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Saturday, November 21, 2015

“That poor little devil of a terrier”: the Holmesian allusion to Sense & Sensibility in A Study in Scarlet



Since 2008, I’ve been of the opinion that Arthur Conan Doyle was a closet Janeite, and a few years ago I had occasion to write the following brief comments in that regard in the Janeites and Austen-L groups:

The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, by John Dickson Carr, 1975 at p.115:   “At Norwood on April 6, 1893—sitting by the study fire with a cold in his head, idly reading Pride and Prejudice while legions of painters bumped the outside of the house — he put aside the book and wrote a letter to the Ma'am. ‘All is very well down here,’ he said. ‘I am in the middle of the last Holmes story’ “
And this further detail from my friend Elsie Holzwarth in the 2008 Chicago JASNA Newsletter:
“In Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters…we read Conan Doyle’s letter of April 6, 1893 to his mother: “I am in the middle of the last [Sherlock] Holmes story, after which the gentleman vanishes, never to reappear. I am weary of his name. . . as I have a cold I have sat by the fire all day and read Miss Austen’s ‘Pride & Prejudice.’ I like her easy prim subdued style. I had read nothing of her before.” Easy, prim, subdued? Well, perhaps, if compared with The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
And finally, in 2010 I read a very interesting article by a Holmes devotee that suggested that Doyle had alluded to P&P in his last Holmes story.” END QUOTE FROM MY 2011 POST

Today I am back to resurrect from one of my earlier files a tidbit I had forgotten about till today, which is strong evidence that Arthur Conan Doyle was fibbing to his mother in that April 6 1893 letter—i.e., I will make the brief case that in his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, published in 1887, i.e., six years earlier, he had already hidden, in plain sight of his readers, a giant wink at his own discovery of the audacious word game hidden by Jane Austen, in plain sight of her readers, in her first published novel, which also just happens to contain 2 nouns beginning with the letter “s” in its title: Sense & Sensibility!!!

The word game in S&S to which I refer, as anyone following my posts over the past decade will recall, is that Lucy Steele, the diabolically clever and resourceful courtship nemesis of Elinor Dashwood  in S&S, takes on the name “Lucy Ferrars” when she, to the shock of Elinor and everyone else, up and marries Robert Ferrrars, leaving Edward Ferrars free to marry Elinor. And LUCY FERRARS (Lucy signs her letter to Elinor in ALL CAPS) just happens to easily transform à LUCYFERRARS à LUCIFER, as I most recently summarized here: http://tinyurl.com/kzlq2jc 

Well, guess what? The heroine of Conan Doyle’s A Study is Scarlet is named LUCY FERRIER! And now I’ll briefly walk you through the key points of Doyle’s covert allusion to S&S.

First, just as in Sense & Sensibility, Lucy Ferrier is not a name given at birth, it is a name acquired after a man gives it (John Ferrier, by adopting his Lucy; Robert Ferrars, by marrying his), and Doyle cleverly underscores that parallel in this passage:

"My name is John Ferrier," the wanderer explained; "me and that little un are all that's left o' twenty-one people. The rest is all dead o' thirst and hunger away down in the south."
"Is she your child?" asked some one.
"I guess she is now," the other cried, defiantly; "she's mine 'cause I saved her. No man will take her away from me. She's LUCY FERRIER from this day on.”


Second, Doyle has his Lucy-Fer enter into a loveless greed-driven marriage to a man she does not love. But Doyle reverses the direction of the greed -- he making his Lucy a victim of a greedy suitor who marries her because her suitor wants her father’s property, whereas Austen’s Lucy is a greedy fortune hunter who marries Robert Ferrars in order to take practical control, via her resourceful manipulativeness, of the Ferrars family fortune.


