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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Some wonderful ejaculations about cocks and hens, courtesy of Jane/John Austen/Watson


Today I was surprised to learn that there has been a very popular quiz show on British TV the past 15 years, hosted by the well-known English actor/filmmaker Stephen Fry, called Q1, and I had no idea that it existed. I suspect many of my fellow Americans have been similarly unaware that Q1 is to British TV something akin to what Jeopardy is to American TV, and NPR’s Wait, wait, don’t tell me! is to American radio.

I mention the above in passing, because I discovered Q1 as part of my recent delvings into Sherlock Holmes arcana. Specifically, I found a Q1 clip…
….in which Stephen Fry leads a discussion of an atypical Holmesian mystery—a hidden pattern in the canon---the transcription of which is as follows (though it’s more entertaining to just watch it): 
“Watson ejaculates twice as often as Holmes in Conan Doyle’s stories. There are 23 ejaculations in total, with 11 belonging to Watson. On one occasion, Holmes refers to Watson’s ‘ejaculations of wonder’ being invaluable; on another, Watson ejaculates ‘from his very heart’ in the direction of his fiancĂ©e. Holmes is only responsible for 6 ejaculations although it is not clear which of the 2 ejaculates in the passage below:
“So he sat as I dropped off to sleep, and so he sat when a sudden ejaculation caused me to wake up, and I found the summer sun shining into the apartment. The pipe was still between his lips, the smoke still curled upward, and the room was full of a dense tobacco haze, but nothing remained of the heap of shag which I had seen upon the previous night.”--The Man with the Twisted Lip, 1891
A chap called Phelps ejaculated three times during the story of The Naval Treaty. The only other ejaculator is Mrs St Clair’s husband, who ejaculates at her from a second-floor window.” END QUOTE

You may well ask why I found that particular video clip today---the answer is that I’d already noticed, from close reading of A Study in Scarlet, that Conan Doyle seemed to have played a sly game of sexual innuendo via usage of the word “ejaculation”, and Google led me to that clip.  I’ve blogged previously…  http://tinyurl.com/ns59xvm  about Laurence Sterne’s extensive use (in both Tristram Shandy and Sentimental Journey) of “ejaculation” as a double entendre for both a fervent verbal exclamation, and also for the byproduct of male orgasm, and also about Jane Austen’s recognition of, and naughty homage to, Sterne that I see in the following passage from her 11/13/1800 letter to very close friend Martha Lloyd:     
“the next Evening’s portion will make amends—With such a provision on my part, if you will do your’s by repeating the French Grammar, & Mrs. Stent will now & then EJACULATE some WONDER about the COCKS & HENS, what can we want?…”  

So, I wondered whether I was the first to spot Doyle’s entry into this literary game—and that Q1 clip taught me I was not, and made me curious to understand Doyle’s hidden meaning. As you’ll see by the end of this post, I take this discovery to an undiscovered Holmesian country, where neither Q1 nor, I believe, any other literary scholar, has gone before.

First, here are the relevant passages I found in A Study in Scarlet:

Part 1, Chapter 3:
“ "How in the world did you deduce that?" I [Watson] asked.
"Deduce what?" said [Holmes], petulantly. …"It was easier to know it than to explain why I knew it. If you were asked to prove that two and two made four, you might find some difficulty, and yet you are quite sure of the fact. Even across the street I could see a great blue anchor tattooed on the back of the fellow's hand. That smacked of the sea. He had a military carriage, however, and regulation side whiskers. There we have the marine. He was a man with some amount of self-importance and a certain air of command. You must have observed the way in which he held his head and swung his cane. A steady, respectable, middle-aged man, too, on the face of him—all facts which led me to believe that he had been a sergeant."
"WONDERFUL!” I EJACULATED.
"Commonplace," said Holmes, though I thought from his expression that he was pleased at my evident surprise and admiration…. “

Part 2, Chapter 1:
"Do you mean that we are going to die too?" asked the child [Lucy], checking her sobs, and raising her tear-stained face.
"I guess that's about the size of it."
"Why didn't you say so before?" she said, laughing gleefully. "You gave me such a fright. Why, of course, now as long as we die we'll be with mother again."
"Yes, you will, dearie."
"And you too. I'll tell her how awful good you've been. I'll bet she meets us at the door of Heaven with a big pitcher of water, and a lot of buckwheat cakes, hot, and toasted on both sides, like Bob and me was fond of. How long will it be first?"
"I don't know—not very long." The man's eyes were fixed upon the northern horizon. In the blue vault of the heaven there had appeared three little specks which increased in size every moment, so rapidly did they approach. They speedily resolved themselves into three large brown birds, which circled over the heads of the two wanderers, and then settled upon some rocks which overlooked them. They were buzzards, the vultures of the west, whose coming is the forerunner of death.
"COCKS AND HENS," cried the little girl gleefully, pointing at their ill-omened forms, and clapping her hands to make them rise. "Say, did God make this country?"
"In course He did," said her companion, rather startled by this unexpected question.
"He made the country down in Illinois, and He made the Missouri," the little girl continued. "I guess somebody else made the country in these parts. It's not nearly so well done. They forgot the water and the trees."
"What would ye think of offering up prayer?" the man asked diffidently.
"It ain't night yet," she answered.
"It don't matter. It ain't quite regular, but He won't mind that, you bet. You say over them ones that you used to say every night in the waggon when we was on the Plains."
"Why don't you say some yourself?" the child asked, WITH WONDERING EYES….”

