Well, it’s been a while–and a long one at that–since I took part in a challenge on Some Photoblog!
Almost exactly two years ago, I posted an entry Home, hence the number 2 in today’s title. I had in my mind an idea of the comfort and cosiness of home, the warmth and blankets and cups of hot coffee or tea, the snug leisure wear, that sort of thing. As the days shorten and weather gets colder (in the Northern Hemisphere, of course!), this is appreciated even more.
I also made “home” a tag on my blog, although it only features a few posts so far.
Hercule Poirot, one of my favourite fictional characters ever, liked being at home–he was definitely not an outdoors person. Quite a contrast to your traditional English country squire, fond of sports and hunting!
I’m very much like Poirot in this, though I do like to take my walks and photograph the outdoors. Staying in and watching movies or TV shows on streaming is how I spend a lot of my free time. I have three streaming services, so there’s always something good to pick. I like a lot of stuff of various genres.
My home is not only a home for me, it is also where my cat Pepper lives. She doesn’t go anywhere else–she’s an indoor cat, and no doubt she considers herself the boss around here!
There is a lot I could write about the subject of home, with regards to immigration, for example (where is home, really?) but I’ve talked about it enough and I’m tired. So, I’ll end it here.
Note: This post was originally published on Some Photoblog in April 2019. However, I deleted it after I realised I hated the posted photographs. I took some new ones and now I hereby, with some minor changes, republish the post, in time for Agatha Christie’s birthday.
No spoilers for any books or short stories ahead.
This is the post that was always meant to be. I have never specially planned it, but I was always conscious of its existence outside Some Photoblog’s space-time continuum. And here it is now.
World, welcome to my most favourite author ever.
Some call her the Queen of Crime and even if you’ve never read any of her books, you know who she is.
Of course, I’ve mentioned Agatha Christie multiple times on this blog. I will probably keep mentioning her.
I got into Agatha Christie sometime in my mid-teens; my first book was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, an Hercule Poirot mystery, which also happens to be one of the best. It could hardly have been a better start. But her best selling, and indeed the best selling mystery novel of all, is And Then There Were None. Not a surprise at all, I’m sure everyone has at least heard of it!
(Yes, it’s the-one-that-one-that-used-to-have-that-racist-title, but this was taken from a children’s rhyme, which is not Agatha’s creation. In newer editions, the racial slur in the rhyme is replaced with “soldier”.)
Hercule Poirot, a private detective from Belgium, and Miss Marple, an old lady who has lived all of her life in a little village of St Mary Mead, are Agatha Christie’s most famous characters. But she’s much more than that. There are Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, the couple that first appear in The Secret Adversary as young adventurers and who, unlike Poirot and Marple, age with each subsequent book. Then we have short stories featuring Mr Parker Pyne, who is an unusual type of detective, if he can be called that. Are you happy? If not, consult Mr Parker Pyne, runs his advertisement in the newspaper. His speciality appears to be the matters of the heart (as in, love, not the organ). And then there is the most mysterious character Agatha ever created, Mr Harley Quin. Not to be confused with Harley Quinn, the DC comics character. He appears and disappears again just at the right time, with no explanation, and we never get to find out anything about him. The short stories featuring him are written from the point of view of Mr Satterthwaite, a middle aged socialite, who–not in a malicious way–enjoys other people’s drama–and who also makes an appearance in Poirot novel Three Act Tragedy. Harley Quin short stories have this spooky atmosphere, almost touching on supernatural.
Similarly, stories in The Hound of Death collection have the same feel. There have also been new short story collections released in recent years, which include such short stories.
Apart from all this, Agatha Christie’s work includes mystery novels without any regular detective; a few with Superintendent Battle, who also appeared alongside Poirot in Cards on the Table. And so on and so on.
I don’t know how many people are aware of the fact that she didn’t just write mystery/crime fiction. She wrote six novels under the pen name Mary Westmacott. I’ve seen them boxed under “romantic novel”, though I’m unsure this is entirely correct. At least, I don’t think they’re strictly romances. So far I’ve read Giant’s Bread and Unfinished Portrait and enjoyed them both a lot. The latter is semi-autobiographical.
And that’s not all. She was also a playwright. The Mousetrap is the longest running play in UK–it was only the pandemic that halted its run, but it reopened as soon as it was possible. I have seen it performed here in Manchester on their 60th anniversary tour, in 2012. And kept the ticket for nine years!
What’s interesting also is that, although she wrote a few plays and even turned her own books into plays (e.g. there is a stage version of And Then There Were None with a different ending; Witness for the Prosecution was a short story before it was a play), her stories are still adapted for stage by other writers. For example, Love from a Stranger is a play based on the short story Philomel Cottage. You can find Philomel Cottage in the Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories collection (other collections too), or on its own in digital format. It’s a tense story about a newly married woman experiencing sudden anxiety, which she cannot identify. A domestic thriller, in fact.
I went to see Love from a Stranger year in July 2018.
Speaking of adaptations, it would be an unpardonable crime not to mention this guy.
