Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: "The Man with the Twisted Lip" (Doyle, 1891)

"'Pon my word, it is a great thing for me to have someone to talk to, for my own thoughts are not over-pleasant."  --Sherlock Holmes, "The Man with the Twisted Lip"

Leigh: As a media studies person who likes to focus on television, I decided a while ago to try and watch some of the TV shows that were considered "the best" and I missed either because 1. I didn't care at the time, 2. I was too young/wasn't born 3. I was lazy (See Breaking Bad. I'm just waiting until it's all on Netflix.) Included in this list was Seinfeld. When it was on, I didn't get most of the jokes when I did watch it and was much more content watching Friends because Friends is awesome. Seinfeld is now a 20+ year old show. It shows its age sometimes. I feel that a lot of the episodes wouldn't be relevant today because of cell phones. A lot of the situations that became huge problems wouldn't even be a 30 second aside today because of how technology has evolved and how prominent it has become. The episode that comes to mind right now is the Parking Garage episode. Take a picture of where you parked your car and call others when you have inevitably separated when you do find it. Much like Seinfeld's plots being destroyed by simply reaching for our phones, I think that the plot of "The Man with the Twisted Lip" would've been wrapped up a lot easier if the man had just told his wife what he did for a living.

"If only we had an iPhone 5..."

I think this is a great example of how different the two cultures, Victorian era England versus us and now, really are. Now, we rarely go on dates without googling the other person to see what their likes and dislikes are, where they went to school, if they're married, etc. It really baffles me that a woman could've married a wealthy man without know what he did. Sure, he had "business." I have business with my bathroom a few times a day too, but that doesn't provide really any detail (and no, I won't tell you what I do in the bathroom. It's a secret that is strictly enforced by Girl Code. I would be disbarred if I told you that we really practice gymnastics when we go to the bathroom. OOPS! I've said too much!) But then, after the beggar/rich guy is arrested, he still refuses to tell the police what was actually going on. This seems to me like incredibly poor planning. He must've known that he wouldn't have been released from prison unless he told everyone what he was really up to. He could've been in Victorian era jail for a really long time and his wife might not have ever found out what happened to him because you know, sanitary conditions were terrible and death was common at the time. This whole situation could've gone from "normal day of being a beggar" to "years in jail because I won't reveal who I really am and will probably die from some terrible disease or something." 

So...Why? This was listed as one of ACD's favorite stories and on the surface it is definitely interesting and confusing and challenging but when you think about the details of the situation, it starts to unravel and become a big ol' "whuut?"

Why was the beggar a beggar? Why didn't he tell his wife when they got married? And then why didn't he tell the police what was up so he could go home and explain to his wife?

Austin: You tease with crazy Seinfeld statements and then expect me to focus on the twisted lip. Not going to happen! You really think this quartet would have the foresight of taking a picture of their parking spot if they had iPhones. They would be checking their Facebook and tweets when they parked and they would have less awareness of where the car was. I agree most of the episodes when they have to get information to each other could have been solved with cell phones, but not the legendary status of the Parking Garage episode.

Anywho, this story is very British. Despite my love of their TV shows, there is a certain aspect of British culture that drives me nuts. It's the uber-properness with class and appearance. People wish they could live in a Jane Austen novel or in Downton Abbey but I would go nuts because I'd be screaming "There is more to life besides bloody dinners!!!"
"What do you mean life is about more than dinner parties?"

What I like most is when British art plays against that custom. Their comedies are best at that because you take emotionally repressed people and find their awkward breaking point. To me, this story is Arthur Conan Doyle commenting on that properness into slight absurdity.

You're right. This could all be solved quickly. Very quickly. But it isn't because they are so British. This is best reflected in the great opening sequence when Watson finds Sherlock in an opium den and is truly flummoxed by it for the rest of the story. Sherlock is removed from the customs while Watson is very much a man of his time, if not a little bit older.

Is this a valid excuse for this odd story? Is this a look at its time or is it simply a dated story?

Leigh: But on the other hand, if they were too busy tweeting when they parked the car, surely someone would’ve said, “Totes just parked the car. Purple 12, who comes up with these things? Why not ‘your mother’s a whore?’” Done.

As Americans, we expect the British to be stuffy and socially awkward and blush at the sound of someone kissing their wife. But when the British propriety gets shoved aside and the audience sees something unexpected like a man in a dress or hears a character say something improper like “stick that in your pipe and smoke it,” we get to see humor work on higher level than Family Guy and dick and fart jokes, not that dick and fart jokes aren’t hilarious. Sherlock Holmes has been an iconic British character almost since his creation and that is because of situations like the opium den or the fact that they have proper ladies almost faint at the thought of a murder. These are some of the greatest examples of Victorian era propriety. Don’t mention a murder in front of a lady or she might just pass out in the middle of the room. Don’t mention anything remotely sexual like kissing and heaven forbid a wife ask her husband what he does for a living...

I think in this situation, the story is outdated. It is so outdated that it is ridiculous and now humorous, so I think it works. We have a situation that would never happen now unless it were a ridiculous sitcom and the husband-to-be needed a green card or the really dumb friend in the group agreed to a wedding proposal after the first blind date or something. This isn’t a situation that the average person would find themself in because people are curious and nosy. Eventually that dumb friend is going to go through her fianc├ęs wallet and try to find a business card or something and then she’ll find out that he was fired as a investor then see him on the street begging for change. I think I just wrote a plot to Happy Endings, no one steal this idea.

Even though it is outdated, can we still find this funny or would it just be improper to laugh at another’s misfortune?

Austin: You think George Constanza would let anybody tweet their parking location? I am revoking your academic scholar license for iconic 90s sitcoms.

Of course we can find this funny! In fact, during this story I imagined more of a Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes instead of a Basil Rathbone. He's a dirtier scoundrel this time a bit unaware he's outside of the norm. His eccentricities are in display with this one.

Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Scoundrel
 With this tone, I do wish the story had more to it. It has a premise but not enough logical twists to make this one of the best, at least to people besides the author. I'll remember this for the atmosphere but not too much beyond that. Alas!

And now Leigh Montano with the last word.

Leigh: Harrumph.

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