Monday, August 16, 2021

The strange recurrence of Mrs. Turner

 Okay, let's talk about one of those really weird parts of the Canon: Mrs. Turner.

You know the story, "A Scandal in Bohemia," Mrs. Turner bringing in the tray of cold beef and beer for a light five o'clock meal before Holmes and Watson head out to pull a stunt on Irene Adler. In that story, and that story alone, she appears to be the landlady at 221B Baker Street.

But did I say "that story alone?" My bad.

She also appears in a second story, "The Adventure of the Empty House," but only in the original manuscript. And in that original manuscript, someone has clearly crossed out "Turner" on page 39 and written in "Hudson."

The first of the original short stories, and the first of the return of short stories over a decade later. This has perplexed the scholarly crowd who look upon the life of Watson's literary agent to see if Conan Doyle had some familiar landlady in his life named "Turner" for inspiration. And even if he was so impressed by some woman of his acquaintance, but keep mixing her up with Mrs. Hudson?

Unlike "A Scandal in Bohemia," the manuscript of "The Adventure of the Empty House" actually refers to Mrs. Hudson specifically a few pages before Mrs. Turner slips in. There's definitely an ongoing mix-up here, a need for the chronicler to keep correcting himself. And the solution should be fairly obvious: Mrs. Turner was Mrs. Hudson's real name.

Why else make the same mistake thirteen years later? Why slip up within a few short pages? A person would have to commonly think of that lady by that other name almost all the rest of the time when not writing up Sherlock Holmes's cases. And if Watson hid the landlady's name beneath a "Hudson" disguise, wouldn't we suspect "221B Baker Street" of being a cover-up address as well? Ah, the slippery slope that this mystery so quickly leads us to!

Papers found in the possession of Arthur Conan Doyle perplex us on a lot of things, like Watson being in San Francisco, in love with a girl pursued by Mormons. Mrs. Turner. "The Adventure of Shoscombe Abbey." The connecting threads such bits give us would use up yarn on a conspiracy bulletin board, for certain. Especially when Mrs. Turner disappears after the first story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and then a whole family of Turners turn up three cases later, missing a Mrs. Turner.

But was Mrs. Turner ever really missing, or just living under an assumed name, borrowed from Sherlock Holmes's first case. It would seem a mystery worth Sherlockian investigation.