Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Advs of Holmes

Book 45: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, contained in The Complete Sherlock Holmes Volume 1, isbn 9781593080341, 265 pages, Barnes And Noble Classics, $7.95

I decided not long ago that I really needed to go back and read some (or all) of Doyle's original Holmes work, to be able to more capably judge how the stories by more recent writers stack up to those of Holmes' creator. Since there seem to be new Holmes short stories in every issue of The Strand magazine and in just about every period mystery anthology, I decided to skip rereading A Study In Scarlet and The Sign of the Four, the first two Holmes novels, and proceed to the first short story collection.

Of course, I've reviewed all of the individual stories over on the [info]365shortstories community. If you want my individual thoughts (with pretty much no spoilers), you can check that out.

Overall, the collection really brings out certain facets of Holmes' personality. Some of them are repeated in story after story: the penchant for closing his eyes and ducking his head when he's trying to think in public; the habit of having reached a conclusion from the barest set of clues even before the parties involved give him more details. That last part, of course, is what makes him The Great Detective. It's also a bit infuriating for someone brought up on "fair play mysteries." The most important details of most of these cases tend to get noticed by Holmes when he's off-screen rather than when Watson is with him to show how Holmes got to that detail.

The other facet of Holmes' personality that really shines through in these stories is his attitude towards women. Much is often made of how Holmes refers to Irene Adler as "The Woman," and how she is the only woman who ever earned his respect because she outsmarted him in one particular case. I've seen many a review talking about how misogynistic Holmes is, that he veritably hates women. But in story after story in this collection he goes out of his way to protect women, whether it be physically (by warning Violet Hunter to stay away from a situation Holmes would not let any sister of his get involved in) or emotionally (by helping men who have wronged women pay their dues without the women being further emotionally injured). I can't say I approve of Holmes' decisions in every case where a woman's feelings were in danger of being hurt, but I can say that I find it an interesting aspect of his character. (And speaking of Ms. Hunter -- at the end of the story in which she appears, she seems to have gained high respect from both Holmes and Watson, and this time for not outwitting Holmes but matching him detail-for-detail.)

There are a few classic tales in this particular collection: A Scandal in Bohemia introduces Irene Adler; The Red-Headed League is just a fun outing; The Adventure of the Speckled Band and The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb are the most gothic-feeling of the tales; and The Adventure of the Copper Beeches introduces Violet Hunter. The stories I enjoyed the least: The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet seemed forced and The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor felt like a retread of the much more interesting A Case of Identity.


Resa Haile said...

I agree with you and am working from this same thesis, that Holmes is not a misogynist at all.

Talekyn said...

The more I think about it, the more I disagree with the people who say he is a misogynist and with the directors / actors who choose to play him that way.