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ClassicsOnline Home » DOYLE, A.C.: Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (The), Vol. 4 (Unabridged)
Four more stories from the master detective. The mystery of the missing suitor is solved and Sherlock Holmes raises his whip…an Indian pot stands in the shadows of a Colonel’s death…serious affairs of state and international diplomacy are threatened by a theft…and surely evil intent lies behind threats in a hidden house. The cool observations and swift action of Sherlock Holmes resolves all.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
A Case of Identity
The Adventure of the Crooked Man
The Naval Treaty
The Greek Interpreter
Arthur Conan Doyle was born in 1859, in Edinburgh, a city
soaked in history, which gave him a strong sense of the past, which he never
lost. He was educated at Stonyhurst School, where he excelled at sport, a
lifelong interest, and developed a passion for reading. The ideals he read
about in his history books influenced him all his life. He trained to be a
doctor at Edinburgh University, and before qualifying, signed on as ship’s
surgeon aboard a whaler. The hardened crew’s tough stories of life at sea, were
to have a strong influence on his own burgeoning skill as a writer. Doyle began
in medical practice at Southsea, in 1882, where he met his wife Louise Hawkins,
later they moved to London. His lack of success as a doctor was balanced by his
growing reputation as an author. His future was assured after the creation of
the scientific detective Sherlock Holmes, though Doyle was always of the
opinion that his historical novels were his true life’s work. These included
The White Company (1891), and The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (1896). He also
ventured into science fiction, having a great success with The Lost World
(1912). His interest in history encouraged his patriotism, and at the time of
the Boer War (1900), he published a pamphlet explaining the causes and true
course of the war. It made him ‘the most famous man in England’. His first wife
died in 1906, and he married Jean Leckie with whom he’d had a platonic
relationship for some time. In his later years, Doyle developed a deep interest
in Spiritualism, and espoused many minority causes. He traveled the world
furthering the cause of Spiritualism, and died peacefully, convinced his spirit
was eternal, in 1930. His simple philosophy of life was caught perfectly in the
epitaph on his tombstone ‘Steel true, Blade straight.’ But Conan Doyle will
always be remembered as the creator of the greatest fictional detective in the
world; in those works his spirit is truly immortal.
A CASE OF IDENTITY
This case, written in 1891, centers on the personality of
Miss Mary Sutherland, a representative of the new type of woman that was
beginning to emerge in the decade of the 1890s. A woman with a profession. Even
by the end of the 19th century there were few areas of work open to young
women, but the typewriter, which had been invented in America in 1867, was now
opening doors to the world of commerce. Until this time, young women with their
way to make in the world had to rely on such jobs as teachers, with an annual
income of less than $75. Miss Violet Hunter in The Copper Beeches was one such.
Mary Sutherland also had a private income from stocks and
shares amounting to a gross income of around $175 a year, which would give her
a considerable degree of independence. As Holmes says, ‘a single lady can get
on very nicely upon an income of about sixty pounds.’ Her strength of purpose in determining her own future by
defying her stepfather, Mr. Windibank, makes one think that perhaps, in the new
century, she would have been ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with the Suffragettes.
Conan Doyle seems to have liked these independent young
women who crop up throughout these stories. He was by no means a supporter of
the ‘new woman’, but where he saw a social injustice being committed, as in the
divorce laws, which were heavily weighted against women, he threw his
considerable support behind the efforts to change them.
On the subject of income, it is interesting to examine
Holmes’ own. He was still establishing himself in these early stories, set in
the 1880s, and Conan Doyle makes a particular point of Holmes showing off his
considerable acquisitions from recent successfully concluded cases. His ‘snuff
box of old gold, with a great amethyst in the center of the lid’, and a
‘remarkable’ ring on his finger, were both gifts from Royal Houses of Europe,
who seem to prefer this method of acknowledging their debt to Holmes rather
than give him hard cash. Indeed, the fledgling detective may have been
distinctly short of funds at this time, which led to Dr. Watson sharing the
Baker Street rooms and the connected expenses.
It should be noted though, that these expenses seem to have
included a ‘boy in buttons’ to usher clients in! However, one should remember
Holmes’ own philosophy from The Speckled Band, that, ‘as to reward, my
profession is its reward.’ A particularly interesting case was always pursued,
even if there was little chance of a fee. It is doubtful, in view of the
outcome of A Case of Identity, that Holmes would have expected a payment from
Miss Mary Sutherland.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE CROOKED MAN
The Indian Mutiny of 1857 forms the colorful background to
this case. It was the revolt of Sepoy troops against their British masters, who
with the utmost insensitivity disregarded the religious beliefs of the Hindu
religion. Cartridges at this time were sealed with pork grease; to load them,
it was necessary to bite off the seal. This direct contact with pork was
anathema to the Hindu soldiers, whose protestations were ignored. The ensuing
conflict unleashed decades of pent-up resentment and the end results were
bloody and savage. The British finally quelled the mutiny in 1858.
