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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, December 14, 2015

Was Sherlock Holmes present after all in Angels of Darkness, the play version of A Study in Scarlet?

In my previous posts, I’ve suggested that Arthur Conan Doyle was a closet Janeite years before he, at the age of 33, wrote to his mother about reading Pride & Prejudice on April 6, 1893 and disingenuously added that he had not read anything by Jane Austen before then. Tosh, I say! My guess is that his mother was a Janeite, who had been pushing him to read Austen for a long time, and he didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of knowing that he had read S&S at least eight years earlier, and had made it an integral part of the subtext of Study.

More specifically, I’ve pointed to a multifaceted cryptic allusion to Austen’s first published novel, Sense & Sensibility (S&S), in Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet first published in 1886, including, but not limited to, the following allusions to what I call the “shadow story”  of S&S:

ONE: Marianne’s having been stalked by the dashing young rake John Willoughby, represented by Lucy Ferrier’s having been stalked by the impetuous hunter Jefferson Hope;
TWO: Marianne’s concealed pregnancy, and her near death in the immediate aftermath of childbirth, represented by Lucy’s premature death from a broken heart, and perhaps more;
THREE: The hidden name “Lucifer” in both Lucy Ferrars from S&S and Lucy Ferrier in Study;
FOUR: Cleveland as where Drebber comes from in Study, and where Marianne nearly dies in S&S; &
FIVE: The references to Satan and Lucifer in Beadle’s Mormon history that Doyle clearly read.

My preliminary best guess at this time as to the deeper meaning of all of the above, having only discovered this allusion a few weeks ago, is that Conan Doyle cannily interpreted S&S, both as an ambiguous story susceptible of two ways of reading the action, and also as a very dark veiled societal critique by Jane Austen, whom Doyle must have seen as reacting to a society built around sexual tyranny in the world of JA’s novels. Doyle transposed and updated that Regency Era sexual tyranny to the American West, and specifically to the Mormons (who were in 1886 a very hot, controversial topic in Great Britain, in no small part because of polygamy, which is a particularly stark form of sexual tyranny).

With all that as background, I want to now go on to the subject I’ve teased you with in my Subject Line, as I’ll now explain. Last week, in response to my initial postings in re S&S and Study, my new friend  Kate Donley alerted me to the fact known to most experienced Hounds but not to myself, which is that Conan Doyle had written another version of A Study in Scarlet, a three act stage play entitled Angels of Darkness, the text of which was only published, and thereby came to the awareness of the world of Sherlock Holmes, in the early 1990’s.  Luckily, my local library had a copy, and I have now had an opportunity to study that play text carefully, and also to read the 4 essays about it included in that edition by Leslie Klinger.

There’s a lot that could be said about the play, but I will initially say only that (1) I come down firmly on the side of Christopher Roden in his claim that the initial composition of this play preceded the composition of Study, and (2) I will now for today zero in on the one character in Angels of Darkness who shares with Sherlock Holmes ALL of the following unusual characteristics:

ONE: He is unapologetically eccentric;
TWO: He is the only English character, in a play otherwise filled with American characters;
THREE: He observes human interaction with the sharp analytical eye of a scientist who studies it;
FOUR: He pooh-poohs the value of an English university education in favor of living in the real world;
FIVE: He is a master of disguise, as a protective device while doing his investigations;
SIX: He sees right through the disguise of Drebber, the evil villain of the tale;
SEVEN: He shows a fondness for suddenly revealing his insights into the deceptions of others with ironic eclat, so as to astound those hearing him, and/or to provoke the villain into showing his true colors;
EIGHT: He shows strong, consistent attention to the welfare and happiness of Doctor Watson; and
NINE: His Christian name is one and the same as the Place in London, near the British Museum, where Arthur Conan Doyle himself was living when he first started writing Angels of Darkness and Study, and also (per The Musgrave Ritual) the Street in London where Sherlock Holmes lived before he moved into 221B Baker Street!

For those few among you who are very familiar with Angels of Darkness, you already knew from the first eight points, above, who this character is. For the Holmesian Hounds reading this, you will immediately know from Point NINE that his Christian name is Montague. And so now the truth is out—his full name is Sir Montague Brown!

And, the icing on the cake of this mysterious proto-Holmes for me personally, is that Doyle cared enough about this character to change his Christian name when he revised and completed the play from his initial draft (this can be seen from actual crossings-out from “Will”  and “Willy” to “Mont” and “Monty” repeatedly in the play manuscript), before shelving it in a safe deposit box, where, like a literary Rip Van Winkle, it was brought back to life after a century’s undisturbed sleep.

And that original Christian name was……Willoughby!  For those non-Janeites among you, including those who did not closely read the beginning of this post, “Willoughby” is the surname of the rake I mentioned in ONE, above, who stalks Marianne Dashwood, and who is generally considered to be the self-deluding but not evil villain of S&S, according to mainstream readings of Austen’s first novel.

So, unless someone wants to suggest that I am psychic, isn’t it very very curious that I laid out all those parameters of Doyle’s veiled allusion to S&S in Study, including seeing Austen’s Willoughby as reincarnated in heroic form in Doyle’s Jefferson Hope, before I had the slightest inkling that Doyle had actually given one of the characters in the play-ancestor of Study that very same name!

And so, I suggest, while Sherlock Holmes as the world came to first know him in Study in 1886, I believe that he first appeared, in embryonic form, if you will, in Sir Montague Brown, in Angels of Darkness. My best guess is that after completing that play, Conan Doyle, in a flash of inspiration, realized that he did not wish to create Doctor Watson and that eccentric Englishman in a one-off play, but that he could start from the seeds of the friendship between Watson and Sir Montague Brown, and develop a more overt version of the amateur detective and his faithful companion in detection, and root them both firmly not in far off and exotic America, but in the British Isles, where (as Jane Austen advised her literary niece, Anna Austen Lefroy) Conan Doyle knew the people and customs well.

I am eager to get this post out today, so I will stop there, and hope for some reactions. I have more insights to present tomorrow about the play text itself, and how it fits with my prior Austenian delvings, in particular the name game on Lucifer via Lucy Ferrars and Lucy Ferrier. I can now give conclusive circumstantial evidence that Doyle intended to thereby covertly allude to Lucifer.

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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