Sunday, November 10, 2019

At Sea with the Naval Treaty by Mary Schroeder

This canonical offering combines Holmes’ penchant for train travel and a display by a self-indulgent civil servant with Chinese-fire-drill choreography to relate a mystery that is over before it ends. (Or does it end before it’s over?)

It could adapt favorably to the silver screen. There’s the early departure from Waterloo Station (cue the swirling yellow fog); folks dashing through the Foreign Office corridors; bells sounding unaccountably; a fruitless race “down to the end of the street”; the chase after the commissionaire’s wife – all good action stuff. Of course it looses a lot of excitement in the telling but how much vigor can a putz in the throes of brain fever (aka melt-down) muster? And it is all for naught.

The ding dong should have heeded the bell. It tolled for him. The commissionaire posed the key question, “Who rang the bell?” igniting the mystery. And Percy could have answered it. In fact he was the one person who could have answered it, not that he didn’t try. He taxed his wits with the puzzle, “Why should any criminal want to ring the bell?” Feeble, certainly, considering how much time he’d had to think about it. But instead of following up with the obvious answer and its logical development, he lapsed into a pathetic woe-is-me dead-end doldrum.

Had he been a more stalwart sort he’d have stayed the course, considered the rational reply, that no one with malicious intent would announce their presence and stumble into the obvious conclusion that the ringer was looking for someone in that drab little cell (aka office – more on that later). Someone like Percy Phelps for example. Who else would be there? It was after hours. The other clerks had long gone, enjoyed their pint and made it home by the fire. At that cognitive stage even
the unremarkable Percy should think of his prospective brother-in-law. The guy he expected to meet that night to catch the eleven o’clock train. The End.

Easy peezy. No mystery, no story, no excuse for Sherlock Holmes to take that particular jaunt and visit that particular old country house. He could save the exercise of devising trickery involving perps and premises and hidden “agendas” for another adventure or two.

Questions for Insomniacs: A Consideration of the Awful Office Premises

1.Why wasn’t the street door at the side entrance locked?
2.Why were two stairways required to access one office?
3.Did Percy really have to exit the building to consult his uncle?
4.Does this represent the official protocol for handling secret documents?
5. Has Percy reached the ceiling in his career or has the ceiling reached him?
6.Was the office specially designed to isolate incompetent clerks?

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Diogenes and Silence by Michael Waxenberg

In The Greek Interpreter, we first learn of Mycroft Holmes’ membership in the Diogenes Club. This unique club requires silence.  Sherlock Holmes says to Watson:
"There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger’s Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My 
brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere." 

Sherlock Holmes himself is fond of comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. He also stands accused of misanthropy. No wonder that he finds the atmosphere of the Diogenes Club very
soothing. Why is this club for theunclubbable named after Diogenes? Diogenes was a Cynic philosopher from Sinope, in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) I who lived in Athens and Corinth in the 4th century B.C.E.

He distinguished himself by living in abstinence, even living in the streets or in a "pithos" or bath tub. He rejected riches and honors I and sought virtue. Diogenes is the man made famous for searching through the streets of Athens with a lantern, looking for an honest man.

Diogenes lived about the same time as Aristotle. I am no student of philosophy, but the contrasts are obvious. While Diogenes the Cynic looked for individual virtue, Aristotle sought civic virtue, and action toward the betterment of the state and the civilization.

According to Plutarch, Diogenes once met Alexander the Great, when Diogenes was about 70 years of age, and Alexander was at the start of his conquests, at about age 20. Diogenes was lying in his tub, sunning himself. Alexander and his officers sought him out, and Alexander presented himself to the famous philosopher, saying "I am Alexander the Great." "And I am Diogenes the Cynic," replied
the philosopher. Alexander then asked what service he could do for the philosopher. "Move out of my sunlight," said Diogenes. Alexander's officers would likely have wanted to execute Diogenes on the spot, but Alexander was struck by the man, and said, "If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes."

Sherlock Holmes met many famous and important persons of his day, and gave them much the same type of sarcastic treatment. In The Second Stain, a former Prime Minister of Great Britain attempts to give Holmes a commission for a task without disclosure of all relevant information, under the excuse of "State secrecy." Holmes then says he is too busy to handle the matter, causing the Premier to erupt in anger, initially. Holmes engages in a terrible breach of etiquette. But, was it merely a tactic to cause the Premier to open up and reveal all necessary data, or was it also an expression of a more deeply rooted cynicism toward those in power in society?

Holmes engages in sarcasm with members of the noble classes in The Priory School, A Scandal in Bohemia, The Noble Bachelor, and many other adventures. Much has been written about Holmes'
democratic, or anti-nobility politics, but I suggest that his attitude is better described as Cynicism, in the formal sense. This hypothesis is borne out by Holmes' treatment of the formal law enforcement authorities, from whom he does not try to conceal his sarcasm. Those individuals are generally not from the upper classes. But they represent part of the formal structure of society, and Holmes is in the society, but not of it.

Sherlock Holmes is described as a "cynic" by Watson. In the opening paragraph of The Adventure of the Devil's Foot, Holmes is described as having a "sombre and cynical spirit," for whom

all popular applause was always abhorrent, and nothing amused him more at the end of a successful case than to hand over the actual exposure to some orthodox official, and to listen with a mocking smile to the general chorus of misplaced congratulation. 

Later, in that same adventure, after Holmes almost kills Watson and himself by inhaling the fumes of the burning poison, Watson describes the situation:

He relapsed at once into the half-humorous, half-cynical vein which was his habitual attitude to those about him. "It would be superfluous to drive us mad, my dear Watson," said he. "A candid observer would certainly declare that we were so already before we embarked upon so wild an experiment. 

