first four chambers come up empty. Dramatically satisfying, perhaps. But the odds are against it happening that way, and thinking about it too closely leads you to realize that even though Sherlock comes up with all the right answers, he catches his man by sheer luck.

**Mr. Sandeford of Reading:"Well, I am an honest man, though not a very rich one. I only gave fifteen shillings for the bust, and I think you ought to know that before I take ten pounds from you."

That does do his scruples credit.

Still, the fact the Holmes was willing to pay such an outrageous amount, and that he required Sandeford to sign away any rights he might have had, should have set off alarm bells, right? Sandeford should have realized that something was up. His greed for the £10 blinded him to the possibility of a larger payday (in the form of a reward from the prince, of course).

**A wonderful glimpse into Sherlock's psyche, via Watson:
It was at such moments that for an instant he ceased to be a reasoning machine, and betrayed his human love for admiration and applause. The same singularly proud and reserved nature which turned away with disdain from popular notoriety was capable of being moved to its depths by spontaneous wonder and praise from a friend.
**We shouldn't be too hard on Lestrade in this case. After all, he identified the body quickly; and he found a mafia connection, which might actually have been part of the case (pending Beppo's gallows confession). It's not unlikely that, with the information he had and the photograph, Lestrade might actually have caught Beppo before he went out to Reading the next day in search of the sixth Napoleon, even without Holmes help!

He may not have had the ultimate motive, but again, that's because Sherlock was withholding information about the black pearl. And they might very well have convicted Beppo without motive, if they found the murder weapon on him.

**Something a good many adaptations with Lestrade would do well to reread before they present him in an adversarial relation with Holmes:
"Well," said Lestrade, "I've seen you handle a good many cases, Mr. Holmes, but I don't know that I ever knew a more workmanlike one than that. We're not jealous of you at Scotland Yard. No, sir, we are very proud of you, and if you come down to-morrow, there's not a man, from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable, who wouldn't be glad to shake you by the hand." "Thank you!" said Holmes. "Thank you!" and as he turned away, it seemed to me that he was more nearly moved by the softer human emotions than I had ever seen him.
I'm just sayin.'


Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Adventure Of Snell Being Really, Really Late!

OK, epic fail time again.

I'm farther behind than a thought. So The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons will have to wait yntil next week.

But the good news is, after that most of my obligations will have cleared up, and I'll be back to a (mostly) weekly schedule.


Sigh...go enjoy the weather.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Adventure Of Charles Augustus Milverton--The Boba Fett Of The Canon!!

Amongst some Star Wars fans, there are those who seem to hold the bounty hunter Boba Fett to a level of esteem unjustified by any of his accomplishments (in the movies, at least).

Sure, Fett looks cool, and his ship, while resembling nothing more than a flying iron, is kind of badass.

But he doesn't really do much of anything, really. Sure, he manages to follow a crippled Millennium Falcon. But he doesn't capture the rebels--he calls the Empire to come and do all the actual heavy lifting. And the only time he actually fights in the movies, he is accidentally beaten by a guy who can't see what he's doing, and dies in a particularly inglorious fashion.

Still, despite that paucity of accomplishments, there are those who elevate the bounty hunter as the paragon of a dangerous guy, someone whose badassedness is so cool it becomes legendary.

Which brings us to Charles Augustus Milverton.

In some respects, it seems as if Milverton, like Boba Fett, has achieved a status in the Canon incommensurate with his actual mence.

When it came time for Granada to adapt the story, they made it into a "feature-length special," double the usual length, renaming it The Master Blackmailer. The third series of BBC's modernization, Sherlock, roughly adapted the story for its season finale, making "Charles Augustus Magnussen" the big bad.

That seems like a lot of attention for what is, honestly, not too great a Sherlock Holmes story.

