“A Scandal in Bohemia,” or “The Ambiguous Romantic Proclivities of Sherlock Holmes”

This week was technically supposed to be The Valley of Fear, which I’ve been really looking forward to. It’s the only one of the novels I haven’t read before, so I’m excited to give it a go. But, since my schedule got set back a few days last week, I didn’t get around to starting to read it until Friday, and then my Saturday was kind of eaten up by Shakespearean frolicking, as is appropriate on the Bard’s birthday/anniversary of his death. So, I ran out of time and had to bump Valley back a week, moving “A Scandal in Bohemia” into its place. I’m not sure it matters if they get read slightly out of order at this point, because I’ve already half given up on continuity ever actually being a thing. If Doyle didn’t have to care about it, I can ignore it once in awhile, too. Sounds fair to me.

“A Scandal in Bohemia” is the first Holmes short story Doyle wrote, having previously given us two novel-length adventures, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of The Four. It’s also the story where the incomparable Sherlock Holmes meets his match; brilliantly, that match just happens to be a woman. Irene Adler is probably the most-talked about woman – possibly the most talked about secondary character, outside the core supporting players and short of Moriarty, period, in fact. The most brilliant part of that is the fact she manages this while only appearing in one story. The same story where we meet this glorious and clever creature we learn that she is the late Irene Adler, which I suppose limits her future appearances a little. Although, I heard a theory somewhere that maybe the “late” part, attached as it is to her maiden name (she does get married in the course of the story, after all), could just refer to the fact she’s no longer going by that name; she was Irene Adler of late, henceforth she is Irene Norton. In the end, the rumors of her death do very little to lessen the character’s impact, either on the world or on Holmes himself.

She has lived on in two pastiche series of her own – Carole Nelson Douglas’ 8-book Irene Adler series and Amy Thomas’ The Detective and the Woman trilogy – and has her involvement with Holmes produce offspring in a pair John Lescroart and in Laurie R. King’s The Language of Bees. Even William S. Baring-Gould (he of the original complete annotated Holmes) suggested, in his fictional biography of the great detective, that Adler and Holmes had a son, who then grew up to be that other brilliant fictional detective, Nero Wolfe. All three current TV/film Holmes’ have had their dance with Irene. (I tend to think “Elementary” found the most interesting and innovative use of her, but I realize I may be in the minority there. I can’t help but love a twist I never see coming, and they definitely surprised me.) In fact, Irene has probably been adapted for film and television almost as frequently as the two men who infamously encounter her, and people have very definite opinions on the handling of each of them. Don’t believe me? Google “Rachel McAdams Irene Adler” sometime.

The fact that Irene is a woman leads to one of the many debates in Holmesian study and fandom: does Sherlock Holmes sleep with/is he in love with Irene Adler? If you get a group of Holmes fans together and lob that grenade into the center of them, you’ll likely discover a pretty quick and definitive divide. There will be those that consider Holmes’ admiration, detailed so thoroughly by Watson, as proof beyond question that he was in love with her. Didn’t he refer to her as “a lovely woman, with a face that a man might die for”? He kept her picture, for goodness sake; that must be love! Then you’ll have those that cling to the “most perfect reasoning and observing machine” interpretation of Holmes who consider him entirely asexual and above the “softer passions.” And then, of course, you’ll have the “Holmes doesn’t love Irene! He’s in love with Watson!” camp, which put the emphasis on the romance portion of “bromance.” There are other points of view on the topic of the great detective’s romantic entanglements as well – Holmes and Lestrade’s love/hate relationship is proof of actual love, Holmes and Moriarty are hot for each other in the most twisted way possible, etc. – but an abundance of the question, for some, centers around the possibility or impossibility of Holmes hooking up with Irene.

People have been theorizing about Holmes’ sexuality probably since he sprung, fully formed, from Doyle’s head (they just didn’t have entire forums devoted to the topic where they could discuss it back then). The reason? Nobody actually knows where Holmes falls on the Kinsey scale. Doyle never assigns a preference to his character. Sure, we can assume, based on the time period, that he’s meant to be heterosexual, simply because that was the cultural default, but we don’t have any more proof of that than any other option. Holmes courts a young lady for the purpose of gaining access to her employer in “Charles Augustus Milverton,” but he also, according to Watson, is a consummate actor – “The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime,” – so that doesn’t necessarily prove anything, anymore than Holmes’ reaction to Watson being shot in “The Three Garridebs” definitively proves that he’s in love with Watson.

We know so little about him, for all Watson’s lists, that we have more than enough room to decide for ourselves who he really is. Yes, this goes slightly against one of Holmes’ own logical tenets – “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data,” – but since we’re never going to get firm data (not a pun) on the topic, I think we can all be forgiven for twisting facts to suit theories here.

A quick summary of “Scandal,” for anyone unfamiliar: Holmes and Watson (who is recently married and no longer living at 221B) are hired by the King of Bohemia to retrieve a photograph from a woman he’s had a relationship with. Might seem like a small problem, a woman having a picture of you, but she’s threatening to send it to his fiancee, the King of Scandinavia’s daughter, when he publicly announces their engagement. The wrath of a woman scorned and all that. He’s made several attempts to get it back, but they’ve all failed. Thus, he’s come to Holmes’ door to get the job done. Holmes immediately goes to work, doing a little reconnaissance and accidentally winding up the witness to Irene’s marriage to another man in the process. He and Watson then descend later that night to suss out the exact location of the actual photo via a nifty little ruse, but end up getting played a bit themselves. They return to Irene’s home, with the King, the next morning to retrieve it and find that she has fled, leaving a letter for Holmes and a photograph of herself for the King and her word that she will never use the incriminating photo against her old flame. Holmes then refuses material reward for his services and asks for just st the picture instead. Thus, “the woman” is born.

Irene Adler: 1, Sherlock Holmes: 0.

So, what does “Scandal” tells us about Holmes and romance? Well, it definitely tells us that, whatever the motivation behind his thoughts on Ms. Adler, she left a very distinct impression upon him. The story starts with what I consider to be the best opening line in the entirety of the Holmes canon, and definitely one of the most iconic: “To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman.” I think it’s important to look at where the emphasis gets placed in that line. She is THE woman, singular amongst her gender. Not THE WOMAN, which might imply that she’s more singular in his heart or esteem.

In the same paragraph, Watson gives his audience that “perfect reasoning and observing machine” line and informs us that women/emotions are “Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of [Holmes’] own high-power lenses.” The thing to keep in mind here is, we’re always only ever getting Watson’s observations and opinions with regards to Holmes. True, Holmes gives Watson reason to think these things. In “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone,” he says “I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix.” Watson never sees Holmes romantically with a woman. He objects to sentimentality at every turn. But what we say and what is actually true are sometimes different things. Watson can’t read Holmes’ mind (there’s an interesting concept for someone, who isn’t me, to play with sometime maybe), so he can only assume, based on the evidence he’s allowed to see, what Holmes thinks on the subject. And Watson’s maybe not the most observant of people, either, as Holmes himself tells us in “Scandal:”

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”

(Not that adaptations should ever be taken as canon, but the stakeout scene in “The Abominable Bride,” I think, provides an interesting perspective on what Watson knows and what he assumes and how Holmes likely does keep somethings even from his Boswell. Only a man in possession of secrets of his own is ever so well-equipped for digging out those of others, after all.)

Evidence perhaps pointing to Holmes feeling something a bit more than mere admiration for Ms. Adler can be gleaned from the text as well. There’s the already quoted line about having a face men would die for; Watson (the married man), by the way, also comments on her noteworthy beauty, remarking about her superb figure and his guilt at seeing “the beautiful creature against whom I was conspiring.” The most damning evidence, though, comes in the form of Irene’s photograph. When offered any reward he’d like, including the possibility of one of the King of Bohemia’s flashy rings, Holmes turns it all down in favor of the photograph Irene left behind for the King. Seems an odd thing for a man to request the glamor shot of his client’s ex; seems odder for someone who just lost the roommate that was paying half of their rent to turn down actual payment. So, did Holmes have himself a little crush? Or did he just want a tangible memento of the person – the woman – who bested him, possibly as a reminder to never underestimate anyone again?

