Desperatly Seeking Watson

Listen to The FrankenPod episode; Desperately Seeking Watson

It’s 1881 and 2010 the toll of the war in Afghanistan is being felt by returning veterans who are struggling to find their place within a society that has no frame of reference for their recent experience. One of the more disenfranchised of these returning veterans is one Doctor John Watson, a medical man who is suffering physically and psychologically due in large part to an injury he sustained to his shoulder/leg. He has no real home, no real family or friends. He is a man adrift waiting for the nearest high functioning sociopath to sweep him off his feet and into an implausible mystery.

Tonight we are talking about the character that his own creator resented, the man who popularised a fallacy about deductive reasoning, the frequent ejaculator Sherlock Holmes. 

Actually, I lie Watson is the frequent ejaculator that was rude of me.

Just a warning, this is NOT going to be a comprehensive exploration of holmes, we’re probably going to do other holmes episodes at some point, and I know that there will be people who know far more about Sherlock Holmes  listening to this, so I can only apologize for any inaccuracies and omission, and I extend an open invitation to come on the podcast and share your knowledge.

For this month’s episode, I read A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Brent watched the 2010 episode of BBC’s Sherlock and the unaired pilot.

Full disclosure, I have viewed the BBC Sherlock on numerous occasions, probably more often than I have read the story, but it’s pretty close. This is the story at the very beginning, the story in which Watson meets Sherlock, their eyes meet and a marketable franchise is born.

John Watson served in the Second Anglo-Afghan war. So the bulk of my information about this comes from the story itself and reading an article on garenewing.co.uk. Definitely not knowledgeable about war history so please bear that in mind. The conflict lasted for 2 years from 1878 to 1880

John Watson is said to be in Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as an Assistant Surgeon. He was playing catch up of a kind, I’m sure that’s the technical term, and when he arrived at Bombay they were already in Kandahar. Then getting attached to another unit called the Berkshires. It’s after this that he goes to into the battle of Maiwand and incurs the injury and PTSD that he will be dealing with when he meets Holmes. He cites his orderly Murray as being instrumental in his survival after being wounded by a bullet.

Turns out that some war history research types have basically said nope, wrong place wrong time no Murray to nearly all of this, and have gone about systematically providing the actual information associated with Arthur Conan Doyle’s assertions and I just wanted to point out that we live in a world where someone bothered to do that and it’s beautiful and the internet is just swell sometimes. You can find that info here 

Also, Holmes says in his whole showing off how brilliant he is that he can tell all of the things about Watson including that ‘He has just come from the tropics’ which is bullshit because Afghanistan isn’t in the tropics so suck on that Sherlock.

In the novel, we meet Gregson and Lestrade who Holmes says try jealousy to outdo each other and are rivals on the police force. 

 

The emphasis on the ring is in both the novel and television show In the novel it is because it is the proof of the injustice and cruelty of the victim to the woman that is at the centre of the mystery.

Rache is German for revenge and Jefferson Hope adopts the use of this term and the crime scene as it is the modus operandi of a criminal in the United states that baffled the police and he hoped that he could utilize the same pageantry to throw off Scotland Yard.

There is a similar murder weapon, the two pills and the gun to enforce the choice.

The victims are Stangerson and Drebber. Drebber took the pill choice, stangerson attacked Jefferson Hope and so Hope had to stab him.

The cabby is still the murderer and he is about to die from an aneurysm in the aorta

Part two is very strange, we find out about Jefferson Hope’s motivation for murdering the two men. I’m going to do a bare-bones summary are you ready. There is lots of Mormon hating coming up:

John Ferrier and a tiny 4-year-old Lucy are dying of thirst and starvation on the plains of Utah, they were part of a larger group including Lucy’s parents, but they are the only two left alive. They are rescued by a large caravan of Mormons headed by real-life Mormon leader brigham young, who basically says that he will only save them if they follow all the tenants of the Mormon faith. John Ferrier Does pretty well out of the situation when they get to the ‘promised land’ he gets a portion of land and becomes very wealthy. He adopts Lucy and years pass with her growing up in a super creepy male gaze montage. She goes out one day on horseback and some shit goes down and she is rescued by Jefferson hope, who falls in love with her. He kind of proposes and then goes away for a job. Meanwhile Brigham young tells John Ferrier that Lucy will have to marry a Mormon dude or John Ferrier will be killed and lucy forced into matrimony. She has two to choose from, Drebber or Stangerson, both of whom are already in polygamous relationships They give them 30 days to comply, like some sort of weird notice to vacate and John Ferrier sends for Jefferson Hope to see if he can come and help. He turns up just in time in a weird face planting and crawling along the ground type situation which is ridiculous and I have a quote

They go on the run. But the Mormons catch up and while Jefferson hope is away from Lucy and killing John Ferrier and abducting lucy. Lucy dies not long after being forced to marry Drebber and so Jefferson Hope goes seeking revenge, even after Drebber and Stangerson go to England. And so that is the motivation of Jefferson Hope. He knows one of them killed John Ferrier and they forced Lucy into a marriage that was the apparent cause of her death. The ring at the crime scene is Lucy’s.

