Friday, February 22, 2019

Starting with The Sign of the Four

You'll have to forgive me as I blunder through this particular blog post. The subjects involved just make me a little stupid with their looks, a failing many of us have.

We come to Sherlock Holmes via many different doors. And this week, a Sherlockian of note pointed out another one, even though his focus was on something fascinatingly non-Sherlock, yet totally a part of what made Sherlock Holmes what he was.

I'm speaking, of course, of the second episode of Mattias Boström's podcast Talk About Sherlock. I'll let you discover the fresh insights Mattias has to offer on your own, but suffice it to say that it sent me digging through my own little collection of ancient volumes, looking at title pages, dates, etc. with new eyes. One particular little volume I'd forgotten about caught my attention, a pretty little edition of Sign of the Four, as the cover reads.

Which, it turns out, wasn't even the edition I wanted to write about. But I have to show you anyway, so you can see how this might not be my best attempt at writing a blog. Anyway, there was this other attractive little number.

Inside the front cover is Mrs. W. Miller's name, along with some initials, and a date of Xmas '94.

After listening to Talk About Sherlock, I came to muse upon how many Americans may have actually started their reading of the Sherlockian Canon with The Sign of the Four and not A Study in Scarlet or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. There was that period of time, in the early nineties, when one was very apt to just discover that single book, The Sign of the Four, without realizing that Sherlock Holmes had already appeared in another novel, or that short stories of the detective were being published in periodicals. Matching sets of Sherlock Holmes books were not as common as they would later become, and the character Sherlock Holmes? A fellow in "a" book, to so many who encountered him. Yes, Mrs. W. Miller's book was given to her in 1894, after Holmes was starting to bloom and boom, but could Mrs. W. Miller have been one of those folks who came to Sherlock as a character in The Sign of the Four first?

To my mind she had to be.

But, as with all minds, we are often given to cherished non-proven theories before all the facts are in, and, apparently, I once organized my books by title. A little further into my library dig I discovered this:

What? Had Mrs. W. Miller been given a set of Holmes books in 1894 after all? Well, not entirely ...

It looks like A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four were a "couples" gift. Mr. W. Miller got the first book of Holmes, while Mrs. W. Miller got the second. Since I probably picked up both books at the same place, the chance that they were split up in a divorce settlement isn't very likely.  But did the Millers know that there was an order to the books? Or did they sit down one evening a couple days after "Xmas" and each start reading their own gift ... in which case Mrs. Miller did read The Sign of the Four first. And what an interesting conversation that would have been between the Millers, with one meeting Holmes in STUD and one meeting him in SIGN, simultaneously. I'd have loved to be a fly on that wall, back in the day before anyone's knee-jerk reaction was to scream "SPOILERS!" and shut down a conversation to protect their own novel virginity.

It's hard to imagine just what encountering Sherlock Holmes was truly like in the early 1890s, but I'm very appreciative of Mattias Boström's latest musings upon Holmes and the lights it shined on that era. Now I finally understand why I have this stack of what I thought was a minor Doyle novel called Micah Clarke. (If a keen eye spots the Longmans in the stack, that's something like the eleventh edition from the four years following 1889.)

No comments:

Post a Comment