David Suchet played Poirot on screen for 24 years and will probably always be the best, the most ultimate Poirot of all time. Not that other actors shouldn’t play him, or that they won’t be good as good Poirots; I mean that Suchet portrayal is iconic. He is so much associated with the little Belgian detective that he wrote a book about it!
Currently Hercule Poirot is being played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directs the films. Murder on the Orient Express was released in 2017, the next one is Death on the Nile, which was set to be out in October 2020 but keeps being postponed. (Latest date is February 2022.) Branagh’s Poirot is more of a 21st century hero, with a more diverse cast. And that moustache is a legend!
I relate to Poirot in a way that he’s a Continental European living in England, and people keep getting his nationality wrong.
My name is Hercule Poirot and I am probably the greatest detective in the world.
Hercule Poirot, The Mystery of the Blue Train
The impossible cannot have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.
Hercule Poirot, Murder on the Orient Express
Human nature is much the same everywhere and, of course, one has opportunities of observing it at close quarters in a village.
Miss Marple, The Thumb Mark of St Peter (short story)
This above quote is the most typical of Miss Marple. She usually cracks the mystery because someone reminds her of someone else. I think in this way, her village serves as a microcosm of the world. She observes life closely, which then helps her solve crimes that baffle even experienced Scotland Yard officers.
Some of my collection:
So, as you can see, I’m an Agatha Christie fan. I know she’s not literally acclaimed–some male author or other apparently wrote some essay titled Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd? (and who cares about your essay, male author?)–but so what. There is nothing like curling up with a blanket, nice cup of hot drink and a good old fashioned mystery. Does not mean you can’t appreciate Shakespeare as well. Agatha sometimes quotes Shakespeare–the novel Taken at the Flood is titled after a line in Julius Caesar. And I want to add another thing, the thing I think about often and which appears in her books quite a lot and is my favourite element of her entire work.
Whenever there is a crime committed, the perpetrator must be found. But the most important thing is not to punish the perpetrator. It’s to clear the innocent. I first came across this in the Miss Marple short story The Four Suspects. Miss Marple and her companions discuss an unsolved case presented to them by Sir Henry Clithering, a retired Scotland Yard Commissioner. Miss Marple, as is her fashion, comes to the correct conclusion without much trouble. Sir Henry is outraged by the fact that the guilty party got away with it, but Miss Marple points out that it was not the case–the murderer got in with such a bad lot that their end will be inevitable. But she urges Sir Henry to let the other parties know that they’re innocent. Well, she means particularly one party, the one she believes would suffer most from having that suspicion hanging over their head.
One mustn’t waste thought on the guilty–it’s the innocent who matter.
Miss Marple, The Four Suspects (short story)
This is also the whole premise of Ordeal by Innocence. Dr Calgary approaches a family claiming that he can provide an alibi for the son who got charged with murder. It’s too late for the son, who died in prison, but he thinks he can at least clear his name. But this causes distress to the family–if it wasn’t him, then who was it? And immediately they start suspecting each other again and their nightmare is back. Dr Calgary then decides to find the culprit–which he does in the end.
It’s not the guilty who matter. It’s the innocent. It’s we who matter. Don’t you see what you’ve done to us all?
Hester, Ordeal by Innocence
And that is why Ordeal by Innocence is such a good book and that is why the recent BBC adaptation got it so wrong. All the adaptations by Sarah Phelps (with the exception of 2015’s And Then There Were None, which is impossible to ruin) were bad. That is because the woman had never read any Agatha Christie book when she was tasked with adapting her books. She had previously worked on Eastenders, a degenerate soap opera, and is high up in BBC, but is in no way, shape or form qualified to adapt Agatha Christie books. Thankfully, those adaptations were not very memorable or popular with the audience, and hopefully will be soon forgotten. People still turn to David Suchet’s Poirot, or the older Peter Ustinov movies.
Two tropes that Agatha handles so superbly are: the dysfunctional family (examples: After the Funeral, A Pocketful of Rye, Crooked House, Hercule Poirot’s Christmas) and the love triangle (no examples because that would be telling). Don’t let the latter put you off, this is no YA fiction! It’s possible she reused the trope so often because of her own experience. Her husband, Archie Christie, left her for another woman. That’s when she went missing for 11 days, that incident she never talked about, or mentioned in her autobiography, and that still fascinates people to this day. She was found at a hotel in Harrogate under a fake name, with the surname being the same as her husband’s mistress’s. She may have had a memory loss, or she may have been the original Gone Girl, who knows. She and Archie divorced, and she later met the archaeologist Max Mallowan, who became her second husband, and with whom she was much happier. She accompanied him on his digs and even set one of her books, Murder in Mesopotamia, at an archaeological dig.
Fun fact: when she went missing, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, consulted a psychic to help find the missing writer, using one of her gloves. He was into that stuff.
