Friday, March 30, 2012

Irene Adler - A Scandal in Bohemia (Day Three & Beyond).

Briony Lodge.
'Briony Lodge' is a disarmingly charming name for the fictional residence of Irene Adler, as quintessentially English as 'Ivy  Dene' or 'The Myrtles'.

Stereotypically suburban, it serves to mask an extraordinary mistress behind a facade of ordinariness. Apparently so vulnerable a child might with ease effect entry, the Lodge proves impregnable.

The photograph above will be readily recognised by viewers of the Jeremy Brett series on ITV. It is of course a dramatic set purporting to represent the Adler home...no more a reality than the literary 'house' of Doyle's invention. Locations in fiction (whether printed, staged or filmed) are always metaphoric not literal. They just seem real - but that is the intention.

In essence, Briony Lodge is created thus to reflect the nature of its mistress. Holmes misreads both: on the morning he expects to surprise Irene Norton, 'The door of Briony Lodge was open' - only because she wishes it so.

 Watson (and later commentators) stress her open-heartedness and gentle,  graceful mien; The success of Holmes's subterfuge depended on these virtues and, to her credit, she does not disappoint.

The dawning of suspicion, however, arouses instant, vigorous and consummately executed response. She metamorphoses into a very different proposition from the dupe Holmes thought he left in Briony Lodge. 

Musically speaking, she ups tempo in spirited con brio - and, yes, the suggestion is there in 'Briony' - all verve, vigour, get-up-and-go. In a flash she is upstairs, costumed, hot on the detective's heels. Later, we are to understand, she walks (alone, late at night,in disguise) to The Temple, writes at midnight to Holmes, packs her life and catches the 5.15 for pastures new.

There is little left to relate (the events of mere minutes from 8am) but much to contemplate. Of intriguing but secondary importance are the reactions of Bohemia and Holmes.

 The former transparently (adolescently) simply cannot credit that Irene has severed all ties: 'but she could not love him', the King exclaims, lapsing into ' a moody silence' as he wistfully regrets she was not 'of my own station'.

Just as spontaneous and telling is Watson's (rare) description of an astounded friend: '"What!" Sherlock Holmes staggered back, white with chagrin and surprise.'

The outsmarted (and smarting) Holmes has more to come to terms with than Bohemia and to his credit he does achieve a kind of perspective on the impact of Irene Adler. Watson's final words on the issue are too well known to need quotation. I would only observe that the photograph Holmes retains is a permanent cautionary reminder never to underestimate one's opponent.

Much more questionable is the effect on her princely lover. In contrast with Holmes he has learned nothing from the encounter. Claiming rather too readily that he knows her to be 'quick and resolute'; that he believes 'her word is inviolate'; that 'the photograph is now as safe as if it were in the fire', Bohemia moves a little too swiftly to the act of rewarding Holmes. This leaves a nagging sense that some time in the future he is just as likely to be revisited by the insecurities that brought him to London.

For me, she is not out of danger should the photograph exist in Bohemia's mind. Which is why, much as I like Gayle Hunnicutt's Adler, I take issue with a screenplay that has Norton cast the photograph into the sea, preferring Doyle's own version which leaves room to imagine further attempts to pin down Irene for good.

INTERMISSION! At roughly midway in this post you are invited to relax (courtesy of Youtube & Film Annex) with video reminders of two representations of Irene Adler more faithful to the original story than those of Lara Pulver and Rachel McAdams. 

1. A Gayle Hunnicutt compilation:
     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBVqo5lrMvs

2. Irene's Theme from the Livanov Russian version:
     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lO_y-_zkgV8

3. A Scandal in Bohemia as performed in the Livanov Russian version, called The Treasures of Agra. (the first 25 minutes contain all the events of SCAND...wait for the ad to play through!):
http://www.filmannex.com/movie/sherlock-holmes-and-dr-watson-the-treasures-of-agra-part-2/19489

I find much to savour in both these performances. Of the two I place Hunnicutt's first - for that rare ethereal quality possessed by a true diva.

Russia's Adler resembles Patricia Hodge in The Second Stain: beautiful in an aristocratic way but lost on the operatic stage. 

Russia's SCAND  makes a novel departure, having Irene deliver her letter  (in disguise) as she says 'Good night' in Baker St.  This is primarily an economic device to fit the whole story into 25 minutes: The Treasures of Agra incorporates more than one case.

In its defence, this scene gives us more of Adler as actress. However, it detracts from the potency of the 'planted' letter and affronts this reader's imagination.

Doyle's letter is as perfume lingering in the air. The scent, the spoor, the tang of Irene Adler yet pervades Briony Lodge invoking a dominant presence... there...but the lady herself long gone.

. Deceitful disguise effectively muffles the authentic voice with which Irene graces her 'formidable opponent' in writing to Holmes. Her letter is vivacious, even chatty (implying a regret that they met in the least sociable circumstances) A winning sense of the fun of it all is stronger than any expression of triumph. (Hamlet's letter from England has an identical function - to illustrate a sea-change in the writer and ensure potency of presence in absentia). 

