Thursday, 19 May 2011


I am inundated with marking SATs papers at present so although I have read the booklet ‘Caves and Caving in Davely Dale’ about 56 times already (and will have read it 328 times before I have finished) I have had little time for anything else. Pip and Miss H are therefore on hold but I have started to re-read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (always a pleasure and, in bite-size pieces, perfect for winding down at the end of a long day).
I am assuming that ‘The Adventures’ refers to the first collection of short stories, published in book form in 1892, as opposed to the entire canon. In some ways this is a relief as it cuts down my necessary reading by about 90% but there are few pleasures in this life better than a journey into Victorian London with Holmes and Watson so I would gladly have swapped Lord of the Rings for the rest of the Holmes stories.
Today I read A Scandal in Bohemia and The Red-Headed League. There were earlier literary detectives. I recently reminded myself of the fabulous deductive powers exhibited by Poe’s Dupin but Conan Doyle provided Holmes with more character than we are ever allowed to see of Dupin; we see Holmes’ flaws and his demons. The great stroke of genius, however, was to dispense with the nameless narrator and to create not merely an observer but a prop, a necessary element, a supportive chronicler. The twist in every tale is that Holmes needs Watson far more than Watson needs Holmes. Like Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby (another favourite which I read every summer and which, therefore, will be a pleasure to include in my challenge) he comments but he does not judge. When he does take a side it is merely a humanistic or medical intervention. About ten years ago M and I went to a lecture by Christopher Frayling on The Hound of the Baskervilles in the British Library. Frayling likened Holmes and Watson to the two dogs in Landseer’s painting ‘Dignity and Impudence’. Check it out: at first glance one dog dominates, but look again.
The first copy I had of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes had a bizarre modern picture on the front and the tag ‘Holmes at Home’ on the back cover. I have loved the stories and remembered the phrase ever since.

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