Some of my favourite Poirot books are: Sad Cypress, Five Little Pigs, The Hollow (mentioned in my Yggdrasil post), Murder of Roger Ackroyd, of course that will always remain my beloved. From Miss Marple collection I rate The Moving Finger and A Murder is Announced the highest. But the one I name as my top Agatha book is Endless Night. It’s a surprisingly good late gem from the author, whose late work is not as good as her earlier one. It’s got an aesthetic of a gothic novel… until it doesn’t. I recommend everyone to read it, if you haven’t already.
I make a point in my post about eBooks that works that enter public domain are available for free on Gutenberg to download in various formats. As of September 2021, Gutenberg has the first six books of Agatha Christie, link here.
I will end with a quote from the epilogue of Agatha’s autobiography.
I have done what I wanted to do. I have been on a journey. Not so much a journey back through the past, as a journey forward–starting again at the beginning of it all–going back to the Me who was to embark on that journey forward through time. I have not been bounded by time or space. I have been able to linger where I wanted, jump backwards and forwards as I wished.
Ooh, she really does float outside the space-time continuum!
A quick and lazy still life today, featuring the new collection of short stories by Agatha Christie. To complement previously released Midwinter Mysteries, the stories in this collection all centre on summer.
To emphasise, the stories are not new, they’ve all been released before as part of different collections.
It would have been better had the book been released on actual midsummer, but it wasn’t so. A missed chance, I say.
I uploaded this photo to my blog months ago–I think I intended for it to be included in a post (probably this one) but then changed my mind and decided to wait for a better occasion. Now is that occasion.
The rose looks a bit withered, I think I probably had had it for a while. It does spark one’s imagination, though. Maybe the lady who received the rose died of consumption and the man who loved her wants to keep the rose, together with her journal, in memory of her.
Ain’t that bleak? Bronte sisters would be proud!
Or imagine journaling with your friend, whose name is Rose.
The reason for the “maybe” in the title is that I can’t be sure all of them were illustrated by Tom Adams. I was under the impression they were, but then I checked the books themselves and the name of the illustrator is not stated anywhere. As always, I googled it and found this page, which is a great source. It turns out that some of the book covers attributed to Tom Adams were in fact made by another artist, Ian Robinson, but because they’re done in the same style, people naturally assume they are Tom’s. Here’s my collection (no spoilers, only book covers):
A Caribbean Mystery and Nemesis are Miss Marple stories and both of these are definitely Tom Adams covers.
No idea about The Body in the Library but The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side is a Tom Adams cover. Again, both are Marple mysteries. I’m sure you agree with me that the Mirror Crack’d illustration is beautiful. The title comes from a line in Alfred Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shallot. Although the woman on the picture makes me think more of the Madwoman in the attic than Elaine, but then again, what does not make me think of the Madwoman in the attic…
By the Pricking of My Thumbs is a Tom Adams. The novel features married sleuths Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. Unsure about Passenger to Frankfurt‘s cover. It’s one of Agatha’s late works and it’s not good; the only one I’ve never finished.
The cover for Sad Cypress, an Hercule Poirot story and personally one of my favourites, was made by the previously mentioned Ian Robinson. The Sparkling Cyanide cover is by Tom Adams. The investigator in this book is Colonel Race, who appears in a few other titles, sometimes alongside Poirot.
Unlike the rest of the paperbacks, these last two were not published by Fontana, but by Pan Books. Again, no idea about the covers–N or M looks like a photograph to me–I just wanted to include them in this post. The cover for The Big Four informs us it’s a Poirot mystery; N or M is one with the Beresfords.
I bought these gems about 15 years ago at a charity shop in my neighbourhood. It wasn’t until later that I learned about Tom Adams. I’m not a book collector, I don’t have space for that in my small flat (as you know, am very much an eBook girl), but I like these and I like that I was so lucky to find them. Thank you to whoever gave them away!
But, Some Photoblog, you’re at least two years too late with this post!
Eh. *shrugs* By now at least (hopefully) everyone has calmed down.
I first started watching Game of Thrones in 2014, when it was in its fourth season. I was hooked right from the start. It was–and still is, really–the rich world and the variety of such great characters, especially the female characters.
After finishing the first four seasons, I read the books (the book version is called A Song of Ice and Fire), I also read some other stories from this universe, like the Dunk and Egg novellas (pictured below in a collection A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms) and a couple of short stories about the Targaryen civil war.
Spoilers for the whole series ahead, obviously, and, maybe less obviously, though not if you know me, there will be some unpopular opinions.
The greatest one of which is, I liked how it ended. I called it!
It was sometime in 2018, I was chatting to a colleague about this series, when I suddenly had a brainwave. “You know what, I don’t think it’s gonna be Jon Snow and Daenerys at the end. I think it’s gonna be Tyrion and Sansa.” If you’ve seen the whole thing, you know I got that right.
Both of them ended up in positions of power–Tyrion as Hand of the King, the job he was always the best at, and Sansa as the Queen in the North, which she should have been in the first place back in Season 6.
I never said nobody else would get to be in power, I just knew it would be Sansa and Tyrion and not Jon and Daenerys–and I was never one of the Daenerys Will Go Mad crowd. Though they turned out to be right, so I hope at least they’re happy.
