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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Reflections on a Recent Re-reading

In the first six weeks of 2012, I re-read the entire Canon. I'd already read every story many times, but it had been years since I had done a complete read-through. Here's what surprised me, although none of this may surprise you at all:
  • Watson refers to previously published cases much more often than I would have thought. This always seems false to me in pastiches, but it's not.
  • Frequently Watson makes it clear that his accounts have made both Holmes and him famous around the world.
  • The descriptions of weather are wonderful.
  • Holmes truly regarded Watson as a partner, based on his use of such terms as "our client" and "this agency."
  • The attitudes of Holmes and the police toward each other changed over the years. In the beginning he was cynical about Scotland Yard getting the credit and Lestrade & Co. didn't want to admit that they needed his help. Both views changed markedly by the end.
  • Holmes refers to his chronicler as "my dear Watson," "my dear fellow," "my boy" and "friend Watson." He never calls him John, and Watson never refers to him as Sherlock except when necessary to distinguish him from Mycroft.
  • I don't agree with the common opinion that the later tales are in general inferior. Many of them, not just a few, strike me as quite good.
  • The famous inconsistencies in the Canon are, to my mind, somewhat exaggerated. Considering that the nine books appeared over forty-year period, the world of Sherlock Holmes is a remarkably consistent one.
  • Above all, the Holmes and Watson of A Study in Scarlet are the same two men in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. And what wonderful characters they are!
So that's my take-away, which is somewhat less dramatic than Rex Stout's conclusion after a similar exercise that "Watson Was a Woman."

Have you ever read the tales all the way through in a relatively short period? If so, what surprised you?


  1. Exhausting, as I well-know, having (almost) completed my 'Who's Who'. I am always surprised at the density of the text - which makes it difficult to find many 'nuggets' easily. One almost has to read the whole 'Adventure'. But maybe that's me!

  2. I used to do those massive read-throughs fairly regularly, mainly between the ages of about 13 and 20 - so, not for some years. When on a visit home to my parents this summer I managed to read more Holmes than I've done in some time, and loved it - need to do that again soon!

    I particularly agree that a great many of the later cases are just as good or better than many of the earlier ones. I'd say the very last lot (The Casebook? Goodness me, I used to know all this without even thinking) might be a bit on the weaker side, but overall there are fantastic stories throughout.

    I agree that the characters remain pretty consistent throughout, except that - unsurprisingly - they change from A Study in Scarlet, or at least Holmes does. I think Watson describes him as "certainly not a difficult man to live with" in A Study in Scarlet, which certainly doesn't seem to be the case later (patriotic VR fired into the wall, anyone?). And all the things about his total ignorance of basic facts, literature etc - well, either he was winding Watson up, or he picked a few things up later!

  3. I suspect that Holmes was "winding Watson up"!

  4. Once again, Dan has hit the nail on the head.

    However,in the world of hardware that would be considered a crime; therefore Holmes would be brought in to find out just who had wielded the offensive hammer.

    I concur wholeheartedly with Dan’s assessments and do not agree with Rex Stout’s conjecture upon the sexual identity of Dr. Watson (while trying to blot out the titillating imagery of such an alliance).