Oh, it's a fine enough story, but once again Sherlock is the Dunsel Detective--if Holmes never became involved in events, everything would have turned out exactly the same. The unnamed noblewoman would have turned up at exactly the same time, and would have killed Milverton in exactly the same way. (It is unclear what would have happened to all of the blackmail material had Holmes not been there to burgle the safe and burn the letters. Would the police have taken them as evidence? Did Milverton have an heir or lawyer set up to continue his schemes after death, or send everything on immediately as a "poison pill"?)

And, it must be said, Holmes himself does not come off to well in this story. He makes no feats of deduction, and does little detecting--his great plans to defeat Milverton are to mug him and burgle him, rather than outwit him. Seriously, Holmes thought Milverton would have the letters on his person? Sherlock comes off as rather a cad for the callous manner of his wooing and dumping of the maid Agatha. And the reader is given pause by the fluid ethics on display by detective, where Sherlock finds ways to justify all manners of felony, and even condones premeditated murder as "justified private revenge." So not really Holmes' finest hour on display here.

So it must be the villain that causes this story to receive the expand-to-full-movie-and-season-ending-blockbuster status. And, in that case, well...Boba Fett.

Charles Augustus Milverton is referred to once or twice as "one of the most dangerous men in London"--if true, that's quite a come down from Moriarty and Moran. He is venal and vile, to be sure, a despicable ruiner of lives. But for all that, he's not a particularly clever villain. He doesn't outwit Holmes (mainly because Holmes doesn't show much wit in this tale), so much as behave exactly as any other blackmailer should. Except that he shows a stunning lack of home security--Holmes' plan would have worked, had he not been interrupted (unless Milverton had a back-up stash of copies elsewhere?), and the "master blackmailer" allowed an unknown person to walk into his back door, which results in his death. Sure, it's a nice irony that his greed results in his own murder. But there's no reason that this hadn't happened earlier, if this is indicative of the carelessness with which he sets up secret rendezvous. So he is hardly a master villain, and hardly worthy of his reputation as the most dangerous man in London.

So what is the allure? Part of it is surely that Milverton is clearly based on a real person: Charles Augustus Howell. Howell was an art dealer who had a reputation--which was never proven--as a blackmailer of the rich and famous. He also died a lurid death--he was found dead outside a pub, his throat cut and a sovereign coin shoved in his mouth! Amazingly enough, his death was ruled natural causes--tuberculosis--with the throat cutting allegedly coming after death. So, conveniently for many in authority, there was never an inquest, or a serious investigation! Some of the intrigue of Howell's life and demise clearly carried over to the thinly veiled surrogate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used as the villain in his story.

There is also the (slightly guilty pleasure) element of seeing someone stick it to the upper classes. Blackmail is not a victimless crime, of course. But let's be honest, the poor are usually not the victims of extortion. It is the Victorian wealthy class and the nobility, who put so much emphasis on discretion and honor yet are caught in what would be perceived as indiscreet and dishonorable acts, who Milverton goes after. Admit it, audiences love to see the upper crust caught in hypocrisy and brought low, and have a sneaking admiration for the gentleman who can pull it off. It also helps that we never actually meet any of Milverton's victims until the very end--Doyle makes it all tell, no show, and that makes it difficult to empathize with the victims whose lives are shattered by the blackmailer.

Holmes' continual flogging of Milverton as some master craftsman of crime obviously played a role, as well. If our hero is continually thwarted and stymied by this guy, and is as vile as Holmes tells us, well, then he's got to be a badass, right?

Again, total Boba Fett. Nothing Milverton does is really any more or any less than any other blackmailer would do. It's just that, as victims are obviously reluctant to come forward and testify, blackmail is a difficult crime to catch and prosecute. Even for the world's greatest detective. Doyle does a good job of laying out the difficulties.

But the reason Milverton is hard to stop is inherent in the crime itself, not the perpetrator. He is no Moriarty-level intellect. He keeps his blackmail ammunition in a visible safe, in  his estate without much security, in a room that he invites perfect strangers into. He's smart enough not to carry incriminating letters with him when he goes to negotiate, and he's wise enough to actually follow through with some of his threats, rather than merely go for the quick buck. But he's not some kind of genius.