I also always knew that Jon Snow was the happiest in the far north, at the Wall and beyond, with his direwolf Ghost and the wildlings. This came true as well. His parentage is irrelevant, it doesn’t define him and besides, he was always more Stark than Targaryen; his mother Lyanna was said to be a bit wild, like Arya. He has no interest in being a king. If someone doesn’t want to rule, they shouldn’t be forced to. Imagine you tell me you hate swimming and I push you into a pool. You wouldn’t like it, would you?
That’s what I do. I drink and I know things.
I like nearly all the characters (some of them more than others, some I’m not that interested in but then later I might get interested, I’m like that), but my most favourite is Cersei Lannister. She embodies that pure female rage.
The level of hate Cersei receives borders on fanatical–and yet it’s non-sensical. She’s not worse than any other character; Game of Thrones is nothing if not moral greyness. The only thing she’s guilty of, same as about half of us, is being a woman. If she was a man she’d be one of the Top 5 favourites. She’s basically the Taylor Swift song The Man. (When everyone believes you, what’s that like? People didn’t believe Cersei when she said she was pregnant, though we were shown the scene where she and Jaime conceived the child. But when any other couple bangs, it’s an immediate assumption that it’ll result in pregnancy.) For the haters, it wasn’t just enough that she died, she needed to die violently. This despite that fact that the city was being torched by dragonfire and Cersei wasn’t the one who was torching it. They wanted Jaime to kill her, when the truth was that he literally came back for her to save the both of them (plus their unborn child), which was the subject of his last conversation with brother Tyrion, who told him of the passage out of the castle. And this is happening while the buildings are falling down and it would be far more likely that Cersei would die in the rubble anyway! I really wonder if the Cersei haters are even capable of logical thinking. (They aren’t.)
The Lannister twins dying together was quite a popular theory, it was foreshadowed enough, so I don’t know what everyone expected. I’d have preferred if they did save themselves and made it to Pentos, but hey, it’s Game of Thrones.
Thinking about what I’d change about the series, it’s really only two things: one, everything about the Dorne plot. Dorne was not done justice on the show. Originally, I’m a House Martell fan, but I switched to Lannisters, because there was nothing going on with the Martells (and who knows where the Dorne plot will go in the books, if there will be any more books, that is). At least Pedro Pascal as Oberyn was cool. Alexander Siddig, on the other hand, was criminally wasted as Doran Martell. I had been so looking forward to him in that role and it was a disappointment. (Last year, I had a similar experience with another actor, as it happens). Arianne Martell is my most favourite books-only character. I’m thinking that if they had put her into the show, she would have just died, so it’s probably better she wasn’t there. She’s the heir to Sunspear, the seat of House Martell, because in Dorne it is the oldest child that inherits, regardless of gender. The show never addressed this, one of its downsides.
The second thing I would change is, I’d keep the Jaime and Brienne relationship strictly platonic. That… umm… scene still makes me gag to this day, so much so that I can’t even stand seeing the two actors in the same shot. Interesting that Jaime and Cersei are an incestuous couple, but their scenes never felt gross to me, like the Jaime and Brienne one did. It’s not like either of them could be with anyone else, not for a long time anyway. I wonder if George RR Martin got inspired by that Wuthering Heights quote “He’s more myself than I am, whatever the souls are made of, his and mine are the same”. It’s very fitting for Cersei and Jaime. (Originally meant for foster siblings, may I stress.)
By what right does the wolf judge the lion?
As for Jaime, he essentially fulfilled his promise to Catelyn of returning her daughters–or one daughter as it was believed Arya was dead at that time. He just didn’t do it himself, but delegated the task to Brienne instead, giving her the sword Oathkeeper (made from former Ned Stark’s sword Ice) and Podrick Payne for company. Brienne carried out the task, she saved Sansa from the Boltons and safely accompanied her to the Wall, where she was reunited with Jon Snow. This not only proves that he did what Catelyn asked him to, but that Catelyn wasn’t stupid when she trusted him to do that. She was proved right. Another reminder: Jaime knighted Brienne, making her the first female knight. This enables her to knight more people, which means she can make more women knights.
But, you know, “character assassination” because he didn’t kill the woman that carried his child. You can click this link to see a breakdown of Jaime’s quotes, directly from the script, proving that he always chose Cersei.
[Note: Jaime actor Nikolaj Coster Waldau has stated multiple times that he liked the ending of his character. The haters are coming up with absurd theories that he’s being forced by The Powers That Be to say that, instead of simply accepting that he might have a different view from them. Like I said, with these people, logical thinking is absent.]
Next character I want to give shout out to is Arya Stark. I’m not a House Stark fan. I do like the two Stark girls, in later seasons I preferred Sansa more. I got a leeetle bit annoyed at the way Arya’s storyline in Braavos got handled–it seemed to me that she only used the Faceless Men for her own interests. The Faceless Men served more like a plot device for Arya, but make no mistake, they’re bigger than her and bigger than House Stark. The Free City of Braavos is my favourite location in this universe, I love everything about it, but then again that’s just me and the vast majority of the audience won’t care, they just want to see Arya get her revenge. But I want to talk about something else, something that matters to me very much.
