Doing a PhD can be hectic and a little stressful because often you are trying to juggle a thousand things at once on top of actually writing your thesis (teaching, conferences, papers, events, etc). But sometimes, there are moments in an academic’s life that you can just sit and take stock of how lucky you are, and the other week I had such a moment.
Studying Sherlock Holmes has given me access to a community that I never knew existed. I have met up with or chatted to Sherlockians all over the world, all of whom have been excited about my project and keen to give me help, as well as offered up their homes to feed me when I’m feeling lost in a strange place. The other week I had the opportunity of returning the favour: I was put in touch with a woman called Marsha from California who was coming to England for a visit with her sister and who was keen to see Richard’s collection here in Portsmouth. I jumped at the opportunity of having another brain to pick and to show off the fantastic collection I work with.
After exchanging a few emails, I met Marsha and her sister at Gunwharf Quays and took them to my favourite tea shop (All About Tea – a fantastic place offering lots of local blends, as well as yummy cake). I then took them to the collection where Michael (head archivist) was waiting with the bits that Marsha was most keen to see – one of which I cannot believe I didn’t know we had – The Creeping Man manuscript. Marsha and I cooed over it. It’s so fascinating! And I got that rush of excitement that only an archive discovery can give you. Doyle apparently wrote most of his drafts in exercise books, but this one had been beautifully bound by his family and so has been kept in a fantastic condition.
I have since gone through the manuscript and compared it to the version of the story I have. I think what’s most surprising is how few changes there are between the manuscript and the published copy. Most changes are single words or small phrases, and a high percentage were dates – most significantly in the MSS (manuscript) the case happens in 1902, in the published version it is 1903. Elsewhere the days of the week change for certain events, and the nine-day intervals of strange occurrences are weekly in the MSS. Other changes include the Professor’s dog being called a ‘spaniel’ in the MSS, which changed to ‘wolf-hound’ when published. This change makes sense in the light of the final events of the story; wolf-hound sounds much more vicious. For my own interest I could spend months pouring over the reasons or subtleties in the small word changes. For example, in the first paragraph Watson calls Holmes ‘my Holmes’ in the MSS, but this is changed to to just ‘Holmes’. The taking away of the familarity between the pair could be read in a variety of ways (and could be especially fun to look in the light of the argument that there is a homosexual undertone in the stories).
The most significant change in the story is where the clue of the knuckles is revealed. In the MSS Doyle first has Holmes reveal this observation at his and Watson’s first meeting with the Professor, when in the published version it comes much later. When it says, ‘and yet we have gained all that personal contact which I desired’ the MSS continues:
‘I saw his hands. Suggestive, were they not?’
‘Of what Holmes?’
‘Ah that is where our little problem lies. The knuckles were abnormal that is -‘
This was then very neatly crossed out. This could have completely changed the story and, I think, lessened the big reveal at the end. It goes to show, however, that perhaps Sherlock Holmes does not go by one of the ‘golden rules’ after all. Ronald Knox gave 10 rules of detective fiction, one being ‘The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.’ Which clearly Sherlock Holmes does not do. Naughty Sherlock Holmes!