Mrs. Norton is crystal clear that the papers and photograph will be retained as security against 'any steps which he might take in the future'. A reasonable fear, given the King we have come to know.

A good point to glance at those other (future) references to the woman.

A Case of Identity sees Holmes taking snuff from yet another little souvenir from Bohemia...and referring prosaically to 'the case of the Irene Adler papers' .Holmes would seem to have filed her away.

The Five Orange Pips probably refers to Irene: 'I have been beaten...once by a woman.' A fact of life that Holmes has come to terms with.

The Blue Carbuncle serves to remind us no legal crime was committed , alluding to 'my attempt to recover the Irene Adler papers'. She is history buried in that formal phrase.

We know from Watson's vantage point in 1891 that Irene Norton is dead by the date of writing. How is a mystery; how Watson knows is a mystery; her brief marital life is a blank. Air rushes into a vacuum, and Doyle left two irresistible 'empty spaces' (I am thinking of Peter Brook's seminal book on theatre). The years between The Final Problem and The Empty House have proved as fertile a ground for sub-Doyle creations as Irene Adler's fallow years.

Given the liberties frequently taken in print, on stage and on screen these many years, I trust the reader will forgive if I move now to some purely subjective images that exist only on the stage of my imagination.

There are four, the most important ( and detailed) of which I feel warrants a post of its own - My Ideal Irene Adler, the performance I dream of witnessing on stage or screen. 

1. The Fate of Bohemia and Irene Norton.

For me, Doyle takes secret delight in Holmes's reference to 'the late King of Bohemia', while possibly exaggerating his part to increase Von Bork's discomfort: 'It was I who brought about the separation...'

On one level, Bohemia represents to the Doyle of 1917 the old guard withered away by the icy blast of change. I am just glad to hear he has breathed his last for I have (with no shred of evidence but a belief in his capacity for crime)  entertained the notion he achieved on the continent what was evaded in London - the silencing of a threat and attraction that gnawed at his soul. 

Paradoxically, it delights me to contemplate this:

2. Briony Lodge - 8am - Day Three.

(N.B Consider the implications if:-)

Bearing in mind that Watson had to look full three times before he saw his closest friend beneath 'the groom', I revel in the credible notion that the vision that greets our trio of men as they enter Serpentine Avenue is not what it seems.

'The door of Briony Lodge was open, and an elderly woman stood upon the steps.'

*Once the men have departed, Irene Norton turns, re-enters her house, climbs the stairs, doffs her disguise and rejoins her husband in the honeymoon bed.

"Now, we can relax! This is the last place they will ever think to look for us again." *

Another acting triumph! Irene blends seamlessly into the carefully arranged scene...and is abetted by a Holmes so intent on checking for the photograph that he brushes past the door-keeper without really observing her.

So I fondly imagine...I dream too of Briony Lodge.

'An Afternoon Song" by Louise Abbema, 1885.


3. Briony Lodge.

There is a romantic corner of my heart where the Mistress of Briony Lodge has created a haven of art, culture and laughter in London's suburbia. Here there is always music. It is civilised. And there is respect...where respect has been earned: by man or woman. Entry is strictly by invitation only on the enlightened, discriminating terms of a sensitive, vivacious, highly intelligent and talented woman. A woman who has seen the world, been at its mercy and learned how to defend the battlements of a Victorian Camelot.

At  root, Briony Lodge is for me the feminine counterpart to Holmes's rooms in Baker St with which it has much in common...and the polar opposite to Mycroft's Diogenes Club.

I should like to visit such a 'lodge'.

An Irene that matches this blithely subjective view is the subject of my next, and last, Adler post.

To go straight to My Ideal Irene Adler click HERE






















Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Pair of Spectacles - A Scandal in Bohemia Day Two

Sir John Hare in 'A Pair of Spectacles' 1902.











Like Shakespeare's "unperfect actor" Bohemia exits and Tuesday, March 20. 1888, draws to a close.

Wednesday will bring real spectacle to the stage in the respective 'performances' of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Norton...with the added cachet of a certain John Hare.

As I hope to show, Doyle too is at his very best in giving a masterclass in short story construction, rebutting the view that he somehow took the writing of the Canon less seriously than other projects. Day Two is a graceful, multi-layered edifice of narratives, dialogues and descriptions framed within and behind one another in the manner of successive theatrical curtains,  imparting a depth and breadth that belies the label, 'short story'.

As already noted, I detect a brief prologue - in Watson's opening paragraph - a momentary reminder of 1891, the year of reminiscence. In waiting, as it were, for Holmes's return, the good Doctor (positioned, as it were, on the fore-apron) expatiates on the irresistible fascination of his friend's investigative powers, placing the current problem in the context of previous cases..and with conscious irony hinting of the surprise failure to come.

look three times...
Curtain up and enter: not Sherlock Holmes but 'a drunken groom'.

Used as he may be to Holmes in disguise, only by the identifying nod is Watson made privy to the deceit. Houdini-like, the groom 'vanishes'. NOW Holmes enters.

