Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Sherlock Holmes reads "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"

 I was checking up on something in the Canon tonight when a detail caught my eye, as they often do when reading those original tales of Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes hasn't seen Watson in a while and is telling the doctor about his new ring.

"It was from the reigning family of Holland though the matter in which I served them was of such delicacy that I cannot confide it even to you who have been good enough to chronicle one or two of my little problems."

"And have you any on hand just now?" Watson asks.

"Some ten or twelve, but none present any feature of interest. They are important, you understand, without being interesting."

That last line stopped me in my tracks, because multi-tasking is all we seem to do any more, and I've become painfully aware of just what my limits are in terms of the number of simultaneous projects I can carry at once at work, without losing focus on one or the other. I know, I know, we're talking about Sherlock Holmes here. But twelve? TWELVE?

Keeping twelve different investigations separate in your mind, without any of the details slipping from one case to another, forgetting something, or just missing something entirely is a much more superhuman feat than simply unbending a bent fireplace poker. In fact, the thought that Holmes could accomplish such a thing without some noticeable system went beyond my personal suspension of disbelief. No way, Holmes, no way!

So was he just lying, puffing up eight or nine letters he had skimmed to investigation level? Or was it something else? Let's look at that context again:

". . . you who have been good enough to chronicle one or two of my little problems."

"And have you any on hand just now?"

Is Watson referring to "problems" with his question . . . or "chronicles?"

Had Watson written up his first bunch of short stories and given them to Holmes, and that is the "some ten or twelve" that Holmes has on hand? Did Watson want to know if Holmes had read the stories, not if he had any investigations in progress?

Holmes, as usual, isn't very enthusiastic about Watson's works. "None present any features of interest," his first thoughts come out, but then sees Watson's lips start to frown and goes, "They are important, you understand." Yet he remains Sherlock Holmes, adding ". . . without being interesting." He just can't help himself.

The conversation makes perfect sense as one about Watson's writings. Even more sense, actually, given that "ten or twelve" business.

Sure, the story in which that exchange occurs is "A Case of Identity," which is a part of the first twelve stories that we saw. But Sherlock Holmes definitely got to read them first.

And Watson's inclusion of the silly little business of Mary Sutherland so early in the Adventures series could actually have been part of a reaction to Holmes's words documented here. "You want to see a case of little interest? Here you go. Also, I'm putting that time Irene Adler beat you as the first story." (These decisions, and the first set, were all determined before Holmes went up and died in 1891, of course. At that point, a grief-stricken Watson just let Doyle pick them up off his desk and take them to the Strand.)

I really think that what we're seeing in "A Case of Identity" is Holmes after he's recently read Watson's first attempt at a short story collection, a first draft of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Because that twelve-jobs-at-once thing is, well, a bit much.

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