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Stutley Constable

The title sums up what this thread is about. Here members will decide on what story or novel to read as a group and discuss the selected piece, making observations, offering opinions and asking questions as we go along. The first story we will read is 'A Study in Scarlet', but we will not be confined to the canon works. There are many good stories out there written by various authors and I certainly have not read them all. If enough people can find copies, I would like to discuss 'Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula' by Loren Estleman, perhaps in October. It would be seasonal reading.

As I said, the first story on our list will be 'A Study in Scarlet'. Feel free to make entries on this thread as you progress. When we have finished, we'll decide on the next story for discussion.

Happy reading!

Edit: Forgot to add this link which will take you to the stories online: www dot sherlockian dot net/canon/index dot html

You might also wish to further explore sherlockian dot net. They have links to FanFiction stories, including one written by Garonne.

3/26/2016 . Edited 3/26/2016 #1
mrspencil

Thank you for this, Stutley:-) I only read a Study in Scarlet for the first time about 5 years ago...though had read many of the others a long time before...will dig out my copy:-)

3/26/2016 #2
Madam'zelleG
My copy has been located from the hardcover Holmes collection my mum gave me for Christmas. So excited!
3/26/2016 #3
mrspencil

OK, then...A study in Scarlet. No idea how we are getting started with discussion, so...a few comments

Oddly, this has coincided with my reading this tale for a 60 word challenge community...there is always something new to find...a different angle on the tale.

First, I wish to recommend a fic on this site called "on Afghanistan's plains" written by Pompey.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/4029558/1/On-Afghanistan-s-Plains

Lots of research and historical detail is evident in this...it covers Watson's journey from the battle of Maiwand to London

Second, I wonder if ACDoyle had any idea that these characters would take off, when he wrote this?

Third...the fortuitous first meeting of Holmes and Watson is so well set out...a lot is learned about the pair in relatively few paragraphs, and leaves the reader wanting to know more...always impresses me.

Any thoughts?

4/3/2016 #4
Stutley Constable

Pleased I am that you are killing two birds with one stone, MrsP. Always a good thing, I think. And if you don't mind, why not pop over to the story recommendations thread and add 'On Afghanistan's Plains' there also? Others who are not participating in this group read might enjoy it.

As for whether Sir Arthur had any idea if his characters would take off or not, I doubt it. I think he hoped they would. And in that hope he prepared for the possibility. I also think he did what we do, that is, he wrote stories he would like to read. I think if you do not enjoy your own work it will show pretty clearly to anyone who reads it. I think he was as intrigued by Holmes as Watson was and he wanted to get to know him better. I also think Sir Arthur took a liking to Watson the same way Holmes did. After all, he didn't know either of them very well at the time he wrote STUD.

The thing that impressed me the first time I read this tale still stands out. I have to wonder if Sir Arthur knew any men who had suffered enteric fever. Watson's shoulder wound begins to heal up and the poor man falls victim to the fever that ruins his health to the point he is sent back to England as soon as he is well enough to travel. The bullet did serious damage, but the fever ended his military career before it even got started.

I also note a couple of false starts in the first chapter. Watson says his health was ruined beyond recovery and yet in later adventures with Holmes he is seen to run across lawns or fight with criminals. And then there is his bull pup. What ever became of the little cur I wonder?

4/3/2016 #5
Westron Wynde

Hey, this is a great idea :)

Re: Did ACD know it would take off? I'm sure he hoped it would; which writer doesn't? Certainly he had his fair share of refusals - I particularly like the one from the publisher who said they found STUD "both too long and too short". In terms of criticism, where you do go with something like that?

On the plus side, he had picked the right angle by creating a private detective rather than using a police inspector as the hero of the piece - middle class where police detectives were invariably working class and viewed with contempt and suspicion by the middle and upper classes; an individual unemcumbered by rules, regulations or family; tapping into a long history of having private individuals solve crimes rather than an official forces; an educated man with scientific understanding in an age where police detectives were perceived (sometimes rightly - I don't say this unkindly, it was the reality) as being just literate enough to fill out forms and sign their names.

Add to that ACD's drive, intelligence and business acumen in creating short stories for his detective rather than relying on long stories (like Dickens, an installment every week kept the public coming back for more); a craving by the public - many of whom never had contact with real-life detectives other than through the medium of the press or fiction - to know more about the life of the detective; and a case of being in the right place at the right time, and thus Sherlock Holmes experienced a meteoric rise. Police detectives hated him, but that's another story.