It is worth pausing just to absorb what we have been told. Holmes left (in disguise) just after 8am and has sustained the assumed identity for more than 7 hours. This is, literally, all in a day's work for him. Not even professional actors are required to remain in character all day. In short, this is one of several  indications in the early Canonic stories of the detective's capacity to blend utterly, seamlessly into the scenes of his investigation. Baden-Powell would have been proud of such a 'scout', invisible as Holmes became. Thus free to roam unchallenged, he is able (as now he does) to return to HQ and deliver his report.

The ensuing scene (prepared for in the Prologue) is of a tale told beside the home fireside (a camp-fire tale). And Holmes, in grasping the baton of narrator, opens the tabs on a fresh, vivid scene - the events of the day. A bout of intriguing (and uncharacteristic) laughter ensures our attention and implies the detective himself has been somehow surprised.

By the time Holmes has concluded, we can appreciate his legendary impatience with clients. His narrative stands as a classic example of how to give a logical, detailed and relevant account. Moreover, his amusement at the turn of events is infectious...as is his patent gratitude for moments of pure good fortune that resolved key problems. He is at pains to define both the clear track of investigation and the occasions where he must pause and choose this path or that to progress. The parallel with the skilled tracker is as exact as it will be much later when Col. Moran is run to earth by the very stratagem he himself had used to bait big game. 

'A groom out of work' is invisible to all but other grooms, and 'be one of them. and you will know all that there is to know.' In The Blue Carbuncle Holmes will employ the same technique in appealing to the gambling nature of the horsey-looking Breckinridge.

Holmes's description of Briony Lodge is deliciously described from the point of view of a would-be housebreaker (those preposterous English window fasteners which a child could open).

Of Irene Adler, we learn nought but her reputation in the Serpentine-mews (Doyle is keeping her off-stage for now) and that a set routine provides a potential weakness in her armour which Holmes will later turn to advantage. Similarly, her sole, frequent male visitor, Godfrey Norton, is reputed to be 'dark, handsome and dashing' but the nature of their relationship is not known.

This presents the detective with his first problem and Holmes has 'to let you see my little difficulties, if you are to understand the situation.'

Norton's chance arrival allows for first-hand confirmation that 'He was a remarkably handsome man.'...and half an hour later resolves Holmes's quandary about what course to take.

Our first glimpse of Irene Adler is (no doubt faithfully) recorded by Watson in Holmes's own words and comes within the context of a string of happy strokes of chance that will convey Sherlock Holmes to The Church of St. Monika as witness and best man at 'the woman's' wedding.

'...she was a lovely woman with a face a man might die for.'

Time suspends. In one hanging moment he sees the object of his energies, hears one sentence in that renowned contralto voice and blesses the gods that let him overhear Norton's instructions, placed Irene Adler in her landau and magicked a cab just when he needed one.

The subsequent account of 'the secure tying up of Irene Adler, spinster, to Godfrey Norton, bachelor' is couched in the language of surreal 'preposterous, farce. No wonder Holmes is in stitches: his role turned out to be comic. And he can afford to laugh for other reasons: the implications of her marriage for Bohemia and the final stroke of luck in her insisting on taking her usual drive that evening.

Thus are such tiny vignettes of Irene and Godfrey Norton tellingly framed.

The conclusion of Holmes's account does not herald the end of this scene: Day Two is to see even more dramatic action. Doyle knows his classical play construction: two characters (Holmes and Watson) remain 'on stage',permitting the scene to continue on a fresh tack. Generally too, the story benefits from Doyle's subtle recourse to the Unities. Unity of Action ensures nothing happens that is not related to the single main plot. Unity of Place is at least in part observed through most of the action passing in Baker St (and all of Watson's reminiscence at his 1891 writing desk). Holmes may be seen to nod in the manner of Homer when he miscounts the days available for retrieving the Adler papers: but I rather suspect this is Doyle instinctively edging closer to full-blown Unity of Time to impart a tightening urgency to the action.

What ensues after 'some cold beef and a glass of beer', courtesy the now infamous 'Mrs. Turner', exemplifes Sherlock Holmes's indefatigable energies when devoted to the scent. He knows his Watson too by now: so sure he will agree to 'breaking the law...in a good cause', that he has already assembled a large cast of extras for the evening performance at Briony Playhouse. Such are the lengths to which this detective will go; such is the formidable adversary Irene Norton now faces.

Even as he wolfs down the snack, Holmes is at work rehearsing Watson in his minor role, leaving the good Doctor in no doubt about the limits of his actions. Re-read Hamlet's advice to The Players: it lies behind this and all wise theatrical direction.

http://www.monologuearchive.com/s/shakespeare_003.html

John Hare in 1898.
There follows a fitting prelude to the masquerade at Briony Lodge. Holmes 'disappears' and is replaced by 'a fine actor' in character. The disguise adopted would have been easily imagined by readers of The Strand in 1891. Ever on the qui vive for the most economical effect, Doyle equates Holmes with Sir. John Hare, a real and famous actor of the time. The photograph of Hare at the head of this post was taken in 1902, but he had first essayed the main part in Sydney Grundy's  long-running French-style comedy, A Pair of Spectacles, at the (new) Garrick Theatre in 1889/90 and on Broadway the following year. Wikipedia has useful articles on Hare, Grundy and A Pair of Spectacles for those interested.