As for me? I could say I don’t have an opinion one way or the other, but it might sound slightly disingenuous, considering I’m working on a series where a gender-swapped Holmes is in love with her Watson. And yet, I wouldn’t exactly only classify myself as a Holmes and Watson ‘shipper – fandom terminology for one who considers two particular characters to be in a relationship. It would probably be more honest to say I’m flexible on the topic. I can see it either way (and that’s also a perfectly valid approach to the topic, by the way – Holmes’ preferences being flexible, that is). By my way of thinking, Doyle didn’t build that cage, so neither should I. I’ve made one for Charlotte, of course, but even it’s a bit roomier than a single interpretation. Because people are rarely ever entirely stagnant; we move about the spectrum of disinterest to desire depending on the day, or the person in front of us.

I can see it from the Guy Ritchie point of view where Irene and Holmes have past history that went awry but he’s still pining, much as he’d rather pretend he isn’t; the Moffat/Gatiss version, where Holmes is deeply intrigued, possibly attracted, and willing to rush in to save her neck because of his perceived infatuation, also seems similarly valid. But I can also see the pining for Watson in the Ritchie-verse, and the “I’ve always assumed love is a dangerous disadvantage. Thank you for the final proof,” of BBC’s Sherlock, as well as the “sex is just a way to keep the engine running” philosophy of Sherlock in “Elementary.” The Holmes in my head has room to be any of those things, or all of them, if he so chooses. He’s Sherlock bloody Holmes; he’s allowed to be a conundrum.

A few other unrelated items I noted while reading:

• It’s hard to argue that there’s no canon basis for Holmes as a drug addict (and I’ve heard people do it), when you have Watson talking about Holmes “alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition,” and “He was at work again. He had risen out of his drug-created dreams and was hot upon the scent of some new problem.”

• I was complaining last week about men never being scandalized by their indiscretions, and here Doyle has a foreign aristocrat asking for his help to avoid his own indiscretion getting out and being his ruin.

• Who is Mrs. Turner and what has she done with Mrs. Hudson?

• “I had been warned against you months ago. I had been told that if the King employed an agent it would certainly be you.” Anyone else want to know who warned Irene about Holmes?

• Case-dropping: the Trepoff murder in Odessa; the singular tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee; the delicate mission to the reigning family of Holland; the Darlington substitution scandal; the Arnsworth castle business.

The Adventure of the Ignoble Bachelor(s)

I burst into the bathroom with pique enough behind the gesture to send the door slamming into the wall.  The mirror above the vanity shakes at the impact; luck alone keeps it aloft and uncracked.  As I twist the tap to start the flow of tepid water into the basin, I also grab a white cloth from the stack by the sink and wet one corner.  Despite myself, I wince at the first touch of wet cotton to my split knuckles.

Anne is quick on my heels, her small medical kit in hand.  It is better stocked than those kept by mere mortal aunts or landladies.  Anne’s boasts items only a former nurse would consider necessary or know to include.  Her suturing supplies received more than passing use when Mycroft and I were younger.

“I told you to show a bit of restraint, Charlotte,” she says, tugging the cloth from one hand and reaching for the other.   “You don’t know the amount of trouble you likely just caused yourself.  Punching a former Under-Secretary!”

I offer over my abused appendage with a snort.  “The only form of restraint that man deserved involved grabbing the wide end of Sir Robert the Pompous’ cravat and strangling him with – ow!”  I try to pull my hand back from the free-flowing stream of fairly cheap whisky being poured over it, but Anne’s grip on my wrist is tight.  “That stings!”

“Many things have that ability.  Like discovering your new bride already has a husband.  On your wedding day.”  She lifts my hand, turning it this way and that and squinting at it.  “I should have grabbed my glasses.  Does it protest much when you try to move the fingers?”

I gingerly curl and uncurl the digits, wincing slightly.  “Not really.  It hurts, but there’s no structural resistance.”  I look at the bottle as Anne sets it aside and briefly consider a less directly medicinal use for its contents.  Not entirely non-medicinal, really, since the swig I’m tempted to take would be to chase off the pain.  “Hatty Moulton didn’t have many options available to her, you know.  We never do.”

“We?”  The question is accompanied by a raised eyebrow.

“Women.  Sir Robert could bed every woman, of good bearing or ill, from here to Antarctica and no one would fault him for it.  Some would likely praise his virility!  Miss Miller, on the other hand, now branded a harlot and an accused murderess, will have mud slung at her for years for being the other participant in several of those acts that earn Sir Robert kudos from his brethren.  And poor Hatty…”

“…has a husband who seems to have a good head on his shoulders and seems an understanding sort.  He’d have to be, considering he’s equally to blame for it all.  If they’re at all smart, they’ll return to America.”

“Yes,” I say with an exaggerated roll of my eyes.  “Because the Americans are so much more civilized than we are and they never, ever read the newspaper.”

Anne clucks her tongue and shakes her head.  It is her usual response to rantings of this sort.  “It is an unfortunate situation.  I do not envy her position.  Nor can I blame her for it.  I still do not support your need to punch the man.”

“He called me a hysterical woman and suggested several doctors in the area might know the proper treatment for the problems with my ‘disposition,’ before saying I should find a husband to keep me in line.”  I hiss again as she dabs at the two breaks in the skin with the dry end of the cloth in preparation of sticking gauze and a strip of adhesive over the wound.  “Even if he hadn’t, he deserved it for dismissing Hatty out of hand as he did.”

“Well, I can’t exactly say he didn’t earn it.  Perhaps you should learn better how to throw a punch before assaulting a member of the gentry again, though.”  I laugh.  Anne suppresses a smile as she presses on several places surrounding the bandage, where the swelling has already begun.  Then, she gently manipulates each of my fingers, testing their movement and my reaction to it.  I hiss here and there, but the pain is minimal.  Satisfaction at the act that caused the pain itself dulls some of it, perhaps.  “Well, I don’t think anything is broken,” she finally proclaims in relief.  “Doctor Watson may wish to examine them himself to confirm, of course.  Doctors usually do.”

A sound, much like that of someone clearing their throat as discreetly as possible, comes from behind us.  Not in the direction of the door, as one would expect, but from the bath.  “I will gladly take a look if you’d like, Mrs. Hudson, though I’m sure you’ve come to a thorough enough diagnosis.  Can the patient wait, perhaps, until I’m through my soak?”

Anne and I both turn to face the iron monstrosity in the center of the room.  Watson reclines within it, half-submerged and surrounded by gently wafting steam.  The water is remarkably clear, something I note with a shy curiosity.  Feet, legs, arms, chest, all are on display beneath the wavering surface; more interesting views are interrupted by the wooden tray stretched vertically across the middle of the tub, holding a thick medical textbook and a glass of what I presume to be scotch (for non-medicinal purposes, of course).  I am both cursing and glad for the tray’s presence and position.  Some forms of improper curiosity should not be quenched when one’s aunt is in the room, after all.

“I am so sorry,” Anne says, looking away as if the view itself might scald her eyes.  She focuses instead on putting items back into her kit with all the precision of a child tying their shoes in wool mittens tied together at the wrists.  “We didn’t see you there.”

“Were busy otherwise, by the sound of it.”  Watson nods to my hand; I alone see the gesture, since I’m the only one still staring at him.  He, in return, cocks one eyebrow in that silent, slightly amused curiosity he does so well.  “I think we’ll forgive the breech of propriety just this once, given the circumstances.”

“Thank you for being so understanding, Doctor.  Excuse us, please.  Come along, Charlotte.”  Anne heads for the door without looking back, either at Watson or to ensure I’m behind her.  I only maintain the façade of following until I reach the door.  There I stop, closing it silently and leaning against it with a casual air I don’t entirely feel.  I order myself not to blush and expect every blood cell within my body to acquiesce to the demand that they avoid my face at all costs.  Illogical, surely, but I feel secure in the knowledge that I can somehow force body processes to operate as I wish.

Watson rests his elbows on the side of the tub facing my position and leans there, smirking.  “You, my dear Holmes, are a brazen and unrepentant creature.”