Holmes follows the ethics of a cynic by relishing silence. Numberless times, Watson describes Holmes sitting in silence, smoking in silence, thinking in silence, doing chemical experiments in silence, or waiting and watching for some unwitting culprit in silence. Silence fits Sherlock Holmes like his dressing gown, and is part of his personality.

Holmes follows the code of a cynic by denouncing public recognition of his achievements, by living simply with self-control and a rigid abstinence, and by a rejection of materialism, class structure, formal laws, and by living with an independence of spirit seldom found in any human. If it could be said that Aristotle begat, in the philosophical sense, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and Gladstone, then Diogenes begat Disraeli, Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlow, and Sam Spade.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

September Meeting: The Greek Interpreter

This month's meeting covered a lot of ground!  In fact, we went 30 minutes over our allotted time because we had so much to talk about, so let's get to it!

Of course, the big news is Holmes in the Heartland.  Our speakers and events had everyone excited for next summer.  Mark your calendars and plan to join us in St. Louis July 24-26 for libraries, vendors, Sherlockian speakers, buffets, the Arch, and the historic riverfront!  Oh, and did I mention our speakers?

Curtis Armstrong
Ray Betzner
Steve Doyle
Beth Gallego
Elinor Gray
Dr. Minsoo Kang
Kristen Mertz
The St. Louis Costumers' Guild

The Kirkwood Theater Guild is performing "The Game's Afoot" this November, and we decided to have a group outing to the show on November 3.  The play is at 2:00, so join us if you are able!

And it was time to do some problem solving for the group.  But a good type of problem.  We have outgrown our meeting room at the Schafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library.  So, we spent quite some time discussing where we should move to.  No decisions were made today, but plan on our meetings to be at a new location starting in January of 2020!

Rob talked about two upcoming Sherlockian books, "Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage" by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and "Being Sherlock: A Sherlockian's Stroll Through the Best Sherlock Holmes Stories" by Ashley Polasek.  Both are due out this month and look to be great additions to our bookshelves.

Elementary wrapped up since our last meeting.  We spent a few minutes talking about the show, Jonny Lee Miller's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, and Adam's blog post from last month sharing his view of the long-running adaptation.

The Baker Street Irregulars event, "Building an Archive," will be in Bloomington, Indiana November 8-10.  At least three Parallel Case members are planning on heading east for the weekend.  

And speaking of Parallel Case members traveling for events, Ed will be attending the Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium next month.  We were all very jealous of him when he shared that news!

Ed, Elaine, and Rob shared a recap of last month's University of Minnesota Sherlockian conference, "Dark Places, Wicked Companions, and Strange Experiences."  

The Left Bank Books Bookfest will be next weekend in the Central West End.

The Jewish Book Festival will take place again in November.  And Margalit Fox, author of "Conan Doyle for the Defense" will be in town to talk about her book that many members enjoyed.

UCLA has launched a project titled "Searching for Sherlock," where they are trying to locate missing Sherlock Holmes films from the silent era.  This is in partnership with the Baker Street Irregulars and has Robert Downey Jr. as an honorary chair.


And then it was time to discuss "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter."

Watson tells us "I had never heard (Holmes) refer to his relations, and hardly ever to his own early life."  We spent some time tossing around theories as to why Holmes was like this.  Rick thought that this was just his personality.  He was private and reclusive.  Holmes always steers the conversation to get information from others; he was not the type to offer information about himself.  Adam suggested that this story allowed Holmes to open up to Watson later about the Gloria Scott and Musgrave Ritual cases.

Rob pointed out that this first paragraph gives a very cold and unsociable picture of Holmes, one that has been picked up quite often in adaptations.  Adam said that even Robert Downey Jr.'s version of Holmes was very outgoing, but even his Watson still refers to him as "Shelly No-Mates."  We talked about the many instances throughout the stories where Holmes is the complete opposite of this description and agreed that Watson contradicts himself quite a bit.

Watson would often think of Holmes as "an orphan with no relative living."  Rob said he also described his future wife, Mary Morstan, as an orphan, but she later went off to visit her mother.

Holmes and Watson are sitting around Baker Street over tea at the beginning of the story.  Stacey know a lot about her teas and talked about which type of tea this would have been, high vs. afternoon, and that it most likely would have been a tea from India, as most of London's teas came from there at this point.  Ed cited a book he had recently read giving Holmes and Watson's preferences of teas based on evidence from the stories.

Their talk over tea started off with "changes in the obliquity of the ecliptic" (hardly the same Holmes from STUD who didn't care if the Earth went around the sun or vice versa) to atavism (a particularly fraught topic that led to genetic predestination for those with "low morals")

We spent quite some time wondering why this was the first time Watson has ever heard that Holmes has a brother, or any family for that matter.  According to most chronologies, Holmes and Watson have lived together for ten years at this point.  Watson has heard secrets from royalty and been by Holmes's side for some great adventures, yet Holmes hasn't told him he has a brother living just blocks away? 

Adam offered that Holmes never brought up Mycroft because he was jealous of his older brother.  Ed cited Bill Mason's essay in "About Sixty" on this story and said if not for GREE, there would have been a lot less speculation about Holmes's family tree.

So, Holmes takes Watson round to meet brother Mycroft at his club, the Diogenes.  Here, we are treated to one of the most descriptive paragraphs in the story:

Mycroft Holmes was a much larger and stouter man than Sherlock. His body was absolutely corpulent, but his face, though massive, had preserved something of the sharpness of expression which was so remarkable in that of his brother. His eyes, which were of a peculiarly light, watery gray, seemed to always retain that far-away, introspective look which I had only observed in Sherlock's when he was exerting his full powers.

