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! 

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