“I’m curious that you still manage to sound shocked at all by the fact.  And that you sound infinitely more amused.”  I rest my injured hand in my good one and hold both in front of me in a loose, almost demure clasp.  “If your modesty feels at all violated, I can excuse myself.”

“You should, you know.  I should request you do precisely that.  Your aunt is going to realize you didn’t follow her out and come bashing through that door any second, likely after my head.  Even if I’m innocent in this debauchery.”  His gaze drops to my hand and a frown tugs at the corners of his lips.  “I should take a look at that hand, though.  If you struck him full force with the joints, there might be damage.  Professional integrity above propriety, I suppose.”  He unfolds his arms and rests his hands on the tray instead, prepared to shove it back.  “Turn about, please.  I’d like to try to preserve some of that modesty you just mocked.”

I arch an eyebrow in response, but do as requested so that I face the far less intriguing door.  There is only so much interest one can find in chipped white paint, after all.  Behind me, I hear the shrill scrape of wood across metal as the tray is repositioned, then the slosh of water as, I presume, Watson emerges from it.  My neck begins to crane, driven more by instinct than a conscious choice to peek, and Watson clucks his tongue.

“Eyes front, young lady.”

“You continue to operate under the ridiculous notion that there’s anything at all ladylike about me.  I’m afraid it’s a misinformed assumption, as most assumptions are.”  I hear the dull wet slap of wet skin on dry wood, the shuffle of thin material being unfolded, shaken out; the sound of clothes being pulled into place.    The click of buttons manipulated by long fingers well acquainted with the task – or any delicate task, as a doctor might be.  “One cannot formulate a theory without the requisite facts that support it, and I’ve provided you precious few that point at all towards your chosen presumption.”  Cotton against cotton, the pluck of something drawn tight, like a belt.  A robe?  Likely a robe.  I steal a glance toward the mirror – I should have thought to look there before – and spy enough of an image to confirm my deduction.

“Has anyone ever told you that you ramble incessantly when you’re nervous?”

I make a choked sound just shy of a chuckle.  “Of course not.  Because I don’t ramble and have never been nervous a day in my life.  That’s a silly thing to say.”  Stuttered footsteps herald his approach.  I want to turn around, but a spontaneous paralysis, born of anticipation of the unknown (because it cannot be defined as simple nerves, of course), seems to keep me rooted in place.  I feel his chuckle as an uneven exhale against my nape.

“How silly of me.  Of course I’m mistaken.”  His hand finds my elbow and gives it a gentle tug.  I turn and find myself in the familiar but not unpleasant predicament of being too close – too temptingly close – to John Watson.  A night-clothed John Watson, modesty fully restored by the typical arrangement of pajamas and robe, though I’m acutely aware of how little barrier either of those things truly are.  His skin was still damp when he dressed and material clings just so to him because of it.  He forgot – or simply was too hurried – to fasten the top two buttons, revealing a sliver of bare throat.  “As your personal physician,” he says, his voice little more than a rough whisper, “I think I must first insist on a general examination.”  He clears his throat.  “Of your hand, of course.”

“Of course.”  I withhold the disappointment lingering at the edges of my tone and offer my hand, palm down, instead.  Something in his eyes gives me hope that that particular feeling may be eventually unwarranted.

“Sir Robert took the news badly, I assume?”

“Like a spoiled, petulant toddler.  He’s lucky I only hit him the once.  And that I was unarmed.”

“If you’d had a pistol, his jaw would have been safer.  Your aim with your fists is far superior to your aim with a firearm.”  I try to tug my hand free, intending to demonstrate the skill of that aim he mentioned, but he stills it with a cluck of his tongue.  “It’s always risky punching members of the aristocracy, Holmes.  Their stubborn refusal to believe they aren’t actually superior beings causes an unfortunate thickening of the skull that both prevents contradictory information from being absorbed and makes them painful targets of well-intentioned fists.”

“So, they are hard headed, in layman’s terms, then?”

Watson laughs.  His breath fans my eyelashes.  “Precisely.  Luckily, I believe your aunt is correct.  You came out of the event with your hand in the same number of pieces you went in with.  It may be a bit sore, and there may be some swelling and bruising, but I think fine, in general.  I reserve the right to reassess it in a day or two.”  Without telegraphing a single a hint at his intention, he lifts the aforementioned hand just enough to bring it to his lips and leave a soft kiss on the bandaged knuckles.  His nascent mustache, still a faint copper shell of its former self, tickles my skin.  I draw in a quick breath, intending to use it for a giggle.  Before I can exhale, however, those same lips are on mine and his hand is in my hair.  A desperate hunger lurks at the edges of the kiss, held back by some inhuman restraint I both loathe and wish I possessed.  My free hand curls in the lapel of his robe; the other finds itself crushed between us, as I am similarly crushed between Watson and the door, close enough I can feel his low growl against my chest before I hear it.  My hand is the only thing, save his pajamas and my clothes, between us.  He hasn’t left room for air.  I can only recall once before we’ve ever been so close, and under much different circumstances.  Mowing him down in the hallway on our first meeting does not count in comparison.

A harsh rapping shakes the door at my back; a harsher shriek from beyond it pulls our lips apart.  “Charlotte Elizabeth Holmes!  You come out of there this instant.  I demand it!”

“Coming, Anne,” I say.  Watson chokes on a laugh.  I do not get the joke.  “The doctor is just finishing up his examination.”

“More like just starting it,” he mutters lowly.  His forehead settles against mine.  He’s too close for me to see what might be brewing in those deep blue eyes of his.  “You are a test of my gallant nature, Charlotte, and I do not think it is a test I can pass.”

“Some tests we’re meant to fail.”  I lean up to steal just one more kiss, but the rapping continues, sharper this time.  I smooth my hair in an attempt to make myself presentable instead.  Watson adjusts his robe, which I appear to have rumpled, and steps away to the sink.  When all is as it should be, I open the door.  Anne fills the doorway, her hand raised for another knock and her jaw set at a hard, determined angle.

“I’ve confirmed your diagnosis, Mrs. Hudson.  A paracetamol for the pain, as needed.  Ice will help with the swelling, as will-“

“-a snug wrap.  Yes, doctor, I know.”  Anne glares at Watson in a way I’ve never seen from her before, and I am well-acquainted with her glares.  A more familiar one is turned on me a moment later – the disappointed one – before she takes my elbow in hand and guides me out the door.  “I’m sure I’ve something suitable for the job.  Thank you, Dr. Watson.  Don’t let us keep you any longer from your bath.”  She slams the door sharply behind us.

This time, I think I do hear the mirror crack.

“The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor”, or The Feminism of Sherlock Holmes

In some ways, we aren’t really that different from our Victorian ancestors.  Sure, we have better medical care and hygiene, and travel is definitely more advanced (maybe not more comfortable, though, as anyone who’s flown economy class lately can attest to).  We’ve made some great strides in the realm of social issues in the last hundred-plus years, and have fallen backwards a bit from those strides once or twice.  We’re definitely better off without bustles and corsets, while I mourn the death of hats as an essential part of our daily attire and bemoan the lack of a properly suited gentleman.  There’s just something about a man in a waistcoat, what can I say?

For all the advances we’ve seen, though, one Victorian holdout still exists, and it’s one of the most frustrating of them: the double-standard applied to men and women in regards to, shall we say, “associating” with the opposite sex.  Even after all this time, we’re still a society that will praise a man for his numerous conquests, but tar a woman for exhibiting a little sexual agency.  The word “whore” is still thrown around too casually about any woman who dares dress provocatively, exude confidence while doing so, and refuses to let herself be shamed for it.  A good example of this disparity, and perhaps a glimpse at Doyle’s thoughts on it, can be found in “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor.”