The social history of detective fiction is fascinating (well, I think so!).

Re: enteric/typhoid fever - fairly common and often lethal in an age before antibiotics. It's said to be the fever ACD had in 1881 when on board the steamer, 'Mayumba'. If that's true - and ACD doesn't state specifically that enteric fever is what he had - then he had experience of the disease. Presumably he would have treated it too.

I wonder also if he came into contact with men from the HMS Orontes on which Watson returned, because the ship docked at Portsmouth, where ACD worked as a doctor (Southsea being Portsmouth's suburb). Is it stretching credibility too far to wonder if one of these injured soldiers gave him inspiration?

Re: the bull pup - there's always this debate about whether it's a dog or a reference to a bad temper. I think it's a dog, which Watson got for companionship. What happened to it? I think there's scope for a fanfic story there :)

Watson's list always makes me smile. Practical gardening - I wonder how he found that out. I don't believe for one minute that Holmes did not know anything about Literature - the stories are full of literary references. If he chose not to acquire knowledge that did not bear upon his object, then why had he bothered to learn the violin? I think Holmes was just being perverse for the sake of it.

4/4/2016 #6
mrspencil

Hi, delighted to see you joining in.

regarding rejections of the tale...may give hope to current aspiring authors.

The puzzling rejection note has echoes of A Midsummer's Night Dream...

"A play there is, my lord, some ten words long, Which is as brief as I have known a play; But by ten words, my lord, it is too long,"

I am intrigued by the notion that readers might identify better with a higher social class private detective rather than a lower class member of the constabulary. Had not considered that before.

This leads to two ffnet author recommendations, both expand the lives and characters of the Scotland Yard folk scattered through the tales...aragonite and bemj11

as well as the detective novels growing in popularity, I am aware that there was a Victorian growth in Romance/Adventure quest type...with authors growing up with tales of Arthurian legends and Arabian Nights in an era of exploration and growing technologies...King Solomon's Mine, The Lost World, A Man who would be King...and H G Wells and Jules Verne. A fertile time to be an author.

Re bull pup, I favour the quick temper theory, but there are quite a few hounds in canon:-)

and I think Holmes sometimes revelled in his quirks and eccentricity, and knew more about the mundane than he would let on

4/5/2016 . Edited 4/5/2016 #7
Westron Wynde

The question of social class regarding detective stories is interesting.

The overwhelming majority of police inspectors in CID were working class. Part of the reason was that middle and upper class candidates did not relish the prospect of having to walk a beat for several years before being considered for CID. The middle classes didn't want them in their drawing rooms and having a policeman visit the home was considered to be shameful. Nor did the middle classes like the idea that the working class police were socially ambitious.

But having an educated man like Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, etc, of their own class would be acceptable. Long before the police were formed, people had had to use their own initiative when it came to crime, so hiring a private individual, like a detective, would not have seemed strange.

Fiction of course did not reflect reality. In many cases, retired police inspectors became private detectives and got many of their cases through former contacts in the police. Individuals were allowed to hire serving officers - I read this ages ago in a book by Jack Tracy and have only now been able to confirm it, as it seemed a strange state of affairs, but yes, it happened. In fact, I think that is the implication in BOSC, that Alice Turner has contacted Lestrade, who in turn has asked for Holmes' help.

Interesting too that attitudes towards the police changed. From the scandal of the late 1870s to the Ripper murders, the police faced considerable criticism. By the mid-1890s, that was changing. ACD reflected that change in his writings, from the criticism they face in STUD to more intelligent officers in WIST. Partly it was because many retired officers published their memoirs for which there was great demand. The press too became less critical, which was vital for the police as they needed to win the confidence of the public and for many their only contact with detectives was through print media.

There's a lot more to it, but I won't bore you. I was flabbergasted by the complexities.

Re the bull pup, dog or bad temper, either theory would fit.

It's another of those phrases that has fallen out of popularity, like smoking ships. "Ships? No, I smoke canoes myself." And so on.

4/5/2016 #8
Stutley Constable

It's Sunday morning and I finally have both the time and the will to continue with the discussion. Too little sleep and too many hours on the job I think are taking their toll. :/

Before going on to the second chapter I want to touch on the bull pup conversation. I'd never heard the theory that it was a reference to Watson having a short or bad temper. I suppose it's an expression that never took on here in the US while it would be common in the UK, at least people over there would have heard it even if they did not use it. I always supposed it was one of those things ACD put in and then set aside as being of little use in developing his characters. If it was a reference to a dog I don't recall him mentioning the animal again in the rest of the story. That lends credence to it being Watson's temper, and Watson might have been exaggerating the severity of his temper. Until now I had assumed some minor tragedy had overtaken the dog. Parvo or some other deadly disease.

