Monday, February 17, 2020

No Peace in Life [WIST]

This weekend was the latest meeting for the Jefferson Hopes of St. Louis scion and our topic was "The Illustrious Client."  Each member is expected to bring some kind of presentation for the meeting.  We had a lot of great discussions on quotes from the story, Violet DeMerville, China saucers, Marleybone road, and plenty of other subtopics. 

I chose to focus on Charlie Peace.  If you're not familiar with this name, it comes up in a "blink and you'll miss it" line where Holmes mentions that even criminals have admirable qualities.  Charles Peace was a true life criminal, arrested repeatedly for burglary and convicted of two murders.  Whole books have been written about him, but a quick scan of his Wikipedia page can give you some more details.

Coincidentally, I came across an article on Peace in the 1966 Spring Baker Street Journal that I sat down with yesterday afternoon.  Author Franklin Rhode tried to pinpoint where Holmes and Peace would have met and offers a few theories in the BSJ.  As you can see in my following paper, I strongly disagree with Rhode's theories.

Old Friends or Overstatements?

“My old friend Charlie Peace was a violin virtuoso,” Sherlock Holmes says during “The Illustrious Client” in 1902.  By then, Charles Peace had been dead for 23 years, having been executed in 1879.  But what was the relation between Holmes and Peace?  Or was a relationship even possible?

If Peace was executed in 1879 that leaves very little time for Holmes to get to know him personally.  According to most chronologists, Holmes didn’t begin studying detection until 1877 or 1878.  Burglar and murderer Charles Peace was widely known throughout England at the time, as the police force spent months looking for him.  Peace stayed constantly on the move, often changing his appearance to keep police off the scent.  Of course, Holmes would have read about this manhunt in the papers of the day.  Peace was eventually caught during a burglary in 1878 and his trial was a major event.  But these dates shorten the window even more, as I doubt Holmes could have made the acquaintance of Peace while he was on the lam.

So, could Sherlock Holmes have become “old friends” with Charlie Peace in between his final capture and execution date?  Even if Holmes had tried to visit Peace in jail in the two years before his execution, would this young man fresh from college have been given passage to such a prolific criminal?  I doubt it. 

More likely, Holmes studied Peace’s methods, specifically those of disguise and safecracking that would come in handy later on in his detective career.  Perhaps even Peace’s face was part of Holmes’s “pictures of celebrated criminals with which every wall was adorned” in his Baker Street bedroom in later years [DYIN]. 

There were many times that Holmes spoke in admiration of criminals.  Moriarty, or course, but he also referred to a child murderer as a “winning woman” [SIGN] and called John Clay “the fourth smartest man in London” [REDH].   So why wouldn’t Holmes respect Peace, who on top of all of his criminal activity, also had a history of playing violin on stage in his younger days?

As we’ve seen many times, you can’t always take Sherlock Holmes at face value.  I argue that Holmes is being facetious in his meeting with Sir James Damery.  Not his best look, as Damery is attempting to stop one of the vilest men in the entire Canon.


On a lighter note, one of my friends texted me last night to point out that Charles Peace reminds him of Brain from Pinky and the Brain.  You be the judge:

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Interesting Interview: Bob Katz

If you've been to an official BSI event, or any Sherlockian event on the eastern seaboard, you've probably seen Bob Katz there.  You are right in thinking that he is under the BSI.  You would also be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he is the - well, maybe that's taking things too far.  But Bob has been around long enough to have seen the growth of our hobby and be at the forefront of welcoming new Sherlockians into the fold over the past few decades.

If you own a book by BSI Publishing, Bob's been involved in it.  If you're a member of a scion in one of the original 13 states, Bob has probably visited (and plenty inland as well).  If you've ever wondered how the American Civil War affected Sherlock Holmes, Bob is the man to have a drink with.

But here's the thing: it would be very easy for Bob Katz to sit up in some Sherlockian ivory tower, but he's a wrecking ball of personality.  Bob will be one of the first people to stick out his hand and introduce himself to a new face at a Sherlockian gathering.  Case in point, he was one of two speakers at my first Sherlockian event, Nerve and Knowledge, years back.  I am not an outgoing person, but by the end of the night, we were at a table talking about book projects and why his son prefers Under Armor over Nike.  Bob just has a way of pulling you into his orbit.  I don't know if Bob Katz has ever met a stranger, and if you haven't had a chance to meet Dr. Katz, now's your time.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?
I try to keep this one simple. Anyone who is interested in Sherlock Holmes is a Sherlockian. I don't try to make distinctions or conditions. If you like Sherlock Holmes, that's good enough for me. We'll find something to discuss.

How did you become a Sherlockian?
I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes via a rainy Saturday afternoon viewing of a Rathbone film (I think "House of Fear") on local New York television. I was so enthralled by it that I dashed out of the house after the film ended and practically ran to the local library to find the stories in print. Once I had read the stories, I happened to come across Baring-Gould's biography "Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street" in a remainder pile in a NY bookstore. For me, the best part of the book was the bibliography at the end of the book. I learned about the "Baker Street Journal" and several of the cornerstone works of Higher Criticism. I was able to find copies of most through the local libraries and had read quite a bit by the time I finished high school.