While it is quite descriptive, Stacey pointed out that it is blatant fat-shaming.  And Watson wasn't done making sure everyone knew just how fat Mycroft Holmes is.  He later reminded us when Mycroft couldn't keep up with them on the stairs due to his "great bulk."

Michael thought that Mycroft was dead by the time that this story was published, otherwise how could Watson have gotten away with writing such a description?  Rob pointed out that Mycroft was nowhere in relation to "His Last Bow" where we see Holmes spying for the British government, and could be because he was dead by this point, and agreed with Michael's hypothesis.

Although the Canon is not known for it's continuity, Rob pointed out that Mycroft's red handkerchief in this story makes another appearance in "The Final Problem" as part of his cab driver's disguise.

Mycroft's snuff box also got some attention.  Adam and Michael talked about the popularity of snuff boxes at the time, notably at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.  Apparently, people's body odor was so bad at the fair that snuff boxes were sold in huge amounts so that people could take a sniff of snuff and not have to smell their other fairgoers.

We get to see such a great one upmanship between the two brothers at the Diogenes Club.  Although there is no animosity in this story, it's probably the starting point for many other adaptations' view that the Holmes boys had a sibling rivalry.

And poor Watson.  Instead of being impressed by the intellect of the two Holmes brothers, he tries to say that there is no way they could know what they've just deduced.  Let's appreciate this for a moment.  Even when he tries to call out ONE Holmes, he's rebuffed.  What chance did he have against both of them?

We discussed a theory that Sherlock already knew about the Melas case from Gregson earlier that day.  Holmes used that as an excuse to introduce his friend to his roommate.  If we take the case at face value, we are to expect that crime follows Holmes around.  We see cases find him in 3STU, DEVI, LION and REGI.  Sherlock Holmes is the Jessica Fletcher of Victorian London!

Melas tells Watson and the two Holmeses his story.  He was hired by Harold Latimer, only to be kidnapped and threatened.  He arrived at a mysterious house after a long carriage ride.  Wilson Kemp, a small, nervous man met him then.  He told Melas that he is to translate for a Greek man in the house.  Latimer brought in an emaciated man whose face was criss-crossed with sticking plaster. 

Stacey pointed out that this was a horrible disguise.  If Kemp and Latimer were trying to keep this man disguised from his sister, what kind of disguise was sticking plaster?

Melas was ordered to ask the man to sign a paper and he started adding other questions to the interview once he realized that the captors couldn't tell what they were saying.  We had some debate over how the interview went.  Who was speaking, who was writing, and how the extra questions and answers were delivered.

But suddenly, a woman came into the room and recognized her brother, Paul.  (Turns out that sticking plaster wasn't such a great disguise)  Paul yells for Sophy, but they are both pulled out of the room.  Kemp gave Melas 5 gold sovereigns and threatened him again not to talk.  Rob did the math and said that payment translated to $763.80 in today's American money.  None of us thought that would be enough to buy silence.

After all of this, Mycroft placed ads in every paper asking for information on Sophy or Paul Kratides.  None of us could come up with a good reason for him to do this.  It would clearly get back to Kemp and Latimer that he spilled the beans.  A few ideas were kicked around, including Ronald Knox's theory that Mycroft was a double agent for Moriarty, working with Kemp and Latimer.

After hearing all of this, Holmes and Watson head back to Baker Street.  On the way, Holmes asks Watson his opinion on the matter which is mostly correct.  Our group talked about all of the times that Watson tries to see through a problem only to be off track.  This was probably the time that he was in his best form.

By the time they get back to Baker Street, Mycroft is there waiting for them.  Even though Mycroft only appears in three stories, we see him at Baker Street for two of them, and driving a cab in the third.  Rob pointed out that Mycroft hardly "has his rails and he runs on them."

Mycroft has heard back from Sophy's landlord and he wants to go see this man.  Holmes says that they should pick up Gregson and retrieve Sophy instead.  Watson points out that they should take Melas with them to translate.  But when they arrive at Melas's apartment, he has been taken again by Kemp.

This led to so much debate about why they stopped to get a warrant.  In so many cases, Sherlock Holmes does not wait for the law to take its course.  Kristin pointed out that this delay most likely cost Harold Latimer his life.

Mycroft, Sherlock, Watson, and Gregson finally make it to the mysterious house, only to find it locked.  But Holmes is quick to jimmy a window open, prompting Gregson to say "It is a mercy that you are on the side of the force, and not against it, Mr. Holmes."  Rob especially loves this line, because it was the phrase that got him thinking what if Sherlock Holmes had been a criminal?

Melas and Paul Kratides have been left in a room to die of charcoal poisoning.  This might be the most inane way to kill someone used in the entire Canon.  Instead of killing the two witnesses, Kemp and Latimer leave them in a room that will slowly poison them, giving ample time for escape or rescue.

And Melas is rescued with a little help from Watson's good old reliable brandy.

And that's the end of the story, basically.  The bad guys got away with a kidnapped woman, an innocent man died, and Sherlock Holmes had no more interest in this case.

Stacey talked about the level of xenophobia in England at the time towards Greeks.  That could have played a large part in why no one, police and Strand readers included, seemed to care too much about a murdered man and his kidnapped sister.

There is a small coda to this story.  Some time later, newspaper clippings were sent to Holmes hinting that Sophy Kratides killed Kemp and Latimer and escaped.  If this were true, who sent the newspaper clipping?  One of Mycroft's agents?  The interpreter that Melas was hired to replace?  Moriarty?  No one had a good answer for this. 

