Friday, June 10, 2022

A Few Delicious Minutes | Looking at a Sidney Paget Illustration from Sherlock Holmes The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist

A Few Delicious Minutes | Looking at a Sidney Paget Illustration from Sherlock Holmes The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist [SOLI] by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1903 SPOILERS AHEAD)

"It was a straight left against a slogging ruffian." But that isn't quite it, not by a long-shot, really. What we bear witness to in the illustration at hand is but the climax of a pressure cooker situation. Interesting to note, with that in mind, is how ::: very ::: rigid Holmes' figure is here, even when held up against its usual Paget rigidity. Still, it expresses somehow a breadth of time within its frame which presents as a wider amount of passage than simply when straight left meets slogging ruffian.

Expressed somehow or perhaps otherwise implied is no small amount of build-up. Simply by looking, we can tell it didn't erupt from nowhere, that straight left. We don't know without reading the tale but upon glancing the drawing--we shouldn't be surprised to learn that Holmes was on a trail. That the slogging ruffian Woodley "... had a fine flow of language, and his adjectives were very vigorous." These words of his culminated in his firing first with "a vicious back-hander, which I failed to entirely avoid."

And then it's homeward-bound in a cart for our Mr. Jack Woodley.

"The next few minutes were delicious." That is, I feel, the sentence that Paget so perfectly catches here for the reasons aforementioned. It's now, say--but a whole lot of now, which is captured, anchored by H. A wide lens but one which still finely focuses on its literal impact. Literally, let's now literally look at the illustration itself before you, dear reader, literally die in waiting to do-so. First the barman. His face says that whilst he saw this all coming, he entirely reserved the right to be utterly and dramatically shocked at its arrival. I also like his whiskers.

Also, apparently, Woodley looked a good-bit like Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Rider American President from 1901-09. He of rugged cowboy naturalist imagery either real or imagined (I'm not here to debate that). I am here, however, to say that Paget might well have gotten a kick out of Victorian stuffiness dominating American-esque vulgarity even at the dawning of the Edwardian era. Or maybe wearing spectacles and a 'stache simply weren't that rare then, which they were not. But it does all lend an air of propaganda to this drawing.

Look at Holmes, though, so bloody proper in his old-timey upright stance of that timey. Precise. His clothing is so form-fitting as to exaggerate that. His knifelike limb of an arm slicing straight through Woodley's looping ugliness. His knees so barely-bent. His shoes, dagger-sharp. His buttoned-up jacket as opposed to Woodley's flying-open. This all is happening in Holmes' world. W is just so, unfortunately, occupying that said world, and doing-so with his hat on the barroom floor. H's firmly in place atop his stoic, heroic head.

The face of Holmes. Determined and reasoning and all with accurate eagle-eyed patience. Calm almost casual. So perfectly at home in this understated albeit raucous environment, one so unlike 221B. Perhaps Holmes is the man out-of-time here?

There also exists another illustration of this scene. That one by Martin Van Maele (Societe d'Edition et de Publications, 1905-6). It features a pouncing H and covering if not cowering W. It's all wrong, that. Too frenetic-frantic and ham-fistedly exciting. There is desperation there. It misses the point entirely of not just this fantastic scene but in Holmes writ large. Back to this Paget, though. It gets it all so damned good it's delicious in and of itself. God save the Queen, tea time, and dapperly clenched fists.

Woodley. In this tale, Watson gives him the name of Jack. Could it be, though, that was to protect his reputation, or what was left of it? What reputation? Well, there existed another Woodley, one Tom Woodley, a professional boxer of the time. Remember, this is (was) 1903. On 26 January 1903 Tom Woodley squared off against an Eddie Connolly, losing a 15-round decision in his bid for the National Sporting Club British welterweight title.

That Woodley had a rather considerable career, culminating in a record of 21-9-1 with 5 KO, spanning the years 1896 - 1905. Given that well-documented lack of punching power, perhaps Holmes really did experience the full blow and it only was assumed to have somewhat missed its mark. Looking further and more sharply-so, Collier's actual date of publishing was 26 December of '03. SOLI was directly on the bout's heels and I wonder now if Doyle wasn't teasing the pugilist some.

His victorious opponent Connolly was a Canadian fighter with a lesser record of an eventual 27 wins and 23 losses. But he pulled it out that night to the tune of a British belt. A bit of a bitter pill to swallow for a fight fan and proud Englishmen. But was ACD a fight fan? He did view the sport as a quite manly venture so he held it in that high-esteem. Also, Holmes is a boxer among other forms of martial arts. Doyle himself was no stranger to a bit of ye olde fisticuffs.

As the story goes Dr. Doyle once served as a whaling vessel's surgeon and among his belongings was a pair of boxing gloves. The steward of the ship saw this and immediately challenged him to an impromptu bout. The result? "So help me, he's the best surgeon we've had! He's blackened my e'e!" I'm sure, the gentleman that ACD was, he provided the utmost in aftercare. Years later, using his pen to weigh in on the coming up short of a fellow Englishman.

::: very :::

Online Sources: The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia (The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist), Boxrec (Tom Woodley), and Conan Doyle Info (Conan Doyle the Sportsman).


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