And when he dies? Milverton doesn't look like the most dangerous man in London when an angry widow just walks into his home (by his invitation!) and empties her gun into him. It's hard to conceive of that happening to Moriarty.

So Charles Augustus Milverton. An average villain in a sub-par Holmes story, whose reputation has been somehow inflated to far above his actual accomplishments. Boba Fett, man...Boba Fett.


**Despite my feeling that this is not a great Sherlock Holmes story, it is a good story, very well-written. Doyle's prose is particularly free and fanciful, full of clever turns and insightful metaphors. And the story, while not much of a mystery, does a wonderful job of examining the society and power relationships of Victorian England.

**In the story, all of Milverton's victims seem to be women. Perhaps this is because ladies were perceived as far more likely to hold on to "imprudent" correspondences. More likely, it is a sign of Victorian gender hypocrisy: a man's peccadilloes are just "boys being boys," forgivable if tawdry. But a lady having dalliances before marriage? For shame, there can be no greater dishonor!!

The Granada adaptation ameliorates this a bit, by showing us the case of the disrupted marriage of the Honourable Miss Miles and Colonel Dorking, only mentioned passingly in Doyle's story. Milverton is blackmailing the colonel for homosexual affairs, and Dorking kills himself after his fiancee learns the truth.

**The story also touches upon some "class warfare" issues. Holmes says that Milverton receives the bulk of his blackmail material from "treacherous valets and maids." We see Milverton negotiating with (whom he thinks is) one of these: "If the Countess is a hard mistress, you have your chance to get level with her now."

The Granada adaptation really plays up this aspect, with down-trodden and poorly-treated servants taking the opportunity (and the cash) to stick it to their wealthy, oblivious masters.

Of course, emphasizing this also has the effect of making most of Milverton's targets look deserving of his treatment--they're being punished for their sins against the serving class!

**Watson announces at the beginning of the tale the great lengths he's going to to protect the identities of everyone involved. He will "conceal the date or any other fact by which he might trace the actual occurrence."

Yet people still try to place the story chronologically, by Watson's description of the "frosty winter" and other weather.

John Watson is no fool. If he's hiding the date, changing names, and "concealing any other fact," isn't it just possible that he is dissembling about the season and weather, as well, to throw people off the track, and to protect identities?

**The story can now be told, says Watson, because the "principal person concerned is beyond the reach of human law." Most people take it to mean that the unidentified Noble Lady has passed on, and therefore can no longer be punished for murdering Milverton.

Others have tried to argue that it refers to King Edward VII, who had taken the throne a few years before the story was published, and as monarch of the Empire was now "beyond the law's reach."

Certainly, Edward's reputation as a bit of a playboy, carouser and adulterer meant that he was possibly vulnerable to blackmail. It is hard, though, to see where he would fit as any of the characters that we know Milverton was squeezing. Was Watson being hyper-discreet, leaving Edward's tale out all together?

**This story, of course, is the main source for Holmes' legendary contempt for blackmailers. He argues that they are worse than murderers:
[H]ow could one compare the ruffian, who in hot blood bludgeons his mate, with this man, who methodically and at his leisure tortures the soul and wrings the nerves in order to add to his already swollen money-bags?
Well, Milverton was a deliberate ruiner of lives, and caused the Noble Lady's husband to die of "a broken heart" (and in the Granada adaptation, his extortions caused strokes and suicides). So, if you want to argue that he is worse than someone who kills once in the heat of passion, you might have a case.

Then again, in the Canon we have seen a man try to murder his step-daughters (and succeed with one of them) for their inheritance; a criminal group terrorize and murder several innocent people just to obtain some papers; a thief murder a bank guard and stuff his body in a safe; a man send his romantic rival to die a horrifying death (or at least, so he hoped); a vicious sailor murdering a rescued castaway for his stock certificates; two cads torture a man for weeks so that he'll sign over his sister's wealth (no doubt so they can marry and kill her); a man train a vicious beast to attack people on the moor for simple greed; and so on and so on.

