To me, she was the reason to make the film. Fiennes plays the mysterious convict Abel Magwitch. Newell posed the question. So why does he deserve to be the focus of this great big rolling story? You start asking that question and you get all sorts of shoots that grow back towards Dickens himself, I think. For moviemakers, the attraction of Dickens, official or unofficial, has always been the sheer theatrical profusion of his work, his ability to pluck a seemingly endless number of memorable characters from what Mr.
The actors, nearly all British, invariably look very, very happy. He loved the theater. As Watson sadly observes when he learns the terrible truth about his great friend,. His great mind was in ruins, but in those ruins life went on. Did he know what he had done? In some remaining enclave of sanity, was he aware of what he had become?
So it seemed, and finding the madness too powerful to master, he had grappled with it in the darkness of his soul and thrown it out, and called it Moriarty […] Everything of which he spoke was taking place within the confines of his own brain As it is, Holmes and his arch-enemy Moriarty in the original stories are indeed exceedingly similar. Both are contemptuous of the police with Holmes on occasions also taking liberties with the law as it stands.
And there is indeed something distinctively paranoid about the way Holmes talks to Watson about Moriarty, referring to him as a giant spider or the very Napoleon of crime, and insisting that Moriarty not only is behind nearly all the crime committed in London but unless stopped is poised to take over crime in the rest of the world as well. Once again, this ingenious theory helps explain why Moriarty had not simply had Holmes murdered before in London, which he could so easily have done, or else why he did not bring a pistol with him for that final tussle with Holmes over the roaring torrents below.
One can still return to the original after this and become caught up again in the story as it was. But this clever re-writing does draw attention to the way that Doyle made such effective use of fantasies involving paranoia and conspiracy theories in his detective writings. As well as Moriarty he also describes other sinister forces possessing a hidden malign influence on contemporary affairs. Some modern re-writers continue to mine this rich literary vein, but others now seem more interested in highlighting the ills caused by society itself rather than by single or corporate villains, as we shall shortly see.
The six novels so far describe Holmes as the son of a Jewish intellectual and a high-born lady. Impoverished and a social outcast, as a brilliant adolescent he suffers the terrible trauma of thinking that he indirectly caused the brutal murder of his mother. He eventually falls in love with the charming young Irene Doyle, only to finally renounce her once he realises that any woman attached to him would always be in danger from his enemies in the world of crime. Putting away occasional lonely tears, the young Holmes is now ready to inhabit the emotionally inhibited shoes of his future self.
But once again, I wonder whether Doyle is having the last laugh here? Commentators have had endless trouble trying to explain how Watson is always able to leave both his wife and his medical practice in order to go off on another adventure with his friend. He also has no money problems and no house to run. A domesticated Holmes, by contrast, would have faced Doyle with a new set of problems to solve. Much better keep him as he is, already an unlikely figure in Victorian England in his absence of interest in women but far more so today, so leading to the modern need to look for further explanations.
We know from the originals that Holmes took up bee-keeping in Sussex. But how did he fare? What happens to a great mind when it ages?
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Can this process in retrospect tell us anything interesting about the person involved at the younger age when we knew him best? Here we find Holmes aged 89 and in poor health. This is not a purely random affliction. In another passage, he adds that.
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In particular he feared dying in some undignified way, on the jakes or with his face in the porridge …. The prospect of setting himself on fire with his own pipe conformed to his worst ideas of the indignity that death would one day visit upon him Attempting to solve one last problem, he feels he has failed, and suffers what are for him the terrible consequences of finding he is no longer able to cope as he would once have wished.
Or, as Chabon puts it,. Meaning drained from the world like light fleeing the operation of an eclipse. The vast body of experience and lore, of corollaries and observed results, of which he felt himself the master, was at a stroke rendered useless. The world around him was a page of alien text It is more a matter of revealing his essentially human fallibility. Quoting Chabon again,. And yet he had always been haunted — had he not?
One might, perhaps, conclude from the existence of such men that meaning dwelled solely in the mind of the analyst. That it was the insoluble problems — the false leads and the cold cases — that reflected the true nature of things. That all the apparent significance and pattern had no more intrinsic sense than the chatter of an African grey parrot But I think this whole passage is also a gentle rebuke to Holmes and to the whole detective genre about the way that clues are always shown as leading to a final solution. Yet life — and detection — is not always like that. Doyle knew this too, but chose not to act on it.
Chabon knows otherwise, but still lets Holmes down gently and all those readers who enjoy sharing this sort of omnipotent fantasy. But as we shall see, there are other authors more critical of Holmes for different reasons. To inject 21 st century attitudes into 19 th century characters would sound strained or even false, but not to do so might suggest that modern authors have still much to learn about present-day sensitivities.
We shall see more of how this particular difficulty is dealt with now when examining that group of writers I have called the Social Improvers. These include references to female trafficking and the trade in young female virgins, homosexual brothels and sexual orgies.
An Unofficial Rose by Iris Murdoch
On a lighter note, Mycroft refers at one stage to a bomb left in a public lavatory I cannot be the only reader who has sometimes wondered how Holmes and Watson managed this side of things when hiding for hours or travelling in non-corridor trains. There would be no problem, of course, once on their own on Dartmoor. Without going any further into such matters, Lovegrove shows a willingness to take on issues which, however minor, were once thought unsuitable for mention in fiction.
Lovegrove and other modernisers are happy to place Holmes and Watson more securely in their particular time and place. She is berating the now elderly Holmes for insisting on going ahead to the next encounter while clearly needing medical treatment himself:. I exercised my right to protect the partnership by putting a halt to your stupidity, yes, stupidity. No food or drink and filth on an open wound puts the partnership — puts me!