But Rob argued that this last part was a fabrication on Watson's part.  He wanted to write the story of how he met Mycroft Holmes, but Sherlock didn't do too much to right any wrongs.  So he added this little tidbit to make it look like everything worked out in the end and it was all resolved.

Whether you believe Watson or not, make sure to join us for our next meeting on Saturday, November 9 when we meet to discuss "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty."  Come at once if convenient! 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Retrospective on "Elementary" by Adam Presswood

As a former journalist, and one who still freelances whenever the opportunity arises, I am
thrilled to have the chance to do this type of writing again.  To be fair, however, I have never blogged.  The type of work that I did in the newspaper business was somewhat more old-school than

I do have to confess, though, that my excitement is somewhat tempered by the fact that I am
about to criticize a program that was once very near and dear to my heart.  Like many of you, I have been a fan of the CBS series Elementary since it first debuted in September of 2012.  The notion of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, or even a modern-day Holmes and Watson team, was certainly not a new one, so CBS was breaking no new ground there.

What was more unique was the concept of making Dr. Joan Watson a live-in sober companion for Holmes, and then letting their relationship grow from there.  Jonny Lee Miller was a perfect choice for the ever eccentric Holmes, and Lucy Liu’s portrayal of Watson provided the perfect counterweight to that eccentricity. 

I was particularly struck by how different this portrayal was from just about everything that had
preceded it.  Traditionally, the character of Watson has always been inferior to that of Holmes, not only in terms of intellect, but also in terms of courage and energy.  Even in the phenomenal portrayals of Watson by David Burke and Edward Hardwicke, both of whom adhered fairly closely to the Watson that Conan Doyle introduced to the world, there was still a very obvious gap between the two men in terms of both intelligence and drive, as there was in the original stories.  Elementary, in my opinion, was the first treatment of Holmes and Watson that placed them on
relatively equal terms. 

As the series developed, I continued to be impressed.  For starters, the show utilized many of the original story titles from Conan Doyle, and worked those themes seamlessly into contemporary storylines.  I also appreciated the fact that most of the cases that Miller and Liu took on as Holmes and Watson were of relatively local interest, rather than national, or even global matters, although
these types of cases were also sprinkled into the mix in just the right quantity from time to time.  Doyle’s writing struck that same balance.

Elementary also found new and exciting ways to incorporate other familiar characters created
by Doyle.  Portraying Holmes as a former consultant to Scotland Yard who had relocated to New York created an easy opening through which to introduce Sean Pertwee as Lestrade, and the way the
writers wove in Rhys Ifans and Natalie Dormer as Mycroft Holmes and Moriarty was brilliant.  Much to my disappointment, the energy and creativity of the writers did not last.  Either that, or they simply lost their ability to introduce new characters and new ideas, and then develop things patiently and thoughtfully, letting the show’s natural momentum and the response of its loyal fan base dictate the storyline from one season to the next.

These last few seasons, I have watched as a host of new and potentially interesting characters
were introduced, only to be yanked from the show just a few episodes later, before they were
ever really able to gain any traction.  Nelson Ellis’s character Shinwell Johnson and Desmond Harrington’s Michael are just two examples.  Even when new characters were allowed to remain longer, they were often given the axe just as they were beginning to get interesting.  Ophelia Lovibond’s portrayal of Kitty Winter falls into this category, at least as far as I am concerned. 

With these characters went their storylines, and any hope that the show might continue to break new ground.  Each time, the script would instead retreat into a safe zone made up of four main characters:
Holmes, Watson, Captain Thomas Gregson, and Detective Marcus Bell.  While Aidan Quinn and Jon Michael Hill deliver stellar performances as Gregson and Bell, that became a formula in need of a good shaking up.  What’s more, the show lost its local flavor to some degree, and it seemed as though every other case had national or international implications.  That’s fine in the right doses, but it can get old fast.

I’m no fair-weather fan.  I never felt betrayed by the show, and never rooted for its demise once it had started to lose my interest.  Instead, I kept watching, hoping the storyline would rediscover the magic it once had. While it occasionally showed signs of doing so, these were mostly small sparks that failed to ignite a fire of any kind.  That’s why the ending to Season 6 was so satisfying for me.

I’m not really a social media guy, so I had no idea if the show had been cancelled, if there would
be a Season 7, or what was going on.  I’m simply not tuned in to the chatter.  However, I didn’t really care one way or the other at the time, as I viewed the situation as a win-win.

If the series was over, then it had gone out as it came in.  While I would have missed the show, I admired the fact that it seemed to be ending as it had begun, with boldness and creativity.  If, on the other hand, another season was in the works, then there was fertile ground upon which to build. 

When I first heard that there would indeed be a Season 7, and that Kitty would be making a return as well, I was thrilled.  I envisioned all sorts of new storylines for Miller and Liu in London, working with Kitty and Scotland Yard, and perhaps even going up against Moriarty a few more times.  None of these things happened, and now it is too late.

Instead of a new and creative storyline, I was treated to merely one episode set in London (with an appearance by Kitty), and then the show returned to New York and to business as usual.  I realize that some viewers might appreciate the introduction of James Frain as Odin Reichenbach, and that many will also view the Reichenbach storyline as breaking new ground.

Unfortunately, I think the notion of a tech billionaire with a God complex has been done to death in television, no matter how it gets dressed up and repackaged.  I also realize that I am a bit of an old soul, and that I don’t relate well to the attention span of today’s television audience.  Nor am I a Hollywood insider.  Maybe there were contractual reasons for all of the things that I have just lamented, or certain routes were simply unavailable to the show due to behind-the-scenes issues that I am unaware of.  Even so, I can’t get away from the feeling that the show has spent the last several seasons wasting its potential.

