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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Sir Monty Brown (proto-Sherlock) as Sir Richard Burton in Doyle’s Angels of Darkness (proto-Study in Scarlet)



Today I will continue my recent delvings into Angels of Darkness, the (earlier) version of Study, a bit further.  In one of my first posts last week, I extended existing scholarship about the thinly veiled allusion by Doyle in the second part of Study to Sir Richard Burton’s City of the Saints. I claimed that Doyle had in particular picked up on Burton’s discussion of Lucifer in Mormon theology, and therefore called his tragic heroine “LucyFer-rier” in order to point to the Mormon conception of Lucifer’s role in the occurrence of human sin, sin having been a central theme in Study in a variety of ways.

Thanks once again to Kate Donley of this group, I have now read the chapter (in A Tangled Skein: A Companion Volume to the Baker Street Irregulars’ Expedition to The Country of the Saints” edited by Leslie Klinger) called “The City of the Saints: Richard F. Burton in SLC” by Donald Pollock. In that chapter, Pollock goes into excellent detail about Burton’s journey to Salt Lake City as research for his widely read portrait of life there, entitled The City of the Saints, the title of which Doyle obviously parodied in his title for part 2 of Study.

Reading Pollock’s argument through the lens not only of Study, but also of Angels of Darkness, I was particularly struck by Pollock’s following comments: “[Burton] found the Book of Mormon excruciatingly boring and something of a self-evident fraud—he described reading it as “a painful but appropriate exercise…”

As you will recall, the main point of my last post yesterday, on the subject of Angels of Darkness, was that the character Sir Montague (Monty) Brown (originally “Willoughby” instead of “Montague”) was the proto-Sherlock Holmes, i.e., that Doyle invented the character of Sherlock Holmes out the character of Sir Monty Brown, cannibalizing certain key elements of the latter’s character, and incorporating them into a radically improved (obviously) character which captured the reading world’s attention and admiration.

Today, I wish to amend that claim, but asserting that Sir Monty Brown was only the “father” of Sherlock Holmes---his “grandfather” was none other than the real life Sir Richard Burton! And as Exhibit A in making that assertion, I refer to the extremely close parallel between Pollock’s description of Burton’s characterization of the Book of Mormon as “excruciatingly boring and something of a self-evident fraud”, on the one hand, and Sir Monty Brown’s comments about his ennui while traveling the world:

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.

And then shortly thereafter in the same scene:

Doctor: (to Sir Mont) Why did you vex [the Count, being Drebber in disguise] 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.

My take on the above is that Doyle has, in Study, enjoyed a very clever private joke---i.e., the proto-Sherlock detective I’ve perceived in Angels of Darkness had read Burton as part of his research for his  case, the goal of which was to protect Lucy Ferrier from abduction by her disguised Mormon pursuers, and, with a keen sense of ironic humor, adopted a disguise persona of a bored world-traveling English “Sir” based on Richard F. Burton himself!

Cheers, ARNIE
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