There was no softening the blow. The bare facts were awful enough, but the implications inherent in my having to tell him were, for him, truly terrible. Twice now in little more than two days I had rescued him from a major error. The first might have been excused, though it nearly cost Watson his life; this one had been in his hands, under his nose, at the very time he had been searching for just such a clue.
It changed the investigation, and he had missed it But here it is still affectionately done, with Holmes surviving to finally fall in love with Mary Russell at the start of a relationship that is to see them through more joint adventures. Having a female take a leading detective role alongside Holmes is of course another provocative and in terms of the originals revolutionary move open to re-writers, and an example of gender as well as character migration.
Anthony Horowitz in The House of Silk is less forgiving in the course of making some shrewd points. To start with, these do not amount to much more than showing Holmes occasionally getting things wrong. Cutting him down to size in this way has its comic moments, when for example the great detective is questioning a young man who has just entered the famous consulting rooms.
After looking him up and down, Holmes opines,. However much we love him, legions of readers — and of course Watson himself on occasions — must have wished for the time when even if only once Holmes is shown to be humanly fallible. You employed the boy. You set him on the trail of a known criminal. I grant you, he may have had his own ideas and they may have been the ruin of him. But this is the result. He had sunk into the corner of the hansom and for much of the way he sat in silence, refusing to meet my eyes. His skin seemed to have stretched itself over his cheekbones and he appeared more gaunt than ever, as if he had been struck down by some virulent disease.
I did not try to speak to him. I knew he needed no consolation from me. Instead, I watched and waited as he brought that enormous intellect of his to bear on the terrible turn that this adventure had taken. You know that. And yet I stand accused of dilettantism, and must plead guilty. Wiggins, Ross and the rest of them were nothing to me, just as they are nothing to the society that has abandoned them in the streets…Would I have allowed a young boy to stand alone outside a hotel in the darkness had it been your son or mine?
It is not a moment he enjoys. And perhaps this particular instance is not something many readers want to think about either. But on the whole this is more fantasy than reality. Lestrade is right here, however much Holmes and most other readers of whatever age would wish he were not. In the same vein, Watson early on apologises to readers for how he and Holmes used to belittle Lestrade in previous narratives. He now concedes that the Inspector was basically a good and capable man, ready to stand up for Holmes when — as he does in this story — he finds himself in serious trouble with the law.
Always addressing him respectfully as Mr Holmes but always curtly replied to simply as Lestrade, we are reminded perhaps a little uncomfortably about how the good Inspector was regularly the victim of a type of condescension common at the time among those conscious of their own social superiority.
But as Watson now puts it,. Although she flits in and out of my pages, I actually knew very little about her, not even how she came to occupy the property at Baker Street I believe she inherited it from her husband, although what became of him I cannot say After Holmes left, she lived alone.
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I wish I had conversed with her more and taken her for granted a little less But perhaps the character who has most benefited from re-writing is good old Watson himself. Having suffered so much patronising scorn from Holmes in the originals, it is only fair that he is allowed to make some sort of come-back since.
The Stuff of Nightmares, for example, it is Holmes himself who now leaps to the defence of his old friend. He may embellish and romanticize his accounts of my exploits somewhat, in order to make them more pleasing as literary entertainment, but he has an eye for detail and a nose for the truth, and I will not have you impugning his character or his acumen. He was not usually so unstinting with his compliments, least of all where my intellectual prowess or my writing skills were concerned.
There were times in his company, and more so in the company of him and his brother together, that I was made to feel as though I were a member of an inferior species, a reasonably gifted ape perhaps. It was nice to be reminded that my companion thought more highly of me than that In the novels by Michael Dibdin and Nicholas Meyer already referred to, Watson emerges as a major character whose moral vision and depth of understanding puts Holmes to shame. This is just another example of how re-writing can lead to re-thinking too. Watson is there to see the humiliation of his friend but he also remembers all those others that he and Holmes had come across who later fell foul of the law.
Or as Watson himself puts it,. Never once did I consider the fear and anguish they must have endured as they passed through those swing doors and walked these gloomy corridors. Did any of them ever weep tears of repentance or offer prayers for their salvation? Did some of them fight on to the end? I did not care. It was not part of my narrative. But as I look back at that iron-cold December day when Holmes himself faced the forces that he had so often unleashed, I think that perhaps I did them an injustice, even villains as cruel as Culverton-Smith or as conniving as Jonas Oldacre.
I wrote what are now called detective stories. By chance, my detective was the greatest of them all. But in a sense he was defined by the men and, indeed, the women he came up against, and I cast them aside all too easily. You are one of us now No-one goes to detective fiction for moral profundity, which is no doubt one of the many appeals of this particular genre. But it is as well to be reminded every now and again, as here, that over-simplifications in fiction, however enjoyable, are always going to fall short of the more complex picture of what happens in real life.
For it is not Sherlock Holmes who sits in Baker Street, comfortable, competent, and self-assured; it is we ourselves who are there, full of a tremendous capacity for wisdom, complacent in the presence of our humble Watson, conscious of a warm well-being and a timeless, imperishable content… this is the Sherlock Holmes we love — the Holmes implicit and eternal in ourselves By presenting a more sophisticated view of this eternal struggle, Horowitz and other re-writers can still come up with exciting, gripping stories while no longer going along with some of the over-simplifications and moral short-cuts found in the beloved originals.
In this sense, perhaps, character migration can also lead to reader migration, where we are gently but firmly led away from our first whole-hearted acceptance of favourite fiction towards taking a more nuanced view of it, both morally and psychologically. I am happy to be surrounded by all this memorabilia as are so many other visitors there, some from overseas — an example perhaps of tourist migration.