This is the point where I need to talk about the representation of Mormons. It’s pretty brutal, the taking of Lucy by force and the way Christianity is held up as the ideal and Mormonism is seen to be criminal and debauched is bad enough, but Conan Doyle attributes awful behaviour to real live people apparently based on sensationalised reports of the time that demonised the Mormons. As an atheist, I don’t think it’s fair for me to make value judgements about anyone’s religion, but the portrayal was so bad that apparently, Arthur Conan Doyle extended a personal apology to Brigham Young.

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The First Detective

This post accompanies the podcast episode The First Detective Novel by The FrankenPod

The first detective novel is a hard thing to pinpoint, the detective and mystery narratives can be traced back to ancient civilization arguably visible in the biblical story of Susanna and the Elders and the play Oedipus Rex, though, let me be very clear that opinion is dramatically divided on both of these classifications. There are examples of early detective stories not just in early Anglo European narratives, but in just about every culture with a written tradition. And there are cultures with oral traditions that conform to a similar narrative pattern.

A mystery is introduced, many are baffled, but the mystery is overcome, often by a person with particular and peculiar gifts of insight.

So it seems we’ve always loved a mystery.

The Genius Detective

But it isn’t until the advent of the 19th-century genius detective that the genre becomes certain, defined and incredibly popular with a wide audience. This also has to do with the printing press and higher levels of literacy, particularly in women. It’s kind of funny when we see that a higher proportion of people identifying as female going a bit batshit for true, crime, and I count myself as one of them, and we are tempted to think this is a new phenomenon, but it’s been going on since at LEAST the birth of the novel. A lot of women dig something a little scary or salacious, enter the crime narrative.

C. Auguste Dupin

The man who is seen as the first modern detective is perhaps my absolute favourite the delightfully queer C. Auguste Dupin. Created by Edgar Allan Poe in 1841 and often read as merely a French protosherlock, but he is a detective I have a deep and abiding love for. He is a more relaxed breed of arrogant genius detective than the often violent Holmes and hangs out exclusively with dudes. He seems to potter around mysteries, make bets on the outcome and has that strange sportsman like attitude to crime, viewing it as a puzzle or a challenge that would be so popular amongst his successors, I am thinking specifically Jonathan Creek for some bizarre reason, that’s a weird reference that I think will have a limited resonance, Okay this is very important, if you know who jonathan creek is it is vital that you let me know of twitter as soon as possible @thefrankenpod, it can’t just be me out there in this 90s BBC drama wilderness. Maybe Poirot is a good comparison, I guess.

If you came for pure unadulterated Poe love you may have come to the wrong place, the guy was super problematic in ways too numerous to list without a dedicated episode. He did, however, pen some of the most thrilling and devastating short stories in the English language. I will never be able to reconcile those 2 things.

Anyway back to Dupin, the first story of Poe’s to feature Dupin is Murders in the Rue Morgue. I’m not going to spoil the end but…

If you are going to make Redacted the murderer then you are making an almost explicit comment on Darwinism.

The Murders in the Rue Morgue is thought to be the first Modern detective story, but it is not the first detective novel

The Moonstone

Let us humour some other views on the first detective novel; T.S. Elliot asserts that Wilkie Collin’s The Moonstone is the first and most complete detective novel, and it’s true that in terms of sheer quantity and narrative development you have to hand it to Collins for crafting a tale of intrigue that takes on Imperialism, Temperance and Superstition. A precious gem that has been taken from India and bequeathed Rachel Verinda, it then goes missing and what ensues is a narrative full of red herrings and plot twists that once or twice you may find yourself frustrated with Collins’s trickery. There are a few very good suspects and a few very good motives, and the solution is outlandish and wonderful. There is also an element of bait and switch, we don’t quite know who is the real detective, even that certainty is denied us.

I came late to the Wilkie Collins bandwagon, and the man might be sympathetic the characters from India he also indulges in some casual racism which will grate on most modern readers. He is often seen as condemning racism simply because he has written racist characters unsympathetically, and for his time you know, he was a rather progressive dude.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon

But all that being said let me tell you a tale, the tale of a femme fatale, a tale penned by a woman, condemning women, giving them an unparalleled level of agency and shining a light on the injustices of the marriage act. Lady Audley’s Secret written in 1862 by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, 6 years before The Moonstone, provides much of we would look for in a modern detective novel. Barrister Robert Audley, yet another candidate for the most insufferable man in literature thinks there is something up with his uncle’s pretty new wife. He is the least interesting of the detectives detailed, but the villain is the most morally confronting.

I’m not going to give away the ending because it’s an important piece of proto detective, sensation fiction.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon is one of those 19th-century badass women who had a long-term relationship and children out of wedlock, shock horror. Not so shocking when you read her fiction which almost always condemns the institution of marriage. A remarkable scandalous woman, who wrote incredible detective fiction, and not an underage cousin marriage in sight, I’m looking at you, Edgar Allan Poe.

Does the male detective have an intrinsic hatred and distrust of women in particular, or is it just an ultimate distrust of the human race in general, manifesting differently by virtue of the subservient status of women in literature?