I’m not sure if I’d go as far as the headline of the post and call Doyle or Holmes feminists, but Doyle held some pretty progressive ideas for his time on the topic of women and what society allowed them and required of them.  Some of this comes out in Holmes’ documented treatment of his female clients – and female adversaries.  In “The Five Orange Pips” (which was published after “A Scandal in Bohemia” but falls before it, chronologically, making this statement very timey-wimey), Holmes tells John Openshaw, “I have been beaten four times – three times by men and once by a woman.”   We know he’s speaking about Irene Adler here (even if, chronologically, he doesn’t know he is) and he doesn’t feel the need at all to hide the fact she bested him.  The ding to his ego isn’t bigger because she was a woman.  He doesn’t stumble over the phrase or attempt to hide the fact.  It is what it is.  Also, he conspires to lie to the European Minister on behalf of his wife in “The Second Stain,” in order to keep her secret and shield her from the consequences of actions taken to appease a dirty, rotten blackmailer.  Blackmailers were a virulent pest in the Victorian era, especially for women, who made easy victims.  Scandals could easily “ruin” a woman – destroy her reputation, aversely alter her future prospects, or even get her thrown out onto the streets by embarrassed husbands or relatives, penniless.  We’ll hear more about Holmes’ thoughts on that “profession” when we get to “Charles Augustus Milverton,” but, needless to say, he’s not a fan.

Doyle had clear opinions on another controversial topic of the time – the state of divorce law in England, specifically the disparities between how it treated men versus how it treated women.  Property laws made it very easy for a woman who’d been cast aside to be left absolutely destitute, which was bad enough; thanks to the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, it made it nearly impossible for one to legally separate from an abusive or otherwise undesirable husband.  A little bit of history: up until 1857, divorces were handled by the Ecclesiastical Courts, and they weren’t exactly easy to maneuver through.  People wishing a divorce who planned to get remarried either had to get an annulment – a difficult and lengthy process – or a private bill.  Both options were costly and favored the rich over everyone else.  And petitioners occasionally had to debate the ins and outs (or the lack thereof) in front of the House of Commons, too.

The Matrimonial Causes Act set up a civil divorce court system, which seems like a good thing.  However, it also set out what grounds someone could use to file for divorce.  The disparity came, and Doyle felt the need to pen an entire pamphlet on the topic, because of the differences in what men and could use as cause.  A husband only had to prove that his wife was an adulteress.  A wife had to prove adultery, plus one of the following conditions: desertion, cruelty, incest, bigamy, rape, sodomy, or bestiality.  So, basically, a woman couldn’t divorce her husband just because he beat her, or gambled away all their money and left her and the children begging for bread on the street, or committed unnatural acts with farm animals or his kin; she had to prove he cheated on her and did one of those things.  Doyle was so up in arms over this that, in 1909, he published “Divorce Law Reform,” his very serious thoughts on the topic.  Good ol’ Sir Arthur felt that changes to the law would save countless women “from bondage to cruel men, from the iron which fetter-locks them to the felon, or the hopeless maniac.”

It’s possibly crucial to note here that Doyle wasn’t exactly a saint.  He did fall in love with his second wife, Jean, while still married to his first wife, Mary Louise, also known as Louisa.  However, he stayed with Louisa until her death from tuberculosis in 1906 and was, by all accounts, a good and loyal husband to her.  His relationship with Jean remained purely platonic until Louisa’s death.  He and Jean married the following year.  And, of course, let’s not forget that Doyle also took a public stance against women’s suffrage.  It wasn’t, by the way, that women weren’t smart enough for something as important as voting.  He just thought it might cause “marital disharmony.”  Apparently, women should have the right to divorce an abominable lout, but not to vote for one by Doyle’s reasoning.

So, you might be thinking I’ve gone way off track and wonder how this has anything to do with “The Noble Bachelor.” And while the story doesn’t deal with divorce specifically, it does deal with gender disparity, mainly in the form of the difference in how men and women are perceived for their indiscretions, and it’s an excellent chance to look at perhaps how Doyle feels on the matter, or at least how he presents those feelings in his fiction.  “The Noble Bachelor” is a case that revolves around a rushed, slightly arranged marriage involving a member of the peerage – the fictional Lord Robert Watsingham de Vere St. Simon (there’s a mouthful for you) – to a nouveau riche American mining heiress – Hatty Doran.  A highly publicized, rushed, slightly arranged marriage, as those involving nobles usually are.  Sir Robert might be a bit old for continued bachelorhood, but he’s been busy, y’know, being rich and ridiculously important and carrying on with “a danseuse at Allegro.”  That either means she’s a ballerina or possibly just a professional dancer of the female variety in general, but there is a definite implication, by my reading, of questionable morality surrounding Miss Flora Miller.  Of course, I might’ve just read that in myself.  Either way, our esteemed and noble bachelor has spent “some years” in the acquaintance of a dancer – whether it be pointe or pole – and not much tarnish has gathered on his name because of it.  Men, especially rich and powerful ones, get a pass, to some degree, for such things.

(We know this fact is in no way a secret, by the way, because Watson reads it to Holmes while scouring several newspaper clippings on the exalted nuptials and the disappearing bride that followed.  Someone needs to fire his publicist, maybe.)

Now, compare this nonchalance toward all things sordid to Sir Robert’s reaction to the news that his presumably murdered bride isn’t murdered, or actually his.  When Hatty reveals that she’s accidentally made herself a bigamist – accidental bigamy is apparently a thing – because she didn’t know until after the “I do’s” that her first husband, Frank, wasn’t actually killed in an Indian raid in New Mexico, Sir Robert is more than a little bit of a jerk.  Forgiveness isn’t on his mind; it’s not even in the neighborhood.  He’s too concerned with the public humiliation and how it’s going to affect his father the Duke.  Of course, it’s likely not going to affect them much at all – brief scandal, maybe a week in the papers, and then no one will remember that one time ol’ Robert married an already married woman.  No one cared he was carrying on with Flora Miller for years, it’s likely nobody will care for long about his failed marriage.  Hatty, on the other hand, risked a permanent tarnish to her name coming forward at all after sloppily faking her possible death.   Who knows if her father will disinherit her after the scandal, and whether she and Frank will have any sort of luck on their own.

The difference between how Sir Robert treats Hatty in the aftermath and Holmes’ reaction is night and day.  Holmes shows the young woman – and she is a very young woman, in her early twenties – compassion and understanding and invites her and Frank to join he and Watson for dinner.  (Sir Robert was invited, too, but declined.  Rudely.)  He says to Robert, who he may assume to be a better man than he actually is, “It’s the purest accident.  I cannot allow that there is any humiliation…I fail to see that anyone is to blame.  I can hardly see how the lady could have acted otherwise, though her abrupt method of doing it was undoubtedly to be regretted…You must make allowance for this poor girl, placed in so unprecedented a position.”    Holmes obviously wants to see a bit more chivalry in Sir Robert’s approach to the situation (Spoiler alert – doesn’t happen) and doesn’t see the malice in Hatty’s actions that Robert does.

Of course, he also admonishes Watson for judging Sir Robert too harshly: “perhaps you would not be very generous either, if, after all the trouble of wooing and wedding, you found yourself deprived in an instant of wife and of fortune.”  (Right.  I almost forgot how handy the large dowry of a mining heiress is to a Lord in reportedly less than ideal financial straits.  Another reason for Sir Robert’s pique.)  Holmes also, during the conversation with Robert before Hatty and Frank arrive, suggests he should forgive her misstep, because she did grow up without a mother, after all.  Because a female family member can best teach you how to deal with presumed-dead husbands showing up after you’ve got yourself a new one, I guess.  Overall though, the pictures painted of the newlyweds by Watson (and, thus, Doyle) draw Hatty more favorably than her wronged husband, so while Holmes might spare a little of that compassion for Sir Robert, Doyle, perhaps, does not.

Which makes me give a second thought to the title of the story.  Noble, of course, has a few meanings.  According to Google, as an adjective, it can mean “belonging to a hereditary class with high social or political status; aristocratic,” or “having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals.”  The story definitely showed that Sir Robert possessed the former – the very long name, prefaced with “Lord” kind of made that obvious – but left a lot of doubt, at least for me, whether or not he fit the latter.  And I’m not judging him by his flouncing about with overly jealous dancers, either, though I could.