Something else I have been intrigued by is the use of slang expressions that I remember from my younger days and in some cases they continue in use. Holmes warns Watson he sometimes gets "in the dumps". This expression is not much in use these days, but when I was in school, even at college, it was still in common usage in this part of the US. It's interesting that it lasted from the Victorian Era to nearly the 21st century and would still be understood today if used in conversation. Then there is "What's up?" I hear this on almost a daily basis. Certainly I hear it several times a week. It's almost an informal greeting. I was surprised, though, when Holmes uses it in one of the stories. He's speaking to Lestrade, I think. So there's another expression with long legs from the Victorian Era.

I also enjoyed your discussion of the class issue regarding detectives. I'm afraid I have little to add except in the US by the 1930's we've got men of the working class as our featured private investigator characters. Sam Spade stands out to me because I'm a Bogart fan. This probably has more to do with the American character than views on class. Our detectives are more like cowboys.

Now on to chapter 2: I made a number of notes while reading which is something I rarely do unless I don't like a book and intend giving it a bad review on GoodReads.

The first thing I note is that Watson suspects Holmes' addiction, but he dismisses it due to Holmes' clean habits. This may be the first time Holmes' clean habits are mentioned, though, it certainly is not the last. It's one reason I had difficulty with Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of Holmes in the recent feature films. Holmes would not willingly appear in public unshaven or without a proper hat. Gentlemen simply did not do such things. But let me get back to my point before I stray too far afield. There are two hints that point to how Holmes might have become addicted to his 7% solution. In chapter 1 Stamford warns Watson about Holmes: "I could imagine his giving a friend a little pinch of the latest vegetable alkaloid, not out of malevolence, you understand, but simply out of a spirit of inquiry in order to have an accurate idea of the effects. To do him justice, I think that he would take it himself with the same readiness. He appears to have a passion for definite and exact knowledge." And later we get Watson's list of observations about Holmes: "5. Botany. -- Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening." So for the first time reader there is foreshadowing of what will be revealed later. This makes me think ACD had given some serious thought to his characters and why they act the way they do.

In the second chapter there is also some foundation to support the reasons Watson agrees to accompany Holmes on his adventures. Partly these reasons have to do with Watson being a doctor. By their nature doctors (good ones at any rate) are inquisitive and use deduction and inference to diagnose illness and injury. It takes no leap of intellect to diagnose a spear sticking in someone's back as the likely cause of their pain, but when it comes to some ailment that is causing them severe pain in the stomach more subtle diagnosis is necessary. ACD does not harp on this point at all, but he does establish in the second chapter that Watson has a curious mind and is an observer of trifles, even if his conclusions erroneous. Watson speaks of himself as attempting to unravel the mystery of Holmes. He attempts to deduce from various clues who Holmes is and what he does to make a living. This is subtle and brilliant on the part of ACD as it takes the reader along on Watson's quest, and more importantly, sets the stage for Watson getting involved in Holmes' investigations. It really flows very well. There is no sudden jarring leap from an uneventful recovery of Watson's health to the rather hectic investigation of the murders.

This brings me to another point I think you can only find if you read between the lines. Why is Holmes so reticent about telling Watson what he does? I understand the English nature is to be quite private compared to Americans. (It took me a while to realize the main difference between the two social cultures and to understand why an English person might find an American person pushy or overly inquisitive, but I got there eventually.) So is Holmes' reticence a plot device to keep the reader interested or is it a method to prepare Watson for his role in Holmes' adventures? I think it's both. By teasing Watson's curiosity, Holmes is gauging his interest and intellect and suitability as a companion. We can imagine Holmes giving this young, ailing doctor a once over and seeing in him a man with a sense of adventure and obviously a clinical mind. People with low intelligence cannot graduate from medical school, after all, and an educated man does not join the military in any capacity unless there is a little adventure in his soul. Holmes, in my opinion, fed Watson just enough information to get him to come around. He bided his time until Watson was well enough to participate and then he set the bait by putting the tick mark next to the article he wrote, guaranteeing Watson would read it. From then on there was no turning back for our favorite doctor. And there was no turning back for the reader, either.

