Thursday, September 22, 2022

The greatest foe of Sherlock Holmes, on a personal level

 While we often think of Professor Moriarty as Sherlock Holmes's arch-nemesis and greatest victory, I was given cause tonight to consider if, to Sherlock Holmes, perhaps that wasn't the foe that was most important to him on a personal level. And oddly, that train of thought began in our local library discussion of "The Yellow Face." You remember "The Yellow Face," the story where Sherlock Holmes doesn't do much? Where the client kind of charges into a house and solves his own case?

Yeah, that one.

In our talks tonight, we came upon the part of the case that didn't occur: Sherlock Holmes's investigation. He went to Norbury to investigate a case. He even had an idea of what he was looking into, and the reason he made the trip: "There's blackmail in it, or I am much mistaken."

Sherlock Holmes was going to try to foil a blackmailer in "The Yellow Face." And what does he tell Watson before they set out? 

"I would not have missed the case for worlds."

Worlds! Not sure if Sherlock Holmes is revealing himself to be from another planet, whose knowledge of other worlds is solid, or if he was really of a sect that believed in multiple planets for whatever reason, but Sherlock Holmes would not trade this case for the sum total of multiple Earths.


Well, the blackmail of course. What was Sherlock Holmes's very first crime, the one that set him on the path of criminal detection? Hudson blackmailing Justice of the Peace Trevor in "The Gloria Scott." And who does he hate worse that any of the fifty murderers he's dealt with in his career at the point he goes up against him? A blackmailer -- "the king of all blackmailers" -- Charles Augustus Milverton. And what excuse does Holmes use in The Hound of the Baskervilles to ensure Watson believes that his friend is definitely not leaving London? A blackmail case.

The Scowrers? Blackmailers. The Red Circle? Blackmailers.

Lady Frances Carfax is feared the victim of blackmail. And even a villainess who foiled Holmes in her way, Isadora Klein, is given a warning by Holmes of her vulnerability to blackmail.

Blackmail was a crime that Holmes, along with the rest of Victorian England, hated more than anything. Sherlock goes to extraordinary measures to deal with Charles Augustus Milverton, and even though, as in "The Yellow Face," his full efforts are foiled by the sudden direct action of another person, had Holmes been allowed to deal with the threat on his own, perhaps we would have seen a criminal duel as extensive as that with Moriarty. And who's to say Moriarty's gang wasn't brought down as a part of, or resulting from, Holmes's quashing of Milverton's entire set-up?

Because even though Moriarty gets all the hooplah, when you come right down to it, Charles Augustus Milverton might have been Holmes's greatest foe, on a very personal level, as a criminal whose particular crime Holmes hated from the start.

No comments:

Post a Comment