Saturday, May 12, 2018

May Meeting: The Cardboard Box

May found us back for another great meeting!  We're still at the Schafly Branch of the St. Louis Public Library, but as our membership has grown over the past year, we've officially moved the larger meeting room at the library.  (Sorry to those of you who waited in an empty room for 20 minutes for us!)

This month, Rob, Michael, Chris, Paul, Bob, Anne, Elaine, Joe, Nellie and Adam were in attendance to discuss "The Cardboard Box" on what we learned was the 84th anniversary of Christopher Morley announcing the formation of the Baker Street Irregulars in the Saturday Review of Literature.  But first, we started out with announcements:

A few Sherlockians in the Kansas City area are looking to get a group of like-minded folks together to discuss Holmes.  If you know of any Sherlockians in the Kansas City area, please email us at parallelcasestl at gmail dot com and we can help some Sherlockians get together!

Rob was interviewed on a recent episode of I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere and discussed Sherlockian activity in St. Louis, Holmes in the Heartland, teaching Sherlock Holmes, and his book The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street.

Elementary has returned for its sixth season and the two episodes that have aired so far led Joe and Elaine to announce that they were pleased with them, but curious to see how this season of the show would play out.

Entertainment Weekly reported that the third installment of the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes franchise would debut on Christmas Day of 2020.

HBO Asia has aired three episodes of Miss Sherlock, and they are available to view with subtitles on various websites here in America. 

Red Nose Day is a charity that is working to wipe out child poverty and they've recently recruited quite a few helpers from the BBC's Sherlock.  You can bid on a trip for two to London and breakfast at Speedy's Cafe with Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Gatiss, Andrew Scott and Steven Moffatt, served to you by Una Stubbs.  After breakfast, Louise Brealy will take you on a tour of Sherlock filming locations and the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

The next anthology from Chris Redmond is coming soon.  "Sherlock Holmes is Like..." allows 60 different authors to compare Sherlock Holmes to different people from history, literature and pop culture.

Elaine has been reading The Cat of the Baskervilles by Vicki Delaney.

The manuscript for "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" sold last month for $312,500 to an anonymous buyer.

For people who enjoy bath bombs, Pin Bomb has a Blue Carbuncle bath bomb that includes an enamel Sherlock Holmes pin.

Scintillation of Scions is happening next month in Baltimore, Maryland.  This conference has been going on for many years now and regularly receives great reviews from participants.

From Gillette to Brett V registration is now open, and a few Parallel Case members have already booked their spots!  This is the first Gillette to Brett conference in five years in Bloomington, Indiana, and speakers include Jeffrey Hatcher, Leslie Klinger, Ashley Polasek, David Stuart Davies, Lynette Porter, Nicholas Utechin and Terence Faherty.

The Norwegian Explores of Minnesota and the the Friends of the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota Libraries have announced their next conference to be held on August 9-11, 2019, titled Dark Places, Wicked Companions, and Strange Experiences.

And speaking of conferences in August....  Holmes In the Heartland is coming this summer!  August 10-12 will be a weekend full of Sherlockian and St. Louis fun!  Check out the Holmes in the Heartland page on our website for the full rundown of events.  Registration will open soon....  Very soon!

And then it was time to dive into our discussion on The Cardboard Box!

We started out talking about the history of this story's publication.  Originally published in The Strand in 1893, it was withheld from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes due to its scandalous nature, but was later included in His Last Bow.

William Baring-Gould places this story on August 31, 1889, 2 years before FINA and 8 years into the Holmes and Watson partnership.

Our story opens on a "blazing hot day in August" in Baker Street where Watson is out of money and can't travel to escape the oppressive heat.

Holmes doesn't seem to mind the heat, and anyway, Watson says he wouldn't be able to talk Holmes into a trip anyway as he has not interest in nature.  This led to a discussion on how true of a statement this is.  Holmes discusses nature in NAVA and later retires to Sussex to keep bees.  Did he eventually tire of the city or is Watson in error here?

Besides, Holmes "loved to lie in the very center of five millions of people, with his filaments stretching out and running through the, responsive to every little rumor or suspicion of unsolved crime."  This sentence reminded more than a few of us of Holmes description of Moriarty in the middle of his web.

While Holmes and Watson lie around Baker Street, Holmes appears to read Watson's mind in a passage that would later be cut and pasted into "The Adventure of the Resident Patient."  Doyle's writing here is full of fodder for scholarly papers: Edgar Allan Poe, General Gordon, Henry Ward Beecher, the Civil War, and where exactly Watson's war would was.

Once Holmes and Watson are out of Baker Street and onto investigating a mysterious package containing two severed ears, we see more similarities between stories.  The knot that holds the package together was reminiscent of the know in ABBE, and the man who addressed the package used a J-Pen, also mentioned in GREE. 