So is Milverton a snake? Is he a right bastard who deserves his fate? Sure. But I'm not ready to say that he's worse or more dangerous than any of those blackguards

**Not to belabor the often odd-seeming standards of Victorian morality, but were the ladies of the day expected to be virgins emotionally as well as physically? Holmes insists that Lady Eva's letters were "imprudent, nothing worse," and insists that there no possible harm in them. Milverton counters that the letters were "sprightly--very sprightly"--whatever the hell that means--and that the Earl would immediately call off the marriage one he saw them.

"Sprightly"?!?! Was this some Victorian form of sexting via the mail?!? Seriously, was it really a scandal that a woman had been in love at a prior time in her life? Of course, it's possible that Lady Eva was not entirely honest with Sherlock about the content of those letters when she hired him, perhaps out of embarrassment. Still, grow up, Earl Of Dovercourt and all you other males calling off weddings and the such!

The 1965 BBC adaptation does try to make Lady Eva's situation a little more relatable to modern standards. They had it that Lady Eva was having her correspondence with the "impecunious young squire" take place after she had already met the Earl. Also, it turns out that she was a bit of a self-plagiarizer, using much the same language and phrases in both her letter to the squire and her letters to her fiancee. So, yeah, the Earl might have been OK to be upset in that case.

**Watson picked up a chair to attack Milverton with, after he revealed that he was armed!! Good show, John!!

**It is very hard to be comfortable with Holmes' treatment of Agatha the maid, especially as the information she provided turned out to be wrong--or at least inapplicable on the night they chose to burgle Milverton. "It was a most necessary step" my butt! And Holmes' justification boils down to, "Oh, well, she'll get over it." Callous and cruel.

**I love the language Doyle uses as Watson contemplates the consequences of Sherlock getting caught breaking and entering:
I had a catching of the breath, and my skin went cold at the words, which were slowly uttered in a tone of concentrated resolution. As a flash of lightning in the night shows up in an instant every detail of a wild landscape, so at one glance I seemed to see every possible result of such an action--the detection, the capture, the honoured career ending in irreparable failure and disgrace, my friend himself lying at the mercy of the odious Milverton.
This was not, as some have contended, Watson being cowardly--his fear is for his friend's safety and reputation.

And the situation is different from The Speckled Band, where Watson quickly and readily agreed to help Holmes invade Stoke Moran. In that case, while they did sneak in, they were let in and invited in by a legal resident of the house; nor did they intend to steal anything, as they did in this case. Had they been caught then, the legal jeopardy Holmes faced was much less.

**Holmes persuading Watson that his course is moral is another bit of good writing from Doyle, as Sherlock gets Socratic with his friend:
I suppose that you will admit that the action is morally justifiable, though technically criminal. To burgle his house is no more than to forcibly take his pocketbook--an action in which you were prepared to aid me."

I turned it over in my mind. "Yes," I said, "it is morally justifiable so long as our object is to take no articles save those which are used for an illegal purpose."

"Exactly. Since it is morally justifiable, I have only to consider the question of personal risk. Surely a gentleman should not lay much stress upon this, when a lady is in most desperate need of his help?"

**John Watson: the staunchest of allies:
"You are not coming." 

"Then you are not going," said I. "I give you my word of honour--and I never broke it in my life--that I will take a cab straight to the police-station and give you away, unless you let me share this adventure with you."
A friend indeed.

**Another nifty line: "With our black silk face-coverings, which turned us into two of the most truculent figures in London, we stole up to the silent, gloomy house."

**This was supposedly a terribly chilly time of year. So when Holmes broke in through the greenhouse, cutting away a "circle of glass"--did his actions kill all the "exotic plants?" More criminal charges against our duo...

**"In the corner, between the bookcase and the wall, there stood a tall, green safe, the firelight flashing back from the polished brass knobs upon its face."

As I mention above, surely a hidden safe would have been better, especially as so many people knew that Milverton had to be keeping all of his blackmail material there. Then again, perhaps C.A.M. was such an over-confident fool, that he felt an ostentatious display of an "impregnable" safe made his victims feel more hopeless...

