Let's start with a quick overview
of the story. TWIS begins, as many of the adventures do, in a sitting
room. The author, either Watson or Doyle, (though we all know in are
hearts which is true,) has already given a twist to the most common
format of the adventures. Indeed Watson is in a sitting room although
not with Sherlock. He is with a different partner. It is his life
partner who although not named, we assume to be Mary Morstan Watson.
Soon a visitor appears (surprisingly not Sherlock) and Watson has
been given a reason to leave hearth and home. Watson's effort to help
an old friend leads him to an opium den where he finds Sherlock and
now the true adventure begins. We assume the visit of Kate Whitney
is a device to get to Holmes (More on this later). Watson, without
any hesitation, throws in with Holmes and is off to Kent, seven miles
from the scene of the crime (More on this later).
On the journey to Kent, we the reader
and Watson are made privy to the data that Holmes were given by his
client Mrs. St Clair. Upon arrival in Kent, Watson and Holmes are
greeted in a manor that must have shocked the very foundation of Victorian
sensibilities. I must admit it did conjure images to my adolescent
mind when I first read TWIS, that I still remember vividly and with
great pleasure. At this point in the story Holmes receives more data
relating to the case in the form of a letter and a ring. Upon reflection,
Holmes decides this case has become a one ounce of shag problem. He
gathers pillows together and solves the mystery by daybreak. At daybreak
Watson is once again yanked from a comfortable bed and is on the road
at a moments notice.
Our heroes return to the city and uncover
the truth about Hugh Boone. The beggar was a gentleman, or at least
had the income of a gentleman. We hear Neville's back story and all
is well. When asked how he solved the mystery Sherlock replies, "By
sitting upon 5 pillows and consuming an ounce of shag". The reality
of the story is that nothing is what it appears to be. Hugh Boone
was not a beggar, but the Gentleman Neville St Clair. Neville St.
Clair was not attacked but in shock from being discovered and had
never truly been abducted or done in. An apparent disability was in
reality a monetarily successful venture. The brother of a respected
theologian was in reality an opium addict. An opium addict was in
reality Sherlock Holmes. Mrs. St Clair may or may not have been as
devoted as she appeared and I admit the jury is still out on that
one. So let's take a closer look at the story, especially the opening
sentence: "Isa Whitney, brother of the late Elias Whitney, D. D.,
Principal of the Theological College of St. George's, was much addicted
to opium". The respected brother to a principal of not just a college
but a theological college no less, before the sentence ends turns
out to be an opium addict. A man who was probably well respected becomes
a "yellow pasty faced wreck and ruin of a noble man". This is before
the end of the first paragraph. How could I not suspect a beggar turning
into a gentleman by the end of the story? The author of the story
(and we know in our hearts who we believe it to be), is telling us
that people's lives are guided by a mixture of talent and character.
It's how people combine their talents with their character that one
should measure their success. So, let us compare the three couples
in the story. First we can assume that since Isa Whitney is brother
to the president of a College he too must be intelligent. Intellectual
curiosity is a talent that should be an asset. After reading DeQuincey's
"Confessions of an Opium Eater", Isa's curiosity led him to experiment
with opium. Soon as Watson noted it is a "practice easier to attain
than get rid of". Isa's lack of character may have kept him a slave
to the drug.
How do we know he lacks character?
Consider his choice for a life partner, Kate Whitney. This is a wife
incapable of handling her problems. "I'm in such trouble…I do so want
a little help". It's her husband that needs help, not her. Help, which
she is incapable of providing, thus enabling his disability. Good
old Watson agrees to help her because as he notes, "How could she,
a young and timid woman, make her way into such a place and pluck
out her husband". Kate and Isa seem well suited for each other. Neither
making demands upon themselves or each other. The St. Clairs, on the
other hand, are quite different. Neville has used his talents to acquire
an apparently successful life. When Sherlock persuades Neville to
convince the police they have no case against him he states, "I received
an excellent education…I traveled…Took to the stage… and finally became
a reporter on an evening paper". Neville was a man of means, all be
it ill gotten, educated, an actor and a man of letters. Now compare
his life partner to the timid Kate Whitney. Mrs. St. Clair was far
from timid. She had no fear of retrieving a small parcel from one
of the less savory neighborhoods. She had no fear of charging into
a den of iniquity to save her husband. She had no fear of having not
one but two gentlemen spend the evening in her home while her husband
was not there. She had no fear of greeting them "clad in some sort
of light mousseline de soie, with a touch of fluffy pink chiffon at
her neck and wrists. She stood with her figure outlined against the
flood of light". When you include the fact that she was a brewer's
daughter, how could Neville not fall in love? Yet, there must be some
flaw in his character as evidenced by his ability to take money under
false pretenses as Hugh Boone. Also, how could a woman of such strong
will allow herself to be duped for so long? Of course, she actually
could have chosen to look the other way to maintain her lifestyle.