One last point I am curious about is whether or not Holmes suggests Dupin was a real person. I have not yet read 'Murder in the Rue Morgue', therefor I lack information to clear this up in my own head. Holmes does speak as if the fictional work by Poe was an account of real incidents much the same way ACD's writings suggest Holmes' cases were all real incidents. Those of you who are more broadly read than I am might be able to help out on this point. What do you think?

I'll be going on to chapter three this evening and intend to post my thoughts and observations by Wednesday evening. Until then, all the best to you folks!

4/17/2016 #9
mrspencil

Fascinating points, Stutley. I particularly like the reasoning behind assessment of Watson's character and background...the attributes which would complement his own. Cop/detective working with medic/pathologist is not a rare partnership in TV and book nowadays...and you can see why...

4/19/2016 #10
Madam'zelleG

Discovered several times trying to reply to any of this from my phone was futile, so we plod on regardless!

First, I wish to recommend a fic on this site called "on Afghanistan's plains" written by Pompey.

Thanks for the rec, m'dear! I look forward to perusing this one. Been looking into playing with the Afghanistan years for a while now, and a little more inspiration never goes amiss!

As for whether Sir Arthur had any idea if his characters would take off or not, I doubt it. I think he hoped they would. And in that hope he prepared for the possibility. I also think he did what we do, that is, he wrote stories he would like to read. I think if you do not enjoy your own work it will show pretty clearly to anyone who reads it. I think he was as intrigued by Holmes as Watson was and he wanted to get to know him better. I also think Sir Arthur took a liking to Watson the same way Holmes did. After all, he didn't know either of them very well at the time he wrote STUD.

I've often wondered if he ever really knew what these characters taking off would actually mean for him. In these earlier stories, I get more of a sense of him really enjoying both Holmes and Watson and discovering more about them through his writing. These early stories seem to give off more of a personal feeling than what he wrote post-Reichenbach, which tends to feel lazy and a bit grudging. And I think that most, dare I say nearly all, writers hope that their stories and characters will find a loving readership. I don't think that he could have anticipated it growing as much as it did even just in his lifetime though.

The thing that impressed me the first time I read this tale still stands out. I have to wonder if Sir Arthur knew any men who had suffered enteric fever. Watson's shoulder wound begins to heal up and the poor man falls victim to the fever that ruins his health to the point he is sent back to England as soon as he is well enough to travel. The bullet did serious damage, but the fever ended his military career before it even got started.

He definitely seemed to have an intimate knowledge of it, even for a man with his medical experience. I love the word choices that he uses in the beginning of the story, and they do make me think that he's at least had experience speaking to men who'd suffered the same illness. "For months my life was despaired of, and when at least I came to myself and became convalescent, I was so weak and emaciated that a medical board determined that not a day be lost..." While important character and plot development to be sure, it honestly feels very real to me here. Very harrowing.

On a slightly side note, it's curious to me that we always seem to remember the bullet, but it's really the fever that ruined his health in the end. He even goes so far as to say himself that he was rallying well after he'd been evacuated and seems to imply the fact that he might have returned to active duty had the fever not struck him down.

On the plus side, he had picked the right angle by creating a private detective rather than using a police inspector as the hero of the piece - middle class where police detectives were invariably working class and viewed with contempt and suspicion by the middle and upper classes; an individual unemcumbered by rules, regulations or family; tapping into a long history of having private individuals solve crimes rather than an official forces; an educated man with scientific understanding in an age where police detectives were perceived (sometimes rightly - I don't say this unkindly, it was the reality) as being just literate enough to fill out forms and sign their names.

A year or so ago now, I wrote a paper on the London police force around this time period, and I do have to say that I can totally understand why people would want to read about someone who they felt actually had more than a sporting chance at catching the bad guy. Not only was Holmes intellectually capable, he also was able to perform procedures to help solve his cases that the "poor, thick-headed British police" (thank you, Dame Christie) really didn't have the resources for. It was a brilliant angle and I don't think we necessarily tend to appreciate it as much more, seeing how modern forensics is so different than what even Holmes was capable of at the time.

I wonder also if he came into contact with men from the HMS Orontes on which Watson returned, because the ship docked at Portsmouth, where ACD worked as a doctor (Southsea being Portsmouth's suburb). Is it stretching credibility too far to wonder if one of these injured soldiers gave him inspiration?

I'd say not a stretch at all. I also wonder about the fact that he had been denied the chance to fight in the Boer Wars due to his age and weight, how much of his own experiences that he was projecting into Watson, who got the chance to go actually fight that Doyle was denied, and yet he stripped that chance away from him as quick as it came. He certainly had plenty of exposure to wounded men who could have suffered the same injuries and ailments as our Doctor. Plenty of inspiration all around.

