In my previous post, in which I identified Sir Montague Brown in Angels of Darkness (Conan Doyle’s never-staged playscript precursor to Study) as a proto-Sherlock Holmes, I promised to follow up with textual evidence of why I’m so sure that Sir Monty was the embryo first conceived in Conan Doyle’s imagination, which morphed into Sherlock Holmes. As compelling as are those eight bullet points I listed of parallelisms between the two characters, it’s the dialog that seals it for me. So, here in Act III is Sir Monty’s biggest scene, which takes place in the S.F. boarding house of Madame Charpentier where everybody seems to be staying.
I suggest you read this scene as if Sir Monty (which I believe is an alias) is actually a sleuth—if not Sherlock Holmes himself, then one like him), in very clever disguise as an effete British snob, pretending to feel acute ennui as he travels the globe, and also pretending to be ill enough to plausibly require the services of medical man Doctor Watson. And the whole purpose of this disguise is to mirror the disguise of the Mormon villain Enoch Drebber as a sickly French count, who has aleady been a patient of Watson for a while. Sir Monty is there in disguise to protect Lucy Ferrier, and is waiting for the right moment to spring into action to do so.
The best disguises are those where the impersonator incorporates a great deal of his secondary character traits into the role he plays, so that less pretending is required, and we can recognize in Sir Monty a caricature of Sherlock Holmes and his vast brilliant world-weariness. In the play, Doyle never shows us the real person I perceive hiding behind the mask of Sir Monty, and perhaps that is the very thought that occurred to Doyle when he finished the play. I.e., he realized that the man disguised as Sir Monty would actually make a much more interesting character than Sir Monty! And if I’m right that this is what Doyle realized, then literary history shows us that Doyle was as right in that decision, as any writer could ever be! So, without further ado, here is the scene. I will return with some comments about the end of the play before I conclude this post:
Count [Enoch Drebber in disguise]: I believe that I am suspected by that infernal Englishman. The fellow is not such an idiot as he looks, and this French disguise sits awkwardly upon me at times. Here he comes with Doctor Watson. (louder) A leetle more into the sun, mon garcon—a leetle more into the sun!
(Enter Dr. Watson & Sir Montague Brown)
Sir. Mont: Ah, my complaint is one you can’t cure, don’t you know, doctaw. There’s no dwug can do me any good, you know.
Dr. Watson: What’s the matter, then, Sir Montague?
Sir Mont: I’m bawed, deah boy. I’m bawed. I’m the most bawed thing in cweation, don’t you know, unless its an Artesian well.
Watson: You must rouse yourself.
Sir Mont: I can’t.
Watson: See life.
Sir Mont: I’ve seen it. It’s not worth seeing, don’t you know, I mean to say its such a baw! Believe me, deah boy, it’s a baw.
Watson: Travel then.
Sir Mont: So I do. Then I twavel back again. If you twavel far enough you find yourself where you started from. That’s the worst of the world being round, don’t you know. I mean to say that if it was flat, or square, or lopsided, it wouldn’t be half such a baw.
Watson : Try study.
Sir Mont: Couldn’t possibly-I weally couldn’t, doctaw! If I try to read I inwariably fall fast asleep. Poor old Governor sent me to the ‘Varsity for three years, and I give you my word I hardly had my eyes open the whole time. I mean to say, deah boy, that if I try to think I instantly become comatose. Most unfortunate family failing.
Watson: Why not have a turn at soldiering?
Sir Mont: So I did. I had a turn against the Kaffirs. I shot at Kaffirs. Kaffirs shot at me. Kaffirs shouted. I shouted. Seemed to me to be a demned silly business so I came away.
Watson: Well then, I recommend yachting—a cruise in the Pacific.
Sir Mont.: I’ve been there, but weally, deah boy, it was doosed slow. I mean to say, of all the moist sloppy places that I ever saw, the Pacific is the worst. But here’s your other patient, doctaw! Good morning, Count!
Count: Ah, bon jour, Sir Montague. I thought dat it was your voice, but my poor eyes are verra weak. And you, doctor, how do you carry yourself?
Watson: Rather busy, as usual. But your strength is slow of returning (feels his pulse) and yet your pulse is that of a healthy man. Your case is a remarkable one. May I ask what is the matter with your eyes?
Count: Ah it is an how you call it-an inflammation. I can see leetle or nothing. I caught him in Egypt from the heat and the brightness of the sun.
Watson: May I look at them?
Count: I am now under de care of an oculeest. I believe dat it is not de etiquette dat one doctor meddle with the case of anoder.
Watson: Not as a doctor. It was merely as a friend that I wished to see them.
Count: Ah, merci, mon ami. It is not necessaire.
Sir Mont: Haw! You’ve been in Egypt, heh? Up the Nile, I suppose?
Count: Yes, Sir Montague.