Doyle wrote for the stage; he and Hare shared mutual theatrical contacts, such as W.S. Gilbert. He may credibly have watched Hare's career-making role at The Garrick and chose a disguise for Holmes that instantly associated him with a very popular and talented actor.

Hare proved one of the luckiest men alive in 1912 when he chose to sail to America on the last voyage of Olympic rather than waiting a week to travel on Titanic. Click the following link, please: it is well worth reading the full account of those who ,unawares, escaped a monumental tragedy by sailing on the older vessel. You will need to scroll down to see the account of Sir. John Hare (and this photograph):

http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/last-lap-of-the-largest.html

The Great Survivor.























Direct reference to Hare in his most famous part immediately identifies Holmes as an outstanding actor. In A Scandal in Bohemia this is crucial preparation for his eventual failure. The more skilled Holmes is drawn the greater will be the kudos accruing to Irene Norton.

Holmes has, as Watson finds, dressed the set well outside Briony Lodge and what ensues has the stuff of melodrama.

During the fracas Watson has noted the lady's superb figure but has been more impressed by her grace and kindliness, so that he has momentary second thoughts about conspiring against the beautiful creature. Loyalty to Holmes wins out, all goes perfectly to plan and in no time at all Holmes has rejoined Watson to head in silence for the Edgeware Road.

Watson was of course not present within Briony Lodge and Doyle has Holmes narrate the sequence of events (and explain their pre-conceived purpose): a conversation that neatly occupies the walk back to Baker Street and illustrates Holmes's belief he has carried the day after the campaign he embarked upon hours before.

Ironically (even symbolically) Holmes is occupied in 'searching his pockets for the key', when somebody passing said, 'Good night, Mister Sherlock Holmes'. The street is as dimly lit as the friends' recognition of the speaker. For Watson it may have been 'a slim youth in an ulster'. A vaguely rattled Holmes (he rarely swears - deuce) cannot place the familiar voice.

That night they sleep the sleep of the innocent at Baker Street, unconscious of nocturnal counter manoeuvres down Serpentine Avenue in the Wood of  St. John.

The world ( and Madame Norton) will look very different when they wake to Day Three.

The Best Laid Plans...
To go straight to Day Three click HERE







 







Saturday, March 24, 2012

Masks - A Scandal in Bohemia (Day One).

When Jeremy Brett's Holmes muses on Bohemia's discarded mask, he departs from the letter of the original but focuses attention on a major theme of A Scandal in Bohemia and a recurring preoccupation of the Canon.

On one level, Doyle's sense of the dramatic and frequent recourse to theatrical reference give his prose an immediacy akin to the experience enjoyed by an audience watching a stage play. Doyle, the playwright, is evident in his ear for dialogue and scene-like story constructions.

A Scandal in Bohemia plays with notions of disguise, costume and masking; of deception, alias and identity on deeper levels, with Shakespearian amusement. Whispered echoes of Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet swirl in the scandalous air.

A trio of actors tread the boards of our imagination, with varying success. In narrative order they are: Wilhelm, King of Bohemia, Sherlock Holmes and Irene Norton (nee Adler).
On Day One Bohemia enters ...into limelight.

In the unlikely event of the King meeting James Ryder (sometime Head attendant at the Hotel Metropolitan) they would have one thing in common:

Holmes to Ryder: " ' no; the real name,' said Holmes sweetly. 'It is always awkward doing business with an alias.'"

Ludicrous as Malvolio is Bohemia in masquerade as the Count von Kramm, reduced to melodrama as he tears off the ineffectual mask. And, as with Ryder (he of the servant classes) a King is reduced before the all-levelling eye of Sherlock Holmes. At a stroke, the detective renders both alias and royal status irrelevant.

Prior to the King's arrival we have been reminded  of Holmes's observational genius via Watson. Wilhelm has no idea what an examination awaits. Thus it is for all who climb the 17 steps. Visitors beware! You enter at a price: truth...just bring the truth. Time and again in the Canon Holmes urges client and criminal, Lord and Lady to give him the facts and trust him with the most uncomfortable truths. A chemical metaphor aptly conveys this central function of Doyle's creation: He is litmus paper dipped in souls. King Wilhelm is acid.

Quietly, without polemic, Doyle (who has mixed with kings and commoners) is here educating his audience to look beyond appearance. Bohemia may loom large, wear fabulously rich bling over a Herculean figure, but these are as showily devoid of real substance as the King's Gilbert and Sullivan-esque title: Holmes deliciously rattles off Wilhelm's full name, metaphorically tossing it aside as of no practical value.

  Shorn now of regal dignity, Wilhelm is laid open to questions. Apparently lethargic, subtly satiric and utterly unimpressed by his "gigantic client", Holmes ferrets out the facts of the case, economically couched in a rapid exchange of stichomythic dialogue. 

 Seeing him now through Holmes's eyes we wonder what on earth could bring a king incognito to foreign shores.

Patently he, a reigning monarch, has left his realm to hunt down Irene Adler in person. Agents have failed him or cannot be trusted; panic and looming urgency have at length brought him to Baker Street. She must be silenced before next Monday.

