Thursday, April 23, 2020

My first virtual Sherlockian meeting, at last!

I've often said that our local library discussion group brings some happy new perspectives on those old favorite stories each time we meet, and it was delightful to learn that social distancing, while trimming our number by three or four, didn't hurt the content. Tonight's first Zoom-enabled discussion of A Study in Scarlet went off just as if it were at the library, with the one exception being we couldn't pass the Beeton's reproductions around, or show each other a particular footnote from a particular edition.  But let's get to what I learned tonight.

The good Carter, while being a good Carter, skipped the Mormon segment of A Study in Scarlet, as one often does in re-readings (like Billy Goldman's grandfather just reading him "the good parts version" of S. Marganstern's The Princess Bride). But when she did so, discovered that she was reading Jefferson Hope's confession just as Lestrade, Holmes, and Watson might have heard it -- without having read that whole Mormon backstory. When Hope finally mentions the name of Lucy Ferrier, it comes out of the blue, and, from that ringside point of view for the confession makes him a much less sympathetic character.

So if one takes Watson's word, and A Study in Scarlet as his personal memoir, that American part of the tale is still someone's absolute fiction, imagined based upon a name, a few facts, and an attempt to make Hope a more sympathetic figure.

Another new perspective I enjoyed was Robert's questioning of how Jefferson Hope didn't recognize the address of 221 Baker Street when he was being summoned into a trap, after he had sent a confederate to that very address earlier to retrieve the wedding ring. Holmes doesn't use his own name on that earlier ad, as he didn't want "dunderheads" meddling in his business. We took the dunderheads to mean Scotland Yard, and it seems he thought they wouldn't recognize his address either. And that brings me to yet another point, now that I consider it: Holmes had recently moved, so some members of Scotland Yard might not have had his new address yet. Lestrade is a regular visitor at 221B, before Watson even knows who he is. So one wonders who the meddlers might have been, as well as why Hope didn't recognize that address.

For some reason, I became obsessed with Lestrade's use of shorthand in the 1880s, which has served the police well over the years, but never seemed like something that Holmes's foils would be up to being proficient in. The entire thought of G. Lestrade having learned the Pitman shorthand of the day casts a new light on him, as the sort of progressive inspector who would work with a Sherlock Holmes, who was doing pioneering work his field. One even has to wonder if a Lestrade and Holmes partnership, with the Scotland Yard man taking case notes, had a failed pilot attempt, before Watson came along. (Did Watson know shorthand?)

In any case, even though we didn't seem to have the best opinion of the Jefferson Hope case as an investigation for Sherlock Holmes, we still had a pleasant time with the tale, and it was good to see Jamie, Laura, Robert, Mary, and ourselves, and hope we can lure a few more of our Peoria Sherlockians into our "web" discussions as this social distance continues. (As of today, another month has been announced for Illinois, so one more meeting this way, at the very least.)

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