Study in Scarlet Podcast: Introducing Sherlock Holmes and Watson
Welcome to the Study in Scarlet podcast episode (one of two) focused on the very first Sherlock Holmes novel.
The “consulting detective” Sherlock Holmes and his trusty sidekick, Watson — two of the most famous characters in English literature — make their first appearance in this tale, which forever changed the way mystery novels were written.
Discuss: Check out the conversation starters below and our blog.
Weigh In: Share your thoughts using the form below!
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What We're Talking About in our Study in Scarlet podcast episode (part 1 of 2) --
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea, Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison,
Carolyn Daughters 0:36
and I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a tea, or a gin and tonic,
Sarah Harrison 0:42
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:44
… and join us on the journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Sarah Harrison 0:56
Carolyn, what did we read last month?
Carolyn Daughters 1:01
We read A Study in Scarlet, which is the very first Sherlock Holmes story. And this is our first Study in Scarlet podcast.
Sarah Harrison 1:10
I really liked that book.
Carolyn Daughters 1:12
I really liked it. I think it’s so interesting. I had read it years and years ago, and somehow I forgot some of the details. It’s a two parter. It’s short, but it’s two parts. And the first part is really different from the second part. And so we’re going to do two podcast episodes, a Part I Study in Scarlet podcast and a Part II. We’re we’re doing this podcast about the very best mysteries, detective stories and thrillers ever written. This one made the cut because there’s this consulting detective, this new concept, Sherlock Holmes. He has his trusty sidekick, Watson. They’re two of the most famous characters in English literature. This book is arguably going to transform the way mystery novels are written even today.
Sarah Harrison 2:10
Yeah, and this is our first Study in Scarlet podcast episode about it, too. So stay tuned for the next episode, where you hear about the totally different second part of the book. It threw me for a loop.
Carolyn Daughters 2:26
We’re gonna get into the met of the story. But before that, we have a listener of the month.
Sarah Harrison 2:38
Our listener of the month goes to Eli Milliman in this episode. Eli is from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. And he is also potentially going to be one of our future guests next year. So stay tuned. We’re gonna start having guests soon. Thank you for listening to Tea, Tonic & Toxin. And we have a super sweet sticker that we’re gonna send.
Sarah Harrison 3:51
That’s it, folks. Let us know you’re listening, throw some comments our way, and we’ll throw you a sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 4:00
Our sponsor this month is this amazing company called Grace Sigma. Sarah, Grace Sigma just so happens to be your company.
Sarah Harrison 4:13
Yeah, it’s a great company, guys. Grace Sigma is a Denver-based process, engineering and systems consultancy. We specialize in the area where technology meets your business processes and all of the interpretation that needs to go on there. And that can take the form of workshops, thought partnerships, and a variety of types of support, anything from data storytelling to project management, support of all kinds.
Carolyn Daughters 4:51
That sounds very cool. You can find out more about Grace Sigma from our website, teatonicandtoxin.com. So, Sarah, before we get to the Study in Scarlet podcast discussion, we like to start with a summary of what’s going on in the book because we know some people who listen to us haven’t had a chance to read the book yet.
Sarah Harrison 5:19
Which is crazy. They should read these good books.
Carolyn Daughters 5:26
We make it easy for you by telling you what’s going on.
Sarah Harrison 5:36
That’s what we’re about here.
Carolyn Daughters 5:38
So tell us what’s going on in part one of the Study in Scarlet podcast.
Sarah Harrison 5:40
Okay, part one of the Study in Scarlet podcast. This is the story of how Sherlock Holmes solved the murders of Enoch Drebber and Joseph Stangerson. [That’s one of those last names that feels like it needs more letters. The problem is last came up in our last episode.] Part one is written from the perspective of John Watson, an Army doctor who returned to England after being injured in the second Afghan War around 1880. In case you were thinking of a different Afghan war. Watson meets Holmes, and he’s amazed by Holmes’s skills of observation. Holmes is an eccentric consulting detective who helps other detectives with their cases by applying the science of deduction and analysis. They become flatmates at 221B Baker Street in London. Scotland Yard asks Holmes to help on a murder case. Holmes and Watson meet detectives Lestrade and Gregson at the crime scene, where an American man Enoch Drebber lies dead on the ground. There’s blood on the floor but no wound on the body. They find a pillbox and a gold wedding ring. On the wall written in blood are the letters R A C H E.