Back in Season 1 there is a conversation Arya has with her father. When she asks if she can be a lord of the holdfast one day (something Ned suggests Bran can be now that he can’t be a knight of the Kingsguard due to his disability), he laughs and says that she will marry a high lord, and rule his castle, and her sons will be knights and lords. She shakes her head and says: “No. That’s not me.”
[Note: Ned’s a conservative]
And at the end, it’s still not her. She rejects Gendry’s proposal of marriage and sails away towards adventures. You don’t know how much it meant to me to see her do that. If there is a female character in fiction who says she doesn’t want to have children (marriage optional), you can pretty much guarantee that by the time the story ends, she will have them. This is disappointing and extremely infuriating. (I’m looking at you, Katniss Everdeen.) I’d rather have the character want children, or not mention anything at all. It certainly doesn’t help when you’re like that in real life and people just go “oh, you’ll change your mind.” But Arya knew herself and she stuck to her guns. I mean, this is a young woman that learned to be a water dancer, avenged her family and killed the Night King. And you want her to become the lady of Storm’s End and promptly get knocked up? No, sir.
Another one I’ve got here is Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound, a lover of good chicken and a reluctant adoptive father figure to Arya. Occasionally I like to channel him.
I live in a monarchy.
Last but not least, I want to give a shout out to Samwell Tarly.
I have no Sam goodies unfortunately, so I had to resort to taking a pic of my laptop screen while it played the YouTube video of the scene in question. The scene is from the finale. The noble lords and ladies are having a council meeting where they’re trying to come to some decision regarding the next ruler of Westeros. Sam is present at this meeting. He stands up and proposes that everyone should have a vote, all the citizens of Westeros, including the smallfolk. The reaction to this is laughter and scorn from all those present at the meeting, with unoriginal, lame jokes supplied by Lord Royce and Edmure Tully about horses and dogs having the right to vote too. Nobody sticks up for Sam. Not. A. Single. Soul. So he sits down and shuts up. It’s upsetting and potentially triggering seeing Sam treated like that, a character who has been abused by his father, struggled with self esteem issues, and still found it in his heart to help a poor wildling girl, herself also a survivor of abuse.
It is especially a let-down seeing not even Sansa speak up for him, she who has been through so much, and who has just told off her uncle Edmure. Arya wouldn’t, she’d cut your throat for having a bad opinion on Jon Snow, so clearly she can’t handle democracy (not that she’s interested in politics, it’s puzzling that she’s at that meeting at all), but Sansa could have at least refrained from laughing–though there is a shot where the camera focuses on her face and she looks like she’s having thoughts. Let’s hope so!
I like to think that Sam continued his fight for universal suffrage and I like to think that Tyrion listened to him (in Season 7 Tyrion praises the way the Ironborn and Night’s Watch choose their leaders). Keep fighting the good fight, Sam.
In 2018 I went to a small independent Game of Thrones convention here in Manchester. I brought back three autographed photographs; Ian McElhinney (Barristan Selmy), Roger Ashton-Griffiths (Mace Tyrell) and Toby Sebastian (Trystane Martell). I can confirm they were all very nice.
I don’t know how else to wrap this up other than saying, thank you for reading.
Not that long ago on Some Photoblog I did twoposts with a shared theme of home; I imagined they could bring out the feeling of peace and warmth of home. These days, home means not just the place we escape to from the cold weather–it also helps save lives.
Have some pics, with addition of some thoughts of mine.
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys is the prequel to Jane Eyre, the story of Bertha aka Madwoman in the Attic, here named Antoinette. For a while now, I’ve been her defender; she is always Antoinette to me. The prose in this book is beautiful and it’s a short read–and much easier than Jane why-use-one-word-when-I-can-use-ten Eyre. It also, rightfully, portrays Rochester as the villain.
Although I have my own theories regarding the madwoman. Most of all, I maintain that there was nothing wrong with her. If she did become mad, it was from living in the confined space of the attic–not hard to believe now, eh? I operate from the point of view that Rochester is lying. If you look at it that way, the story changes completely. After all, it’s narrated by Jane, who is eighteen, inexperienced, who’s lived a sheltered life and knows shit about the world. There is no evidence of any madness in the book. Heck we can’t even be sure it was really the madwoman who set the house on fire. We are told that by a stranger, a pub landlord, who for all we know might be as credible as today’s tabloid press. And even he admits it’s only a guess!
They say journalling can be beneficial to your health. I don’t know, I don’t journal. At least I haven’t started yet, I’ve only been using the pictured notebook for journalling prompts I found on Pinterest. So you can say I do journal, a bit, lol.