Holmes trains us to treat Wilhelm's version of events with some scepticism. As Crown-Prince and now King, awesome power and regal charisma have muted the man within. He cannot act the Count because he is self-typecast as King.
Fascinatingly:
waxworks
The wax figures of Irene and Wilhelm on display in The Sherlock Holmes museum catch an imagined moment in old Warsaw. So aptly is Wilhelm masked - Romeo manque. Even then he was never himself. Hence, at root, the real separation he unconsciously seeks is that from his own falseness. I doubt he succeeds:pity the Princess Clotilde.

Pity any woman who becomes entangled with such power vested in a man who, Lear-like "hath ever but slenderly known himself". 

Irene Adler is doubly unfortunate: she played with his fire in headier days and Wilhelm can make or break her. The account he gives Holmes exemplifies the current danger she faces for the King in striving to appear the innocent party paints her in terms that impugn her reputation. This introductory portrait informs most film and stage representations of Irene Adler. I do not mean to suggest they err in this. Our tabloids bear witness to many a 'Celebrity' salting away a saleable story to cash in when an affair with someone seriously powerful and high-profile has run its course.

I take the King at his word on this. At the time of their 'entanglement' Irene was riding the crest of fame. The radiant prima donna of the Imperial Opera, Warsaw, and her playboy Crown-Prince offered each other precisely what the moment desired. 'Adventuress'? Yes. Courtesan? Highly likely. 

Moreover such men can take their pick of the European crop. She must necessarily be an exceptional woman who attracts the attentions of hereditary royalty. Wilhelm acknowledges this but in terms he would not have employed back in Warsaw:

"She has the face of  the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men."

But, claiming that he has changed since their affair, the King does not allow for any change in her, despite the fact that she is retired from the spotlight and lives in seclusion in a new country.

Nor, more seriously, does he exhibit any embarrassment in disclosing the extent of the hounding visited upon Irene Adler. According to him she has refused to return or sell the compromising papers and photograph and he freely admits that Briony Lodge has twice been ransacked on his orders; her luggage has similarly been searched and twice has she been waylaid in person and subjected to search.

This revelation of scandalous and illegal conduct takes us to the nub of the underlying significance of Day One's narrative. Against the enduringly fascinating creation of Irene, the King of Bohemia pales into insignificance (shades of those failed suitors to Portia, the Princes of Morocco and Aragon).

Bohemia is created to throw light on Irene Adler, to show us what kind of man she has hitherto consorted with and to prepare us to appreciate her current, perilous situation. By the end of the story, we will concur with Holmes: from what we have seen of the lady, "she seems indeed to be on a very different level to your Majesty".

My next post will examine the events of Day Two and I now move from a blundering masquerader: 


'Count Von Kramm'
To a pair of consummate actors:


Irene Adler.

         
Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes.
His and Hers.
To go straight to my 3rd post on Adler click HERE

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Scandal In Bohemia & Irene Adler.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1890.

“To Google she was always the Irene”…well, perhaps not always, but right now search Irene and Google Instant delivers Adler in pole position.

Some achievement for a minor character from a 121 years old short story who speaks to us through but seven prosaic sentences and a letter.





It is one of life’s little ironies that this new-found popularity (I should say trending) is largely attributable to recent, controversial portrayals of “the woman” by Rachel McAdams and Lara Pulver. 

Moreover, I predict the casting of Russian beauty, Lyanka Gryu, in the new 2012 Russian TV series will draw more moths still to the Adler flame. 

The net effect of these modern takes on the author’s original creation is an enduring interest in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his works. This is all to the good. Lucy Liu may soon have Nigel Bruce spinning in his grave but Doyle will be discussed, read, re-read and remembered when she assays her Watson.

I have no quarrel with such franchises. They are fresh, very entertaining and raise critical questions of abiding literary interest. While it is true they do not depict the Irene Adler of my imagination, our contemporary Adlers, nevertheless, generate from seeds Doyle cast on Victorian soil.

 I hope to illustrate, in the course of this group of posts, just how fine a ‘farmer’ we find in Doyle; how a few humble seeds can grow strong if scattered on fertile ground and how great writing can tolerate and engender the most extreme of reinventions.

 To do this I shall offer a critical assessment of A Scandal in Bohemia and the references to Irene Adler in later stories. Readers of my Blog are recommended to have the text at hand (this may be conveniently followed on line at: http://sherlock-holmes.classic-literature.co.uk/a-scandal-in-bohemia/).
Cot's Portait of a Young Woman 1869.

I shall close with a glimpse of the Ideal Adler who performs only on the stage of my imagination.


A Scandal in Bohemia...a literary assessment.

1. PROLOGUE
(Genre, Title & Structure)

I begin where it always begins: with form.

A writer selects; good writers select judiciously. Doyle chose to create Irene Adler within the confines of a short story. He chose not to embody her in a full length novel or stage play. The short story form suited his purposes best. And one was enough.

As a poet is challenged and bound by the restrictions imposed by the sonnet form, so Doyle submits himself to the necessary economies of the prose short story. This is not designed to display craftsmanship but to deploy the most appropriate vehicle for his nascent imaginings and themes.

