Tuesday, January 24, 2017

That first short story . . . .

Looking back at "A Scandal in Bohemia" from this, the far future, one can find it a very odd choice for the first of an ongoing series that would be the Victorian era's predecessor to the TV series.

While Sherlock Holmes had been fully introduced in two novels previously, was there an expectation that readers of The Strand Magazine had read Lippincott's Magazine the year before, or Beeton's Christmas Annual over three years before? Watson seems to think so, as he cites the latter in his narrative . . . a line that makes perfect sense to latter day readers who so often have all of the stories gathered in a single collection. But at the time the story came out?

"What's this A Study in Scarlet he's talking about?" would seem a natural response.

Sherlock Holmes doesn't even seem to be a detective, if one reads the opening to "A Scandal in Bohemia" cold. He's "a trained reasoner" who "was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime." Watson writes of it less as Holmes's profession and more of as a deeply immersive hobby.

Watson is paying Holmes a visit and just happens to be there when a man in a mask shows up to talk about royal blackmail. The very first story of Sherlock Holmes to cross many a reader's path and he's nowhere near the cliche murder-solver that he is so often automatically cast as. He's a domestic spy or an artful burglar in this case . . . but a detective? Not at all.

And then he blows it. First story in the series. First client in the series. And he blows it.

All well and good if you've had two successful novel-length cases prior to get established. But as the opening to a new series? A very curious choice. Almost like somebody in the decision process had a real crush on a certain celebrity character (or whom it was based on) when placing it at the head of the line.

In male-dominated Victorian England, the premiere episode of what would become a wildly popular series featured a woman totally pwning the tale's ingenious male main character. And Sherlock Holmes definitely is the main character of this story, inserting himself into the lives of those in a celebrity love triangle.

Which is odd as well, yet at least makes more sense for a kick-off story. A celebrity love triangle, full of masks, disguises, and a secret marriage, is just the sensational tale you'd want to lead with.

Still, if the average person were to describe a typical Sherlock Holmes story, "A Scandal in Bohemia" is nowhere close to what they'd be describing. Did Doyle eventually settle into a sort of formula, or do our minds just like to group things in a category and let the most common set the model? One wonders what Sherlock Holmes's adventures would have been like, had Doyle continued the sensational, free-wheeling sort of tale we see in "A Scandal in Bohemia."

Perhaps the result might have been something wild enough to make BBC Sherlock's "The Final Problem" seem a little less unusual.

1 comment:

  1. Watson (Doyle) was self-promoting his earlier work. He knew a good advertising opportunity when he saw it.