Part 2, Chapter 7:
"What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence," returned my companion [Holmes], bitterly. "The question is, what can you make people believe that you have done. Never mind," he continued, more brightly, after a pause. "I would not have missed the investigation for anything. There has been no better case within my recollection. Simple as it was, there were several most instructive points about it."
"SIMPLE!" I EJACULATED.
"Well, really, it can hardly be described as otherwise," said Sherlock Holmes, smiling at my surprise. "The proof of its intrinsic simplicity is, that without any help save a few very ordinary deductions I was able to lay my hand upon the criminal within three days."

So, you all say after reading the above, where is the sexual innuendo?—and indeed, taking the usages of “ejaculation” alone, no Sternean double entendre pops out. But, did you notice that I capitalized young Lucy’s referring to the lurking buzzards as “COCKS AND HENS”? And did that ring a bell for you to the passage I quoted above from Jane Austen’s 1799 letter?:
“Mrs. Stent will now & then EJACULATE some WONDER about the COCKS & HENS, what can we want?” 

I.e., what are the odds that Conan Doyle would randomly refer to “cocks and hens” and to “wondering” eyes in one short excerpt, in the same short novella in which he also used the word “ejaculate” twice---and via these keywords pointedly echo that single suggestive sentence in Jane Austen’s published letter?
Before you answer, now recall what you saw in that Q1 video, and consider the large number of usages of “ejaculation” in the rest of the Holmes canon which Fry and his panel discussed, with much laughter. For example, here is the passage from the end of Chapter 11 of Sign of the Four, written right after Study, where the highly romantic context renders an intentional sexual double entendre suspiciously probable:

“As I listened to the words and realized what they meant, a great shadow seemed to pass from my soul. I did not know how this Agra treasure had weighed me down, until now that it was finally removed. It was selfish, no doubt, disloyal, wrong, but I could realize nothing save that the golden barrier was gone from between us. "Thank God!" I EJACULATED FROM MY VERY HEART.
She looked at me with a quick, QUESTIONING SMILE. "Why do you say that?" she asked.
"Because you are within my reach again," I said, taking her hand. She did not withdraw it. "Because I LOVE YOU, Mary, AS TRULY AS EVER A MAN LOVED A WOMAN. Because this treasure, these riches, sealed my lips. Now that they are gone I can tell you how I love you. That is why I said, 'Thank God.'"
"Then I say, 'Thank God,' too," she whispered, as I drew her to my side. Whoever had lost a treasure, I knew that night that I had gained one. “

And now I come to one other parallel echoing of another Jane Austen letter by Doyle in another Holmes story. First, read the following excerpt from a 6/11/1799 letter, written by Jane to sister Cassandra, about that same close friend Martha Lloyd to whom JA wrote a scant 7 months later about Mrs. Stent’s ejaculations of wonder about cocks and hens:

“I would not let Martha read First Impressions [the lost first draft of Pride & Prejudice] again upon any account, & am very glad that I did not leave it in your power. She is VERY CUNNING, but I see through her DESIGN; she means to publish it from Memory, & one more perusal must enable her to do it. ….”

And now consider the following passage in “The Blanched Soldier” (1926) from The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes: [and thanks to Kate Donley from the Hounds listserv for alerting me that it was one of the few stories narrated by Holmes instead of Watson]. In particular, ask yourself whether Holmes’ lament in not having Watson at hand to tell Holmes’s story well, sounds to you, as it does to me, like a strong and intentional echo by Doyle of Jane Austen’s faux worry that Martha will steal the story of First Impressions?:
  
“And here it is that I MISS MY WATSON. By CUNNING questions and EJACULATIONS OF WONDER, he could elevate my simple art, which is but systematized common sense, into a prodigy. When I tell my own story I have no such aid. And yet I will give my process of thought even as I gave it to my small audience…That process..starts upon the supposition that when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. It may well be that several explanations remain, in which case one tries test after test until one or other of them has a convincing amount of support…”

Note also that both of these Austen letters were published, with great public notice, not long prior to Doyle’s writing Study. Therefore, having established in my prior posts that Doyle significantly alluded to Austen’s Sense & Sensibility in Study, it seems safe to me to claim that the young author Doyle also read Austen’s published letters, and covertly alluded to them as well! And then, 35 years later, in 1921, we have Conan Doyle winking broadly at the afore-quoted “wonder”,“ejaculation”, and “cocks and hens” passages from Study, and revisiting the veiled allusion to Austen. And as you can see from the following earlier passage in “Mazarin Stone”, there is even more echoing of keywords (“design” and “very cunning”) from those same two Austen letters:

“…Let me make the thing clear to you, for my own hand is so strong that I can afford to show it. I have been fortunate enough to win the entire affection of this lady. This was given to me in spite of the fact that I told her very clearly of all the unhappy incidents in my past life. I also told her that certain wicked and DESIGNING persons --I hope you recognize yourself--would come to her and tell her these things. and I warned her how to treat them….Considering that he undoubtedly murdered his last wife, I should say it mattered very much. Besides, the client! Well, well, we need not discuss that. When you have finished your coffee you had best come home with me, for the blithe Shinwell will be there with his report."
We found him sure enough, a huge, coarse, red-faced, scorbutic man, with a pair of vivid black eyes which were the only external sign of the VERY CUNNING mind within. It seems that he had dived down into what was peculiarly his kingdom, and beside him on the settee was a brand which he had brought up in the shape of a slim, flame-like young woman with a pale, intense face, youthful, and yet so worn with sin and sorrow that one read the terrible years which had left their leprous mark upon her.”

What does it all mean? To me, this is Doyle’s way of acknowledging the debt he owed to Jane Austen (aka “John Watson”) for inspiring and teaching him to write mystery stories.  Doyle alluded to Jane Austen’s letters in 1886, in 1921, and at an as yet unknown number of additional points in between---and once again (as with his Sense & Sensibility allusions in Study) Doyle used Austenian subtlety to show his awareness of Jane Austen’s shadows. I.e., he read Austen’s writings the way Sherlock Holmes “read” the clues of the crimes he solved.

And that brings me finally to my most out-there speculation. The late, great creator of the Nero Wolfe detective stories, Rex Stout, was an avid Janeite, who, it is well known, chose to spend his final hours rereading Austen’s Emma on his death-bed, in 1975. Stout is also famous among Sherlockians as having proposed in 1941--apparently tongue in cheek--the shocking claim that Watson was actually a woman.

The applicability of Stout’s theory to my above argument about Watson’s ejaculations being based on Austen’s ejaculations, is, I think, obvious. And did you know that, in addition to her juvenilia and epistolary novella Lady Susan, Jane Austen also wrote fragments of two novels which she never completed? The earlier of those two fragments, composed sometime between 1800 and 1805, was called …….The Watsons! And the heroine of that fragment is Emma Watson, a surname which is an anagram  twin of Austen (as Janeite Anielka Briggs has pointed out, if you start with “Watson”, then reverse the first two letters, and then reverse the second two letters, you wind up with “Awston”!) . 

So, it seems to me that Conan Doyle was the first person to decode that anagram, and he therefore chose “John Watson” as the name of the teller of Holmes’s stories, as a veiled homage to Doyle’s literary heroine, the grandmother, if you will, of detective fiction-----Jane Austen!

And in that regard, check out this final bit of evidence, a passage from Austen’s The Watsons in which that word “ejaculation” appears, in addition to its having a character named “Musgrave”!:

The door opened, & displayed Tom MUSGRAVE in the wrap of a Travellor. He had been in London & was now on his way home, & he had come half a mile out of his road merely to call for ten minutes at Stanton. He loved to take people by surprise, with sudden visits at extraordinary seasons; & in the present instance he had had the additional motive of being able to tell the MISS WATSONS, whom he depended on finding sitting quietly employed after tea, that he was going home to an 8 o’clock dinner.  As it happened however, he did not create give more surprise than he received, when instead of being shewn into the usual little sitting room, the door of the best parlour a foot larger each way than the other was thrown open, & he beheld a circle of smart people whom he could could not immediately recognise sitting arranged with all the honours of visiting round the fire, & MISS WATSON sitting at the best Pembroke Table, making with the best Tea things before her. He stopt, for stood a few seconds, in silent amazement.
“MUSGRAVE!”  EJACULATED Margaret in a tender voice. He recollected himself, & came forward, delighted to find himself such a circle of Friends, & blessing his good fortune for the unlooked-for Indulgence. He shook hands with Robert, bowed & smiled to the Ladies, & did every thing very prettily; but as to any particularity of address or Emotion towards Margaret, Emma discerned no more than she had expected, though who closed closely observed him, perceived nothing that did not justify Elizabeth's opinions though Margaret’s modest smiles imported that she meant to take the visit to herself.”

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

2 comments:

Diane Reynolds said...

Interesting. I am especially intrigued with the idea of Watson as a woman, though I seem to remember he was a doctor in the army? But could have been a nurse ... or in disguise, then and now. :) Watson ... the Watsons ... as Austen also makes sense--fascinating. You seem to be developing a new interest in Sherlock Holmes, Arnie.

Arnie Perlstein said...

Thanks for your comments, Diane!
It has been fascinating "taking a turn" in the world of Sherlock Holmes -- in particular my new friend Kate Donley alerted me to the remarkable persisting existence of The Sherlockian Game (look it up via Google)- the cult of Sherlock Holmes has many parallels to the cult of Jane Austen - so it's really cool to muck around in the overlap of the two- as I noted in my first Holmes post last week, I actually read most of the Holmes canon in 7th and 8th grades - so it has an odd sentimental overlay for me as well