Detective Lestrade suggests the murderer had tried to write “Rachel.” Holmes says that “rache” is the German word rache, which means revenge and that the word was intended to mislead the police. Holmes says the murderer poisoned the victim and then to everyone’s surprise gives a vivid description of the murderer. Next, Holmes interviews the constable who found the body. The constable saw a drunk man at the scene of the crime. Holmes says that the drunk man was the murderer who had gone back to look for the ring. Holmes puts an ad in the paper, which is a pretty common device it seems, at least in this era. They have the lost ring. An old woman comes by and Watson gives her the ring. Believing she’s an accomplice, Holmes jumps onto the back of her cab. However, when the cab stops, the woman is gone. The next day Gregson arrests the man for drivers murder, then Lestrade announces that Joseph Stangerson, Drebber’s secretary, was found stabbed to death with the word “rache” written on the wall. A pillbox with two pills is found at the scene. Holmes tests the two pills on an old dog who was supposed to die anyway. The first pill has no effect. But the second pill kills the dog. Holmes concludes that the pillbox contained one homeless pill in one poisonous pill. A street urchin arrives to say that a cab has arrived at 221 Baker Street, Holmes catches the driver off guard, handcuffs him, and introduces him as Jefferson Hope, the murderer of Drebber and Stangerson. One of the things I want to talk about in this Study in Scarlet podcast is how Jefferson Hope is always called “Jefferson Hope.” He’s almost never called “Hope” or “Jefferson.”
Carolyn Daughters 9:13
I was typing up notes, and every time I wrote, “hope arrived on the scene,” I thought that sounded very odd.
Sarah Harrison 9:23
Right but they chose his name. Is that like what we’re supposed to be saying?
Carolyn Daughters 9:31
Hope arrived in the form of Jefferson Hope.
Sarah Harrison 9:34
Yeah, it’s a powerful name. Jefferson sounds very American. Hope. Yeah, but Lestrade and Gregson, we don’t even get their first names.
Carolyn Daughters 9:50
Sarah Harrison 9:55
Carolyn Daughters 10:00
Something that occurs to me is that if we placed a similar ad today, no one on the planet would see it.
Sarah Harrison 10:08
Right. Remember Craigslist Missed Connections? I don’t know if anyone reads Craigslist Missed Connections anymore.
Carolyn Daughters 10:28
I would be surprised if people do. Listeners, do you know someone who has connected with someone else on missed connections?
Sarah Harrison 10:36
Have you ever read them? Do they still write them? It was like 10 years ago, the last one I read.
Carolyn Daughters 10:40
Tobias Gregson. I believe Lestrade also has a name — because most people have names. But for the life of me, at the moment I don’t know Lestrade’s first name. The other thing that occurs to me is our last book was The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. And I feel like this mystery, A Study in Scarlet, could be called The Mystery of a Hansom Cab Driver.
Sarah Harrison 11:11
Yeah, it could.
Carolyn Daughters 11:13
Because he drives a hansom cab.
Sarah Harrison 11:22
Yeah. I think you noted that book is well for the two competing detectives. I want to talk about that in this Study in Scarlet podcast. Is that a common trope? We’ve had two books in a row that have two competing detectives that dislike each other.
Carolyn Daughters 11:43
Yeah, there are rivals here, and I’m realizing it wouldn’t be The Mystery of a Hansom Cab Driver, but it would still be The Mystery of a Hansom Cab because it’s the guy in the hansom cab. But yeah, Gregson and Lestrade are rivals at Scotland Yard. And in The Mystery of a Hansom Cab we had two rivals. Two detectives trying to be the guy who gets all the credit for serving solving the mystery.
Sarah Harrison 12:15
There’s a lot of credit getting in these last two books. What’s that about?
Carolyn Daughters 12:21
There is a lot of credit maybe where credit isn’t due. In fact, Sherlock Holmes isn’t sure he wants to take this case on in the beginning, because he says one of these two guys, or both of them, they’re gonna get all the credit.
Sarah Harrison 12:36
But he knows that. His whole thing is like consulting detective. It’s not a credit-getting position.
Carolyn Daughters 12:42
Right. You have to have your own sense of accomplishment, I guess. And also, Holmes’s eyes light up anytime anyone else seems to praise him or get that he’s the real deal. Like Watson acknowledges, wow, you’re amazing, your skill in deduction is unparalleled. And Holmes’s eyes light up.
Sarah Harrison 13:05
That’s true. Everybody likes a good piece of praise, though, don’t they?
Carolyn Daughters 13:09
I would think most people do.
Sarah Harrison 13:11
And even if you get uncomfortable over praise, it’s because it’s hitting a chord.
Carolyn Daughters 13:16
Maybe Mother Teresa didn’t care.
Sarah Harrison 13:18
Everybody cares. She was human.
Carolyn Daughters 13:20
The Dalai Lama?
Sarah Harrison 13:22
They’re humans. It feels nice.
Carolyn Daughters 13:27
It does feel nice to be recognized.
Sarah Harrison 13:31
To feel seen for the things that you’re doing and who you are.
