Thursday, February 6, 2020

My BLUE paper for 2019 Harpooners of the Sea Unicorn meeting

“BLUE 2019”
by John-T Foster
I have probably done a paper on BLUE, well I know I have, more than any other story in the Canon.
HOUN would be second.
On Blue I have examined:
  • the pub, the markets, the food of the season and women in the story. And I even explored the atmosphere of the holidays and 221B.
  • What a Carbuncle is and looks like has been done, as well as wether of not a goose has a crop. Victorian Christmas traditions have been covered.
  • The difference between dinner and supper as terms has been covered. Did Peterson ever get the reward was covered.
  • Where was Mrs. Hudson was discussed.
  • Whether or not Doctor Watson and Mary invited Holmes to their house for holiday dinner should be discussed.
All these and many others have been covered.
It is one of my favorite stories in the tales of Holmes and Watson. It can make one think of the joys we find in 221B, and perhaps even the loneliness of the holiday season.
There is a separation between Holmes and Watson that we could find unsettling. Yet we also see an enduring friendship.
But after having done a paper on BLUE so many times it has become a little difficult to find another aspect to explore. Well, at least one that I can explore in the time I usually have for such projects.
I usually wait for inspiration to come as I start thinking about the tale. I don’t even need to re- read it again to find that inspiration. I have read it enough to have a good idea where I might look.
I keep wanting to return to the scene in the pub and explore that again, but I have done that a few times. We have discussed its location and real name. We have discussed the difference between a public bar and a private bar (or snug).
We have made light of how we (I) think Watson got a little mad at not being able to stay long enough to finish his beer.
I find comfort in the atmosphere of a pub, so of course I want to revisit there as often as I can.
With this tale, as with others I have covered, what I believe the outcome of my research will be at the beginning of said research often transforms quite a bit by the time I am done.
Most of the time I hope for an 'A-ha!' moment of Sherlockian scholarship, but usually get a quiet 'oh-yea' instead.
I don’t think I have ever come up with any remarkable Sherlockian discoveries, but I keep trying.
And such went my research for this months paper.
I usually wait for an idea to come along that just seems to want to stick around and cries out for research.
Sometimes the idea doesn’t bare up to too much research and needs to be put aside.
Sometimes the idea takes on a life of its own and becomes bigger than you expected. Tonight’s paper falls somewhere in between.  I don’t know where it came from or how it developed, it was just there at some point while thinking about BLUE.
So here goes:
There are no women present in BLUE. By present I mean none make a physical appearance. We assume the presence, a couple times, of Mrs. Hudson, but we can never be quite sure. We assume she is the one that opens the door for Mr. Baker and Watson, but Watson doesn't actually ever say that.
Several other women are mentioned in BLUE, but, once again, are never physically present.
This got me thinking; Is this the only story in the Canon that no women make an appearance? 
I was hoping that was the case and that I had made a vital Sherlockian scholarly discovery.
But, like I said earlier, this discovery fell somewhere between a dull thump and angelic bells ringing.
So like any good researcher I had to back up my theory with a little literary foot work. Or, if you like, 'The Game was afoot.'
That meant go through each story and see if a female physically makes an appearance or not. 
I had to apply a few ground rules in my research, well, actually only one.
The women in question had to actually interact with Holmes or Watson within the tale and not as an interaction discussed or described as part of a conversation that took place somewhere else.
It seems to us lovers of the Canon and even to the romantic in most of us that women are a vital part of the just about all of the stories.
We all remember the names of many of them; Violet, Kitty, Irene, Beryl, Elsie and so may others. OH yea, and Mrs. Hudson!
It can’t be possible that there could be more than just a couple without woman actually being present.
Maybe, if I am lucky, it would just be BLUE.
So in earnest I started my research.
In many of the 'cases' I could recall an interaction without having to crack the tome, like SPEC and SOLI, and HOUN and SCAN. And what about MILV!
Others I had to spend a little worthy time in the Canon, rereading till I found proof one way or another. Many of the women just briefly passed through, only taking up a couple lines of text.
Others, like Irene and Violet and Beryl inhabited many paragraphs or pages.
Mrs Hudson, who is almost as revered as Holmes and Watson, and who’s absence we can not imagine from the Canon, has very little presence for her Canonical stature. Her lines are few, but her presence is mighty.  So mighty that most of us assume her place to be greater , when she is often not named.
Or, even more likely, our memory and desire place her somewhere where she is not actually mentioned.
But that also has been discussed before.
While my research did not take me to the conclusion I was hoping for, it did take to a conclusion that I found surprising.
I found that in 37, just over 61%, of the tales documented by Holmes and Watson, women make a physical appearance. They actually, in some way, interacted with either Holmes or Watson. With the exception of LADY Francis Carfax. While physically present, she really didn’t interact with anyone.
But I did indeed put her in the yes camp.
She can’t help that she wasn’t given any lines.
So that left a remarkable 23, or about 38%, of the tales without a women actually walking (or in the case of LADY laying) through the story.
In many cases women are mentioned and indeed play a significant part in the story, but don’t actually come on stage.
In BLUE, noticeable in their absence, but still important, are sister Mrs. Oakshott, partner in crime Catherine Cusack, and to lesser degree the Countess.
All vital to the story, but budget would not allow for actors.
Imagine if you can SCAN being told in such away that Irene would not have had to be present.  We can’t.
Last year we discussed the perceived or possible participation of Catherine Cusack in the BLUE. We discussed how much or how little she had to do with the romancing of the stone. But never did she have to be present to be important to the story.
Does this absence of women in 38% of the tales as a physical presence now change how you look at your memory of the Canon.
One thing I think it does say about the stories is that the women characters who do show up in body are memorable, strong females. So much so that like many things in the Canon the images we paint for ourselves are so vivid that the colors spread out into all the other stories. We populate and picture individuals that never do really make an appearance. Or our minds expand their roll to be bigger than it really is.
Think about some of the most memorable, good or bad people in the Canon. Most of them show up far less than their perception would suggest.
Think how few times both Mycroft and Moriarty populate the Canon. Yet both have a lasting presence throughout the conversation. Same goes for Mrs. Hudson and Irene. And maybe even most of all Mary.
Every time Watson is not in 221B we place him, hopefully, living happily with Mary. Even though she seldom makes an appearance.

Moriarty, Mycroft and Irene have all gone on to literary fame of their own.
The Baker Street Irregulars I believe only appear in three stories, STUD, SIGN and CARD.  Yet we can not imagine a London without these diminutive street urchins. Yet they now appear in books of their own and soon a NETFLIX series about them (from what I read, it doesn’t sound like it will be flattering for Holmes).
I think I can honestly say that BLUE is still one of my favorites, even after so many readings of it. Doing research on it and, for that matter, any of the stories not only gives me a chance to make new, hopefully Canonical discoveries, but it also makes me examine how I remember or perceive the stories.
I thought it would be rare to find a Canonical story that did not include the physical presence of a women. The women that are present have left a strong impression.
So strong that at least I have populated the stories even more with women.
Well, that’s it till next year. Maybe then I will get my 'A-Ha!' moment.

John-T F.

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