On “The Man with the Twisted Lip” from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
On “The Man with the Twisted Lip” [TWIS]
from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
::: PUBLICATION HISTORY :::
The Strand Magazine (UK) December 1891
The Strand (US) January 1892
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Coll.) October 1892
::: NOTES :::
It all begins as a Watson adventure of sorts, to retrieve a wayward hubby from an opium den until whilst there… “Walk past me, and then look back at me.” The words fell quite distinctly upon my ear. I glanced down. They could only have come from the old man at my side, and yet he sat now as absorbed as ever, very thin, very wrinkled, bent with age, an opium pipe dangling down from between his knees, as though it had dropped in sheer lassitude from his fingers. I took two steps forward and looked back. It took all my self-control to prevent me from breaking out into a cry of astonishment. He had turned his back so that none could see him but I. His form had filled out, his wrinkles were gone, the dull eyes had regained their fire, and there, sitting by the fire, and grinning at my surprise, was none other than Sherlock Holmes.”
A ::: very ::: cinematic lens-friendly scene, that. So, we are again playing with costumes as we were before in A Scandal in Bohemia. & theatrics! I am not at all opposed to either of these. What I am, however, opposed to is when an all-important plot point borders on the implausible. What I mean here, is a thing which others have noted before–the likelihood of St. Clair garnering such wealth via begging. Make no mistake, there are other panhandlers of note throughout history, take the 18th-century rogue Bampfylde Moore Carew, the self-proclaimed “King of Beggars,” for instance. Gautama Buddha and Lazarus also apparently got by with a little help from their friends (and strangers). Still, a stretch here indeed. And Doyle seems to know this, going out of his way to plead the case’s case.
“I have watched the fellow more than once, before ever I thought of making his professional acquaintance, and I have been surprised at the harvest which he has reaped in a short time. His appearance, you see, is so remarkable that no one can pass him without observing him. A shock of orange hair, a pale face disfigured by a horrible scar, which, by its contraction, has turned up the outer edge of his upper lip, a bull-dog chin, and a pair of very penetrating dark eyes, which present a singular contrast to the color of his hair, all mark him out from amid the common crowd of mendicants, and so, too, does his wit, for he is ever ready with a reply to any piece of chaff which may be thrown at him by the passers-by.”
Perhaps he was a bit more of a busker of sorts? Now it’s me who’s trying to fix. But if it’s a hard sell on the readers, this whole thing was a hard sell to St. Clair (AKA Hugh Bone), as well. “It was a long fight between my pride and the money, but the dollars won at last, and I threw up reporting, and sat day after day in the corner which I had first chosen, inspiring pity by my ghastly face, and filling my pockets with coppers.” For all the guy’s short-comings, I do like his pluck, perhaps and again, more than he does himself. An excellent ’nuff character. His wife and Watson’s make an appearance too, and their hinted-at friendship is subtly world-building or at least providing of some although scant depth. All-told, much of the cast reads like thumbnail sketches. Watson and Holmes have their typical dynamic duo tendencies but also, no notable banter, at least off the top of my head.
I do find it hard to believe that St. Clair was willing to go as far as the gallows to protect his own image to the eyes of his offspring–but hey–theatrics! BIG DRAMA SHOW (but not really) Speaking of which, Holmes sponging him down as he slept in his jail cell was a fun bit. The opium den is another great setting. We are definitely treated to the seedy underbelly of Victorian Era London; a treat I am always both down with and up for. Or is it down for and up with? I’ve aired my grievances with plot, now as to problem and solution: I deem them each worthy of a mere quarter of my allotted points. There’s just not enough at stake, nor is the conclusion anything more than an erasing of what leads up to it. Ultimately, this is a fun bit of costuming low-stakes filler. Although the costuming pales in comparison to SCAN and as filler–falls shy of the charm in A Case of Identity.
I simply don’t get why Doyle ranked this 16 of his 19 favorite Sherlock Holmes stories. It falls flat for me and makes me wish I graded IDEN higher, but no regerts. One bit of Sherlockian can of worms opened in this tale is Mary calling Watson “James.” Her husband’s name is John. It’s canon some four times over. The inimitable Dorothy L. Sayers addressed this in her work Dr Watson’s Christian Name (1946) andsince imitating is out of the question, I beseech you to search that bit of Sherlockian Scholarship for yourself. My $0.02 is that ACD either goofed or couples have always had little pet names for each other. I’m known as “*&$%@” to a slew of exes, for instance. One more & final knock, and this time on the setting category I’ve lauded thus far–needs more 221b.
FINAL GRADE: 4/10
I’d like to take a moment to remind you kind Gentlepersons that I write these thoughts under the assumption of you having read these adventures. They are readily available everywhere, including for free at Project Gutenberg as well as Wikisource, where you can listen to it read, as well.
Also, please bear in mind that this post is part of a series in which I’m working through every case in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. For other entries in this series, use the Search Kaplowitz Media. function to the right of your screen and plug in either particular adventures contained within that collection, or The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
Finally, please do check out I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere and Interesting Though Elementary, a pair of Sherlockian spots elsewhere on the internet that I highly recommend and at times use in my own research.