Carolyn Daughters 13:35
Right. So, in this first Study in Scarlet podcast, let’s talk about Sherlock Holmes a bit because the first chapters are really devoted to giving the reader a sense of who this guy is on the pretense of Watson getting a sense of who this guy is. So Watson’s learning about him as we’re learning about him. So we’re getting this live. These are John Watson’s notes in his journal about who this guy is.
Sarah Harrison 14:09
It was pretty interesting. I highlighted in my book where Holmes actually introduces himself to Watson in terms of a flatmate. And I thought it was funny. And I was wondering, is this a good idea or a bad idea? So before they get to know each other, Holmes says, “Let me see … what are my other shortcomings? I get in the dumps at times, I don’t open my mouth for days on end. You must not think that I am sulking when I do that.” Like, don’t control my thoughts, dude. I think you’re sulky. “What have you to confess now? It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together? Is that true? Is it just true fellows? Is it true in dating relationships? Like, how much do you share? At what point is it too much too soon?
Carolyn Daughters 15:16
Say they’re completely incompatible, Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Don’t you want to know that earlier rather than later? Why waste your time if somebody is completely not a match for you?
Sarah Harrison 15:38
Everyone feels they’re not a match when they just dump on you all the worst parts about themselves? Because, one, you don’t appreciate that your own terrible parts are terrible. Two, you haven’t learned the lovable stuff about them yet and if it can be worked through. And also, people aren’t finished products when you start growing and you grow together. That’s to say, here’s my bad habits on face value.
Carolyn Daughters 16:21
On some level, I appreciate it. Like he didn’t tell him every single detail of his life. He didn’t even tell him his job.
Sarah Harrison 16:29
Yeah, I do appreciate it. And also, Holmes is pretty weird, but he really makes light of it. Like I don’t speak for days. Okay, I had a roommate do that once. She was in a very bad place. I remember she pulled out all her drawers, dumped them on the floor, left the drawers on top of the piles and then just didn’t get out of bed for a week. And when I think about that, and I think about Holmes not speaking for days, that’s what I think about. That’s kind of disturbing. That’s not a normal reaction. And that’s the only thing Holmes mentions. Does he not get his flaws, does he not see how like pompous he is, or callous? It seems like a pretty shallow evaluation of himself.
Carolyn Daughters 17:36
Yeah, he probably doesn’t get all of it. Watson seems a little more forthcoming in some ways, where he’s like, I’m kind of lazy. I sleep in. He’s basically saying more about who he is as a person instead of sharing matter of fact details. I will not speak for several days at times. These two guys don’t know each other at all. I would want to know if my new roommate didn’t speak for days at a shot. And that’s normal for him. And then he’ll start talking and talk for days. I would want to know that. Otherwise, I would go in and be shocked when he’s not talking.
Sarah Harrison 18:25
It’s definitely good to know some stuff up front. And a roommate situation is an interesting one. Especially these two because you’re going from strangers to now I see you every day. We will have interactions and how will that go?
Carolyn Daughters 18:46
And for the first days or weeks, they’re ships passing in the night where Holmes goes to the lab and works or he has people who are coming in to see him. They turn out to be clients, but Watson doesn’t know — maybe their friends or clients. Watson don’t know what Holmes does. They’re each doing their own thing. But Watson’s building his own sense of who Holmes is. And because he’s Watson, he’s documenting it. He says he has a passion for definite exact knowledge. He knows chemistry. He knows British law. He doesn’t seem to know anything about literature and astronomy. He says he’s ignorant of the Copernican theory and the composition of the solar system. And he says that “that any civilized human being in the 19th century should not be aware that the Earth traveled around the sun appeared to me such an extraordinary fact.” Holmes is interested in some things and not others. The things he’s interested in, he’s passionate about and knows every single thing you can possibly know. The things he’s not passionate about, he doesn’t really know much about.
Sarah Harrison 20:08
That was actually a really frustrating point for me because it moves into his brain attic speech, which I thought was cute and interesting and worth talking about in this Study in Scarlet podcast. Maybe we should mention what he’s saying about the brain attic. “A man’s brain originally is like an empty attic. And you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across. So the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things. So that he has difficulty in laying his hands upon it. And then the skillful workman is very careful indeed, as to what he takes into his brain attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work. So when you think about the stuff that Holmes is interested in and not interested in, he told Watson he was going to try and forget about the solar system.
Carolyn Daughters 21:07
He’s saying there’s a limited amount of space you have. And the more junk I fill my brain with, the more it pushes out the stuff that I need to know. So this to me felt like, okay, to be an expert I need to have X number of hours of experience in a subject before I can have expertise in that subject. And I need to focus on the areas where I want to become an expert, and everything else is pushed out of my brain because this is not an elastic space that can accommodate all information at all times. And there’s that famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein — “never memorize something you can look up.” Where supposedly somebody asked him, “What is your phone number?” And he’s like, why would I know something that I could look up?