This led to a discussion on brown paper that was commonly used in England to wrap packages.  Chris wondered if this story could've been inspired by Jack the Ripper mailing body parts around this time.  Nellie told us about a class she once took on shipping hazardous materials and if this shipment would've passed muster.  Michael informed us that the first use of corrugated cardboard that is typically used for shipping was in 1890, which made some of us question the date of 1889 that Baring-Gould lists for this story.

Holmes notes that the ears are obviously not a pair, and the group hoped that even Lestrade had figured that much out.  At this point, Michael produced a fake ear to be passed around, and it eventually ended up being tossed around the group as the meeting went on!

After Holmes had investigated the package, he went inside to interview its recipient, Susan Cushing, even though Lestrade had already met with the woman.  Here Elaine noted that Holmes was much better than Lestrade at getting information out of Susan.  Adam said it was because Holmes had gone to the woman, instead of the numerous clients that come to Baker Street and the lack of patience he often has with them.  Michael noted the positive reinforcement that Holmes used during his interview and Chris pointed out that this scene shows that Holmes can have tact with people, although he chooses not to use it many times.

After his interview, Holmes goes to Wallington to meet with Ms. Cushing's sister.  But when he arrives, he finds that the woman is very ill.  Rob lamented that it's always brain fever in these stories.  Michael pointed out that when men in the Canon are under stress, they act out.  But when women in the Canon are under stress, they are susceptible to brain fever. 

After their trip to Wallington, Holmes and Watson have lunch, where Holmes tells the story of how he obtained his Stradivarius and then it's off to Scotland Yard.  Once there, Holmes has a telegram waiting for him, and can give Lestrade the name of the culprit behind this case.  He wants no mention of his name tied to such an easy case.

Once they are back in Baker Street, Holmes cites Watson's publications of A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four.  Rob pointed out that SIGN was published in 1890, which is another blow against Baring-Gould's chronology.

While discussing the case, Holmes describes Lestrade as "as tenacious as a bulldog when he once understands what he has to do and indeed it is his tenacity which has brought him to the top of Scotland Yard," and later says that the Yarder is "obtuse but resolute."  Rob wondered if G. Lestrade is the other side of the coin to Mycroft Holmes.

At this point, Watson has guessed that Jim Browner is behind the grisly package.  We stopped to talk about this point, and no one at the meeting could come up with another time in the Canon where Watson comes up with the answer before it is revealed to him.

Holmes tells Watson that he is correct, and goes on to expound upon the importance of human ears and their differences from one another.  Joe pointed out to us that two anonymous articles about the shape of human ears were printed in The Strand around this time and wondered if they could be reprints of Holmes' monographs about the shape of ears.

The package at the center of this whole investigation was meant for Sarah Cushing, not her sister Susan.  When Sarah read about it in the newspaper, she came down with her case of brain fever.  Two days later, Lestrade has found Jim Browner as his ship docked, and was happy to take credit for Holmes' plan.

Here we have Browner's confession to the tale.  He married the third Cushing sister, Mary, but Sarah was in love with him.  When he rejected her, she came to hate him.  This volatile mixture between them led Browner to return to alcoholism and Mary to take on a man on the side.  Nellie noted that Sarah's disposition probably had a lot to do with why she was single herself and wondered if her illness was punishment enough for the events she put into place.

One day, Browner followed Mary and her new beau, Alec Fairbairn, as they took a boat ride into the fog.  Anne and Elaine both raised the question: why were they rowing a boat in the fog?  And no one had a very good answer for that.  Elaine cited the essay on this story from About Sixty and said that she felt that Browner was an unreliable narrator at this point.  Browner had probably made up the boat in the fog story and had actually performed a calculated murder instead of the heat of the moment tale he confessed to.

So, Mary Browner and Alec Fairbairn are dead.  Sarah Cushing has a nervous breakdown.  Jim Browner is arrested and confesses.  But we never learn what Browner's punishment was or how Susan Cushing took the news of her murdered sister.  End of story.

After our group analysis of the story, Nellie asked about adaptations.  "The Cardboard Box" was the last story broadcast for the Jeremy Brett series, and we discussed the fitting nature of Brett's last lines as Holmes: "What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear?  It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable.  But what purpose? That, is humanity's great problem, to which reason so far, has no answer."

Michael shared a quiz on "The Cardboard Box" created by Kansas Sherlockian Scott Turner, to which Joe took top honors for before we called it a day.

Remember, keep your eyes peeled for Holmes in the Heartland registration.  And our next meeting will be July 21 to discuss "The Yellow Face."  Come at once if convenient!