Her motive to have Sherlock stay at her home when the crime was committed
seven miles away could be questioned. Perhaps there is some truth
to the rumor that Sherlock brought Watson along more as a chaperone
than a colleague.
Now let us compare these two couples,
the Whitney's and the St. Clairs, to the gold standard of a married
life, the Watson's. John and Mary Watson are always exactly as they
appear to be. Watson, a true friend that is willing to abandon his
wife to accompany Holmes across three counties and spend the night
with a young woman and never feel the slightest bit amiss. Watson,
is a friend so in tune to your needs. Take the following passage .
. . "Holmes drove in silence, with his head sunk upon his breast,
and the air of a man who is lost in thought, while I sat beside him,
curious to learn what this new quest might be which seemed to tax
his powers so sorely, and yet afraid to break in on the current of
his thoughts". Watson's qualities are not unnoticed. "You have a grand
gift of silence, Watson," said Sherlock. "It makes you quite invaluable
as a companion". What about Mary? Watson's choice of a life partner
never once doubted his loyalty to her or to Holmes. Her unflinching
love and trust in her husband allowed him free rein in his exploits
with Holmes. So we have Watson, a man of healing and Mary, a woman
to whom folks in grief came to as birds to a lighthouse. They seem
to be a perfect match. That leaves only one more character in the
story, Holmes. In this story Holmes doesn't perform any parlor tricks.
He doesn't expose anyone's profession or method of travel. And he
doesn't give any grand explanation at the end of the story. His first
appearance is in disguise, so he too is not what he appears to be.
He says, "I suppose Watson, you think I have added opium smoking to
my cocaine injections and all the other little weaknesses on which
you have favored me". But we know Holmes is on a case and needs no
chemical diversion. Remember Watson's description of Holmes in STUD.
"Nothing could exceed his energy when the working fit was upon him;
but now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end
he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting room hardly uttering a word
or moving a muscle from morning to night". For all intent and purposes,
this describes bipolar illness or manic depression. To most people
this would be a disability but Holmes uses his manic phase, if it
is a true manic phase, to accomplish his art of detection. When not
involved in a stimulating case he used cocaine to stimulate his psyche
and eliminate the depressive phase. He is kind of the reverse of drug
users. When someone is kicking the habit they need to replace their
drug time with something productive. When Holmes is not involved in
a case he replaces work with drugs. We also know that Holmes eventually
is cured of his drug habit, probably by Watson, and he stops using
So with no parlor tricks or end of
case explanation, how did Holmes solve the case? After staking out
the opium den he realized that the answer wasn't there. He returned
to the source of his data, seven miles from the scene of the crime.
A piercing exchange with Mrs. St. Clair finally gave him enough data
to work with; but if your husband is alive and able to write letters,
why should he remain away from you?"
"I cannot imagine. It is unthinkable."
"And on Monday he made no remarks before
"And you were surprised to see him
in Swandam Lane?"
"Very much so."
"Was the window open?" "Yes."
"Then he might have called to you?"
"He only, as I understand, gave an
"A call for help, you thought?"
"Yes. He waved his hands."
"But it might have been a cry
of surprise. Astonishment at the unexpected sight of you might cause
him to throw up his hands?"
"It is possible."
"And you thought he was pulled back?"
"He disappeared so suddenly."
"He might have leaped back. You did
not see anyone else in the room?"
"No, but this horrible man confessed
to having been there, and the lascar was at the foot of the stairs."
"Quite so. Your husband, as far as
you could see, had his ordinary clothes on?"
"But without his collar or tie. I distinctly
saw his bare throat."
"Had he ever spoken of Swandam Lane?"
"Had he ever showed any signs of having
"Thank you, Mrs. St. Clair. Those are
the principal points about which I wished to be absolutely clear.
We shall now have a little supper and then retire".
How many times have you heard Holmes
say it is a mistake to theorize with insufficient data? The author
has given you all the information you need to solve the case. Holmes
solved it by sitting on five pillows and smoking an ounce of shag.
He then used his talents to eliminate everything he could and whatever
remains no matter how impossible must be the truth. So who is successfully
disabled? The Whitney's appear to be successful but, in reality, are
miserable. The St. Clairs appear to be successful but in reality are
living a lie. The Watson's truly are happy and successful. So who
is successfully disabled; that hard working manic-depressive, Sherlock