Sarah Harrison 21:59
It does take me years to learn my phone number.
Carolyn Daughters 22:04
And today with with cell phones we don’t need to know other people’s numbers. But there was a time where we can memorize fairly straightforwardly up to seven digits, something like that. And so phone numbers have seven digits. And we would know our phone numbers of family and friends, a limited number of numbers we would know. Whereas Albert Einstein would would have said, potentially said, why would I memorize something I can look up?
Sarah Harrison 22:41
I think it’s a good concept. And I think everyone would agree your brain can’t remember an infinite number of things. But I don’t know that it’s quite as inelastic is all that. You can’t learn everything. I took issue with him pre-deciding what would be useful to know and what wouldn’t. Like, you don’t know, dude. Like you somehow absolutely know.
So, as it relates to this Study in Scarlet podcast, Jefferson Hope gets blood all over the place because he’s having a bloody nose. And so Holmes deduces that all the blood is from a bloody nose and so the guy must be have a ruddy complexion. I don’t think that like being a ginger means you’re gonna have overly bloody noses. I don’t think that’s the case that you would make a study in that but feel that in no time ever would the movement of the Earth around the Sun and how the heavenly bodies exist would be useful knowledge for mystery solving. I don’t think you can know everything you need to know beforehand.
Carolyn Daughters 24:11
Though I feel like if it came up in a case, Sherlock Holmes would learn everything he needed to know about it, probably in rapid fire order.
Sarah Harrison 24:19
He could. But all of his stuff is based on stuff he already learned. Like, I measured all the steps and I know this about the toes and I’ve made a study of every kind of tobacco. So you somehow know you’ll need to know everything about tobacco ash, but you’ll never ever need to know anything about the movement of the earth.
Carolyn Daughters 24:43
He’s thinking about crime scenes, he’s thinking about footprints. He’s thinking about cigarette ash left on the ground. He’s thinking about blood. At the time, according to this book, you couldn’t tell if something that looked like blood actually was blood. Is it a fruit stain? Is it a rust stain or mud? And then you also couldn’t tell is it new blood or old blood? You see blood, and we’re not in our modern day and age, so what is this blood, and what do I do with this evidence? So he’s got a very narrow set of criteria for his studies where it has to do with the sorts of things he’s probably run into when he’s trying to figure out who committed a crime and why.
Sarah Harrison 25:35
So he thinks he’ll need to know about cigar ash. That’s fine. But the movement of the Earth around the Sun is really tied to a lot of very fundamental things that you might need to know, in solving crime. Carolyn, how successful are you? Have you ever tried to anticipate what you would need to know about something? And are you always correct? Have you ever been surprised?
Carolyn Daughters 26:07
I know my wheelhouse. And I have a fairly decent recognition of things that are outside my wheelhouse. For example, when I’m on an airplane I have no idea how it’s in the air. I just look out the window amazed. It’s a mystery to me. I’m in the sky. And I don’t understand how we’re in the sky. But I’m going to ride this out til we land safely at our destination.
Sarah Harrison 26:40
Well, maybe it’s a Sarah problem. I’m shocked and amazed how often I cannot predict what I am going to need to know in a given situation. In high school, the worst grade I ever got was physics. I hated it. It was so boring. And I thought, who cares? I don’t care. I’m gonna go into art. Well, as it turns out, folks, I have a bachelor’s in physics, and I wish I had paid more attention. But when I was in physics, I had a double major in photojournalism. I had to take all these extra classes. I didn’t want to take them because I had too many classes because I had such a stupid, long, double major. So I got out of chemistry. I was like, do I really need chemistry? What I really need is quantum mechanics to get my physics degree/ I don’t really need the elective chemistry. Well, my first job out of grad school was heavily chemistry focused, and I didn’t have any chemistry knowledge because I skipped the stupid undergrad-level class because it was so boring because I thought I knew what I needed. But I never know what I need. I just think I know what I need. And I’m always just so wrong. Maybe it’s a Sarah problem that I’m just taking offense to Sherlock Holmes about. I’m always finding myself in a spot where I didn’t think I would be and wishing I had paid more attention to something earlier.
Carolyn Daughters 28:24
I felt that way several years ago with marketing where I had this natural bias against marketing, sales, anything that seemed like it was trying to get someone to turn over cash for something. And then after a while, I saw a lot of marketing being done very poorly. And a lot of people taking a lot of people’s money for bad marketing. The people didn’t know what they didn’t know, so they were like, cool, here’s my money. I ended up learning more than I’ve ever imagined I would about marketing because I was so appalled at watching people pay for bad support and service. For years, I didn’t want to know anything about digital marketing or social media. It’s just not my thing. And after a while, I was like, it’s gonna end up being my thing because I can’t stand what I’m seeing. In order to counterbalance it with actual knowledge and expertise, I learned everything I could. I could have been where I am now years earlier if I hadn’t been so sure I didn’t want anything to do with marketing.