With the skill of a born story-teller Conan Doyle mixes
truth with fiction, thus, while the besieged town of Bhurtee is fictional, it
was relieved by a genuine hero of the Mutiny, James George Smith Neill
(1810-1857), a British soldier and Indian administrator, who was one of the
leaders of the relief column that journeyed towards Lucknow, relieving besieged
towns on its way.
He met his death in the lifting of the siege there. This
clever mingling of fact and fiction by Conan Doyle gives edge and immediacy to
the stories, such as when he places invented London street-names next to
genuine ones, a device he was fond of using.
Although the popular image of Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant
mind solving crimes single-handedly, it is evident that he relied on a network
of helpers that could be called upon when needed. Watson seems always to be
available at a moment’s notice, and able to change his plans and follow
wherever Holmes leads. At the start of this story for instance, though late at
night when Holmes turns up, without so much as a hesitation Watson agrees to go
with Holmes on the morrow to Aldershot. His newly married wife, and his
neighbor Dr. Jackson seem ever to be accommodating. Holmes made frequent use of
a group of beggar-boys (only too common in the streets of London in the 1880s),
whom he organized into an efficient band known as the Baker Street Irregulars.
They were to ‘go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone’. It is certain
that their relative anonymity as street urchins produced results, and young
Simpson in this story, assigned to keep a watch on Henry Wood in Aldershot,
would have been well rewarded for his keenness, for Holmes paid the boys a
shilling a day, with the bonus of a guinea for any boy bringing in the
THE ADVENTURE OF THE NAVAL TREATY
Secret political negotiations at the highest levels of
Government are at the core of this case. The Naval Treaty of the title deals
with the sensitive issue of Great Britain’s attitude towards the Triple
Alliance. This league between Austria-Hungary, Germany and Italy, formed for
mutual benefit in 1883, seriously threatened the balance of power in Europe.
The position Britain adopted towards the Alliance was crucial. Thus, when the
papers are stolen and a ‘leak’ seems inevitable, Holmes is put on his mettle to
prevent a serious international complication. Once again Conan Doyle cleverly
mingles historical fact with fiction.
Throughout these stories the official police force often
seem less than enamored with Holmes’ interventions in their investigations.
Here, it is the detective Forbes who is ‘decidedly frigid’ towards Holmes.
Holmes, for his part, does not seem to have a very high opinion of Scotland
Yard. The Detective Department of the Metropolitan Police only came into being
in 1842 and by 1868 only had a force of 15! So it was a relatively new branch
of policing in Holmes’ day, and developed slowly, too slowly for Sherlock
Holmes. He was ever pursuing the very latest developments in criminology. A
student of chemistry, like his creator Conan Doyle, Holmes used science to
prove his theories, as in this story, ‘if this paper remains blue all is well.
If it turns red it means a man’s life.’ His readiness to use new methods of
detection accounts for his frustration with the plodding ways of Scotland Yard.
However, techniques were changing fast towards the end of
the century, and the Bertillon system discussed in this story by Holmes and
Watson, which was a method of cataloging criminals by measuring their bones,
introduced in 1879, was completely superceded by the development of
fingerprinting adopted by Scotland Yard in 1901.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE GREEK INTERPRETER
In this case, we get a glimpse, and a glimpse only, of
Holmes’ family and their ancestry. Conan Doyle was wise to keep these facts few
and scattered throughout the stories, as it adds to the air of mystery so
essential to Holmes’ character. Here though we meet his brother Mycroft for the
first time—a brilliant man as de-energized as Holmes is hyperactive. Mycroft’s
home away from home is the Diogenes Club. Club-land proliferated during the
19th century. There were clubs for all complexions of society, male society of
course, from the grand political establishments such as the Carlton or the
Reform, through to the military, gambling, artistic, Bohemian or just plain
eccentric organizations. The Diogenes belongs to this last variety, with its
rules demanding un-sociability. Other contenders for oddness were the Travelers
Club, where it was essential that members had made a Continental journey to some
resort at least 500 miles in a straight line from London, and the Eclectic,
which had a short life because so many candidates were refused entry!
It is worth noting that one of the hotels on Northumberland
Avenue, where Mr. Melas the interpreter found employment as a guide, is now the
location of the famous ‘Sherlock Holmes’ pub, containing a meticulous
recreation of the sleuth’s study at 221B Baker Street.
Notes by David Timson
A familiar and versatile audio and radio voice, David Timson
has also performed in modern and classic plays across Great Britain and abroad,
including Wild Honey for Alan Ayckbourn, Hamlet, The Man of Mode, and The
Seagull. He has been seen on TV in Nelson’s Column and Swallows and Amazons,
and in the film The Russia House.
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