Rituals, those things that depend upon a repeat of a previous thing, be it in religion or football, have always been a tremendous bore to me. While re-reading a book or re-watching a movie again and again might be comfort food to some, my own personality continually drives me to the new. So why is it that I continually come back to the Canon of Sherlock Holmes?
Because, through some arcane process Conan Doyle ingeniously concocted words that seem to change with focus, revealing brand new stories every time.
This morning, for example, Scott Monty tied a little essay on the word "incorrigible" to a new cartoon from the Mason pater-and-filius team. John Watson and wife number whatever seem to have a servant girl named Mary Jane in "A Scandal in Bohemia" who is just incorrigible, which for some reason has always had a connotation of "cute" to me. Scott points out how incorrigible is like the word irredeemable in his essay, the latter definitely being the word to use for a non-cute habitual ne'er-do-well.
Watson's use of "incorrigible" has always made me wonder if he didn't have a thing for that particular made and the thought of a "Mary Jane Watson" is just too tempting to any fan of Spider-man comics or movies. But in revisiting the lines in which that word is used, once again this morning after hundreds and hundreds of previous visits, I saw this:
"It is true that I had a country walk on Thursday and came home a dreadful mess, but as I have changed my clothes I can't imagine how you deduce it. As to Mary Jane, she is incorrigible, and my wife has give her notice . . . ."
Why was Watson going on a country walk?
Especially under such conditions that left him "a dreadful mess" -- the sort of day one would not choose to go for a country walk. Or was he just a dreadful mess emotionally from the thoughts he had during that walk? A country walk seems to imply Watson had to just get out of the house to think.
So, let's put it all together with the context surrounding that walk. Something is troubling Watson, so he went for a walk. Shortly after returning from that walk, and his thoughts therein, he walks through Baker Street, sees "the well-remembered door, which must always be associated in my mind with my wooing, and with the dark incidents of the Study in Scarlet." (Only two people getting together in that story, you may recall, and neither of them was named "Mary.") An adventure with Holmes ensues, and then John Watson writes it up with the opening sentence "To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman . . ." or "Hey, reading public! Sherlock Holmes is definitely heterosexual!"
To paraphrase that old faux Freud quote: "Sometimes a country walk is just a country walk." But the walk is there, and definitely an important enough point that Watson puts it in his chronicle, instead of just "my shoes got some mud on them the other day," which would have sufficed to explain the condition of his boots and Mary Jane's treatment of them.
Though it is hazy and half-seen, there is a story there, in that mention of a country walk. And the Sherlockian mind reads those words just a little more intensely once that story is glimpsed. It's a part of the magic that Conan Doyle imbued these works with, and a source of never-ending fun if one lets imagination dance upon them.
And one more reason that Sherlockiana is such a damned lovely hobby.