Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer of Sherlock: The Lion's Mane.

Curiously, reading the tales of Sherlock Holmes on the dates they occur reveals an interesting pattern, come late summer . . . retirement suddenly comes on strong. Take a look at the next four tales:

July 30, 1907, Tuesday -- "The Lion’s Mane"
August 1, 1894, Wednesday -- "The Norwood Builder"
August 2, 1914, Sunday -- "His Last Bow"
August 20, 1898, Saturday -- "The Retired Colourman" 

First we find Sherlock Holmes in retirement, then a "retiring" fellow who had pretty much given up his own business and then definitely leaving the scene, followed by Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson coming out of retirement, and finally a retiree at the center of a murder mystery.

Is late summer a time when people tend to think of retirement, as summer vacations come to an end and the work of harvests, fall, and winter set in?  Did the season affect Watson and his literary agent in their selection of stories from this time of year?

Off-topic summer side note: Here's a great game to test your Sherlockian know-how -- go to the Moonfind search engine of the Canon. Now think of any Sherlock Holmes story, like "The Lion's Mane." Now think of the one word that will pull up that story -- and only that story -- on the search engine. (And "Lion's Mane" is one of the easier ones.)

The thought of retirement for a mind that "rebels at stagnation" must have been an curious little problem for Sherlock Holmes. Plainly the detective business had lost its luster for him, as once Professor Moriarty is vanquished, Holmes seems to be actually looking for a new Moriarty and not finding one. When he refers to "the late lamented Professor Moriarty," it seems like he's the one doing the lamenting, having to deal with crooks and schemers who aren't even close to his level. But retirement?

It seems Holmes's first choice of retirement busy-work is writing. He writes "The Blanched Soldier." He writes "The Lion's Mane." He writes the Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, probably because he spent as much time and thought on bee-keeping as any man ever did and exhausted that subject -- the bees certainly know what they're doing and don't require too much maintenance past a certain point.

Sherlock Holmes might have also had ideas of becoming something of a naturalist in his retirement, as is hinted at in a number of stories. "Of late I have been tempted to look into the problems furnished by nature," being the biggest clue, said during the finishing of Moriarty. And "Lion's Mane" shows hints of Holmes going that direction, as in his familiarity with the book Out of Doors by J.G. Wood. But he also has to rummage around his attic to find it, so it seems like a hobby he might have given up on.

He still writes up "The Lion's Mane," though, which is exactly the sort of "problem furnished by nature" he spoke of over a decade before.

Yet in July of 1907, when the events of the tale occur, we know that he is not going to stay long in that cottage in Sussex, for the summer story that starts just a couple of days from now is soon two take him away for years. This period of occasional weekend visits from Watson and dropping in on Harold Stackhurst was probably just a bit too lonely for him . . . even those of us that think we are nature people sometimes are surprised to find we were people persons after all.

Because the "Lion's Mane" certainly makes a lousy beach companion. (The story, however, not bad.)

(And one last note: Maud Bellamy. Forget Mary Russell and Irene Adler. Maud Bellamy! The one woman we have Sherlock Holmes's direct testimony on, and even he can't let her pass without comment.)


  1. Yea, we have to wonder about that Maud girl!

  2. Mr Keefauver:

    Congratulations on a truly well-written and insightful analysis. This work merits being offered to the broader Sherlockian/Watsonian world as a paper or article. These are important shadings.


    Don Libey
    The John H Watson Society