Sarah Harrison 29:52
That’s where I disagree with Holmes.
Carolyn Daughters 29:57
Yeah, he’s very certain. It’s rare, it seems, when Sherlock Holmes is like, I don’t really know or I haven’t figured that out yet. He’s pretty set in his ways.
Sarah Harrison 30:13
Does that go along with the humanity and inhumanity of Holmes. Is that inhuman? What is that?
Carolyn Daughters 30:22
The friend who introduces Holmes and Watson says about Holmes that he’s scientific to the point of cold-bloodedness. And in the the Benedict Cumberbatch series of Sherlock Holmes, you get that sense, maybe more than I’ve ever gotten it before in any visual presentation. A sense that Sherlock Holmes almost seems inhuman at times, not inhuman like a monster but almost without emotion, without emotional register, without empathy. As if he’s solving cases purely, exclusively for the delight of the analytical challenge.
Sarah Harrison 31:12
It definitely seems like it’s the most interesting puzzle he wants to solve.
Carolyn Daughters 31:22
We hear about these dead bodies in the lab. And Holmes beats them to test how bruising works after death.
Sarah Harrison 31:38
I thought he was just testing them to see how bruising works. And I was like, wouldn’t it work differently after you die?
Carolyn Daughters 31:47
I think that’s what he was testing. The question then is, presumably, if you find a dead body that is bruised, did the bruises occur prior to or after death?
Sarah Harrison 32:01
I guess you’ve got to test that. But it is a weird thing to think about walking in on.
Carolyn Daughters 32:07
And then there’s this dog that ends up being the test case.
Sarah Harrison 32:13
Yes! I wanted to discuss the dog in this Study in Scarlet podcast. I was like, what, are they going to kill the dog?
Carolyn Daughters 32:15
I know. I was like, what am I reading? There’s this terrier, and he’s old and infirm. And they’ve discovered this pill case in Stangerson’s hotel room with two pills in it. And Holmes has this theory and so he gives the dog one of the pills, and the dog is just fine, and then gives the dog the other pill and pretty quickly the dog dies.
Sarah Harrison 32:40
I appreciated that they at least mentioned that the landlady or somebody had asked Holmes to kill the dog. To put it down. It was time for it to go.
Carolyn Daughters 32:51
But it felt thrown in there parenthetically, almost as if saying, hey reader, we’re not complete lunatics here.
Sarah Harrison 32:59
Just killing dogs.
Carolyn Daughters 33:03
Right. It felt a little bit thrown in there.
Sarah Harrison 33:23
It was a bit shocking.
Carolyn Daughters 33:27
But if the dog is truly in pain or not well, maybe … At any rate, it’s not as cold and callous as it could have been if he was like, go find a dog off the street and bring it in here. It wasn’t like that. But the Sherlock Holmes here seemed more a little more human than the Benedict Cumberbatch version to me.
Sarah Harrison 33:56
Is that because of the way he would bask in praise, or what made him a little more human?
Carolyn Daughters 34:01
That’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought about it that way. But yeah, he does bask in praise. He also seems to connect in a way with Watson. Whereas, Watson had been told by this mutual friend, you may not connect with this guy like you. This guy may be so standoffish and weird or eccentric that you may find him really hard to connect with. And Watson gets along with him pretty well. And they live together pretty well at 221B Baker Street.
Sarah Harrison 34:39
S this topic relates to this Study in Scarlet podcast. I remember in one of the former books, you mentioned that sometimes it’s a theory that Watson doesn’t even exist, that he’s just some way for Holmes to talk about himself without it coming out of his mouth.
Carolyn Daughters 34:56
Maybe with Watson, but it would have been in Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin stories. The unnamed narrator. I mean, the guy doesn’t even have a name. The guy doesn’t have much of a personality or a past. We don’t know hardly anything about him except he walks around documenting every single thing Dupin does. There’s three Edgar Allan Poe stories starring Auguste Dupin. And so in that case, I was wondering, does this narrator even exist? Or is this a case of Dupin writing his own story under the pseudonym — this other guy who is so fascinated by him that he just writes down everything he does. But Dupin comes in here, right? To to me, this is the closest possible comparison. Dupin and the unnamed narrator from Edgar Allan Poe stories. And then Sherlock Holmes and Watson.
Sarah Harrison 35:53
Which is funny because Sherlock Holmes does rag on Dupin a little bit. Talk a talk a little bit about his consulting detective position and his viewpoint of other people.
