Thursday, February 27, 2020

Going back to when Watson didn't know things

Out of the ten people who met to discuss the first three chapters of A Study in Scarlet at our local library group (the Sherlock Holmes Story Society) tonight, a full 30% of them had read Boccaccio's Decameron, the book the corpse had in its pocket. I was very impressed. As a long-time Sherlockian collector, I own a copy, but as a lazy intellect, I can't say that I've read it. (But I read every page of Winwood Reade's Martyrdom of Man, so don't write me off completely.)

In any case, it was a great discussion tonight, as ever, and one of the earliest points made was an observation by Mark of the similarity of some of the writing in chapter two of A Study in Scarlet to that of Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," pointing out that chapters one and three had slightly  different styles. It made me wonder if, perhaps, Doyle being inspired by Poe's tale, had put some of chapter two down before he had written chapter one.

Doyle's writing also came up in the question of whether he had an editor -- a point I don't think I've ever heard brought up before. Having seen manuscript facsimile's and their closeness to the printed text, we can safely say that Doyle pretty much had it down, and didn't need much help. (Which is also where is little issues with that wandering wound and Watson's married life come up.)

I was shocked to learn that Inspector Gregson appears a lot more times in the Canon than I remember him appearing. (We all like Lestrade better anyway, don't we?) But over all, the opening chapters of A Study in Scarlet being some of my favorite parts of the Canon, I just luxuriated in every part of the night's discussion.

Most of us come to Sherlock Holmes at some point other than when Watson does, and get to come back and read those first words with the joy of knowing how great Watson's life is going to get. The little mysteries of the new room-mate may have Watson wondering, but we gleefully watch him try to puzzle Holmes out. Comparing it to a love story, we never really have that defining moment where Watson realizes his full admiration for this unique individual all at once, but the path is certainly there, and just the fact that Watson is writing a book about the man says something.

Other notes: There are probably more descriptions of Holmes's fingers in STUD than in any other story. When your group just does the first three chapters, there are spoilers in chapter four and beyond that some people don't know yet. (Like Mormons!)  And I completely messed up the last name of a major player in a past Watsonian Weekly episode, so get ready for a correction this week!

Getting together to discuss Sherlock Holmes is always a great time, so if you don't have a local library group, I'd recommend stating one. It might take a year or two  to really build up some steam (our first year had a couple of "iffy" months when I was worried it wouldn't take), but I'd bet it gets there eventually, just by giving folks the chance to let their enjoyment of some very enjoyable tales come out.

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