And then there is his bull pup. What ever became of the little cur I wonder?

I've typically assumed it to be an actual little dog, but now that I think about it, was Watson in a good position at this point before meeting Holmes to be able to actually care for a dog? If it was a real dog, I like to imagine that when his health improved staying with Holmes, he found that he didn't really need the companionship. But the temper theory is also something that intrigues me, to be sure. Watson has been through a great deal already and we know that his nerves are a mess. Wouldn't blame him at all if he had a bit of a temper!

Interesting too that attitudes towards the police changed. From the scandal of the late 1870s to the Ripper murders, the police faced considerable criticism. By the mid-1890s, that was changing. ACD reflected that change in his writings, from the criticism they face in STUD to more intelligent officers in WIST. Partly it was because many retired officers published their memoirs for which there was great demand. The press too became less critical, which was vital for the police as they needed to win the confidence of the public and for many their only contact with detectives was through print media.

I recently read a Holmes story where he attempts to solve the Ripper murders and the way that the police were portrayed did interest me greatly here. Historically speaking, they were basically guaranteed to face a lot of public wrath, but there was also no shortage of unsolved murders of prostitutes and the like that were going around at this time, just before Holmes appears on the scene. I appreciate that Doyle is able to show this change in attitude towards the police as being basically useless to actually being able to feel like the police might be able to protect the public.

And I shall move on to Chapter 2 now as soon as I've finished it. ;)

4/26/2016 #11
Cuthalion97

I'm not sure whether or not this forum thread is even being followed anymore, but I did want to add a brief note, mainly because I spent the past fifteen minutes enjoyably occupied in reading through the discussion. It was so nice to come across such a number of intelligent, well-considered and well-researched - not to mention grammatically correct! - posts. I've read 'A Study in Scarlet' five times, simply because I re-read the Sherlock Holmes stories once every eighteen months or so; and learning about the meanings behind terms I never thought twice about was a great deal of fun! One of my long-term goals as an (unpublished) author is to write a Sherlock Holmes novel that rivals Lindsey Faye's 'Dust and Shadow', which is still the only non-canonical story I've read. Perhaps it is time I expanded my repertoire. . . But once again, I really enjoyed this, so thank you! :)

4/15/2019 #12
Hades Lord of the Dead

Oh wow, thanks for reviving this Cuthalion, this has been a great read for me as well! I've never read 'Dust and Shadow' but I will definitely try and give it a look.

Re: role of the police in Victorian times - Funnily enough give you had to do a similar thing Madam'zelleG, I actually had to do a presentation on policing in Victorian England on a module in my final year of school, because we were studying Bleak House (and then I wrote an essay on the resolution of mysteries in Bleak House, Elizabeth Bishop's poetry and Sherlock Holmes because of course I shoehorn SH into anything I can...) Inspector Bucket in Bleak House actually predates Holmes, so another of the detectives along with Dupin to take a look at if anyone likes! I don't want to bore you all, but if anyone wants feel free to ask for my little research document I have in my Google Drive! One interesting tidbit - Of the first 2,800 new policemen, only 600 eventually kept their jobs. The first policeman ever was sacked after only four hours, for drunkenness.


Re: Bull pup - I'd never heard this phrase, but have heard that theory! One thing I found really odd about it is because later on they test those pills on an older terrier who happens to live on Baker Street as well?

""Precisely so," answered Holmes. "Now would you mind going down and fetching that poor little devil of a terrier which has been bad so long, and which the landlady wanted you to put out of its pain yesterday."

I went downstairs and carried the dog upstairs in my arms. It's laboured breathing and glazing eye showed that it was not far from its end. Indeed, its snow-white muzzle proclaimed that it had already exceeded the usual term of canine existence. I placed it upon a cushion on the rug."

It's always puzzled me why, since ACD went to the trouble of mentioning Watson's bullpup (if it is a dog and not a reference to his temper or anything else) he didn't then bring it back here? I assume it's not the same dog because this one is a terrier and a rather old one...


And then on another note, I think one of my favourite parts of the Sherlock Holmes limits list is:

"Geology.—Practical, but limited.

Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London

he had received them."

Purely for the comedic value of the mental image of Holmes shoving his leg up next to Watson all excited to give him the low down. Honestly no wonder he was so intrigued.


And thanks everyone else for all your input, I've genuinely loved reading this all through! How exciting to come back to it :)

4/17/2019 #13
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