Carolyn Daughters 36:07
First of all, I was pretty impressed with Dupin. If you can, do go back and read the Edgar Allan Poe stories and check out our earlier podcast episode on “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
Sarah Harrison 36:23
Yeah, our very first one. After you listen to the Study in Scarlet podcast, check it out!
Carolyn Daughters 36:24
I was impressed with Dupin. At the time, Sarah and I said we probably wouldn’t invite him to dinner. I don’t know that we would be best friends with this guy. But he seems exceptionally bright. And And Sherlock Holmes says about him, “that trick of his breaking in on his friends thoughts with an apropos remark, after a quarter of an hour of silence is really very showy and superficial.” And he says he “has some analytical genius, but he’s by no means the phenomenon that Poe appeared to imagine.” And I was like, whoa, that’s really throwing down the gauntlet. This story arguably could not have happened without Edgar Allan Poe. That’s me throwing down the gauntlet.
Sarah Harrison 37:14
Do you do you feel like Conan Doyle was actually being dismissive of Poe’s story or is it just showing the pomposity of his Sherlock Holmes character?
Carolyn Daughters 37:28
I think it could be all of that. I can’t know what Conan Doyle was intending. Holmes is very pompous about it. And we meet Dupin in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” And these stories were widely read, and Watson is super impressed with Dupin. We actually get a little bit of a counterbalance there where then the narrator of the story, who is Watson, gently pushes back with his own narration to say I was surprised to hear this because I always thought Dupin was pretty amazing. I think a lot of it is Holmes being pompous. But then he’s talking about how showy Dupin was. There’s a scene where they’re leaving he house where the crime took place, and Sherlock Holmes says to Inspector Lestrade. “rache” is the German for revenge, so don’t waste your time looking for Miss Rachel. And he turns around with what’s called a Parthian shot. That’s where the Parthians would retreat. They’re on horseback and they’re ostensibly riding away, and they turn their bodies back to shoot at the pursuers. The pursuers aren’t expecting it, because they’re thinking they have the upper hand. But the Parthian shot is when these guys, without warning, angle back 180 degrees and start shooting. To me, that felt a bit showy of Holmes.
Sarah Harrison 39:22
Yeah, it was definitely showy. He’s very pompous. I feel that traits we deplore in others are often negative traits that we ourselves have. But it’s a hard idea to research because, at least for myself, I can be so blind to my own negative traits. I need to pay more attention, I suppose. I don’t know. Is that a thing? Are there any traits that you have that you deplore in others.
Carolyn Daughters 39:59
I believe that the things that bother us most about other people are often the things that we dislike in ourselves. There are people who annoy me. And then I’m thinking, why did they annoy me? Maybe that person annoyed me because it felt like I was listening to myself. They were maybe over-arguing a point or something that they were doing felt a little too close to home.
Sarah Harrison 40:47
I think it’s really hard to look our traits full face in the negative. We always can take a glancing blow at our negative traits and miss it a little bit or justify it. Probably I’m too prideful and too much of a know-it-all and those are traits that get under my skin when I hear them. So it’s probably a big problem for me. But I honestly have a hard time fully looking that in the face.
Carolyn Daughters 41:28
This was an instance where I felt like Sherlock Holmes was not looking in a mirror very closely. He was not seeing. And so it’s going to be up to Watson here and elsewhere to clue us in to any ways that Holmes’s presentation of himself should be complicated or is more challenging than what we’re getting from Holmes.
Sarah Harrison 41:56
Do you think that’s on purpose? One of the things I wanted to talk about in this Study in Scarlet podcast is author intent. I’m always wondering about author intent. Is Conan Doyle trying to make this almost a foible of Sherlock. He’s so pompous and blind to his own pomposity. It’s a little bit of a weakness.
Carolyn Daughters 42:20
I think so. But it’s so hard to know what’s in an author’s head and it’s so much more doable to see what’s on the page. Let’s say Holmes has no foibles in Conan Doyle’s mind. That means that every time Watson speaks up with something that’s counter, contrary, or has another opinion, or puts anything into question, that Watson is just a very stupid person. And I think the “very stupid person” partner of the detective is really uninteresting. He is a doctor, so he’s an educated man. He can also weigh in on things medical, and he also knows about the solar system. He’s read books. He’s versed in a broader range of things, not with the depth and breadth of Holmes. But I’m more interested in a sidekick who has a brain than somebody who’s brainless, documenting things about the genius, perfect detective. So I choose to believe that Sherlock Holmes has foibles and we are meant to see he is not perfect in all ways and all things.