This is my little contribution to this year’s midwinter. Midwinter Murder is a collection of short stories by Agatha Christie that all share a winter theme. They’ve all been published before in other collections (obviously, they’re not new, with Agatha being dead for some decades). Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple both appear. As you can see, the book is without a doubt beautiful:
Although I should confess–these photographs were taken in autumn, at the same time as the ones in my Sherlock Holmes post. You can see the similarity.
Top picture was taken by my Canon DSLR, the other three with my smartphone.
If you’ve ever been here, you know it’s all about Agatha Christie on Some Photoblog. In the five years I’ve run it, I’ve not made a single mention of Sherlock Holmes. He’s been lurking in the background, I guess, waiting for his time. And as I’ve just rediscovered my love for Sherlockian stories, this time is now.
There will be no spoilers in this post, apart from The Final Problem, which is widely known anyway.
Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), a writer and by profession a medical doctor, born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Now, I feel kind of bad because I always try to promote lesser known works by authors (e.g. Agatha Christie’s books without Poirot or Marple that are not And Then There Were None and non-Anne of Green Gables works by LM Montgomery) but this time around I’m going for the most obvious choice. It’s also a well known fact that the author ended up hating his most famous creation and had wished his other writings received similar attention. (Sorry, Sir Arthur!) I have read other works by him; a couple of Professor Challenger books and a short story collection Tales of Terror and Mystery and the guy does deserve to be known for his non-Sherlock writings–he was quite prolific and wrote sci-fi, historical fiction, non-fiction. I remember a few years ago a commenter on ACD’s official Facebook page post said “I didn’t know he wrote stories other than Sherlock Holmes” and I thought, how stupid can you get? Please. And any of you bloggers reading this, if you blog about Sir Arthur and have covered his non-Sherlock work (or even Sherlock only, let’s be friends), please drop a comment and I’ll check out your posts.
Anyway… today, I’m basic.
Sherlock Holmes is without a doubt the most popular fictional detective in the world and this is unlikely to change, in our lifetimes or perhaps ever. What is it that makes him so appealing, more than a century after his first appearance?
I don’t know the answer. He just is. An eccentric character, with brilliant mind, skilled in detection, what’s not to love? (Yes, I know he took cocaine. But this was legal in his time.) Mystery is a popular genre anyway, people love their detectives. And Sherlock Holmes is a classic. I think there is certain appeal in Victorian and Edwardian era London as well.
Sherlock Holmes first came to life in the 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet. Altogether he features in four novels (the other three being The Sign of Four, The Hound of Baskervilles and The Valley of Fear) and 56 short stories, majority of them written by his sidekick Dr John Watson. The character is inspired by Dr Joseph Bell (1837-1911), a surgeon and lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, for whom ACD served as a clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Dr Bell used observation to carry out a diagnosis and was a pioneer of what we now call forensic science. He also served as a personal surgeon to Queen Victoria when she visited Scotland.
“My friend and colleague, Dr Watson.”
I am lost without my Boswell.
Sherlock Holmes on Dr Watson (A Scandal in Bohemia)
[Note: This is a reference to James Boswell, who was a biographer of the writer Samuel Johnson.]
The lifelong partnership–or whatever else you might want to call it, I’m not going to argue–was born in A Study in Scarlet. Dr Watson is introduced to Sherlock Holmes by an old acquaintance Stamford as someone to potentially share a place with, as he’s in a precarious financial situation. Stamford knows Sherlock from the hospital, where he, Stamford, works as a dresser and Sherlock likes to dabble with chemicals at the lab.
“Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said Stamford, introducing us.
from A Study in Scarlet
Sherlock already knows of a suitable lodgings to rent, 221b Baker Street. The next day they meet and go view the place, Watson decides it’s suitable, and they move in.
Also can we raise a glass for Mr Stamford, without whom this iconic duo would never have existed?
Watson at first has no clue about Sherlock’s profession and for some reason is afraid to ask. Because he really has nothing else to do, he studies his flatmate and even makes a list of his skills and abilities. I made a graphic of this list, which I posted on my Tumblr and which remains my most popular post of all time on that platform. Now I’m posting it here:
Watson is also shocked at Sherlock’s total ignorance of the Solar System. Of course, now it seems funny, because you’re thinking, haha he’s obsessed. He admits as such right there, in the text. He has nothing else to occupy his mind, has no close friends and his health is not in the best condition. This is what, on my recent re-read, made me come up with a theory–I think meeting Sherlock Holmes saved Dr Watson’s life. Hear me out.
So, as we know from Watson’s narrative, he qualified as medical doctor, joined the army and served in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, where he was wounded during the Battle of Maiwand. His injury healed, but then he contracted enteric fever (which a quick Google search informs me is the same as typhoid fever). Afterwards, his health was so poor, he was discharged and sent back to England to recuperate. Having no living relatives in England, he arrived in London and booked himself a room in a hotel. His description of the capital city is amusing: that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. (You wouldn’t think it of him, but our doctor does have some good burns.) His army pension was eleven shillings and sixpence a day (another quick Google search informs me this should have been quite a comfortable income). He describes this period of his life as a “meaningless existence” and confesses to spending too much money. Hence the aforementioned precarious financial situation. He realised that he needed to change his lifestyle and having just made the decision to look for cheaper living, he bumped into Stamford.
