Want to read this along with me? This essay is part of A Study in Scarlet, published in 1887. I used the epub version found on Feedbooks.com.
Don’t worry – I’m not going to cover every chapter in the level of detail that I did in the last two essays. It’s just that the first two chapters of Scarlet are so important to the rest of the canon, I had to make sure I covered them pretty thoroughly. The rest of the book has plenty of things to talk about as well, but in a much more cursory fashion.
Lestrade and Gregson
The more notable minor characters are also introduced introduced in this novel, including Detective Lestrade.1 Again, Lestrade is often presented as an idiot, although Holmes explicitly says he is “the best of a bad lot.” However, Lestrade slowly does become an idiot over the course of the canon, which is unfortunate because here you can see some of the complexities that get lost in many adaptations and pastiches.
In this story, we also meet Detective Gregson, and find out that Gregson and Lestrade are rivals. This is totally irrelevant, because throughout the canon Lestrade ends up the defacto winner of the rivalry: Lestrade ends up taking the lion’s share of limelight in later stories. As I reread this, I noticed that Lestrade was actually much more quick to admit his limitations than Gregson was, and he’s the only police officer mentioned who consults Holmes prior to Watson’s regular involvement with the cases. Further, at the murder scene for Enoch Drebber, Lestrade makes a number of good observations, and is even the one who finds the word “Rache”, which that Holmes might have missed otherwise. Sure, it’s a red herring, but it does add information to Holmes’ description of the murderer. Like I said – Lestrade’s got more going on than most people realize.
The scene with Constable Rance is noteworthy for three things. One of the smaller points is that it demonstrates Holmes’ willingness to flat-out bribe people for information – we see that while Holmes can deduce information from looking at people, he’s not above using any means necessary to get data (although later he relies more and more on pure observational deduction). We also see the conflict of superstition and reason again, as Rance admits that was afraid of ghosts, although “nothing this side of the grave” scared him otherwise. Finally, Holmes will (in later stories) mock Watson for his florid turns of phrase, but it’s Holmes himself that waxes poetic about this case, and even gives it the name “a study in scarlet.”
Some more interesting points through the rest of the novel:
* Mrs. Hudson also appears here, although she’s never referred to by name – only as “the landlady.” There’s also a maid mentioned, but I don’t remember what happens to her. I think she disappears in later stories.
* Watson’s service revolver is cleaned and loaded. He’ll get a lot more use out of it in coming stories.
* Wiggins also appears, as well as Holmes’ “army of street Arabs.” This means that all of the key secondary characters appear in this novel, even if poor Mrs. Hudson isn’t named.
And then the book turns into a completely different book, with no explanation before or after. It’s not a section written by Dr. Watson, or indeed any other character. As a story in and of itself, it’s not bad, even if the Mormons are woefully misinterpreted. But think about it – to Doyle, 1880s America was about as foreign to him as Victorian England is to us. He was going on what stories and news he had heard, which was all sensationalism and glorified lies. It’s awkward reading about in modern times, but taken just as a story, it switches between lines of brilliance (“did God make this country?”) and terrible jumps in logic (John Ferrier isn’t afraid of anything… except numbers). It’s really just a completely different novel smashed into the middle, which Jefferson Hope then explains in part two, chapter six anyhow!
As such, it’s hard to express how I feel about A Study in Scarlet. As a Sherlock Holmes story, it’s not one of my favorites by a long stretch. It’s a vital a part of the canon, though, and there are key scenes that are so impactful that they are a part of my very makeup. I always start any reread of the canon with Scarlet, and every time I am thrilled by the exploration of the canon’s genesis, even if the execution isn’t the best.
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- I have heard his name pronounced “Leh-strahde” and “Leh-strayed.” I’m not sure which is correct. I tend to go with “Leh-strahde,” personally. ↩