Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Troubled souls on the couch at 221B

One of the things that has held the Canon of Sherlock Holmes up through the test of time is how much one can draw from an isolated phrase. Doyle/Watson's words capture so much in a single sentence or two that the reader's imagination can practically use them as incantations to conjure portals into that other dimension and time where Sherlock Holmes lived.

Sonia Featherstone has long been particularly good at isolating a meaningful line, as she does regularly on Twitter. There are many Sherlockians who like to quote Holmes on social media, but her stream tends to find particular gems more than most.

This morning yielded that particularly lovely line from "The Yellow Face," a tale Peoria's discussion group will be taking up later this month. For all the untold tales that Watson gives us teasing glimpses of, the isle of Uffa, the worm unknown to science, the parsley in the butter, and the rest, this line seems to hold so much more.

"My friend and I have listened to a good many strange secrets in this room . . ."  Watson sounds more like he's describing a therapist's office than a detective agency. And when you consider the opening to cases like "The Copper Beeches," where Holmes is complaining of having to give advice on mundane matters, maybe it was sometimes.

The fact that Watson says they were "strange secrets" implies the clients weren't coming for help about public crimes, like murders, but more personal struggles. And the fact he goes on to say "we have had the good fortune to bring peace to many troubled souls" adds a layer to that: Watson actively helped bring peace as well, and as a doctor, one could see where he could contribute to any advice Holmes could give the troubled.

And when one considers the story that this line comes from -- a simple domestic misunderstanding -- one has to wonder if "Yellow Face" wasn't just the tip of an iceberg of domestic and workplace troubles that many a writer of Sherlockian pastiche tends to ignore.

"'The proper study of mankind is man', you know," Watson quotes Alexander Pope immediately after meeting Sherlock Holmes, and in those words I think we find the thing that first bound Sherlock and John, the common interest they shared that made them true friends and kept Watson in the sitting room whenever a new client arrived.

As usual, though, we can only try to imagine what all the clients Watson didn't write about had to say, what their troubles were, and what advice the Baker Street boys gave to soothe them.

A whole universe springs from that single line, and it is always a joy when a fellow Sherlockian presents a good one for a closer look as @221Blonde did this morning.

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