Our local library discussion group met tonight to discuss the dreaded "Three Gables," and, as always, I came away from that discussion with a few fresh perspectives on an old familiar tale. But this time, one of those thoughts fairly shocked me as the mental tumblers clicked into place.
The thing about "The Adventure of the Three Gables" is that in 2021, you're blinded by the story's outright racism right off the bat. The minstrel show thug Steve Dixie and the other characters' reactions to him are so awful that he eclipses everything else in that story -- like the sexism. A lot of "punching down" is going on in this tale, and even Watson takes a hit. And those aren't the only problems.
Over the years, many a Sherlockian has commented on the tale's plot being similar to "Red-Headed League" or "Three-Garridebs," being basically about a ruse to get someone out of their house to steal something. (Sure, the wealthy antagonist offers to just buy the whole house first, but, hey, close enough.) With those comparisons in mind, and the story's other issues, though, I never stopped to realize the story that "Three Gables" actually resembles.
"There was never a woman to touch her," Sherlock Holmes said of Isadora Klein, which puts one in mind of Holmes's former thoughts on Irene Adler . . . and how Adler's place in his mind may have faded with time, if it was what Watson thought it was even at its peak.
Is Isadora Klein another Irene Adler? Nope!
Isadora Klein is the King of Bohemia.
She has an upcoming marriage to a person of stature. She has an ex-lover who has something she doesn't want her intended's family to see. And she hires some burglars to get that thing back.
"The Adventure of the Three Gables" is a reverse "A Scandal in Bohemia."
But Douglas Maberley, being a much weaker specimen than Irene Adler, dies of broken heart pneumonia, and leaves his mother to hire Sherlock Holmes. Imagine if Irene had come to Holmes first to help her figure out what the King of Bohemia wanted so badly that he was sending thugs after her -- suddenly you get "The Adventure of Briony Lodge" instead of "A Scandal in Bohemia."
And as much as Holmes thinks the King of Bohemia is a jerk, the detective doesn't ask him for the modern equivalent of half a million dollars just to make Irene and her husband feel better about being burgled. "Three Gables" doesn't just gender-flip "Scandal" without indulging in a bit of its discrimination along the way. And we don't come away from this one liking Sherlock Holmes as much as we do in the light-side version of this plot.
"The Adventure of the Three Gables" is soooo problematic, and casts a shadow over everyone involved. Conan Doyle's later life faculties got questioned a lot this evening. But I sure never expected that it was the evil twin of the tale that lead off the short stories we prize so much.