Thursday, April 14, 2022

A Study in The Five Orange Pips from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A Study in The Five Orange Pips [FIVE] from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1891. Spoilers ahead.)

Wherein both the weather and the comeuppances are equally and massively brutal. Also, the forces of nature flex their muscles over the want of man. Also again, both prior sentences essentially describe the same thing. Everyone in this tale is a victim of their own fate but really, who isn't? Even the homeward-bound revenging murderers of the three Upshaws see their Lone Star vessel sunk by Atlantic gales, Holmes' own retaliatory envelope of pips sent on-ahead to the states, be gosh-darned.

"The best laid schemes o' Mice and Men / Gang aft agley," So wrote Robert Burns in his poem To a Mouse. Everyone involved in FIVE is, most assuredly, a mouse--a good deal of them turned up with the plough. 

I recently picked up a used copy of The Baker Street Dozen* in which Isaac Asimov wrote this on FIVE: "It begins on a rainy and windy evening, though the weather has nothing to do with the case and plays no role." At this point you're probably ::: very ::: excited to see I've begun 'writing about the writings.' Not so fast, though, because this is going to happen all so fast. Succinctly, I feel he's dead wrong, full stop. The weather, in fact, is the tale's main character through which much of its happenings flow; its protagonist or something.

Forces of nature get top billing. Elements co-star. Or perhaps can be seen as at least the cohorts of antagonists toward man or something. Murderers proper, maybe even. A garden pool (water) kills Uncle Elias. A Chalk-pit, (earth) does in Dad, and we're back to the (water) for young Upshaw's untimely demise. Sure, men caused these deaths, only supposedly, really, but in a world of settings as characters, you get my gist. Don't even get me started on the wind that blew the Lone Star down, but here we go, anyway...

I've mentioned elsewhere** that perhaps somehow the sinking of the ship might be attributed to Holmes' swift justice. Or perhaps they never boarded the ship before that vengeance was served to them whilst still quite warm. But why then those pips, Holmes? Maybe to cover his own avenging retaliation? Not likely. From that article of mine, I referenced**: "a hopeless if not nihilistic adventure. A Seinfeld episode written by Meursault***." I most likely hit the proverbial nail on its proverbial head, if I may toot my own proverbial horn.

"It's a petty feeling, no doubt, but it hurts my pride. It becomes a personal matter with me now, and, if God sends me health, I shall set my hand upon this gang." Then immediately: "That he should come to me for help, and that I should send him away to his death--!" So Holmes feels some guilt but in a quite on-brand Holmesian fashion. He hates his misstep, being beat, even if there was no real path to victory at all. That's what I feel he's attempting to avenge--his error--not the loss of Upshaw--a man who came to him for assistance only to be let back out to his cold, wet death. And it is futile, it meaning It.

"All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life and to recognise the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilisation, like untamed beasts in a cage." The shot is called at the story's on-set. Sealed as in Fate by Elias's ridiculously inexplicable error of burning the papers that might have been his only hope for mercy. Of course, in another elemental force--fire--the only one fully implemented by man in this whole sad shebang.

I've become confused, as I'm sure you have. If this is just a comedy of errors (an Upshaw who burnt papers, a Holmes who sent away another Upshaw), it's not all that funny, just dark, as in a dark and stormy night. And in a way--I sorta like it, so help me God. Errors on a meta-level though, and just maybe. A purposefully badly-told story in homage to Edward Bulwer-Lytton and his enduring hallmark of absolutely awful writing, Paul Clifford (1830). From that: 

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." 

Perhaps the only error here was my own before I unraveled some things while writing my way through some things. Or maybe I purposefully butchered my way through parts of this, in keeping with what might just be a theme. Probably the former, but who am I to say?

::: very :::

*Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir; McDiarmid, E.W.; et al, The Baker Street Dozen, New York, Congdon & Weed, 1987.

**On the "Five Orange Pips" from the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle." (Try searching that up using what is found in quotation marks, in the Search Kaplowitz Media. field to the right of your screen.)

***The Stanger (The Outsider) Albert Camus [I forget now, why I went with the character instead of the author.]

Online resources for this article include: Poetry Foundation, Lit2Go, Wikipedia (The Five Orange Pips, It was a dark and stormy night). Special s/o & h/t to The Cesspudlians of London, Ontario, a scion society of The Bootmakers of Toronto.