Of course, in his shoes?  Who knows.  Maybe, like Watson, I’m judging too harshly.  If I am, though, it’s only because the reverse is so often true.  Maybe if women didn’t live under a more narrowly and less flattering microscope than men, I wouldn’t be so bothered by another pompous, privileged jerk tightening the focus again.  What I don’t think I’m misjudging, though, is Holmes’ (and, by extension, Doyle’s) soft spot for women, or Doyle’s (admittedly, slightly flawed in one particular instance) views on the fairer sex.  Which still doesn’t make Holmes (or Doyle) a feminist, per se, but maybe puts him further along the spectrum.


So, for the sake of keeping post lengths somewhat manageable (as this one creeps past 2,000 words), I’ve decided to post discussions and fictional escapades separately.  When I’m on schedule (and this week I’m definitely not), discussion posts will go up on Mondays and The Related Adventures of Charlotte Holmes will appear on Tuesdays.  That way, unless I really go off the rails, there shouldn’t be too many posts nearing the three-thousand-word mark anymore.  Not that anyone has complained (one person actually challenged me to dueling word counts), but it was getting a bit excessive, even for me.  So, Charlotte, Anne, Mycroft, and Watson will be by tomorrow, in whatever combination they decide to show up.

Before the week’s out, I also hope to have some discussion posted about a group of women known as “Holmes on the Range” and the importance of finding your people.  And, also, the benefits of a really good chocolate glaze recipe.

The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips, or “All This Has Happened Before, and All Of It Will Happen Again.”

I wanted to take a minute this week and discuss adaptations and Holmes canon.  That’s because the story for this week, “The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips” has been adapted a few times, most recently making an appearance in the BBC “Sherlock” Christmas special “The Abominable Bride.”  Also, I really wanted an excuse to watch some of the older movies and television series, and this seemed like a wholly justifiable cause.  I recently discovered the availability of tons of Holmes-related things, including the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett and the old Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce films on Hoopla.  I highly recommend finding out if your library subscribes to this service, because it is a fantastic place to access movies, TV shows, audio books, eBooks, music, and comics.  (Amongst my writer-friends, we call it “The Hoopla,” because it is definitely so singular in its awesomeness that it deserves the distinction.)

This topic also gave me a reason to rewatch the Christmas special, which I absolutely adored anyway, and to use a Battlestar Galactica quote in my title.  What?  It worked in my head, anyway.

So, the basic story of “The Five Orange Pips” is an intriguing one.  There’s random, questionably “accidental” deaths, threatening letters coming in the mail, shadowy figures lingering in the dark, and a secret organization behind it all.  It’s also, if you ask me, one of Holmes actual “failures” –  he might figure out the puzzle at the end, but he still loses the client.  Compared to “The Musgrave Ritual” and “The Yellow Face,” this seems to qualify much more for that label.  Interestingly enough, though, Watson doesn’t apply it in his preamble.

John Openshaw arrives at 221B in a definite state of anxiety.  Over the past few years, his uncle Elias and his father have died after receiving strange, anonymous letters in the mail.  Well, letters may be a stretch – they received envelopes that included five orange pips – or seeds – and the letters “K.K.K.” scrawled on the envelope itself.  Uncle Elias, who had spent some time in the States and fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, was found face down in a shallow pond almost 2 months after receiving his letter.  John’s father supposedly tripped and shattered his skull while visiting friends 5 days after receiving his.  Two days before he showed up on Holmes’ doorstep, John had received a letter of his own.

Some “features of interest” to note: Uncle Elias had a single room in his house that John, who had lived with his uncle since not long after Elias’ return to England, didn’t have access to.  A box from this room was taken down and its contents burned not long after Elias received his letter.  Elias had been fond of solitude since returning to England, with bouts of drunken rambling in his fields.  The coroner ruled his death a suicide.  When John’s father, who inherited the estate, received his letter, it included the addition of “put the papers on the sun dial” beneath the menacing acronym.  The first letter was postmarked from Pondicherry, India; the second from Dundee; the third from London.  All three locations are port cities, and that  knowledge, combined with the length of time between the delivery of the warnings and the deaths, makes Holmes and Watson both assume the sender is traveling via ship.  John found a single sheet of paper, likely from the collection Elias had burned, that appeared to be from a ledger; it listed dates, names of people, and things like “set the pips on” and “cleared.”

Holmes recommends that John go straight home, write a note explaining what happened to the papers, stick it in the box, and leave it on the sundial as instructed.  When their client leaves, Holmes fills Watson in on the sordid history of the K.K.K. and its connection to the American South.  They plan to visit John the next day, but discover in the morning that he had an unfortunate accident on his way to the train station the night before and is dead.  Holmes immediately runs out to do what he can about the murderers, and though he solves the case, he doesn’t catch the bad guys, as I’m sure he’d prefer.

I think it’s obvious by now that I am very fond of all things Sherlock Holmes, and the adaptations are no exception.  I saw the Rathbone/Bruce “Hound of the Baskervilles” in my high school junior English class; the same teacher brought in “Young Sherlock Holmes” for us to watch as well.  (This is the same teacher who serenaded me with “Diana” by Paul Anka on a daily basis and paused the Robert Redford “Great Gatsby” to point out to the entire class that the approaching scene related directly to my essay topic, the 1919 Black Sox scandal.  He also talked to his plastic palm tree.  Good ol’ Mr. Macdonald…)  I have 80% of the dialogue of the first Robert Downey, jr./Jude Law “Sherlock Holmes” committed to memory and have been known to slip quotes from it into daily speech, the “shall I list them alphabetically or chronologically” one especially.  I even went to the midnight showing of “Game of Shadows.”  I am all about a good Sherlock adaptation, and adaptations direct from the canon are especially awesome.

(Side note: by the time I added the title, this post had 1,919 words, which I found funny since I made unrelated reference to the 1919 World Series in the above paragraph.  And then I ruined that synergy by adding this note.  Blast!)

The interesting thing about the film and television adaptations of “The Five Orange Pips” is that they mostly tend to pick the same specific bits from the original story to bring in, and the same ones to leave out.  “Sherlock” has played with the story twice, technically: Moriarty used electronic “pips” to announce his calls in the Series One finale “The Great Game,” long before Sir Eustace Carmichael received his warnings of impending death in “The Abominable Bride.”  The orange pips make an appearance in their traditional sense in the special, an omen that indicates, along with two appearances from the aforementioned Bride, that death is coming soon for their recipient.  It’s a death that Holmes fails to prevent, much like in the original story, and there is a callback to the American angle in the form of Sherlock identifying the orange pips as a warning method utilized in the colonies.  By the end of the episode, we know who Sir Eustace’s murderer is; like the story, though, said murderer isn’t brought to justice.  (Unlike the story, the murder itself is being solved inside Sherlock’s drug-addled brain.)

In 1945, Basil Rathbone’s Holmes and Nigel Bruce’s Watson tackled a pip-sending murderer in the contemporary mystery “The House of Fear.”  This case deals with seven bachelors who have left London to live in a Scottish estate – and have their lives taped to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting dead in “Real World: Scottish Highlands Edition.”  (I’m sorry.  I am so, so sorry.)  Actually, it’s never really explained why these people – who include a sea captain, a doctor who was tried and acquitted for his wife’s brutal murder, and the owner of the estate they all live in, to name a few – decided to move in together and form a little club.  Weirder than that, though, was the decision to all alter their insurance policies, making their fellow club members their sole beneficiaries.  But none of that seems weird enough to involve the police with until one of the members receives an envelope with seven orange pips inside it at dinner, and then winds up dead the next day.  It’s the second death (via similar odd circumstances and anonymous message) that leads someone from the insurance company to Baker Street to solicit Holmes and Watson’s help.  Like the story and “The Abominable Bride,” orange pips are used to mark their recipient for death; also like both, Holmes seemingly fails to prevent each successive murder.  That’s actually the only real connection to the original story, and why the movie is considered to be “loosely based” on it.

There was also an episode in season three of “Elementary” that takes on the story (in the show’s usual way of taking on canon), but I haven’t started that season yet, so I haven’t watched that one.  From what I can tell from the summary, it sticks to the same basic rote of the other two adaptations, meaning that it utilizes the pips (called “Pipz” in this instance) and them being sent to people before they’re murdered, but leaving the rest of the basics alone.  The Granada series, staring Jeremy Brett as Holmes, never got around to giving us their take on the story, because Brett died before they finished the canon.

