small world :: byd bach
elementary sherlocking: ‘the greek interpreter’ (1893)

this week features one of my favourites from the canon — unfortunately it also features me being at my most knackered. so to warn you right off the start, don’t expect anything more coherent than the already rambling entries from the last weeks. there will be a copious amount of screencaps, but they are also there to cover up my lacking amount of concentration tonight. (that’s what you get for reading through some 60+ pages of your own dubious academic output on victorian dyslexic welsh curates). be warned, you’re entering at your own risk.

summary? what summary? this week’s summary needs to be cancelled because i cannot guarantee anything slightly coherent outside my notes. so i’ll dive right in.

it’s become somewhat of a peronal tradition to analyse the watsonian story opener to death because it always contains so much further info about the two men’s relationship and some carefully planted background on the detective. this one is no different:

DURING my long and intimate acquaintance with Mr. Sherlock Holmes I had never heard him refer to his relations, and hardly ever to his own early life. This reticence upon his part had increased the somewhat inhuman effect which he produced upon me, until sometimes I found myself regarding him as an isolated phenomenon, a brain without a heart, as deficient in human sympathy as he was preeminent in intelligence.

watson’s formality here is striking at this point in the canon. he makes it sound as if the long acquaintance had been long indeed — but not very intimate. on the other hand it still shows his sincere regard for holmes. i have a hunch that ACD had already contemplated pushing holmes down the reichenbach fall and watson’s detached voice is already hinting at a more severe termination of their friendship than a mere tiff over a breakfast egg which might have arisen of having the existence of mycroft sprung unto him out of nothing. but it goes to show that holmes is an extremely private man. private to a fault so that he cannot even differenciate properly of what he could tell his best friend about himself and what he should keep unmentioned. regarding watson’s estimation of holmes’s general public appearance for want of expressing any emotion, the poor lad must have had quite a sad, victorian up-bringing. watson’s list basically shows the three areas that are affected by his emotional supression and fear of becoming attached, i.e. friends, family and lovers. poor kid, indeed!

jumping ahead to the description of mycroft’s club rules:

There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger’s Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion.

this is so unlike bertie wooster’s drones club, is it not? but then again, i may not be informed properly about the secret whatnots in the diogenes club — because only a few days ago i stumbled upon the suggestion that it was in actual an s&m bondage swinger club. puts a whole new spin on the entire slash fandom… (and i thought the harry potter fandom had overactive glands!) anyway. holmes identifies mycroft as one of the founding members which made me wonder into which one of the two categories he would then have to be sorted? shy or misanthrope. because he honestly doesn’t strike me as either. maybe he’s just as private as his little brother. i’m not much one for reading horrible childhoods into any defective adult behaviour, but since this here are two terribly stand-offish brothers who only revel in each other’s company (they are the only ones to address each other by their first names and holmes clearly wants to please his older brother in order to reap his affection by solving cases without mycroft’s help but still asking for his opinion), methinks there is indeed indication for a very cold and distant parent-child relationship.

regarding some of the descriptions of mycroft, i really liked the image of the ‘introspective look' as one sign of his even greater mental capacity than that already legendary one of holmes. at the same time it may also be a sign that mycroft is even less able to socialize, because his brother has at least watson to prove that he's capable of forming some sort of friendship. the more i think about it, the sadder it makes me. bloody emotionally crippled victorians. thank god there's watson with enough heart to spare and make up for at least the entire south of england.

GREE also contains one more proof that watson isn’t the stupid doffer of the common, public understanding of his role, thank god:

“To anyone who wishes to study mankind this is the spot,” said Mycroft. “Look at the magnificent types! Look at these two men who are coming towards us, for example.”
“The billiard-marker and the other?”
“Precisely. What do you make of the other?”
The two men had stopped opposite the window. Some chalk marks over the waistcoat pocket were the only signs of billiards which I could see in one of them.

once watson is given the ‘solution’, he’s got no problems deducing in reverse order which is one sign of his true intelligence. but as i had already argued in previous reviews, he’s more the type of deciphering emotions than concern himself with dead objects. so this is the area where he does need holmes’s help because dead, responseless objects don’t reverberate with watson as much as they do with the emotionally repressed holmes. — which is not to say that he’s as cold as a stone, because he clearly shows affection for mycroft by giving him one of his rare smiles. these brothers really are wrapped up in each other without having the need to see each other every year.

and then we get to the mystery being told by brave mr melas, the greek interpreter, and the number of my notes decreases dramatically. sorry ‘bout that. i only took one down on reading the description of that strange, older giggly man. this seems like a trope with ACD, because all of his giggly and unmotivatedly smiling men are creepy fuckers. the moment you read about some guy’s facial distortions that are supposed to represent a smile, they are pretty much revealed to be axe-wielding mass murderers from outer transilvania!

on their way back home from the diogenes club, holmes and watson are going over the particulars again of what they just had learnt from mr melas. and again watson gets a chance to show that he’s no fool:

