So, I had a terrible realization when I got to the end of “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge:” I had no idea what to say about the story. It’s not that the story’s uninteresting – it’s got disappearing people and foreign nationals and hidden organized crime bosses, after all; hard to be dull with all that on board – it just didn’t leave much of an impression. I can’t even really tell you why it didn’t. I could blame the fact I’ve been at this for almost seven months and have burned through most – but not all – of my favorite stories. Or it’s just August and all the baggage that goes with the month now. Or, maybe it’s a post-“Final Problem”/pre-“Empty House” malaise. Who knows?
No, wait. I know exactly what it is. It’s something eluded to in Sherlock Peoria’s Chronology Corner’s defense of where they placed “Wisteria Lodge” in their timeline. In case you haven’t gone there to check recently (like I haven’t, since I decided awhile back to ignore continuity, since Doyle already had), this story and “The Adventure of the Three Gables” are tucked in during the time when Holmes is presumed dead and is roaming Asia in search of enlightenment/the rest of Moriarty’s crime syndicate. His theory? Watson’s gone a little mad in the wake of his friend’s death, compounded by his wife’s potential ill health and the fact 221B is being kept up precisely as Holmes left it. So, he’s running about, trying to continue Holmes’ good work, and maybe imagining that his dear comrade is still with him, participating in the investigations. The chronologist’s logic?
Watson cracked. In Watson’s mind, Holmes was with him during the investigation of “Wisteria Lodge.” (And a couple of Chronology Corners from now, we’ll see that Holmes wasn’t the only person in the story whose presence was a Watsonian delusion.) It explains why [Inspector] Baynes seems to be doing all the work in this case, and Holmes’s peculiar distance from it … he was, in fact, very, very distant from it altogether. (For those of you who hate to see poor Watson gone temporarily insane, call it an astral projection from the real Holmes who was meditating in Tibet. That works, too.)
Before you start typing out your three-page response about why Watson is not insane or delusional – I know. I’m not flying a flag for team “Watson’s Gone Mad” here. I’m also not discounting that grief can mess a person up enough to do all sorts of uncharacteristic and outwardly insane things. But what our chronologist sees as potential proof of his theory is exactly why this story is so blah to me – Holmes isn’t really Holmes in it. At all.
Sure, he’s still there, making deductions, solving the puzzle, etc., but it’s a very nebulous sort of involvement from someone who is usually anything but. It’s like his heart isn’t really in it. He’s seriously phoning it in here. Baynes, who is described as a fairly competent Yardie, sure, manages to figure out the solution largely on his own – and even comes to a couple of the conclusions before Holmes does. Yes, I bolded AND underlined that statement because when does that ever happen? This story (and the one following it, but we’ll get there when we get there), that’s when.
Listen – I think we’re pretty clear at this point that I am a John Watson fangirl to my core, but when I’m reading a Sherlock Holmes story, I’m doing so to experience the brilliance of Sherlock Holmes, filtered through the fond and forgiving eyes of his trusted sidekick partner though it may be. “Wisteria Lodge” feels more like Holmes is one of the “also starring’s”, not the main attraction. And while I’m sure Baynes is a lovely fellow and spends his spare time saving kittens from trees and helping old ladies across the street, he isn’t the marquee name here. He’s sure doing the star’s share of the work, though.
If we’re discounting Watsonian delirium (and following a more traditional Baring-Gould timetable), what else causes Holmes to play passenger for this three-hour cruise? Well, here are a few possibilities, in no particular order and with no assurance of plausibility:
- Possible Explanation for Holmesian Disinterest #1: He could be sick. He’s essentially self-employed and this is the era before the NHS was established, so he can’t exactly always afford to pass on a case just for a sick day. (Watson can’t just keep providing him free medical care, either. Doctors have to make a living, too, plus he’s got a wife and household staff of his own to take care of now.) Maybe Mrs. Hudson raised the rent because he’s being shooting holes in the plaster again. Watson picked a bad batch of ponies. For whatever reason, a paying client is more important than spending a few days on the couch recovering from the croup.
- Possible Explanation for Holmesian Disinterest #2: We know he takes on more than one case at a time, right? Takes them on back-to-back without a lot of rest in between? At this point in his career, he’s being invited to consult on international matters and traveling all over Europe to do it. Maybe the poor guy is just exhausted. I’m exhausted just thinking about how busy that man potentially is. At some point, you know his brain just says “Yeah, see, we’re done. We’re just going to sit back and watch somebody else figure this all out for a while, thanks.”
- Possible Explanation for Holmesian Disinterest #3: He’s just bored. Sherlock Holmes has gotten to the point where dead bodies and disappearing servants just don’t blow up his skirt anymore. Might be a sign he needs a vacation. Take a few months off, Holmes; maybe death and mayhem will excite you like it used to again.
- Possible Explanation for Holmesian Disinterest #4: It’s an imposter! Holmes has been briefly replaced by a doppleganger and his performance in this case is what allows Watson to figure it out and rescue the real Holmes from whatever dark corner in which his replacement stored him. See also, potential (but impossible) secret twin. Why impossible, you say?
- Possible Explanation for Holmesian Disinterest #5: Possibly the most far-fetched one (because dopplegangers and secret twins is highly plausible, of course), but my imagination won’t let me leave it off – Holmes is a ghost. The only one who can see him is Watson, who is then relaying the observations to the others. Others who just accept that Holmes is really there in a non-corporeal form and it’s not just Watson being insane.
- Possible Explanation for Holmesian Disinterest #6: It’s only fair to follow the most far-fetched possibility with the most likely one – the writer was bored/sick/exhausted (but probably not a ghost or a pod person/secret twin). Doyle may have been having an off day – or week, or month – and it came out in his work. We already know he wasn’t overly fond of his creation; Frankenstein may have had more care for his monster than Doyle did at various points in his career, lets be honest. But, there are still bills to pay and the primary way for a writer to pay those bills then, as is still true now, is to write.
Whatever explanation you decide to claim for you head canon – I kind of like the ghost one, for the record, and might store that away for later mischief – hang on to it, because you might want to dust it off again for next week.