So, why do all these existing adaptions make use only of the narrative device – the pips – and their basic premise – harbingers of impending death – and leave the rest of the twists alone?  It’s probably an easy question to answer for “Sherlock” – Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss never take the canon word for word or step for step in their approach.  They always find a way to twist it, and usually a way to twist bits of multiple stories together – like taking  “Richoletti of the club-foot and his abominable wife” from “The Musgrave Ritual” and adding the character of Sir Eustace (the title and first name of a character in “Abbey Grange”) to the broad strokes of “The Five Orange Pips.”  “House of Fear,” though, goes way off script, and neither of them touch the connection to the Ku Klux Klan at all.  There are probably a couple of reasons for this.  It’s an aspect very weighted, culturally, particularly for American audiences that have grown up with either the history of the organization or direct exposure to it.  Doyle also spouts some sketchy history about the Klan – he gets the dates of creation and the first-wave dissolution right, but the meaning behind the name horribly wrong – that adaptors might not want to have to deal with.  Of course, he’s separated from the subject matter by an ocean and a couple decades at the time he’s writing the story, so it might be forgivable that his facts weren’t exactly straight.

Maybe the easiest answer, though, is that the pips themselves, more than the source of their terror, is what intrigues people.  They can be utilized by whomever, wherever, for whatever reason.  They are an utterly innocuous item that, without context, on first glance, holds no malicious meaning.  It’s not until the first recipient bites it that the next starts to think there’s something up.  That makes those dried out little seeds very handy vessels.  Plus, let’s be honest: you can get them anywhere.  They’re a very cheap device, and they come in such a yummy packaging, too.  Death threat and afternoon snack all in one.

(That comment is by no means a recommendation; no one is condoning sending orange seeds to your enemies for any purpose at all, especially not as a threat of murder.  I do recommend oranges as a tasty, healthy snack option, however.  – Mgmt)


This week’s fiction installment features the Holmes siblings, because I really do enjoy them, and because I’ve spent so little time actually having them interact directly on the page.  Mycroft is an unseen specter in the first book, really – he’s mentioned in passing, usually sending telegrams to his sister from afar – and a bit combative in the second (he has his reasons, of course).  They have their little sibling moments, but nowhere near enough.  Plus, I’m just very fond of Charlotte’s mysterious (slightly) older brother.

 The Orange Conundrum


“I think,” Mycroft says as he sips from a steaming cup of coffee, “that I have a puzzle that may prove to stump you.”  He sits across from me, my brother; fresh from the train and buried three deep in plates heaped upon him by Anne.  I can barely see the top of the kitchen table for the food she’s set out.  He’s been back in London just an hour; at his appointed seat all of half that.  His journey has left him as rumpled as his suit.  His hair sticks up in random tufts designed by his head’s placement on the back of his seat.  A day’s worth of beard mottles his cheeks and chin.  Weariness lingers in his expression like a gauzy curtain – the warmth of his eyes has been replaced by a tepid dullness remniscient of weak tea.  I’ve lost count of the number of times his eyes have drooped  or he’s jerked in his chair as if waking himself from a doze.

I doubt the coffee will do much in regards to any of it.  Only a good night’s rest in a stationary, horizontal bed will fix this.

I laugh and steal a biscuit from the desert plate nearest to me.  “Not on your best day, brother-mine,” I say, the challenge ending in a yelp as Anne raps my knuckles.  “Well, you’re not giving me any of my own.  All I have left to me is to steal from his or starve!”

“You haven’t been without a decent warm meal these last six months.  I swear he’s lost half himself.”  As Anne says it, she whisks away an empty plate and sets another, this one full of thinly sliced roast with gravy and potatoes, in its place.  “Eat up, dear boy, before you fall asleep in your plate.”

“Yes.  Be kind to me, Charlotte.  I’m fragile, you see.  I’ve been away.”

“On extended holiday.  That’s hardly war service.”  The moment Anne’s back is turned, I pluck a piece of meat from Mycroft’s plate and take a smug bite of it.  “So, tell me about this impossible puzzle of yours.”

“Ah, yes, the puzzle.”  He picks up his fork and spears a slice of beef himself, then nods at it with both eyebrows raised.  This is a fork, the look says.  It is used by civilized people to eat with, being the unspoken implication of it.  “A man is found dead without any apparent outward hallmarks to suggest the cause.  How, then, is an orange responsible for his condition, with the understanding that choking, poisioning, and an easily offended constitution are not involved?”

I chew at the beef, and at the question, in silence.  A man found dead with no visible indication of means, and the method somehow involving an orange, though the consumption of it is unrelated.  “Was he somehow struck with it at such high velocity that it caused a massive internal injury?”

“No.  I believe that would have left some outward manifestation noticed by the officials on the scene.”

“Did the orange cause an accident of some sort?”  I pick up a roll from the basket, using the round piece of bread as a stand-in.  “Rolled in ftont of his carriage and threw off a wheel?  Or made his horse lurch?  Send him tripping down some stairs?  Oh!  Did he trip over it and fall into a river and drown?”

Anne clucks her tongue as she rinses off a dish.  “I wish you wouldn’t encourage her so.  It’s obscene.”

Mycroft shakes his head.  His chuckle momentarily interferes with his ability to chew. “All quite good guesses, but still far from the mark.” After a good swallow of coffee, he sets his fork aside and pushes back from the table.  “I think I may have to delay the rest of this feast to a later time, Aunt.  If I don’t sleep soon, I might trip into this gravy and drown there.”

“I’m sure your sister and Doctor Watson will appreciate any of the leftovers likely to go bad before you’ve time to finish them,” Anne says, coming around the table to kiss Mycroft’s cheek.  “Find your razor when you’re rested, hmm?  You look a shambles when you’re scraggly.”

“No, wait,” I say, rising myself as Mycroft does.  “You can’t run off yet.  We’re not done with the puzzle.  How does an orange kill a man if none of those possibilities are right?”

“I’ll let you off the hook this time,” he says.  He stoops by his satchel and pulls a book from among a collection of half-crinkled papers.  As he hands it to me with one hand, his other makes a quick muss of my hair.”Read up on your American secret societies in that, paying particular notice to the use of orange pips.  And then read recent studies on fear’s role in apoplexy. That might provide an answer.  Enjoy your present!”

Anne sighs.  “He really shouldn’t encourage you,” she says, looking at the mess strewn over her kitchen, then the book in my hands.  “At least it’s more useful than the tobacco you asked for.”

The Adventure of the Crooked Man, or That One Time Holmes Showed Up on Watson’s Door at 11:30 At Night Because He Missed His BFF

I’ve been feeling progressively ickier since I got back from Wizard World St. Louis last weekend (where I got to meet Matt Smith!  That’s vaguely relevant here, considering he’s the perfect physical manifestation of my Mycroft, as previously mentioned.  David Tennant also walked within a foot of me and I got to see Billie Piper from afar.  It was all lovely).  Feeling kind of congested, my stomach’s not exactly happy, and there’s a general, overwhelming sense of exhaustion and  blah. I’m hoping this is the extent of whatever this plague that’s settling in is and it will burn itself out quickly.  I’ve had my epic crud of the year already.  It happened in December and ended with pneumonia.  I’m done.  Did you hear me, Universe?  Done!

Anyway, that is mostly the reason this week’s blog post is late (and is almost at risk of being next week’s blog post).  The portion that I usually call the “thinky” part – the discussion of the week’s story – has been done in a notebook for a few days.  It just takes energy to sit down at my computer and type it out.  The accompanying story has also been a little lax in churning itself out.  That’s been less about me feeling icky and more me waffling on decisions relative to the prequels here on the blog and events in the first book in the series.   I think I’ve mostly worked those out with a little help from my friends.  Ask me tomorrow, my mind might have changed, though.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled, if not very late, blog post.