Sir Mont: Fine old country, that! But in a shocking state of diswepair, don’t you know! I mean to say it wants setting in order badly. Pywamids are all tumbling to pieces. Went up ‘em. Great haw! Arab jumped and I jumped! Then Arab jumped again, and I jumped. Got on the top. Nothing on the top. Thought it a demned silly business and came down again. Which is your favourite pyramid, Count?
Count: I did not veesit them.
Sir Mont: In Egypt, and not visit the Pyramids! Weally now! I mean to say, how high did you go up the Nile?
Count: I forget de name of de place.
Sir Mont: Went up in a steamer, I suppose?
Count: Yes---in a steamer.
Sir Mont: Did not change, at all?
Sir Mont: Not even at the Cataracts, heh? Steamed right up ‘em heh? (winking at the doctor).
Count: Sir, you make joke at my expense. It is well to insult a blind and sick man.
Sir Mont: How do I insult you-heh?
Count: I see you wink and mock.
Sir Mont: See me, heh? I mean to say how about the inflammation that blinded you. (Enter Snee)
Count: (with furious gestures) Take me away, John Short! I vill not stay here to be insulted. When I recover, sir, I have satisfaction for this. Away, John Short! I-I-I cannot speak for rage. (puts his hand to his throat)
Smee: (fumbling in his bag) Then try Merrydew’s Membrane soother at 40 cents a box, or three in a cardboard case for the absurd sum of one dollar.
Count: (hissing) Yankee fool! (drives off the stage with a motion of rage and contempt)
Smee (meditatively) That man is ruffled. He endeavors to conceal it, but he is distinctly ruffled.
Doctor: (to Sir Mont) Why did you vex him so?
Sir Mont: The fellow’s a fwaud, deah boy. I’ve been watching him for a day or two. He’s as well as you are, and has never been in Egypt or in Fwance either in his life.
Doctor: Then what can his little game be. He is quiet and he pays his way.
Sir Mont. : Can’t say I am sure. ‘Fwaid to think for it plays the doose with me. Think I’ll light a cigawette and stroll after our fwiend. He helps to pass the time. Ta-ta, doctaw! By, by, Mr. Smee!
[Exit Sir Montague]
Smee: That young Britisher is my best customer, I just freeze to him. Guess I’ve insured his life, and I have sold him a sample of every darned thing I hold an agency for, from the Imperial Freckle Remover to the Columbian double jointed self registering sewing machine. ‘…’Put it up’, says he…Oh, he ain’t no slouch of a man to do business with.
Dr. Watson: He’s a curious fellow, Mister Smee-a very curious fellow.
Wasn’t that something? I don’t believe any Hound needs a guide to see the dawn of Holmes & Watson in that scene, but what do you all think?
My final comments have to do with the end of the play, when Lucy says her final poignant good bye to Jefferson Hope, who is in the process of giving his blessing to Doctor Watson to marry Lucy, and Hope is not willing to leave anything to chance, so, in his final breath, he makes Lucy give her binding commitment to Watson:
Hope: (faintly) Swear it.
Lucy: I swear.
Hope: Then thank heaven! For I leave you in the care of a good man (sinks back).
Lucy: Oh what is this? What have I done?
Smee: By heaven he is gone! But I will finish his work. To me he leaves these angels of darkness.
Watson: And to me an angel of light.
CURTAIN & End of Doyle’s Notebook 4
What a brilliant touch that Doyle manages to beautifully allude both to the Bible and Hamlet in those few lines. First, as you may know, Satan is, ironically, called an angel of light by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 11, when he warns the Corinthian faithful against false prophets:
3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him…..12 But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. 13
For such are false apostles, deceitful;l workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for SATAN HIMSELF IS TRANSFORMED INTO AN ANGEL OF LIGHT. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
So Doyle’s irony is that Watson, meaning to express great love for the virtuous Lucy, unwittingly calls Lucy a Lucifer! This proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Doyle consciously invoked Lucifer in the name Lucy Ferrier, just as her observed Jane Austen did in S&S with Lucy Ferrars! And Doyle hammers this allusion home by making it the final line of the play, which reverses the title of the play! And, speaking again of Jane Austen, it is Wickham in Pride & Prejudice whom the narrator, quoting the local gossip mill in the aftermath of Wickham’s bad actions are circulated publicly, states: “All Meryton seemed striving to blacken the man who, but three months before, had been almost an ANGEL OF LIGHT.” I believe Doyle was well aware in 1885 of that line in P&P when he wrote the final line of his play.
And finally, I see that the dying Jefferson Hope is like the g;host of Hamlet’s father, insisting that Lucy swear (that she will accept Watson), just as Hamlet swears to remember his father. And Lucy’s father, John Ferrier, was murdered in “a garden” by the “snake” Enoch Drebber! And Hope is also like the dying Hamlet begging Horatio to tell his story after his death.
You gotta hand it to the young Conan Doyle—he didn’t think small!
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