The short story is not a precis. The latter must always defer to its superior original, whereas a short story is enriched by the tension between so little expressed and much more unsaid. Thus are the reader's intellect and imagination exercised (one may observe this is precisely the challenge relished by Sherlock Holmes every time he addresses the facts of a case). The detective is a skilled master in short-story interpretation.

So, we must not bemoan the lack of flesh upon the bones of Ms. Irene Adler. But the temptation is pardonably irresistible to add expanse and colour where Doyle drew in miniature silhouette.
We do this  imaginatively as we read: film makers do it to populate and animate a screen.


Our short-story 'stage' is reminiscent of that experienced in Becket's Waiting for Godot where in the wings and beyond the limelight is a disquieting darkness. Or, as Theseus puts it, "in the night...How easy is a bush supposed a bear." (A Midsummer Night's Dream V,1). Doyle's 'night' is iconically the fog of Victorian London. Bizarre events with the most outre of results occur beneath the flickering gas lamp of each story in the canon; figures emerge, metamorphose, strut their moment (sometimes die) To Baker Street they throng from all walks and levels of society, jostLing for justice, inspiration, succour, revenge, for every motive under the sun. And, in Doyle's brief illuminations, Sherlock Holmes is the incandescent element.


Perhaps Holmes is not unlike Watson - he too is, "the one fixed point in a changing age".

"Good night, Mister Sherlock Holmes"

Sidney Paget intuitively senses the short story's particular chiaroscuro. His most dramatic illustration for A Scandal in Bohemia typifies that appreciation.


In disguise, Irene Adler delivers her Parthian shaft... and walks on, never to return.


The rest, you may say, is history.


The immortal shade of this New Jersey-born diva now haunts Hollywood and paces the virtual streets of this World's Wide Web.



The title chosen for a story is our first encounter with it and the first stirring of authorial manipulation. Reasonably we anticipate a scandal...perhaps set far way in Bohemia. We have been mislead. The story unfolds entirely in London...and no breath of scandal breaks. However, I shall argue the title does have resonance in the scandalous behaviour of a King. 


Structurally, I concur with the three divisions (not Doyle's own) as indicated in the link text (see above), though I allow for distinct Prologues to the first two and  a brief Epilogue to the tale.


Prologue (1891 - the year of publication)
Day One ( Tuesday 20 March, 1888)
Prologue (1891)
Day Two (Wednesday, 21 March, 1888)
Day Three (Thursday 22 March, 1888)
Epiiogue  (1891)

Reminiscence bestows distance upon the events recalled. Doyle animates the story by employing Watson as narrator. Watson. in turn, delights in recreating conversations couched in direct speech. Narrative variety is further enhanced by the Prologues and Epilogues along with the use (during the narrative of Day Two) of Holmes as associate narrator. Bohemia too, in effect, performs the office of narrator during his initial visit to Baker Street, although the picture he paints of Irene Adler, of himself and of their interactions cannot be trusted as objective fact.


The Prologue to Day One comprises the opening two paragraphs, the latter acting in the way of a musical segue to a time three years earlier.


THE woman, heads and concludes the former, which is in great part concerned with Holmes's suppression of emotion in the interests of his profession.The imbalance mirrors his attitude to women. The 'late' Irene Adler is granted little space here and her fate will be to die within three years of her marriage. A fair-minded Watson considers her "of dubious and questionable memory" but concedes that Holmes honours the memory of a lady unique in his experience. She will, let it be noted, inhabit the story's final sentences too.

Holmes was "beaten by a woman's wit" but that is perhaps not the only reason for his respect: his 'Bohemian soul' seems more able to appreciate Irene Adler's motivation and plight than Dr. Watson, absorbed as he was by 1888 in  "My own complete happiness, and the home-centred interests" of marital life. There is, after all, much to be admired already in the facts of her origins and meteoric rise. No wonder Holmes Hums as he reads out the Index entry.

Arms of New Jersey 1852.

 She has ventured a long way from New Jersey'. With her native Indian Blessing...and those gifts of the gods, head-turning beauty and the voice of an angel, she found liberty and prosperity (of a kind) in faraway Milan and Warsaw. Now 30 and living in London, she is retired from the grand stage, unmarried (hence unsupported) and childless. Readers of Defoe will remember the not dissimilar 'adventures' of Moll Flanders and her honest attempts to secure...security.


 A serpentine way indeed from Warsaw to Briony Lodge, whose first name denotes suburban bliss, but whose second feels altogether more temporary. She values privacy highly: Godfrey is her sole male visitor. Here is a woman with all her defences up, yearning for all the new Mrs. Watson enjoys. She must perforce be man and woman using all her wit and talents to survive.


The Crown-Prince of Bohemia has moved on too. At 25 the two of them played as if there were no tomorrow. At 30 as King he now seeks to marry within his class without scandal. Initially, like Moll, Adler plays the only card she holds. The marriage to Godfrey Norton, lawyer at the Inner Temple, renders her threat to compromise Bohemia no longer necessary, as Holmes fully realises.