Welcome to week ten!  We’re in double digits now, and technically 19% of the way through this lovely challenge.  Or, if you go by number of stories instead of weeks, we’re actually 18% done.  Either way, we’re chugging along pretty steadily.

I am going to spare everyone listening to me rant again about continuity (and I could; there are issues, damn it!) and just dive right into something I think is a little more interesting and less likely to make my brain throb: the potential co-dependency of our favorite Victorian gentlemen.  Actually, co-dependency may be too strong a word, or too loaded with unpleasant context.  Canon Holmes isn’t exactly doing everything he can to interfere with Watson’s plan to move out or propose to his beloved, nor does he crash their honeymoon, like the Robert Downey Jr. version, but there is definitely the potential for a dependence of a sort there.

Here’s a question for you to ponder while we discuss “The Adventure of the Crooked Man” this week: can Sherlock Holmes, the unflappable and incomparable world’s only consulting detective, really exist without the presence of John Watson?  Sure, he manages to solve crimes before he and the good doctor meet.  Is known and utilized by Scotland Yard already in A Study in Scarlet, in fact.  But would he have become the man who tumbles over a waterfall with Moriarty, who prevents multiple international incidents, and solves a case that flummoxes the law enforcement departments of three different countries without the influence of his friend and biographer?  Or would he have stayed shut up in 221B, solving cases from his couch via consultation without actually diving fully into the world, as he seems to have been doing, mostly, at the time he and Watson meet?  Is Holmes really Holmes without Watson?

We could base our answer on Holmes’ own behavior, I suppose, circa  “The Crooked Man.”  In this story, Holmes seeks out Watson while in the midst of a case he seems to be having difficulty cracking on his own.  He shows up on Watson’s doorstep late one evening, seeking his friend’s counsel in the guise of borrowing his spare room for the night.  Watson of course doesn’t spare a thought to asking his (interestingly nameless) wife if she minds his odd friend crashing with them for the evening, or even letting her know they’ve got company at all.  Instead, he invites Holmes in, offers him a pipe, and grants him use of their guest room without a second thought.

(Let’s pause for a moment and ponder what it would be like to wake up to an unexpected Sherlock Holmes puttering about.  Discovering an extra person in your house you didn’t know about it startling enough, but Unexpected Sherlock must be quite the experience, especially pre-coffee.  Degree of shock might be dependent on which Sherlock it is, I suppose.  Robert Downey Jr’s version would likely be experimenting on the dog.  Jonny Lee Miller’s might be escorting a hooker out.  Jeremy Brett’s might be making tea.  Benedict Cumberbatch’s…sorry, I was just distracted by the thought of waking up to find Benedict Cumberbatch in my house.  We should move on from there.)

Once Holmes settles in, Watson waits for him to get to the real reason for stopping by at half to midnight.  As expected, there is a case, and while he doesn’t specifically come out and say “Help me, Obi-Watson Kenobi, you’re my only hope,” Holmes does sort of elude to it, if random and unrelated compliments to Watson’s artful skill at unraveling his mysteries and knowing what to reveal and when counts.  And then he asks the doctor if he wouldn’t mind tagging along the next day while Holmes sees a man about a late night conversation with a recent widow.  “If you could accompany me in that last step you might be of considerable service to me,” is how he puts it.

Simpler than recording a highly quotable message and hiding it in a droid, for sure.

The puzzle he’s flummoxed with and relates to Watson beneath a dual cloud of Arcadia tobacco smoke is a simple one for all that it has Holmes at a loss.  Colonel James Barclay and his wife, Nancy, have uncharacteristically fought.  The Colonel ended the altercation as a corpse.  Nancy, who fainted and has yet to regain consciousness, is the prime suspect in the death, as she was the only one who had access to her husband at the time of his death.  See, they were carrying on in a room that locked from the inside and had no other door.  The Colonel has a history of  a temper (that he’s never directed at his wife) and Nancy is less demonstrative in her affection towards her now late husband, but other than that, their marriage had seemed to be a happy and content one.  Until one of them ended up dead, of course.

There are a few “features of interest,” however, that take the case from open and shut to curious.  In their thirty years of marriage, the couple has never been known to fight like they did that night.  That they did is an anomaly, as is the fact Nancy Barclay came home from a charity meeting in an agitated state and sought her husband out for the fight.  Also, Holmes discovers two sets of footprints outside a window left open in the room, only one of them human.  The other Holmes is unable to identify, though “animal” seems to be a safe bet.  House staff told police that they overheard Mrs. Barclay shout “David” at one point in the conversation but have no idea who David would be.  Holmes manages to get the neighbor Nancy was out with that night to admit to the fact they ran into a disfigured man on the road on the way home who recognized Mrs. Barclay and pulled her aside for an upsetting conversation that precipitated her agitated state.  Holmes is sure a conversation with this unnamed stranger will shine a light on everything.  This is who he wants Watson to accompany him to see the next day.

So let’s think about this a second.  Is Holmes really that perplexed by the case?  He has the usual collection of data in need of being sorted into an order that illuminates the facts.  He even has the source of the final clue – one of his Irregulars has found the man and is surveilling him until Holmes can come and interrogate him in the morning.  The solution to the whole puzzle is likely a single conversation away.  So why does he need Watson?  It’s not for concerns for his own safety – Holmes has wandered, and will continue to wander, into much more dangerous situations alone.  He also has backup on hand in the form of the friend of Colonel Barclay’s that hired him and the Irregular standing by if he’s truly worried.  He’s not asking Watson to look at the body or participate in the coroner’s inquest or even go to the scene of the crime.  He’s not in need of Watson’s medical opinion or his gun at all.

What he is in need of, though, is something much simpler, so simple it doesn’t even take Sherlock bloody Holmes to solve it: he needs his friend.  His best mate.  His partner-in-crime solving.  It’s not that Holmes is incapable of being Holmes without Watson; he’d just rather not be if he doesn’t have to be.  He can still solve the case, right the wrongs, and save the day on his own and likely does on a frequent basis that Watson never tells us about because he’s not there.  That doesn’t mean he enjoys that scenario, though.  Who among us wouldn’t much rather have our good friend along with us on an interesting adventure?  Or even just a mildly intriguing night out?  Watson’s absence doesn’t stop Holmes from being Holmes, but it’s obviously more fun if he’s along.  As we know, Holmes needs an audience after all.

A tinge of narcissism instead of co-dependency, then.

Of course, Watson doesn’t exactly play hard to get, does he?  Just like Martin Freeman’s Watson, who has seen so much death and torment and horror in war, but jumps at the offer to see a bit more with an enthusiastic “Yes, please,” canon Watson is in need of the thrill that comes with being along for the ride.  No matter how much he adores his quiet practice and his quaint home and his domestic bliss, there is still part of him that misses running out into the night with Sherlock Holmes, seeking curious adventure.  Watson obviously needs Holmes, too.  And that’s the answer to the question posed earlier.  No, they aren’t co-dependent.  Life is just more fun when they’re running into insanity together.

I made a couple other notes while reading “The Crooked Man” as well, about things like the fact Watson never uses his wife’s name (“my wife” is his general choice, and convenient for a writer whose continuity makes people wonder how many times your narrator has been married) and the “David” red herring also mentioned before.  That gets a last minute, fairly hand-wavy solution at the tail end of the story and I’m not really sure if I believe that’s where Doyle originally intended it to go.  The answer it gets sounds very much like “Damn!  I forgot to tie up that loose end, here’s a biblical reference I can explain it away with and no one will be the wiser.”  I think I’ll save diving too deep into David for a later story, though.  And we’ll hand-wave the “my wife” business away with Watson’s era-appropriate misogyny.  If Mrs. Hudson can’t even get a speaking role (shout out to “The Abominable Bride”), it’s no surprise Watson can’t remember his wife’s name.  Or possibly how many he’s had.

It’s really best to leave it that way.  I can’t rant about continuity anymore.  My poor brain can’t take it.


I am fully aware that having characters dive into deep and meaningful relationship conversations during moments of danger has become a bit cliche anymore.  I stand by this not being so, however, because there is no actual direct danger involved, and I’m slightly harking back to a moment in the aforementioned “Abominable Bride” with this setup, and if Moffat can do it, it must still be okay.

