marginalia || A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle

My first Sherlock Holmes! I won a giveaway on Twitter a while back, for the complete Sherlock Holmes canon from Oxford World’s Classics. They’ve been on my nightstand [well, what surface I could find] since I got them from the post office. So, I figured this would’ve been as good a time as any to get into a cultural icon. I began from the very beginning, the first novel — A Study in Scarlet, by Sherlock Holmes. And it blew all my expectations — my preconceptions, really — out of the water.

. . . [A] study in scarlet, eh? . . . There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it, and expose every inch of it.

Here are how I’ve known Sherlock Holmes: as the cartoon version from who-knows-where, with the cape and pipe and that giant nose, and all-around silliness; as, uh, yummified by Robert Downey, Jr. in the fairly recent movie. And the vaguest impressions I had of the books themselves, even before I read them: stuffy detective stories with imposing characters I couldn’t be bothered to identify with. Tsk.

Yes, A Study in Scarlet beat my preconceptions to a pulp. I enjoyed myself so much, and I admit to being a little surprised by that. I found a complex book, one with a conscious balance of plot and character. The mystery of the case intrigued me — Sasha who doesn’t exactly hoard detective novels — but it was the revelations about Holmes, Watson, and other central characters that kept me reading. That, and the language. It was just so, I dunno, so right. For the atmosphere. For the characters. For the time. And — gasp — I liked reading the prose.

About that: I suppose one reason I’ve shied away from the Sherlock Holmes canon is due to my general timidness when it comes to Classic books. But I’ve been working on that. My “success” with Doyle’s novel makes me look forward to more Classics in my reading list. Not to mention more Sherlock Holmes stories.

Anyhoo. If anyone’s interested [or just nosy, heee], here are the notes I took while/after I read [as usual, excuse certain incoherencies — I was mostly talking to myself]:

A note on the OWC edition, and its many asterisks, not to mention forewords and prefaces and appendices. Whoa. At first it was confusing, and it got in the way of my appreciating the story. There’s nothing like an academic approach that scares you off a book you’ve already half-decided as daunting. But the dork in me couldn’t help it. When I wanted to, I let the book inform me. When I didn’t, I read on. Also, read most of the discussions on the text after I’d finished with the novel. I feel giddy and proud of myself for nodding several tmies.

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, M.D. start off as roommates! Hyuk. I am trying not to wait for the bromance.

♦ Watson as foil. Not only as a character, a contrast to Holmes’ personality. It’s more basic than that: With their relationship, he stands as Sherlock’s sounding board, thereby allowing the reader to get inside Holmes’ head, what with the latter’s split-second skills at deduction. It’s a simple technique, but one one that’s incredibly helpful, not to mention vital in involving the reader. By doing his “See here, Watson, my man,” shtick, he’s involving us too.

♦ That. Watson’s perspective — a conscious decision of Doyle’s? Because, frankly, Holmes wouldn’t normally make an involving character on his own. He needs a chronicle. And we need him to have a chronicle.

♦ Oh my goodness, Holmes, really? That doggie?!

♦ PART 2 – There’s this long and transatlantic flashback, separate from Watson’s voice. And I had to grumble, “What is this even for?” But, but: It’s the murderer’s story, divorced of anyone’s preconceptions. That is, with the omniscient point of view, we’re assured that this actually happened, and we need not be convinced of that fact. The murderer tells his story once he’s caught, but we needed this separate narrative.

♦ Awesome. I mean, it’s de rigeur these days to humanize who we’d be quick to judge as villains — and I say this as I go through Season 5 of Bones. I was rooting for this guy by the time the back story was through, and his own storytelling cemented that. Not so much because he draws my sympathies, not even so much because he’s right. It’s just what the narrative drew from me — the character’s, and Doyle’s.

♦ Thirst for vengeance may be, essentially, skewed. But it’s not without justifications, and I’m glad that it’s not the character or the author wheedling for us to consider them. That’s the story, we’re told. Deal with it, ya know? I did. And it is, of course, kind of sad.

♦ And yes, I noticed how there was no comment from Holmes about this story. He’s silent. Watson offers some passing remarks on the tale, but it was ultimately left to the reader to decide. I decide, Aye.

* * *

If you’re still reading, you may have noticed that I may have offered mini-spoilers, but wouldn’t comment on the actual crime (aside from the fact that there’s been a murder), and how they went about solving them. It’s really a matter of this blogger’s ability, or lack thereof. For the record: I did not see that one coming. I was just tagging along Holmes and Watson, really, haha, slightly agape.

To the rest of the canon sitting pretty on my shelf: Here I come.

12 thoughts on “marginalia || A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle

  1. Have you seen the BBC’s modern take on Sherlock that’s just been shown? Sounds like it could have been awful, but it’s brilliant. First episode is a Study in Pink and they have all sorts of clever references to Scarlet. And it really brings out the bromance.

    1. No, I haven’t. Have heard so many good things on Twitter about it, and it was shown around the time I was reading this one. I need to hunt that one down, haha.

  2. So glad you enjoyed this so much! I read this last year, not knowing entirely what to expect and was also really surprised by it in the best possible way. Just know that the next novella, Sign of Four, is not nearly as good, though it is still loads of fun. I’ve slowly been working my way through the short stories now and they’re always good pick-me-ups. The writing is, as you say, spot on!

    1. Sherlock Holmes really wasn’t what I thought it would be. I might just make it my mission to read through the canon. I’ve got the rest of my life left, right? :) I’m wondering how the short fiction will work though, since I found this novel form kind of, say, just right for the content. But we’ll see. And thanks for the heads-up on Sign of Four!

  3. I spent the summer watching the Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett, filmed in the 1980s and 90s, and they’re amazing. If you ever decide to watch them, I would recommend watching them in order. Jeremy Brett is fantastic — the perfect Sherlock Holmes!


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