As I write this, I fully appreciate the fact that the upcoming August 15 episode “Their Final Bow”
will reintroduce the character of Jamie Moriarty in some fashion, and that a lot can happen in just one episode.  Like I said earlier, however, it is simply too late from my point of view.

Elementary has squandered its seventh season (Merely 13 episodes. Remember the good old days, when your favorite program would drop off for the summer and leave you with reruns, to return in the fall with a whole new season of at least 30 episodes?), and the episode on August 15 is, as its name implies, the series finale.  That means the reintroduction of Moriarty, while interesting, is meaningless.

Although, what better concept could there be for a spinoff?  Should I even dare to dream?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

July News and Announcements

We had another packed house for our meeting this month!  And we had plenty of news, discussion and activities to keep everyone busy, so let's get down to it:

First things first: Holmes in the Heartland will be back in 2020!

That's right.  Mark your calendars for another great Sherlockian weekend right here in St. Louis!  On July 24-26, 2020, Holmes in the Heartland: Arch Enemies will have some of the brightest Sherlockian minds, St. Louis highlights, great food, and plenty of fun!  We will be holding our symposium at the Sheraton Westport this year, and a block of rooms will be available for anyone coming to Holmes in the Heartland.

Friday, July 24 will be a tour of the historic central branch of the St. Louis Public Library, a presentation of the St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection, and dinner at Bailey's Range.

Saturday, July 25 will start off with time to visit many Sherlockian vendors for the symposium.  We will have our day of great speakers on the topic of "Arch Enemies," with a break for lunch and more vendor shopping.  And as usual, you can count on dinner and a night full of fun events!

On Sunday, July 26, we are going to put the "Arch" in "Arch Enemies."  Join us for a tour of the newly remodeled St. Louis Arch, including a trip to the top, film on the construction of the famous landmark, and a tour of the Westward Expansion Museum.  Following that, we will head to historic Laclede's Landing for a farewell lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory.

Look for more information on this exciting weekend to come soon.  But mark your calendars.  This is a weekend you will not want to miss!

And if that weren't enough fun to look forward to, we have another movie night coming up!  August 3, we will be hosting a Sherlockian Movie Night at the St. Louis Ethical Society (9001 Clayton Rd) starting at 6:00.  Bring your own food and drinks and join us for a double feature of Basil Rathbone's "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "They Might be Giants."  There is no admission price, but we will gladly take donations to cover the cost of the room.

Our next meeting will be on September 14, and that month's story will be "The Greek Interpreter."  As well as great camaraderie, discussion, and news, we will also have the new Parallel Case of St. Louis pins debuting at this meeting.  Members at the September meeting will be the first ones to get a chance to purchase the new pin.  The cost is $10 per pin.

The Parallel Case of St. Louis is on all of the major social media platforms.  You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for news about the Parallel Case and plenty of other Sherlockian news from around the world.

If you haven't read it yet, check out Stacey's blog post about the family life of Queen Victoria.

Tassy was interviewed on Rob's blog this month.  Lots of good Sherlockian discussion!

The next meeting of the Harpooner's of the Sea Unicorn will be this Friday, July 19 at Pio's restaurant in St. Charles.  This month's meeting will be their titular story, "The Adventure of Black Peter."

The triennial Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota conference will be August 8-11 in Minneapolis Minnesota.  Museum curator (and former Holmes in the Heartland keynote speaker) Tim Johnson has posted some previews of the exhibit online and they look amazing.

The Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium will be October 12 & 13 in Portland, OR, and looks to be a great time.  You can listen to the Baker Street Babes interview with symposium director, Elinor Gray here.

The Kirkwood Theater Guild will be performing "The Game’s Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays" November 1-10.  We will pick a date for a Parallel Case group outing at our September meeting, so if you'd like to roll into Kirkwood with our band of gypsies, please do!

The Baker Street Irregulars will be hosting a symposium dedicating the BSI Archive at the Lilly Library in Bloomington, IN on November 8-10.

The Disney 1x1 Podcast recently posted an episode covering The Great Mouse Detective.  One of the hosts of this show lives in St. Louis, and had great things to say about hometown boy Vincent Price's role.

The Enola Holmes movie keeps making news with its casting.  In the past month Henry Cavill and Helena Bonham Carter have been cast as Sherlock Holmes and Enola's mother respectively.

Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes 3 has a new director attached to the Christmas 2021 release.  Dexter Fletcher has replaced Guy Ritchie on the film.  Fletcher recently directed Rocketman, and took over the duties of directing Bohemian Rhapsody when that director was released from the project.  In a Sherlockian connection, Dexter Fletcher voiced one of the gargoyles in 2018's Sherlock Gnomes.

Brad Keefauver joined us this month, and recorded a live episode of The Watsonian Weekly, the podcast for the John H. Watson Society.  You can hear many of us talking about hidden criminal empires, movie versions of Watson, and how many times Watson used the word "parallel" here.  If you aren't familiar with the John H. Watson society, take a minute to check out their website and journal.  The Watsonian journal is a really great publication that comes out twice a year.  Anyone who is interested in Sherlockian scholarship, pastiche, or any writing will find something they like between the covers!

After the usual stack of giveaways, including a handmade Sherlockian journal and t shirt from The Game's Afloat conference years back, it was on to quite a discussion of The Resident Patient!  But that's a story for another post...