Watson's marriage plays a part in one of several elegant symmetries shaping the story. We may compare it with Bohemia's and that of the Norton's; we readily observe the contrast with Holmes's way of life...and with the histories of "an adventuress" and a panicking, compromised King.


Notwithstanding the convenient divisions noted above, the narrative just as clearly forms a  diptych, whose 'hinge' moment is dramatised as "Good night, Mister Sherlock Holmes". Prior to this the story was about saving the reputation of Bohemia; now, through her own exertions, on her own terms, Irene Adler secures a respectable future. in addition, if reputation is a key thematic preoccupation of A Scandal in Bohemia there is another, just as critical, at stake: that of the World's only consulting detective. Holmes is committed irrevocably to living by his wits. No wonder the spectre of Adler haunts him always.

There is elegance too in the way the story folds back into the past and forth to that which transpires from the events of a few days one March. Even as we read the Prologue, Romeo and Juliet-like we know Irene Adler is dead by '91. That awareness colours and qualifies the contents of her triumphal letter, itself as dramatic a gesture as the seasoned actress in male disguise...and just as superfluous. She might just have left the photographs and papers, or burned them in Briony Lodge. But to do so would have rendered her completely vulnerable AND denied the irresistible twin opportunity to revel in separating from a King on her terms and surprising the clever agent she realised had only been out-manoeuvred for the moment. 


<><><><><><> <><><><><><> <><><><><><>
Who was that masked man?
As for her past...as with everyone ,her reputation proves more important and accessible than the truth. The bare facts noted in Holmes's index are only fleshed out through the biased account given by Bohemia. Holmes, Watson and the reader have only his word that the past was as he lays out. And scepticism increases the more we get to know the man behind this crudest of disguises.

Thus is she designed in the end to elude us. Like Ruby Tuesday, she would never say where she came from. Like her kindred spirit, the artist, Tamara de Lempicka, she constantly re-invented herself. This is the way of a woman surviving in a man's world. She will have played with fire many times and my next post will focus on Irene Adler's dangerous entanglement with royalty as i move to examine Day One of A Scandal in Bohemia.

UPDATE! in connection with Irene Adler, please take a look at Luke Kuhns's excellent Blog post: HERE

AND you can go straight to my 2nd post on Adler HERE













Saturday, March 17, 2012

Thoughts on Names for a New Sherlock Holmes Club


The Diogenes Club,






I have been considering suitable names for a Sherlock Holmes club that would feel a spectrum away from The Diogenes of Mycroft Holmes.



Seeking an original name for such a club is not an easy task. Holmes clubs are so thick on the ground, it’s probably easier to find an unused internet domain name these days!

Naturally, the obvious ones went long ago. Red-headed Leagues, Red Circles, Orange Pips, Baker Street itself is choc-a-bloc with clubs of Irregulars and 221b’s.

I had thought to suggest something that implied conviviality and noted:



The Long Bar Club (in the Criterion)

(too boozy?)









The Grand Divan (at Simpson’s in The Strand)

(too masculine– Cigar & chess men only club origins)

I like very much:

The Goose Club or Windigate’s Goose Club or The Alpha Club

(but, yes!, 1977 saw the formation of Goose Club of the Alpha Inn in Los Angeles.)

I still like The Goose Club (and The Museum Tavern upon which The Alpha Inn is most likely modelled).

My top recommendation however has to be BRIONY LODGE (no need for the redundant ‘club’) – the true polar opposite of the Diogenes Club.


Irene Adler’s home in Serpentine Avenue, St. John’s Wood, is a fitting virtual address for serious writers and bloggers about Sherlock Holmes. It is a house where culture, the arts and humanity (male and female) are respected. I think of it always as full of music, conversation, laughter...not unlike 221b Baker St...and a world away from Mycroftian mysogynists.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Passing of Sherlock Holmes.







                                 FOR

 JEREMY             BRETT

            1933-1995












         The Passing of Sherlock Holmes

Deserted hives littered the cottage garden.

Some time one evening they must have sensed
The Keeper's hand withdrawn, reluctantly.

So, then, as one, they paused
To dance the ritual of the gathering;
Swarmed; then, bee by bee,
Returned in silence to the secret places. 

                                           Ray Wilcockson.


copyright Ray Wilcockson March 7, 2012.


                                            The Risen Holmes.



For Martin Freeman
      Holmesian           Haiku 




The risen Sherlock watches
 John in agony:
Everyman bereaved. 


                                       Ray Wilcockson 

copyright Ray Wilcockson 10 March, 2012. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My SHERLOCK Posts - 2012-13 INDEX

Readers new to Markings may find an index helpful. So, in the tradition of The Strand Magaziine, here is a virtual binding of my seventy-one           DOYLE posts.


Please click on the title to go straight to the chosen post.



BBC SHERLOCK:(1-5)

                                                                         2012.