Sarah Harrison 43:56
Cool. The main thing that sticks out to me is that Watson is the one who keeps changing his mind. Sherlock never becomes enlightened to another perspective. Whereas Watson first reads this newspaper article and thinks “that’s so dumb.” And then Holmes is like, well, actually, I wrote that and it’s super smart.
Carolyn Daughters 44:20
Watson’s able to change his mind. There’s this idea in the book where it’s a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment. So if you just read this article and say, “this is stupid,” and you can’t change your mind because now that’s your foundational understanding. But Watson is able to be convinced and to keep his mind open enough to really understand, whereas the detectives arguably aren’t smart enough to do that. They get that Sherlock Holmes is pretty smart. But I don’t think they fully understand what Holmes can do. And they don’t fully appreciate it. Watson can grow and evolve his thinking. To me, that’s an advanced skill in a human being.
Sarah Harrison 45:21
I really liked that quote. It’s a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. And yet, isn’t that what we do all day long, all the time?
Carolyn Daughters 45:36
And then we build upon that foundation. So we put up walls and a roof. And then we insulate the thing.
Sarah Harrison 45:45
We have our whole fortress ready to go before evidence comes in.
Carolyn Daughters 45:51
Right. And it can be very hard to knock down that structure once it’s built. Especially if we put time and energy and our own belief system and commitment into it. It’s really, I’ve found, very difficult to raise your hand and say, like, Oh, I think I might have gotten that wrong.
Sarah Harrison 46:11
Is it a trait of humanity that we are always jumping to conclusions? Or is that a habit that we’ve formed?
Carolyn Daughters 46:21
I think on some level, it saves us because we have to be able to assess a situation rapidly and then draw conclusions from it. If we’re out in the wild and a tiger approaches, and we’re like, let me think through this tiger. Are tigers really dangerous? Maybe tigers have gotten a bad rap. No, we have to be able to like duck behind the rock, hide in the cave, climb the tree, to realize this is a dangerous creature and get out of the way of the dangerous creature.
Sarah Harrison 46:54
So how do you dial it back, and when do you know you should dial it back?
Carolyn Daughters 47:02
I think in this day and age, for the most part, we’re not coming up against tigers in a wilderness.
Sarah Harrison 47:11
That’s true, but the world is full of dangerous people and things.
Carolyn Daughters 47:15
Sure. And anything could potentially be dangerous. And I think we’re always watching out for danger. When we hear something new, we sometimes create danger where there really is none. We start putting walls up on our foundation.
Sarah Harrison 48:23
So are you arguing that we should always dial it back, that there’s really no need for that reaction? Is it kind of outdated reaction?
Carolyn Daughters 48:38
I don’t think it’s outdated. I think there’s a time and place. I think we’re always making really fast observations about whether we like a person, don’t like a person. Do they seem friendly? Do they seem smart? Do they seem like they’re on my team. I’ve gotten it wrong with so many people. There are so many people who I thought I didn’t like who ended up being really close to me.
Sarah Harrison 49:16
Carolyn surrounds herself with annoying, dislikable people. You heard it here in the Study in Scarlet podcast.
Carolyn Daughters 49:21
No. I got it wrong. I took limited data presented at a random time. And then I built walls around it. But I was able to also take the walls down.
Sarah Harrison 49:35
You seem like a pretty evenhanded person. So is it that experience of reflecting on being wrong? Is there some other better way to tap the brakes?
Carolyn Daughters 49:45
Those are good questions. I don’t know. I tend to tap the brakes, generally speaking, because I don’t feel it’s me versus them, Us versus them. I don’t feel like there’s one winner or that somebody else’s success translates into my lack of success. I don’t see the world that way. And so I tend to approach a situation for the most part, I’m sure with exceptions, like, okay, what’s going on here? Who are these people? And even if I get signs of who various people are, I realize we’re all in a specific place in our lives. There’s stuff happening to each of us, good, bad, and other. I don’t know, we’re all in transition, and who we are on Wednesday morning at 8am isn’t necessarily who we are on Thursday at five or a year from now. I tend to do that without even necessarily maybe working through all of that in the way I’ve just expressed it. I tend not to read too deeply into what I think a person is because I don’t feel a need to lock somebody down. Do you feel like you have to lock?
Sarah Harrison 51:15
I don’t feel like I have to lock. But I definitely think I have that instinct sometimes. I will really pop my top. And I think my best way for dealing with it is honestly just to shut up for a while. I might say, my top is popping. That means you close your mouth for a while until you can process? Because whatever’s coming out of there is probably not going to be the right thing to take back. It’s hard to take back. There’s consequences. But it’s probably not correct to begin with. That’s my best technique, listeners, just don’t say anything for a while.
Carolyn Daughters 51:58
Yeah. Take a breath.