What I wonder about–what was he spending his money on? Drinking? Women? Gambling? It was at a bar where he came across Stamford, so draw your own conclusions. (Also in The Sign of Four, we learn that Watson had an older brother with a drink problem.) Stamford comments that Watson is very thin and very brown (suntan from Afghanistan, presumably). It’s not unreasonable to conclude that he suffered from PTSD. And the “meaningless existence”–could that be… depression? When he moved in with Sherlock, he got his life and finances in order and his mind was revived from idleness by this intriguing new friend of his. Then, when Sherlock finally reveals to Watson what his profession is–a consulting detective–he invites him to come along to view a dead body. The rest is history.
Watson is at first sceptical of Sherlock’s science of deduction, but soon learns that yes, it really does work. It seems to me that Sherlock, whether intentionally or not, pulled Watson back into life. That’s how the BBC Sherlock series pretty much plays it.
In the next book, The Sign of Four, a new client named Mary Morstan enters the scene and she and Watson fall in love and get married. I always thought it happened way too fast. They knew each other only for days. But it seems to have worked for them, so I guess that’s good. ACD needed to marry off Watson, so he did. *shrug* Sherlock remained in Baker Street, as Watson says in A Scandal in Bohemia, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature. In other words, he missed his friend. (The Guy Ritchie movies with Robert Downey Jr showcase this well.)
Screenshot of Sherlock Holmes, The Definitive Audio Collection from my Audible app. The complete works, all for one single credit, (not bad!), read by Stephen Fry, who played Mycroft in Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows movie. Speaking of which:
All men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience.
Sherlock Holmes on his brother Mycroft (The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans)
Sherlock Holmes has a brother called Mycroft, seven years his senior. We first meet him in the story The Greek Interpreter; he also features in one of my personal favourites, The Bruce-Partington Plans. Mycroft possesses even greater ability for deduction and observation than his younger brother, only he can’t be bothered to do any actual detective work out in the field. No ambition and no energy. (I can relate.) He rarely ventures beyond his circle of home, workplace and the Diogenes Club. In The Bruce-Partington Plans Sherlock nearly falls off a chair when he receives telegram from Mycroft informing him of his upcoming visit to Baker Street. It must be something really serious to drag his brother away from his usual territory!
Mycroft’s skills enabled him to create his own position in the Government–this is what Sherlock means about omniscience. He makes himself indispensable, that’s why Sherlock says Mycroft is the Government itself. But my favourite part about the older Holmes is the Diogenes Club. A gentlemen’s club set up for those who hated company, whether it was due to shyness or misanthropy, but who still liked comfortable chairs and newspapers. Talking is not permitted, except for Stranger’s Room and three offences will get you expelled from the club. Mycroft was one of the founding members.
We don’t know what Mycroft’s politics is. From Sherlock’s description, he certainly can make any regime work for him, but I like to think he was at least somewhat progressive. There is nothing in the canon to say he wasn’t.
According to Sherlock, both of them may have inherited their talents from their grandmother, a sister to French artist Vernet. Vernet was a real artist that really existed, in fact there were three of them: grandfather, father and son:
Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789)
Antoine Charles Horace Vernet, known as Carle Vernet (1758-1836)
Émile Jean-Horace Vernet, known as Horace Vernet (1789-1863)
ACD doesn’t specify which one of them it was, but based on the timeline, the youngest one is the most likely one. Horace Vernet mostly painted battle scenes and enjoyed patronage from, among others, King Louis-Philippe. He also took photographs by daguerreotype process, the first publicly available photography technique.
Check out his self-portrait:
It looks very Sherlock Holmes, doesn’t it?
Aside from this, Sherlock never mentions any other family. He says his ancestors were country squires, but offers no further details. In The Adventure of the Norwood Builder, after Sherlock returns from the dead, Watson moves back with him to Baker Street and sells his practice to a young doctor named Verner. Years later he finds out that this Verner was a distant relation of Sherlock and it was really Sherlock who provided the money for the practice, which was sold at the highest price. Verner, Vernet, sounds very similar, also R and T are next to each other on the keyboard. Most likely a coincidence, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
The Best and Finest Man I Have Ever Known
So, Sherlock believed his talent for observation and deduction came from his artist great uncle. Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms, he says in The Greek Interpreter. Sherlock is the logical, scientific type. He also plays the violin and is fond of music. I think we can safely say that in the mind of our great detective, science and art combine.
