Yes, there are brief, mostly spoiler-free thoughts on last night’s “Sherlock” episode below. But first, I need to blather on a bit about “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger” and “The Missing Three-Quarter.” Because that’s what I do.
What could a vaguely suspicious accidental death and the disappearance of a rugby player have in common? Yes, they’re both mysteries solved by Sherlock Holmes, but that’s just the start. What they also have in common is something deeper and a little more poignant – the repercussions (potential or actual) of unfortunate love, something that lies at the center of both “The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger” and “The Missing Three-Quarter.”
How can love be unfortunate, you might ask? (In which case, my first response is “Have you ever read any Shakespeare?”) Love is definitely rife with the potential for complication and those – and it – are rarely if ever within our direct control. It’s a subject that writers, poets, and lyricists frequently acquaint with madness or pain; it’s also been called blind. The disastrous turns love can take spell doom for Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Desdemona, and Hamlet and Ophelia, to name a few. (Also, Jack and Rose, Jack and Ianto, Glen and Maggie…that last one might be too soon, actually.). Love bites; it also bleeds, dies, wounds, scars, and never, ever, runs smooth. (Yes, I did just quote/paraphrase Def Leppard, Nazareth, and Shakespeare, shamelessly, in one sentence. Sue me.)
Love definitely hurt and scarred Eugenia Ronder, the eponymous lodger with the veil, and she meets Holmes and Watson when she’s ready to finally tell the story of how. First, it led her into the arms of a cruel, beastly man who she married with questionable consent; she described it the “evil moment I became his wife.” Her husband tortured and tormented her for his own sick amusement or whenever she committed some perceived sin that earned her punishment, which usually included being tied down to their bed and beaten with a whip. In the midst of this hell, Eugenia found a bright spot in Leonardo, the strongman that worked at her husband’s circus. Briefly, this seemingly angelic creature showed her what love was supposed to be like, which only put her torment at the hands of her husband in sharper contrast.
At that point, Leonardo and Eugenia hatched a plan to kill Mr. Ronder. It was a simple and elegant plan, intended to stop her torment and free her from a situation she had few other avenues out of. If you remember from an earlier post, the law made it ridiculously difficult for a woman to get a divorce in those days. Their plan even worked, except for one little hiccup – the lion that was to take the fall for Leonardo’s brutal murder of Ronder reacted like a lion would to the smell of fresh blood and turned on Eugenia. Leonardo, instead of attempting to save his love, ran screaming from the scene. Love managed to fail Eugenia twice.
The story of Godfrery Stauton, Oxford’s missing three-quarter (it’s apparently a rugby position. Anything beyond baseball is Greek to me, though) is less violent, but no less grim. Staunton was a swell kid and a hell of a rugby player, but he had a rich but cheap uncle whose penny-pinching ways kept his nephew perpetually in the poorhouse (figuratively, since those actually existed back then). This cheapness wasn’t an instrument to teach Staunton humility or out of any disapproval of his lifestyle, but because Lord Mount-James was just a cheap son of a bitch. At least Staunton could look forward to inheriting all that money his uncle refused to spend when he finally meandered off this mortal coil, right? Well, that was apparently in question, since Staunton managed to go and fall in love with a girl his uncle would never, ever approve of, then further doomed himself by marrying her. But he kept all this a secret in the hopes of preserving his claim on the family fortune and ensuring a better life for him and his wife one day.
And that’s exactly how it all would have gone down, if Mrs. Staunton hadn’t gotten sick. She fell victim to an illness that plagued the era, and the underprivileged in particular – tuberculosis. There was no cure for consumption in 1897, when the story takes place; the medical community had only recently begun to understand TB and wouldn’t have a firm grasp on it or proper treatment until the early 20th Century. Staunton knew the diagnosis was a death sentence, and he carried this knowledge and the associated burden mostly on his own. Sure, her father and physician knew, but he couldn’t confide in a single friend, his family, or even a stranger on the street. He had to suffer through his impending widowhood entirely on his own because of one cheap, prejudiced old man. When the end finally loomed imminent, he had to disappear (which is how Holmes and Watson become involved) so that he can be with the woman he loves as she dies. That sounds like a living hell for anyone, especially a young man.
There’s another similarity: how Holmes handled both cases. Due to their individual sensitive nature in both circumstances, Holmes refrained from involving the police. Per his usual judgement that sometimes a broader form of justice is more fitting, he let the matter of Ronder’s murder settle with the recent death of Leonardo and Eugenia’s disfigurement. In young Mister Staunton’s case, there was no actual crime to report. Exposing the events would have been criminal – in a moral sense – however, and neither Holmes nor Watson felt the need to put the widower through more than he had already suffered. I mostly agree with one of those decisions, and only slightly disagree with the other.
In other news, I have so many thoughts about last night’s Sherlock season four premier, “The Six Thatchers,”and they are all so full of spoilers, which is why I’m not sharing them here. Needless to say, I was blown away. I also kind of want to punch John Watson in the nose, for a few reasons. And hug Sherlock as well. Martin Freeman’s performance in that scene was exceptional in its heartbreak. Mark Gatiss, the bad bad man responsible for writing it, is both a genius and a bastard. Which trait is dominant, by my reckoning, switches from minute to minute.
I can’t wait for next week. I’m also terrified by how they might be planning to break us, too.
As a distraction, I plan on posting about an era-appropriate set of unsolved mysteries that caught my attention thanks to (yes, again) a podcast I listened to last week. I think I plan on finishing up the canon by working my way through the remaining stories in batches based on which collection they were published in as well. So, the four remaining stories from The Return of Sherlock Holmes next week, then what’s left of His Last Bow the next, and maybe break The Casebook up over the two remaining weeks in order to finish up by February 1st. I am not throwing in the towel. I can do this!
(And then, maybe after that’s done, I’ll go back and fill in the fiction blanks. Because otherwise I have all these useless notes mini-outlines and nothing to show for them.)