Sarah Harrison 52:02
But you put in here, the bohemian life. And you had a really cool picture. I don’t know if we want to touch on that. Before we wrap. I know we’re getting close to time for this episode.
Carolyn Daughters 52:09
We’ve talked about this with Dupin and the unnamed narrator in the Edgar Allan Poe stories. We get these characters who have nothing better to do than to sit and think. And play the violin periodically. Or maybe I’ll go to the lab today, I don’t know. And in Watson’s case, Watson is just bored. We find him sitting up one night reading Henri Murger’s Vie de Boheme, which is about bohemian life in mid-19th century Paris. At one point, he’s like, I have to find a flatmate. I can’t afford to live on my own. But then he’s meeting a guy at the Criterion Bar, which is like the super swank, total ritzy bar. And I’m like, well shoot, if you’re really tight on cash, maybe you should go to the corner dive cause the Criterion Bar’s cocktails are probably pretty spendy.
Sarah Harrison 53:18
Well, he was like, I can’t rent at the level that I want to rent at on my own. I guess he needed to go find a ritzier flatmate.
Carolyn Daughters 53:29
So we’re finding characters in Edgar Allan Poe, but also in Arthur Conan Doyle, who have the luxury of free time. They can be Renaissance men. I’m going to study today, or maybe I’ll learn some new things today. I’m gonna be honest with you — I dream about this life.
Sarah Harrison 53:52
I find it really hard not to be envious of their independent income here.
Carolyn Daughters 54:02
As tragically small as it may be.
Sarah Harrison 54:09
They have these landladies who are like bringing them breakfast whenever they’re ready, and they’re always having in-house help and housekeeping.
Carolyn Daughters 54:21
And very few worries. Now, to be fair, it seems like Sherlock Holmes is earning money.
Sarah Harrison 54:36
Yes, he is. And Watson is on a medical pension.
Carolyn Daughters 54:42
Yeah. He served in the second Afghan War. He was injured in the shoulder. He got typhoid fever. Okay, so he’s not had an easy ride. But he’s still getting cocktails at the Criterion Bar. So things are okay. So, let’s wrap up part one of our Study in Scarlet podcast.
Sarah Harrison 55:14
We also have a part two. We haven’t done it yet, but I know it’s gonna be great.
Carolyn Daughters 55:18
It’s gonna be amazing. This story is called A Study in Scarlet. What’s going on with that?
Sarah Harrison 55:26
Yeah, that seemed like a weird thing to me. There’s this one quote: “There’s the scarlet thread of murder running through the colorless skein of life.” Is life really colorless? “My duty is to unravel it and isolate it and expose every inch of it.” Okay, well, that’s interesting. It’s like the moment in a movie where you’re like, oh, that’s why you called it that.
Carolyn Daughters 55:56
What I was thinking is, as a writer, sometimes, right, you come up with this cool title of the thing, and you’re like, I’m gonna figure out how to make this the title of this book. So the character has to, like randomly say this quote. Now, readers and listeners, I would never do this.
Sarah Harrison 56:19
Carolyn’s not that cheap.
Carolyn Daughters 56:20
But there’s this desire to do this at times. You come up with this perfect title. How can I fit this title in, and I almost to some degree felt like this is a great title, but it didn’t feel like this was A Study in Scarlet to me. Like, this is the Study in Scarlet podcast, but I don’t fully understand the title of the book.
Sarah Harrison 56:41
I don’t know. Maybe it’s supposed to say more about Holmes’s perspective. But it certainly seems his all-consuming interest in unraveling murders. As far as saying it’s everyone’s duty, maybe that’s a bit of a projection.
Carolyn Daughters 56:58
Well, Sarah, we’re going to also record a part two of the Study in Scarlet podcast, so I hope our listeners come back and hear what we have to say about the very different part two of this book.
Sarah Harrison 57:09
I started part two, and I was like, what? Where’s this going? Is this the same story? What’s happening? Totally different. So after you finish this Study in Scarlet podcast, be sure to listen to the podcast episode on part two. And thanks for listening!
November 19, 2023
Playwright, artistic director, and Renaissance woman Emily Schwartz joins Sarah and Carolyn to dish all things Agatha Christie. On a completely (un)related note, Emily, Sarah, and Carolyn have boarded the Simplon-Orient Express train in search of adventure. Listen in. And stay tuned …Listen →
November 6, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview Recipes for Murder author Karen Pierce about all things Agatha Christie -- her books, her life, the adaptations of her work. Let’s just say this amazing Christie superfan knows her stuff.Listen →
October 28, 2023
Sarah Harrison and Carolyn Daughters interview detective-fiction devotee, food lover, and Agatha Christie superfan Karen Pierce about her amazing new cookbook, Recipes for Murder. With 66 dishes from Christie's novels, what's not to love?Listen →