Watson’s list of Sherlock’s skills is not entirely accurate for the rest of the series. In The Sign of Four, for example, Watson notes that “[Holmes] spoke on a quick succession of subjects,—on miracle-plays, on medieval pottery, on Stradivarius violins, on the Buddhism of Ceylon, and on the war-ships of the future,—handling each as though he had made a special study of it.” Yet none of those subjects are mentioned on the list in A Study in Scarlet. Quite the opposite–any facts he considers irrelevant must be forgotten at once, as to not clutter his mind. When ACD came up with the character of Sherlock Holmes, he couldn’t have known he would still write about him decades later (he didn’t even want to!). With time, he developed his character more, realising that, when you work as a detective, no knowledge is useless. This can be easily explained by Watson not knowing Sherlock that well in their early days yet. There is also another inconsistency. Watson’s wound was in the shoulder in A Study in Scarlet, but in The Sign of Four, he tells us it’s in the leg. Not that it matters much, in any case he could have sustained more than one injury in the war. BBC Sherlock got round it by making Watson’s leg pain psychosomatic–quite clever, I think.
This is a popular outline of Sherlock’s profile, thanks to illustrations by Sidney Paget. It is Paget that gave Sherlock the iconic deerstalker hat, never mentioned in the actual writing. Paget’s illustrations accompanied ACD’s Sherlock stories in The Strand Magazine, where they were published. (Random fact: Agatha Christie also published her Poirot short stories in this magazine.) ACD himself requested Paget to continue illustrating in The Strand when he resurrected Sherlock. Sidney Paget definitely deserves some credit for contributing to the famous detective’s image.
The Birth of a Fandom
ACD killed off Sherlock in 1893 in The Final Problem, hoping this would help him concentrate on the more serious fiction and non-fiction he wanted to work on. Sherlock faces his ultimate antagonist, Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime as he calls him. Interestingly, Moriarty is also a man of science, a mathematical genius. During their last showdown at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, they both plunge to their deaths.
The reaction of fans to this move was like nothing else ever experienced before. Angry letters poured into ACD’s mailbox, people wore black armbands, The Strand Magazine suffered 20,000 cancellations. These days you’d shrug your shoulder, just another Tuesday in the fandom. But then, it was new. ACD eventually brought the beloved sleuth back; he needed the money and people wanted their Sherlock. Luckily the way he wrote Sherlock’s end enabled him to explain it away with “actually he didn’t fall into his death, only Moriarty did” and “he quickly realised that faking his death would help him break Moriarty’s criminal network and protect his dear Watson”. ACD though killed another character, Mrs Mary Watson, off page, so that he could reinstate Watson back into 221b Baker Street. (It’s kinda shitty if you think about it, but I understand why it had to be that way, besides, readers likely didn’t care about her. Apart from all the other qualities of the Granada Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett, I like that their Watson remained unmarried and Mary Morstan exited at the end of The Sign of Four episode.)
And so the adventures continued.
Sherlockians, or Holmesians if you want, were the first modern fandom. (Ahhh, fandoms, yes, fandoms, that’s a discussion I’d rather not have today.)
Aside from the books written by ACD, Sherlock appears in numerous books by other authors–this is called pastiche. Most of ACD’s works are in public domain now–and you know that means you can get them free as eBooks. Project Gutenberg is the best place for this.
I truly hope that if ACD can see from beyond how loved the character he grew to hate is, and how much Sherlock Holmes means to people, he is not too angry. After all, Sherlock, and all the related adaptations and pastiches, bring many of us joy and in the end, that is what really matters.
My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.
from The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
And how about you, readers? Any fans of Sherlock Holmes there? Tell me in the comments!
Note: Apart from the tiny mentions, I don’t touch on any of the adaptations, as the post was already long enough. In the future, I might dedicate a separate post for these.
I think it would go well with this quote from LM Montgomery book Emily’s Quest.
I was alone but not lonely. I was a queen in halls of fancy. I held a series of conversations with imaginary comrades and thought out so many epigrams that I was agreeably surprised at myself.
Remind you of something? Yes, LMM used this almost exact quote in in Anne of Windy Poplars. Windy Poplars was released in 1936 and Emily’s Quest in 1927, so Emily’s quote came earlier. (Note: Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside were written much later than the rest of Anne books.)
Compare the two books, though. Emily books are much darker than Anne books (there is also altogether more darkness in Montgomery’s work than people realise, but that’s another topic). Windy Poplars covers the three years in Anne’s life when she teaches school at Summerside, while Gilbert is working towards his medical degree. Large chunk of the book is comprised of her letters to Gilbert and that line is from one of them. They are apart for now, but they write to each other and look forward to the time they finally get married and start their life together. So, all is good. Emily’s Quest, on the other hand, is quite a different story. While her friends leave home to pursue their dreams, Emily stays and tries to become a writer. She and her love interest, Teddy, can’t seem to get together because they have communication issues. Emily gets ill, suffers from, what we call now, depression, agrees to marry a man she doesn’t love, and it takes years for her to finally find the happiness she deserves. It’s–bleak. Definitely not one for the children’s books section. Or even Young Adult section. Like one reviewer on Goodreads put it “Montgomery’s work is constantly under-estimated, and the way the books are marketed doesn’t help (the flowery script, the swoony illustrations).” I’ve been saying that for years.
Anne and Emily are both orphans with different journeys, but I think both of them would have loved that little bench under the trees.