“Then the brother–for that, I fancy, must be the relationship–comes over from Greece to interfere. He imprudently puts himself into the power of the young man and his older associate. They seize him and use violence towards him in order to make him sign some papers to make over the girl’s fortune–of which he may be trustee–to them. This he refuses to do. In order to negotiate with him they have to get an interpreter, and they pitch upon this Mr. Melas, having used some other one before. The girl is not told of the arrival of her brother and finds it out by the merest accident.”
“Excellent, Watson!” cried Holmes. “I really fancy that you are not far from the truth. […]”

didn’t i say he’s much more responsive when it comes to deciphering human relations? he really isn’t as thick as a brick and his opinions are genuinely appreciated by holmes who, for a change, is treating us to a rare immitation of the standard watson response to holmesian trains of thought. here it can clearly be seen just why holmes considers watson as an equal.

regarding mycroft’s unexpected appearance in baker street, this is where i found mycroft’s character seriously wanting. but it really connects with the idea that he’s even less atached than holmes. although he is much smarter than his brother, he is so lazy that he cannot bring himself to work up enough sweat to act upon anything that mr melas has told him — except place an incriminating query in the newspaper which will automatically endanger mr melas in return. instead of seeking out the people with information himself, he has them come to him. in other words, he’s more interested in solving puzzles than saving melas’s or the other greek man’s life. at least holmes has his priorities right in that respect!

going all the way to the end now, i have to take some serious umbrage with the depiction of sophie in the grAnada series. whereas here she is been portrayed as a seriously wronged woman, the series turns her into some heartless vamp purely to increase the drama and present holmes with another lazy excuse to confirm his suspicions about the deviousness of women. so while in the story she gets to take her revenge by going after the murderers of her brother, the series pushes her into passivity and disallows her an active participation. dear writers of the series, ususally, i love you, but this here — it’s just lazy to tear down a positive female character in order appropriate the principle male character and make him seem slightly less flawed with his severe misconceptions. really, really lazy. and i don’t take a ‘this was made in the 80s’ as an excuse because already ACD had more spunk — and he was a picture of a victorian!

and with that, it’s on with the weekly picspam:

holmes informs watson about some of his family background. in the grAnada series they cut up the dialogue and spread it across the entire living room of baker street:

just look at jeremy brett playing the little brother who is in total awe of his big brother:

sidney paget drew a pear-shaped tub — grAnada put him on a ladder. meet the delightful charles gray as mycroft holmes. incidentally, it’s just a jump to the left:

mr melas — being rendered of greek extraction by sporting a magnificent black beard in the illustration. grAnada had the added bonus of a soft, greek accent. i also find it slightly worrying that they once more were able to cast someone in the role of the villain who looked like he had tumbled straight from the picture:

the unfortunate man with the sticking plaster on his face is led into the darkened room:

after which scene jeremy brett had to interrupt mr melas’s story in order to show off how marvelous he looks in victorian clothes. damn you, mr brett for interrupting the brave greek interpreter in his tale and distract me from paying attention to one starched collar by substituting it with a nice dark suit!

but sophie also has a word to say, which is, ‘paul!’:

mr melas concludes his story by telling how he was thrown out of the darkened carriage and onto a deserted street right in the middle of nowhere. he’s really a curageous dude! first he gets abducted, next he finds himself in a darkened room secretely using the weapon of language, and eventually is dumped somewhere in croydon-upon-neath — still keeps a grip on his nerves and seeks professional help to rescue paul. mr melas would have been one awesome recurring character!

meanwhile in baker street, mycroft renders sherlock speechless. please notice on that occasion watson’s face in the drawing. it’s simply priceless!

holmes to the rescue:

in the story, the kidnappers attempt murder by wet coal fire. in the series they used much more scenic burning sulphur. i wonder whether they used the real stuff for that yellow smoke effect:

hereafter the story wraps up quickly with sophie exacting her revenge for the murder of her brother. because the writer for the series thought female revenge somewhat of a downer, he gave that strory arch to holmes. although i seriously take issue with that decission, mad capping and stupid captioning still ensued. even to such a degree that i managed to have two fandoms collide in a very spectacular meta-level kind of way:

i only included the next shot purely for visual pleasure of a fully blazing steam engine at night:

holmes saying rules are meant to be broken — watson rolling his eyes:

and i’m still undecided whether jeremy brett deliberately looked into the camera twice within a minute or whether that was purely coincidental. either way, i like it:

regarding sophie, they have managed to cast someone who istn’t in the slightest impressed by jeremy brett’s dashing appearence. you don’t have to fancy him in order to appreciate how much he owns this character — which the woman really doesn’t. or maybe that’s simply the sign that she’s indeed a really good actress and it looks entirely different on her inside:

and here’s a clear sign that not every pair of glasses featured in the series actually corresponds to the eyes of the actor. because hyperopia doesn’t work that way. ask poor edward hardwicke — he was so heavily far-sighted that he had to learn all that ridiculous newspaper talk by heart:

and at last, a very fine character study kindly provided by JB. notice how holmes’s face first registers pain for having just witnessed someone being killed by a passing train. he looks to his left to find watson looking at him and seeing something like a human emotion on his face. next second, the mask of partly dispassion and partly annoyance is back in place. wonderful, classic moment!

and with that i’m all holmesed out for the night. see you next week — with perhaps a proper summary and review.

  1. bydbach posted this
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