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Family Life of Queen Victoria by Stacey Bregenzer

Although Queen Victoria never officially appears in the canon, her presence is felt throughout the Sherlock Holmes stories.  Many later adaptations do in fact include an appearance by her imperial majesty, and many Sherlockian gatherings begin with a toast in her honor.  But, as we have been discussing the stories, I have seen hints of her children mentioned.  When an important person gives a valuable public possession as collateral to a bank in The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet, I see hints of Prince Edward, later Edward VII.  He was a famous gambler, who often got himself into sticky situations.  And when a gentlewoman with a famous face kills Charles Augustus Milverton in revenge for her husband, I speculated that this could be one of Queen Victoria’s younger daughters.  Both Princess Beatrice and Princess Louise lost their husbands at young ages and spent much time in London.

Queen Victoria’s family was very famous and beloved.  Her love for Prince Albert and her life-long grief at his passing were legendary.  The Albert Memorial still stands in Kensington Gardens as a testament to this.  And the family set many traditions in place during the Victorian period - some of which are still in place today.  Queen Victoria’s choice of a white wedding dress has inspired brides for the last 150 years.  The German tradition of Christmas trees was brought to England by Prince Albert and made famous by the royal family.  The children were much more present before the public than was standard at the time, and many photos, paintings, and drawings were shared in the media.  And, of course, Queen Victoria’s mourning for Albert set the example for the infamous Victorian mourning practices.

Victoria and Albert had 9 children.  They were much more hands on parents than most of the age.  Albert, in particular, supervised their education and had very high standards for them to reach.  They made sure they had time out of the public eye by taking them to Scotland and the Isle of Wight for what might now be considered a holiday.  Victoria maintained close relationships with her children, and through them, she became the grandmother of Europe.

I have recently been listening to a series on The Other Half podcast called The Mothers of World War 1: The Daughters and Granddaughters of Queen Victoria.  Her children and grandchildren were involved in the Great War on all sides, so it has been referred to as the war between cousins.  This podcast has helped me become more familiar with her children, who all have distinct and interesting personalities.  I want to share a little bit about each of them.

Princess Victoria, Princess Royal- She was fiercely intelligent and very close to her father.  She loved learning and made it hard for her siblings to live up to her example.  She married the German Emperor and left England at 18.  She was Queen Victoria’s best correspondent, exchanging thousands of letters.  She was the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II but did not enjoy a good relationship with him.

Prince Edward (Edward VII)- He had a very contentious relationship with his parents.  He could never live up to their expectations.  But he was popular with the English people.  He became quite a playboy and gambler and was a big fan of the American heiresses who were “invading” England at the time.  He fell out with his older sister, due to his marriage to Alexandra of Denmark, whose family had a rivalry with Germany.

Princess Alice- She was extremely kind and a natural peacemaker.  She was usually the only one who could bridge the gap between Edward and the rest of her family.  She was very much into charity work and nursing and was an advocate for women.  As Grand Duchess of Hesse, she founded Alice-Hospital in Darmstadt, Alice Society for Women's Training and Industry, and Alice Women's Guild nursing program.  When her children fell ill with diphtheria, she nursed them herself, catching the illness and dying at 35 with her 4-year-old daughter.

Prince Alfred- He was a prankster and often got into trouble as a child.  He was interested in mechanics, geography, and science, and made toys for the other children.  He joined the Royal Navy at 14 and traveled the world, visiting Australia, Sri Lanka (Ceylon at the time), Malta, Hong Kong, India, New Zealand, and Hawaii to name a few.  He has many places in the British colonies named after him.  He became an alcoholic later in life.

Princess Helena- She was a tomboy who loved the outdoors and gardening but was also very good at needlework.  There was a scandal when she had a relationship with one of her father’s German librarians, and there is still speculation about the extent of the relationship.  She spent her life in England, marrying a much older ousted German Prince, and made many of the royal public appearances.  She became a writer and helped write a biography about her father.  She also became involved in nursing, helping found the British Red Cross. 

Princess Louise- She was considered the most beautiful of Victoria’s daughters.  She was an artist, a feminist, a fashionista, and a social butterfly.  But she was famously moody and could make some very unkind remarks.  She married the Duke of Argyll, who is rumored to have been gay, and it was reported that they each had affairs, although they remained close.  Her husband was Governor General of Canada, so she spent many years living in Ottawa, where they were extremely popular.  They founded the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.  Alberta is named after her (her middle name), as is Lake Louise.  She was the only one of her siblings who did not have children.

Prince Arthur- He was the most well-behaved of the children, so he was therefore considered to be Victoria’s favorite.  He treasured his toy soldiers and dreamed of joining the Army from a young age.  He entered the Royal Military Academy at 16 and spent 40 years in the Army.  He also had a stint as Governor General of Canada.  When he retired, he participated in royal appearances.  Although in his late 80s, he rejoined the Army to inspire recruits during World War II.  He died at 91 in 1942.

Prince Leopold- He was the first of Victoria’s descendants to suffer from hemophilia.  Even though he could bleed to death from the slightest injury, he was fearless and defied the restraints his worried mother placed upon him.  He loved music and the Arts and studied at Oxford University.  He was also a chess lover and sponsored tournaments, and he had the opportunity to travel through Europe and Canada.  Despite his disease, he lived to be 30, and was able to marry and have children.  He was a freemason.

Princess Beatrice- She was the youngest and was called Baby most of her life.  She was spoiled by her father and siblings and was very shy.  However, her childhood was bleaker than her siblings, as her father died when she was very young, and her mother went into deep mourning.  She became her mother’s companion and was expected to remain so for her whole life. But she fell in love with Prince Henry of Battenberg.  When she told her mother, Queen Victoria gave her the silent treatment for 7 full months.  She finally relented but insisted that the couple would have to live with her permanently and she would have to be the priority for Beatrice over her husband.  After her mother’s death, she edited her mother’s hundreds of journals and had them published.

