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Thursday Quotables – The Return of Sherlock Holmes

THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“No,” Holmes answered, in his gentlest voice. “I will not cause you any unnecessary trouble, lady Brackenstall, and my whole desire is to make things easy for you, for I am convinced that you are a much-tried woman. If you will treat me as a friend and trust me you will find that I will justify your trust.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“To tell me the truth.”

“Mr. Holmes!”

“No, no, Lady Brackenstall, it is no use. You may have heard of any little reputation which I possess. I will stake it all on the fact that your story is an absolute fabrication.”

Mistress and maid were both staring at Holmes with pale faces and frightened eyes.

“You are an impudent fellow!” cried Theresa. “Do you mean to say that my mistress has told a lie?”

Holmes rose from his chair.

“Have you nothing to tell me?”

“I have told you everything.”

“Think once more, Lady Brackenstall. Would it not be better to be frank?”

For an instant there was hesitation in her beautiful face. Then some new strong thought caused it to set like a mask.

“I have told you all I know.”

Holmes took his hat and shrugged his shoulders. “I am sorry,” he said, and without another word we left the room and the house.

Thursday Quotables Meme

This is from The Adventure of Abbey Grange, my favourite story in The Return of Sherlock Holmes.
Although I’ve read a few of Holmes’s stories and always enjoyed them, I may have never read the entire book if not for a readalong with my readers’ group. And once more I really really enjoyed it.

This collection surprised me. I was surprised that it was so varied. The stories never followed the exact same scheme. There was always a new idea, a new perspective on Holmes, his methods or his character.
Most of the stories were cleverly constructed and the high quality of the entire collection also surprised me, since anthologies normally tend to be uneven on this side. Instead I find that I love most of the stories, with only one or two exceptions. And let me tell you that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a hell of a storyteller.

But what surprised me the most was Sherlock Holmes himself.
The popular image we have of him, as mostly cinema and tv has given us, is of a cold thinker. A detached man who often has difficulties  relating to other human beings. An extravagant difficult to understand, more interested in the puzzle than in the people involved in it.
I discovered that this is not the case with the original stories. Holmes is indeed describes as an uncommon man, but he is also a gentle man as well as a gentleman. He cares and symphatises with the victims and despises the criminals. He has a sense of humour. And though he does have his own moral code, he always uses it to further what he believes to be justice, even when that justice would hardly be supported by the law.

“No, I couldn’t do it, Watson. Once that warrant was made out nothing of earth would save him. Once or twice in my career I felt that I have done more real harm by my discovery of the criminal than ever he had done by his crime. I have learned caution now, and I had rather play tricks with the law of England than with my own conscience.”

I was also quite surprised by the treatment of women. Sure, they are always presented in their domestic incarnation, as mothers, more often as wives or soon-to-be wives. But as Victorian women, I find them to have quite an agenda. They often act on their own accord, sometimes unbeknownst to the man they answer to. Although they are never the villain, they are sometimes the criminal, which did surprise me. And sometimes, as in this short story, controversial issues are touched – in this case, domestic violence. I really didn’t expect this.

I was fascinated with the Victorian world, so different from ours. And still not quite. Holmes communicates mostly by telegram, and still telegrams are so fast that they normally arrive within hours, so to be effective substitute of the telephone. He travels a lot, mostly by public transportation. I never had the feeling that he was hindered in any way by a world that we are normally inclined to think constricting and slow in comparison to ours.

It was a very enjoyable, surprising read.


In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies


THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) Although this is not the first time I read Sherlock Holmes stories, The Return of Sherlock Holmes surprised me for the unexpected image it gives of him, very different from the popular (mostly screen) rendition
THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) We all think we know who Sherlock Holmes is. What kind of person he is. But try and read Doyle's original stroies and you might have a surprise. (book review)

7 Comments

  • JOHN T. SHEA
    Posted July 13, 2018 at 10:33

    A crisp and succinct extract, Sarah! I must reread the Holmes stories. I reread Conan Doyle’s ‘THE LOST WORLD’ a few years ago and enjoyed it again.

    Holmes’ world was of course the very height of modernity for Conan Doyle’s readers, railway timetables playing a vital role at a time when a late train was considered a national disgrace in Britain! Not everything has progressed since…

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted July 14, 2018 at 08:25

      Well, isn’t the world we live in always the Height of modernity? 😉
      Still, maybe because I don’t normally read Victorian novels, these stories gave me a glimpes into this world which was partly different from what I expected.

      • JOHN T. SHEA
        Posted July 14, 2018 at 11:26

        Good point, Sarah, though maybe not so true before the Nineteenth Century. The Victorians seem to be the first people to think of themselves as ‘modern’ as we use the term. Before the Industrial Revolution people’s lives changed slowly, if at all, in the overall scheme of things. I’m not counting wars and other disasters. Those who acknowledged change at all were inclined to view it as much as regress as progress (some still do that, of course!).

        I must say my thinking on this has recently been influenced by the Human Progress website http://WWW.HUMANPROGRESS.ORG which I have mostly agreed with so far.

  • Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Posted July 13, 2018 at 18:48

    Hi Sarah – this definitely calls to me … loved your review and on Amazon … I saw a review re the recordings of these stories … and how the scene setting with the noise of the horses, gas lamps, calls, pavement walking and horse carts etc brought the stories really to life. I tend to read … so guess this is what I’ll do … and will check the library … cheers Hilary

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted July 14, 2018 at 08:32

      That sounds a fascinating reading, Hilary. I did mostly listened to these stories, but it was a free reading on youtube with just the narrator. Still I liked it. It was my first experiment with listening to a book rather than reading it and I really enjoyed it.

  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted July 13, 2018 at 21:44

    This is such a thoughtful and interesting post, Sarah. And I agree with you about the way that Holmes treats women. In several of the stories, they have much more of their own agency that you might expect from the pen of a Victorian author. As you say, they are, in many ways, bound by their cultural contexts. But they find ways (I’m thinking of Irene Adler, for instance…).

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted July 14, 2018 at 08:34

      It was fascinating. I really didn’t expect such direction from female characters invented by a male Victorian author. Mhm… I suppose this speaks about my preconcepts on this age.

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