The Adventure of the Limping Man

“I think next time we should definitely take your aunt up on her offer of a thermos of tea,” Watson says, crouched as he is beside me behind an abandoned cart, watching the dosshouse across the street.  We’ve been at it for a good three hours at this point.  It’s cold, dark, and a noticeable dampness lingers in the air that must be generally unpleasant for the poor doctor.  I’m aware of the potential for his discomfort; I’m possibly vaguely disinterested in it.  It’s not a trait I’m proud of, that sense of vindictive glee that comes when someone that’s hurt me finds themselves inconvenienced, but I’ve never claimed ever to be an entirely good person.

I rub my hands together, despite my gloves, and nod.  “Perhaps.  I certainly wouldn’t mind something assisting with the thaw.”

“We’re absolutely sure the man in question will return here this evening?”

“He does every other night, so I’m not sure why he’d skip this one.  It’s not my fault criminals are an inconvenient breed, Watson.  Take your complaint up with their union representative.”

Watson snorts.  Under warmer circumstances – meteorologically and personally –  it may have been a laugh.  “There’s a thought.  Criminals organizing and applying for membership in the Trades Union Congress.”  He shifts in place, taking weight off one leg, letting it settle onto the other.  “We could have passed this tip along to the Yard, you know.  Let them handle it.”

I snort in response, and not because it’s too cold to manage a laugh.  “I’m not doing all the work, then letting them revel in the payoff.  They get to claim all the credit as it is.  I’m not going to let them have all the fun, too.”

“Only you would find waiting outside the decrepit abode of a purported murderer fun, Holmes.”

It’s been the basis of part of the current argument for the past three days – my unladylike glee at the case at hand.  I’ve never had the opportunity to look into an actual murder before and my excitement was perhaps a tad unseemly.  “Indecent,” as Anne put it.  Watson may have settled for “insane.”  I only became involved because a friend of the accused sought me out after the gentlemen of the Yard refused to listen to her assurances that Mrs. Barclay couldn’t have possibly killed her husband.  How could I refuse to help potentially free an innocent woman?  Is that really indecent or insane?

Half of Watson’s insistence of the questionability of my sanity laid in the danger of the situation, but that came about later.

“You could have excused yourself from the proceedings.  Still can, in fact.”

“And leave you alone to take on a murderer?  I stand by my earlier declaration.”

I gesture down the road to another similar cart where a pair of neighborhood roustabouts I’ve placed on my payroll wait and watch as well.  “You know as well as I that I’ve backup near at hand.  Should be enough to absolve you of your perceived responsibility.”

“Perceived responsib…”  Watson’s words sputter to a stop and he stares at me with wide, incongruous eyes.  I only see the expression because of the faint gaslight fighting to shine through the soot-encrusted globe overhead.  “I swear to God, Holmes, you are the most infuriating woman I’ve ever known.”

“Then you haven’t known nearly enough women.  Mycroft says I’m bested by at least two.”

“Mycroft has a much different perspective, I’m sure, coming at it as your brother instead of your…”

My head cants at a sharp angle and my attention wholly leaves the building ahead for the first time all evening.  “Instead of my what?  Physician?  This falls outside your purview in that capacity.  Flat mate?  Still not a responsibility indicative therein.  And you’ve chosen to refuse any other potential titles, so I’m not sure why you chose to care.”

Watson shifts noisily in place, not to free up one leg or the other, but so that he’s facing me squarely.  I feel the well-known shape of his revolver bite into my left shoulder as his hands take up position on both without thought of setting the gun aside first.  “You truly are a little idiot sometimes, Charlotte.”  I’m not expecting the kiss.  It lacks the shy clumsiness of mine that evening in his office, the halting timidity of a first, unrehearsed kiss.  His lips are cold and taste of late winter’s chill; this kiss itself is scorching.  I honestly think I feel weak flame licking through my veins.  Who needs tea to thaw themselves out when they can rely on heat like this?

He pulls back too soon, just far enough his forehead can rest heavily against mine.  His breath fans my cheek and chases off the cold there, too.  “I didn’t refuse anything.  I only wondered why I deserved to be considered at all, and whether you really had any idea what you were really after.”

I chuckle.  I’m still ignoring his gun.  (That is in no way meant as euphemism or metaphor.)  “I have read a book or two on the subject, you know.  Well aware how human anatomy and biology tend to work.”  Watson chuckles, too.  His empty hand reaches up to brush hair from my cheek.

“I’m not sure I want to know what books you’ve been reading.  Or maybe I should ask so I’ve an idea what’s floating about in that head of yours.”  I open my mouth to answer, but the sound of a bird call draws both our attention.  Ahead, the man Mrs. Barclay’s neighbors had seen fleeing the house the night of the murder, shuffling limp and all, approaches the dosshouse.  “We’ll have to discuss your knowledge of anatomy later, I’m afraid, Holmes.  More your knowledge of criminals that’s needed at the moment.”

I nod, a reluctant bob of my head, and pull myself together as best I can. With another  nod as signal, we both rise from behind the cart.  “Henry Wood!  Your presence is requested at a discussion about your whereabouts the night of Colonel James Barclay’s murder!”  As Wood turns to sprint as best he can in the opposite direction, our friends down the street leap out to detain him.  I clasp my hands giddily behind my back as I stride across the street to join them.

A most productive night all around, I decide.

A Case 0f Identities – Mycroft

And now, back to  our story, already in progress.  As the tale continues to unfold, Mycroft Holmes finds himself wondering if the woman he found in the alley isn’t who he thought she was at all.

If a little harmless accidental fanfiction isn’t your cuppa, just remember what South Park taught us.

Act Two – Mycroft

“Stop, you ridiculous woman.” Mycroft Holmes digs his heels into the packed dirt of the roadway and jerks hard against his sister’s tug. “What part of ‘stay home and keep out of trouble for once in your bloody life’ failed to make sense to you?”

Charlotte rebounds at the sudden counter-movement and almost loses her footing. She spins on him, glaring. Something is strangely not right about that glare. Not Charlotte, and he’s seen her glare enough in their lives to recognize it distinctly. “Don’t know why you tell me not t’run off so much when you’re the one who goes runnin’ around like an idiot. An unsupervised one at that. What part of ‘we’re a team’ don’t you get?” She tugs at his arm again. This time, he holds fast; this time, he keeps a grip of her arm as well. “Come on, Doctor! We’ve got to-“

“That’s it.” Mycroft scans both sides of the street, trying to find a spot that looks less questionable or unsanitary than the others. Seeing the awning of a boarded up storefront, he puts what few pounds he has over his sister to good use dragging her toward it. “We’re not going anywhere until we get a few things straight, you and I. Like who I am. Who you think I am, anyway.”

For the second time, the woman wearing Charlotte’s face looks at him in a way that is similar to his sister but not her at all. She blinks up at him in irritated confusion; Charlotte rarely looks confused, even if she is. Her pride doesn’t allow for such things. “You’re the Doctor.”

“Yes, you keep calling me that. What’s my name?”

“That is your name. Only one you’ve ever given me, anyway. Oh, wait. You’ve used John Smith before, too, come to think of it. But only if you have to. M’convinced you got stuck with somethin’ really bad, like Humperdink maybe. S’why you stick with ‘the Doctor.’”

He shakes his head. The act is meant to shake off the insanity as much as to negate the comment. “My name isn’t Humperdink. Or ‘the Doctor’. It’s Mycroft. Mycroft Holmes. And you’re-“

“Wow. Even worse than I thought.” She pauses, then, and looks up at him. “Wait, like from the book?”

“No, like from our parents.” It’s his turn to stop and blink. “What book?”

“You know, ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.’ Come on, I know you’ve read ‘em. You did the Sherlock impression last week! Wait…” She turns him so his face is caught in the brief break of gaslight filtering across the street. “Did you say ‘our parents’?”

“Did you say ‘Sherlock’ Holmes?” A scream echoed down the narrow, dark corridor of the street. It sounded familiar. It sounded, current visual evidence be damned, like Charlotte. “I think this explanation will have to wait. Come on!”