I hope that helps make them a bit clearer in people’s minds.  They are a fascinating family.  If that has piqued your interest, I hope you will check out The Other Half podcast or read more about them.

Sources: The Other Half podcast
Osborne House website
Photos found on Google

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

May Meeting: The Crooked Man

Eleven St. Louis Sherlockians met last Saturday to discuss The Crooked Man for the May Meeting of The Parallel Case of St. Louis. 

Lots of Sherlockian news as usual!  So let's get started:

The Noble Bachelors of St. Louis had their 50th anniversary dinner last month, attended by many members of The Parallel Case.  Our very own Nellie was awarded Noble Bachelor of the Year, and the toasts to Holmes, Watson, and The Woman were all given by Parallel Case members.

A kickstarter campaign for wooden Sherlockian figures is going on now, and they look fabulous!

Another kickstarter campaign is going on for "The Irregular Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," a collection of new Sherlockian stories written for a younger audience.  Parallel Case members Peter and Rob both have stories in the book.

We discussed the Sherlockian email exchange between 16 different scions and groups. 

Lots of books were sold at the meeting to benefit the St. Louis Sherlock Holmes Research Collection.

A new Facebook group, 221 Be Here, has been formed after online harassment issues surfaced with a longtime Sherlockian.

The next Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn meeting will be this Friday.

Elementary returns for its final season on May 23, with a villain named Odin Reichenbach, and the return of Kitty Winter.

The Norwegian Explorers conference will be August 8-11.

A new Nicholas Meyer book will be released this October, "The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols."

The Left Coast Sherlockian Symposium will be held in Portland, OR on October 12 & 13.

The Kirkwood Theater Guild will be performing "The Game's Afoot, or Holmes for the Holidays" November 1-10.

The BSI Archive Conference will be held in Bloomington, IN on November 8-10.

Nicholas Hoult (Tolkien, X-Men: Phoenix Rising) has been cast as Sherlock Holmes in the upcoming Enola Holmes film.

Joe recently went down to southern Illinois to interview Bill Cochran for the BSI History Project.

And now, on to The Crooked Man!

Holmes calls on Watson at home one summer night after Mrs. Watson had gone to bed.  The group had lots of questions about Holmes' motives in these first few pages. 

  • Why did Holmes arrive so late, was he avoiding Mrs. Watson?  
  • What was the purpose of Holmes staying the night at Watson's home if they were going to leave so late in the morning?  
  • Did Watson need to be a witness in this matter?  Holmes has gotten information without witnesses plenty of times (BERY, TWIS, SILV, etc.)  And if he did, why not use Major Murphy, the man that brought Holmes in on this case?

We also get to see some of Holmes' quick deductions in these first pages.  Holmes tells Watson that he's still smoking the Arcadia mixture, he's showing his military habits by keeping a handkerchief in his sleeve, no one is currently staying with him, a workman has been in the house, Watson has been busy in practice.  Oh, and that his writing is meretricious.  Heather pointed out that right after this we get to hear one of the few times that Holmes says, "Elementary."

Elaine posed some questions about Watson's servants.  How many did he have?  The Canon says servants - plural, so at least two.  What roles would the Watsons have employed?  Where did they live?

Holmes brings Watson up to speed on the Barclay murder investigation, telling him that the man and his wife had an argument that night behind a locked door, and ends with ominous words: "He was never seen alive again."

After Holmes had questioned the servants, the maid remembered hearing Mrs. Barclay say the name "David" twice.  No one in the house was named David.  Heather observed that maybe the Barclays' servants weren't as worried as they said to the police. Maybe this all started out with them trying to get some juicy gossip on the masters.

No one was able to question Mrs. Barclay about the previous night's events because she had brain fever.  Rob pointed out that it's always brain fever!  Nellie thought that the fainting spell could have been induced by Mrs. Barclay's corset, which led to some nice talk of the Enola Holmes books, where most of us learned about the terrors of Victorian corsets.

After investigating the crime scene, Holmes decided that a third person was in the room with Colonel and Mrs. Barclay and came in through the window.  Holmes found prints of a man who came from the nearby road and ran across the lawn to the house.

And this mystery man had a small animal with him.  Holmes describes a small four footed mammal to Watson.
Watson: It's a dog.
Holmes: It ran up the curtain.
Watson: A monkey.
Holmes: No, nothing I'm familiar with and it's carnivorous.

Holmes questioned Mrs. Barclay's friend, Miss Morrison, who had been with out with her before the deadly argument.  He is able to get out of her that they were returning home when a crooked man carrying a box saw Mrs. Barclay and exclaimed, "My God, it's Nancy!"  Mrs. Barclay said, "I thought you had been dead thirty years," to the man and then sent Miss Morrison on while she talked with the man.  When Mrs. Barclay met back up with Miss Morrison, she was very angry and begged her friend not to say anything about this meeting to anyone.  Michael wondered if this is the same Annie Morrison from our last story, The Reigate Squires.

Holmes tracked the man down.  He was Henry Wood who had been in London for five days.  He had a small furry animal in his box, had been performing in soldiers' bars, and paid for his lodgings in rupees.

While Holmes went off to collect Watson, he left Henry Wood's apartment under surveillance by Simpson of the Baker Street Irregulars.  Rob noted that this is only one of three stories where the famed Irregulars appear, and it is the only short story in the entire Canon where these boys are mentioned.

