I feel lucky to have read this novel, A Study in Scarlet, at the early part of my experience with Sherlock Holmes reading. I have not had long experience with the series actually; my first and only encounter with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works before A Study in Scarlet had been with the book Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which I read also just recently. Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes contains some selected stories told by Dr. Watson, those that were seen special by him. Although the stories are all good, intriguing and enjoyable to read, I found some confusions in connecting places and names or events. That just seems normal as the book is a memoir, a collected souvenirs of Dr. Watson’s unforgettable experiences with the detective figure, without it having to explain all the background. Now, having read this novel, A Study in Scarlet, I found some lighting as it happens to be the first novel in the series, and being the first, here Doyle explains who, what and how Sherlock Holmes is, how Dr. Watson met Sherlock Holmes for the first time and under what circumstances, how they ended up in staying together in the so-often-mentioned Baker Street apartment, and how they incidentally got into a detective case together. Ah, all is much clear now!
Written in 1886 and published a year after, this work has become one of the masterpieces in the detective story writing. A glimpse into the detective world in the Victorian era. The story begins with the background events that led Dr. Watson meeting the eccentric figure, Sherlock Holmes. The methodically logical Watson was then fascinated by Holmes’ quick-and-sharp conclusion plainly based on his observant eyes, and by Holmes’ eclectic yet profound knowledge, be it chemistry or literature. It is amusing to read all those Watson’s wondering and his trying to analyze any facts concerning Holmes’ status and behaviors, only to find that his analyses is going nowhere nearer to the real Holmes!
The case in this book is about a murder of a man happened in an empty house. The identity of the murder’s victim is easily revealed, but how and why he was murdered is still a mystery. There are two personnel from Scotland Yard who are trying to overcome the case as well, and having met a deadlock, they are asking Holmes to help them. They approach the case in a different way from Holmes, and tend to follow a common way of thinking. Holmes instead takes serious attention to details, including those which seem not so important, believes in the power of imagination, and tends to distrust any report from the police, preferring going to the site himself and looking with his own eyes. All those are typical of Holmes, as we can find also in the other stories in the series. The first part of the story takes place in London, and the second one we are transferred to the west country of America with its pioneers and struggles. When I read the second part, I was wondering where the story was going as it seemed to have little connection with the first part. But then at the end, the connection is revealed. It also sends an intriguing meaning about what just is. Overall, it has been an enjoyable read, and it surely is enjoyable to read the explanations made by Holmes once he has succeeded in unraveling a mystery or a case.
Another thing that I found amusing is the science elements that Doyle infused here and there in his writing. Most are through the words of Holmes, like this one:
“Do you remember what Darwin says about music? He claims that the power of producing and appreciating it existed among the human race long before the power of speech was arrived at. Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood.” (p. 39)
Along the way, Dr. Watson takes note in his journal on what happens and all the facts, and is meaning to publicize them so people will know. (That is why for all other Sherlock Holmes stories next, they are narrated by Watson). But before that, Holmes is suggested to be contented with this Roman quote:
“Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo
Ipse domi simul ac nummos contemplar in arca.”
(The people hiss at me, but I applaud myself at home, when I contemplate the coins in my strong-box) (p. 120)
I read this book as part of Victorian Celebration reading.
Sherlock Holmes, The Complete Novels and Stories, Vol. 1/ Sir Arthur Conan Doyle/ Bantam Classics/ 2003 (1887)/ English/ Classics – fiction/ 120 pages for A Study in Scarlet.
Book contents: two novels (A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four), and three collections of stories (Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, and The Return of Sherlock Holmes), each of which has a number of short stories.