Friday, January 6, 2012

Raffles Holmes

Now trying to get onto other things. Happy Twelfth Night! January 6th is claimed by Sherlockians to be Holmes's birthday, based on flimsy evidence--him quoting Shakespeare's play Twelfth Night and him apparently having a hangover on January 7th in Valley of Fear, a claim that's questionable in itself. Apparently the early Sherlockians were obsessed with the idea of Holmes and/or Watson getting drunk on their birthdays. That's what came of their club-like gatherings I guess.

Speaking of early Sherlockians, I recently read R. Holmes & Co. by John Kendrick Bangs which is a sort of crossover between Holmes and A. J. Raffles, the gentleman burglar. Bangs's book was published in 1906, and Raffles Holmes introduces himself to the narrator, whom he asks to be his biographer.

According to what Raffles Holmes says, back in 1883, Sherlock Holmes was investigating a case of a stolen seal, when he realized that he'd seen that seal before, on a letter addressed to him. He searches his files and discovers that a young woman wrote him asking for his autograph, and she used that seal. He goes to investigate, falls in love with young Marjorie Tattersby, and is suspicious of her father, a reverend who is often away from home. Holmes then finds out Reverend Tattersby is actually A. J. Raffles, famous cricketer, and secret thief. Holmes contrives to woo Marjorie while her father's away, and then he blackmails Raffles into consenting to the marriage, or else Holmes will turn him in for his crimes. Thus, young Raffles Holmes was born a year later, and now he's torn between being a detective and a thief, due to his bloodline.

And that's all the backstory we get. Seriously. We never learn what's so amazing about Marjorie that Holmes loves her. (He never even talks to her before he's smitten; he literally sees her and is in love and angsting about turning in her father.) We don't learn why Marjorie's father was careless enough to leave the stolen seal out where she could get to it. We don't know why Marjorie never questioned why her father had a seal that clearly did not belong to their family. Moreover, Marjorie is said to be an innocent who never knew her father was a thief and presumably never knew Holmes's true identity either, since he introduced himself under an alias. We never get an explanation for why A. J. Raffles is old enough to have an adult daughter, because from what I read on wikipedia, Raffles is supposed to be a contemporary of Holmes, age-wise. We never get an explanation for what happened when Holmes disappeared for three years. Did he abandon his wife and child, or take them with him? No explanation about why young Raffles Holmes has moved to New York and has difficulty making a living as a detective, even though you'd think he could just drop his father's name around. This Bangs fellow should have thought through his world-building a bit more.

Raffles Holmes says that A. J. Raffles never told his sidekick Bunny about the marriage, and Holmes never told Watson either, but we don't know why. A. J. Raffles was probably angry about being blackmailed, so that's easy, but why should Sherlock Holmes keep the secret from his own friend? Embarrassed about being married off years before Watson was? Also, Raffles Holmes has the nerve to say to Jenkins, the narrator, that he'll tell his adventures in exchange for a share of the profits from writing about them, "which is more than either Watson or Bunny ever did with my father or grandfather." Did they ask to share in the profits? And I think Holmes was the one making tons of money, enough to retire early, so what did he need with a share in Watson's royalties, since he disdained the stories so much? Besides, if your father hasn't given you any money, maybe it's because you're a criminal yourself.

Raffles Holmes claims that he's not a criminal, but in case after case, he is a thief and a con artist. Sometimes he'll steal a jewel, then get himself hired to find it, splitting the reward money with Jenkins. Sometimes he'll make some elaborate scheme to swindle another thief out of his goods. Sure he's a charming fellow sharing many of his father's characteristics, but that doesn't excuse his being a criminal for a living. What stretches the bounds of disbelief is that Jenkins is apparently publishing the adventures right now, not years later, basically outing Raffles Holmes's dubious methods of employment. You'd think that would ruin any detective business he tried to get.

Very strange stories. I don't know, maybe I'd get them better if I had read the A. J. Raffles stories.

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