Third, Doyle subtly invokes Milton’s Satan, just as Austen does with her Lucy---but, again, in reverse, because, in the following passage, Doyle’s “Satan” comes to the rescue of the imperiled sleeping “Eve” he loves, in the following scene:

“So unnerved was [John Ferrier] at the sight that he leaned up against the wall with his hand to his throat to stifle his inclination to call out. His first thought was that the prostrate figure was that of some wounded or dying man, but as he watched it he saw it writhe along the ground and into the hall with the rapidity and noiselessness of A SERPENT. Once within the house the man sprang to his feet, closed the door, and revealed to the astonished farmer the fierce face and resolute expression of Jefferson Hope.
"Good God!" gasped John Ferrier. "How you scared me! Whatever made you come in like that."
"Give me food," the other said, hoarsely. "I have had no time for bite or sup for eight-and-forty hours." He flung himself upon the cold meat and bread which were still lying upon the table from his host's supper, and devoured it voraciously. "Does Lucy bear up well?" he asked, when he had satisfied his hunger.
"Yes. She does not know the danger," her father answered.
"That is well. The house is watched on every side. That is why I crawled my way up to it. They may be darned sharp, but they're not quite sharp enough to catch a Washoe hunter."
John Ferrier felt a different man now that he realized that he had a devoted ally…”


Fourth, Doyle winked at Austen’s Lucy via a pun on Austen’s Lucy’s maiden name “Steele”:

“While Ferrier was absent, preparing his daughter for the approaching journey, Jefferson Hope packed all the eatables that he could find into a small parcel, and filled a stoneware jar with water, for he knew by experience that the mountain wells were few and far between. He had hardly completed his arrangements before the farmer returned with his daughter all dressed and ready for a start. The greeting between the lovers was warm, but brief, for minutes were precious, and there was much to be done.
"We must make our start at once," said Jefferson Hope, speaking in a low but resolute voice, like one who realizes the greatness of the peril, but has STEELED his heart to meet it.”

He “steeled” his heart indeed! And I almost have to wonder whether these apparent reversals of the much reviled Lucy Steele Ferrars into the positive character of Lucy Ferrier are a marker of Doyle’s having also realized that Austen’s Lucy is, when viewed from outside the box, more heroine than villain, as I’ve suggested previously.

It is significant that A Study in Scarlet was the first Sherlock Holmes story, and therefore Doyle’s first opportunity to present to the world his discovery of Jane Austen’s hidden “Lucifer”, which he had perhaps made years earlier. And so, for Doyle to hide this allusion to S&S in plain sight in Holmes’s debut, demonstrating Doyle’s having decoded Jane Austen’s hidden-in-plain-sight word game with a diabolically Holmesian cleverness, is an ironic touch that the master of 221B Baker Street would’ve savored!

And finally, speaking of Sherlock Holmes, I leave in the realm of enjoyable speculation the question of whether the following passage is another Doylesian wink at this diabolical word-game:

"Precisely so," answered Holmes. "Now would you mind going down and fetching that poor little DEVIL of  a TERRIER which has been bad so long, and which the landlady wanted you to put out of its pain yesterday."

Did Doyle mean for us to misread that as “poor little DEVIL of a FERRIER”???  

And if you think you hear, in Holmes’s using a dying old dog to solve a mystery, a forerunner to Doyle’s later Holmes story “The curious incident of the dog in the night-time”, and also an echo of Homer’s Odyssey, you’re right on both counts, as Tomoyuki Tanaka explains in  “Box and Cox, the Homeric Sherlock Holmes, and Joyce’s Ulysses”:

“The parallels [between The Odyssey and A Study in Scarlet] explain Study’s three plot peculiarities:
The first concerns the circumstances leading to Jefferson Hope’s capture when his cab is summoned to 221B Baker Street. Hope sent a young man disguised as an old woman to that address on the previous day, but Hope shows no suspicion upon being called to the same address. The role of the unnamed young friend was perhaps an afterthought, to recreate Telemachus who helps Odysseus.
The second peculiarity is the “duel by two identical pills” --- Hope’s offering Drebber and Stangerson a choice between two pills one of which is poison. This mirrors Box and Cox’s duel by tossing of identically-rigged dice and coins. Hope’s two pills are also reminiscent of the antidote that Hermes gives Odysseus to counteract Circe’s bewitching poison, and correspond to the last chance given to the suitors by an archery competition using Odysseus’s bow.
The third peculiarity is Holmes’s “euthanasia” of the old, dying dog to test the poison pill. This is a recreation of a scene from the Odyssey. Odysseus appearing as a beggar is recognized by his old dog Argos, who gives him welcome and immediately dies of old age.” END QUOTE FROM TANAKA

So many layers of hidden meaning, nestled together, an extraordinary literary matrioshka, courtesy of Homer, Jane Austen, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode onTwitter

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