 **Holmes says that he would have made a fine criminal, but it is Watson who seems to be most enjoying the lifestyle:
I thrilled now with a keener zest than I had ever enjoyed when we were the defenders of the law instead of its defiers. The high object of our mission, the consciousness that it was unselfish and chivalrous, the villainous character of our opponent, all added to the sporting interest of the adventure. Far from feeling guilty, I rejoiced and exulted in our dangers.
**When Holmes opens the safe, he takes time to grab the lantern and try to find the bundle of letters being used to torment Lady Eva Blackwell. Was he not planning on helping all of the other victims? Was he going to leave all of the other letters? If not, why bother to try and sort through them when time was at a premium?

Did Milverton's death inspire Holmes to help all of his victims? Or, with the household being roused by the gunfire, did he simply have no more time to sort through all the material, so he just burned everything?

**John Watson, man of action! If Milverton noticed the safe being ajar, well...
I had determined that if I were sure, from the rigidity of his gaze, that it had caught his eye, I would at once spring out, throw my great coat over his head, pinion him, and leave the rest to Holmes.
**The Noble Lady's husband died of a "broken heart?" Really? He was that traumatized by his wife's indiscretions? (The Granada adaptation at least made it a stroke...)

**The Noble Lady grinding her heels in the face of Milverton's corpse is such a wonderfully perfect detail...

**Many have asked, how did the Noble Lady get away?

Presumably, the same way she got in!

Holmes and Watson were being pursued, so they had no choice but to climb the six-foot wall. But that's not the way they entered ("through the gate") when they had ample time. And the Lady had a bit of a head start on our duo in her flight, as Holmes stopped to burn everything. So she would have had time to leave via the gate.

Surely no one believes she had to climb a six-foot wall to get into the grounds, right? Milverton was expecting her--the gate wouldn't have been locked!

**The reasons given for not interfering with the Noble Lady as she murders Milverton--"that it was no affair of ours, that justice had overtaken a villain, that we had our own duties and our own objects..."--sound like a weak rationalization from a good man trying to justify allowing another man to be murdered in front of your eyes.

**Holmes made several trips to the fireplace with "two arms filled with bundles of letters." Just how many people was Milverton blackmailing? He had "eight or ten similar cases" to Lady Eva, and Holmes told us that the blackguard had plenty of more information that he would wait to use until the right moment.

**Ah, yet another case where Lestrade would have been completely wrong--he would have caught the burglars, but not the killer, had he known how to follow the clues without Holmes' help.

Surely the mark of a heel being ground into Milverton's face should have been a clue that another party--doubtless female--was involved. Oh, Lestrade...

**The under-gardener's description, which "might be a description of Watson": "a middle-sized, strongly built man."

Let's hope Hollywood remembers this whenever they cast another Holmes production and decide to make Watson older, and portly.

It is nice to notice, by the way, that Watson's wound(s) were doing so well that he could take part in such an energetic evening's work.

**Holmes' defense of vigilante justice:
I think there are certain crimes which the law cannot touch, and which therefore, to some extent, justify private revenge.
We seen Holmes taking justice into his own hands before, but usually it was the opposite side of the coin--allowing guilty parties to go free because he felt that they had suffered enough, or were unlikely to commit more crimes.

But to sign off on private murder as justified? Even if Milverton deserved to die, who is Holmes to determine that? He's a detective, and a brilliant one, but perhaps this might make some reconsider whether he should be the sole arbiter of people's fates, as it's rather a Death Wish approach to law and order.

**Holmes: "My sympathies are with the criminals rather than with the victim, and I will not handle this case."

Of course, Holmes was trying to justify not taking the case so Lestrade wouldn't become suspicious. But we have been told earlier of a case Holmes didn't take, to clear a party he knew to be guilty. We have lots of listing of apocryphal cases Holmes did take. Just as interesting, I think, would be a list of the ones he didn't take, and the reasons given...