This led to a description of the phrase "Street Arabs" used to describe the Baker Street Irregulars.  Joe and Michael discussed the term "Arab," as referring to the nomadic nature of the people.  So applying the word "Street" before it would have been a fair description for the time, even if it sounds off-putting to our present-day ears.

When Holmes and Watson arrive at Wood's apartment, he is huddled in front of a fire although it is summer.  This led to a discussion on why Wood would be sitting there. Srini proposed that Wood was used to much warmer climates after having spent years in India and Afghanistan.  Adam thought that Wood would have been using the heat from the fire to help the chronic pain from his twisted body.

Wood tells Holmes and Watson that "It was providence that killed [Barclay]," and then told his story of being betrayed into the hands of the Indian Army by Barclay.  We discussed the problems with this story.  First of all, it is only Wood's account, with nothing to back it up.  Secondly, Barclay did not know that help was on the way, so his treachery not only doomed Wood, but the rest of his troop, himself, AND the woman he loved.  Why would he do such a thing?

Nellie pointed out that Barclay's actions would warrant a court martial, at least.

Wood was kept prisoner for years and then escaped "North to Afghanistan."  He then moved on to Punjab and eventually back to London.  Srini produced a map and showed the group that going north from Bhurta (which is probably the city of Kampur) does NOT put you in Afghanistan.  Wood's travel narrative doesn't hold up here.

After Wood saw Mrs. Barclay in London, he followed her home.  From the road, he saw the couple fighting, rushed in, and at the sight of him, Colonel Barclay died, hitting his head on the fireplace fender on the way down.  Michael described a fireplace fender for us, relating it to the piece of a car with the same name.

Wood then told Holmes and Watson about his pet, Teddy, which Watson recognizes on sight as a mongoose.  We wondered why Watson would be able to identify the animal on sight, but not when he and Holmes were discussing the creature earlier.

This led to Elaine quoting Peggy Perdue's essay about this story in About Sixty, stating that the story "Rikki Tikki Tavi" came out around the time that chronologists have placed this story, so many English would be aware of the animal.  Rob noted that Sherman the birdstuffer from SIGN had a pet mongoose named Slow-worm that Holmes and Watson didn't seem to remember when talking about the mongoose in this story.  Kristen commiserated with Wood, wondering just how hard it would have been to catch a mongoose after everything that had gone on in that room and how agitated Wood would have been.

Major Murphy happens to be walking by Wood's apartment at this moment, and Holmes tells him that Barclay died of apoplexy and the problem is solved.  Srini, a doctor himself, noted that it would be very rare to die of apoplexy so quickly.

We all wondered what happened to Mrs. Barclay and Henry Wood after the story ended.  Did Mrs. Barclay stay in the house?  Did Wood apply for his military pension?  We will never know.

Watson asked what "David" had to do with all of this, and Holmes refers him to the books of Samuel in the bible.  We discussed how likely it would be that Holmes and Mrs. Barclay would be familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba, being at it was a somewhat obscure story.  Joe speculated that Mrs. Barclay was already involved with church activities with the Guild of St. George, so it could be presumed that she would have more of a religious leaning than the average woman.  Nellie pointed out that Victorian upper and middle women had a lot of time during the day to read, and much of this reading time could have been devoted to biblical readings. 

Rob cited Leslie Klinger's Sherlock Holmes Reference Library, saying that Holmes' saying the story would have been found in "the first or second of Samuel" proved that Holmes would not be a Roman Catholic, because he would have referred to those books as "the first or second of Kings."  Christopher made the connection that David's first born son from his affair with Bathsheba died as an infant and the Barclays had no children of their own.

Branching off of this discussion, Michael filled us in on the Guild of St. George.  We will close this month's post with his write-up.  Our next meeting will be on July 13 to discuss The Resident Patient.  Come at once if convenient!

The Guild of St. George
Real or Fictional?

In CROO, Nancy Barclay went to a charity event in Aldershot. Holmes tells Watson that Mrs.
Barclay “had interested herself very much in the establishment of the Guild of St. George, which
was formed in connection with the Watt Street Chapel for the purpose of supplying the poor with
cast-off clothing.”

Jack Tracy’s Encyclopedia Sherlockiana has a listing for The Guild of St. George with an
asterisk, indicating Tracy’s conclusion that it is a fictitious entity. Tracy was mistaken. The
Guild of St. George is real.

The Guild of St. George is a real charity, founded in 1871 by John Ruskin, an author, artist,
university professor, social commentator, and polymath. Ruskin established the Guild as a
utopian society with the goal of making ordinary working people and rural people in England
happier, through education in arts, beauty, and goodness, and by raising people from abject
poverty. In 1889, when Baring-Gould dates CROO, and in 1893 when it was first published, the
Guild of St. George was expanding. It is quite consistent with its mission to have a clothing drive
for the poor.

There is also a connection between the Guild’s founder John Ruskin and Arthur Conan Doyle
(“ACD”). Ruskin’s book The King of the Golden River, published in 1850, was illustrated by
Richard Doyle, a prominent commercial artist. Said Richard Doyle was known to ACD as
“Uncle Dickie,” for he was an older brother of ACD’s father Charles. That book was a very
popular children’s book, and has been reprinted many times. Several copies are available in our
local library today. ACD, born in 1859, most surely read it as a child. With the connection
between Ruskin and Dickie Doyle, the popularity that book, and the prominence of John Ruskin,
there is a high likelihood that the literary agent ACD was familiar with the Guild of St. George.

The Guild still exists and operates in the UK as a small educational charity trust.

Take that, Jack Tracy!