1. The Reichenbach Fall & Beyond. (JANUARY)

2. Dramatising Legend.                 (FEBRUARY)

3. The One Fixed Point in a Changing Age.

4. If The Deerstalker Fits Wear It.

5. The Empire That Declined To Fall.


6. First Editions.

7. The Poetry of Sherlock Holmes.

8. In The Footsteps of Moriarty.       (MARCH)

9. The Passing of Sherlock Holmes (for Jeremy Brett)..

10. Thoughts on Names for a New Sherlock Holmes Club.

A SCANDAL IN BOHEMIA & IRENE ADLER (5 posts).

11. A Scandal in Bohemia & Irene Adler - Prologue.

12. Masks - A Scandal in Bohemia (Day One).

13. A Pair of Spectacles - A Scandal in Bohemia (Day Two).

14. Irene Adler - A Scandal in Bohemia (Day Three and Beyond).

15. My Ideal Irene Adler.          (APRIL)

16. Occasionally he IS the British Government - IF...

17.April in Londinium - for @HudsonMartha.

18. 100 Years of Sherlock Holmes - Radio Times Extra 1987.

19. The Secret of Sherlock Holmes - Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham 1989.

THE EMPTY HOUSE (4 posts).

20. I Turn My Glass - The Empty House (1).

21. I Am Lost Without My Boswell - The Empty House (2).

22. That Awful Abyss - The Empty House (3).

23. We Have Much To Learn From The Flowers - Jeremy Brett Films. (links to online films).

24. Creatures if The Abyss - The Empty House (4).    MAY

JUBILEE& MUSIC 1897 & 2012 (4 posts).

25. The Power of Music - A Jubilee Serenade for Undershaw.

26. At The St. James's Hall - Music for Undershaw.

27. Off To Violin Land - A Stradivarius for Undershaw.

28. Doyle's Waterloo - A Special 1897 Jubilee Post.       JUNE


29.Robert Louis Stevenson's Letters to Conan Doyle 1893-4.


30.The Reichenbach Challenge Cup - The Report of Horace Harker.

THE GREAT HIATUS (2 posts)

31. The Great Hiatus - (1) Stranded Holmesless.

32. The Great Hiatus (2) Sherlock Holmes in Shangri-La.   JULY

FOR UNDERSHAW (2 posts).

33. The Empty Chair - In Memoriam SIr Arthur Conan Doyle.

34. SIr George Newnes - A Philanthropic Lesson for Our Time (for Undershaw).

THE FINAL PROBLEM & PROFESSOR MORIARTY (4 posts)

35. The Letter Edged in Black - framing The Final Problem.

36. Some Deep Organising Power. Moriarty & Conan Doyle's Imagination.

37. The Seventh Napoleon - Moulding Moriarty.            AUGUST

38. The Singular Interview with Professor Moriarty.


39. The Whole Art of Bicycling.                  OCTOBER

SILENT SHERLOCKS IN STRAND MAGAZINE. (3 posts).

40. Eille Norwood, My Dear Rathbone!

41. Eille Norwood, My Dear Conan Doyle!

42. The Youth of Sherlock Holmes - John Barrymore..


43. His Last Bow - An Ode of Remembrance.    NOVEMBER


44. Sherlock's Motto in The Creeping Man.


45. For All That Love Them Well - Mycroft & Sherlock Holmes.


46. Whom God Hath Joined - Conan Doyle & The Divorce Laws.  DECEMBER

47. The Parable of the Good Sherlockian

THE BLUE CARBUNCLE.

48.Follow That Goose - Blue Carbuncle (1) Timeline.

49. A Gem of a Story - Blue Carbuncle (2) Christmas Day post.

                                                                    2013.
                                                     
50. How to Write Like Doctor Watson - Blue Carbuncle (3)         JANUARY

51.How Many Steps to Baker Street? A Mastermind Special.

52. The Doyle Bust Business (1)

53.Sherlock Holmes - William Gillette's lost 1916 Film.

54. "Good Night, Mr. Sherlock Holmes" - a short story.              FEBRUARY

55."The Storming Party" Poem by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

56."A Tired Police Captain" - The Doyle Bust Business (Part Two)

57. Timing The Solitary Cyclist - A Timeline of the story.               MARCH

58. The Case of The Sherlock Holmes Casebook - A Literary Note

59. The Red-Headed League - A Note on Watson's Chronicling.

60. The Other Dr. Watson - Conan Doyle's Harrogate Friend & Colleague.

61. The Tent of Doctor Doyle - Building Undershaw & Grant Allen.    APRIL

62. "With Catlike Tread" - Henry Irving's Cat         MAY

63. "Bradshaw!" - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1913 Birthday.

64. Death By Sherlock - The Thames Ditton Tragedy of 1894.   JULY

65. The Observation of Trifles - Fine Detail in Granada's Series
      contents: 1. The Page in  The Resident Patient.
                     2. The Shadow in The Red-Headed League.
66. The Observation of Trifles (continued)
      content:       A Case of Nudity in The Final Problem.

67. The Road to The Lyceum - Gillette's Holmes in England (1)    OCTOBER.

68. The Road to The Lyceum - Sherlock Holmes in Liverpool (2)

69. November Three 1933 Happy Birthday JB!                             NOVEMBER

70. Conan Doyle - Actor.

71. Many Happy Returns - 'Sherlock' as Sonnet.                           DECEMBER