Fortuitously (and without foreknowledge of the fact), I attended Haverford College, which was the alma mater of BSI founder, Christopher Morley. There was a reading alcove in the library named for him, replete with a comfortable sofa, and surrounding bookcases containing Morley's writings. I managed to intersperse Canonical commentary and my official studies throughout college. While in medical school, I came across an article about a running of the NY Silver Blaze race, which identified Julian Wolff as the leader of the BSI. I wrote to him and he replied with a suggestion that I subscribe to the BSJ. That brought me into contact with the wider Sherlockian world.

After finishing school and internship, I landed in Philadelphia for my residency training. By then, I had the time to join a Scion Society (The Master's Class, then chaired by our current BSI leader/Wiggins, Michael Kean). I became involved in their activities and things just spiraled from there. Even though I was in my mid-twenties, everyone treated me with great kindness and friendship. I knew I was in the right place.

What is your favorite canonical story?
I've always had a soft spot for "The Dying Detective". It's the most medical of the stories, takes place in the shortest time frame, has a truly malevolent villain, and a surprise ending. I was thrilled when I received the BSI investiture of "Dr. Ainstree", which is taken from that story.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
That's a really hard question. It's rare for me to meet a Sherlockian who isn't interesting. Sherlockians are the most well-read people I know. Their breadth and depth of knowledge on a huge variety of subjects is immensely impressive.

Of course, we're all interested in the early pillars of the Sherlockian world--Smith, Morley, Starrett, followed by Shaw, Wolff, Stix and so many others. Rather than pick just one individual, I'd rather focus on who has real meaning to me. One of the great pleasures of my life is sitting down to dinner with a small group of Sherlockians. It's great if they are old friends. It's great if they are people I've just met. We have so many shared experiences; so many shared interests; so many divergent, overlapping and/or different views. Spending a few hours in that surrounding is what epitomizes the Sherlockian experience and I'm perpetually interested in what others have to say.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you? What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?
I'll cover these together and largely defer to the question below. I've always been interested in the medical aspects of the Canon, along with the life of Dr. Watson. To a great extent, my choice of careers was influenced by the Canon. A detective makes deductions. A doctor makes diagnoses. It's the same process. As a result, most of my own research has been medically-oriented. But from time to time, my other lifelong interest, the American Civil War, sometimes creeps into my Sherlockian writing. But without Watson, we'd never know about Holmes.

How did you become involved with editing the BSI Press and how has it changed during your tenure?
Like so many things in life, my initial involvement with BSI Books came about by serendipity. At the BSI Dinner some years back, Andrew Fusco (Series Editor of the Manuscript Series) approached my dear friend, Andrew Solberg about editing "The Golden Pince-Nez" manuscript. Andy S had too many professional obligations and declined. Later that evening, Andy F asked me if I could take this on. I was getting ready to retire, but was still too busy to accept. A few minutes later, Andy S and I were seated together at the Dinner. We'd been close friends for decades and realized that if we worked together, we could do the book. So we walked across the Ballroom and offered to co-edit. Andy Fusco graciously accepted.

That started a collaboration that produced four books for the Manuscript Series and a stand alone book about Medicine in the Canon. Working with the entire BSI Press team has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my Sherlockian journey. After handling several books, Michael Kean (who was then BSI Press Co-Publisher along with John Bergquist) asked me if I would succeed him as Co-Publisher and Acquisitions Editor. For some inexplicable reason, Mike K thought I was thorough and detail-oriented. Mike himself was getting ready to become the next Wiggins and facilitated the transition to my tenure.

I think it is more accurate to say the BSI Press has evolved rather than changed. It was started by Mike Whelan with a small number of publications. Over time, we've become a busier organization, with a substantial number of publications on a regular basis. The format of the books has become more standardized, which enables us to maintain the quality of the contributions. As the books gained wider distribution, more and more Sherlockians wanted to contribute to our books. This has widened the pool of talent available to us and attracted people with a wide range of backgrounds, knowledge bases, and skill sets. I'm very pleased with what we've been able to do over the years and know that we already have many new books in active production and development.

How have your years in the medical field influenced your appreciation of the Canon?
It's worked both ways for me. My reading of the Canon helped me to make a career choice. Once I was in medical school, my choice of a specialty (Pathology) was affected by aspects of the Canon. The Canon was written by a physician (Conan Doyle or Watson---take your pick). Joseph Bell was a role model. So many of the stories have significant medical facets. Holmes and Watson are introduced to each other by a physician, in a hospital laboratory. It's a pleasure and a privilege to be able to read the Canon through the eyes and perspective of a physician.

Although years apart, both Watson and I shared a common educational experience and share a common world view. It's just something that becomes a part of our DNA over time. Both the Canon and the medical profession somehow "make sense" to me. It was thrilling to have the opportunity to work with Andy Solberg on "Nerve and Knowledge" as we're both in health care and we were able to put all our years of experience to work in discussing medicine in the Canon.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
Can't pick just one---and why limit it. The Sherlockian literature expands and improves continually. Anything by Morley, Starrett, and Smith is a great starting point. The various annotated versions (both Baring-Gould and Klinger) make repealed readings of the Canon so much more fulfilling. Mattias Bostrom and Michael Sims have widened our horizons lately. Conan Doyle biographies got off to a good start with Carr, and Stashower and Lycett have added to our knowledge. The BSI Press Manuscript Series (and yes I'm biased) provides a unique view into the creative process. Nick Meyer turned our world upside down, and for the better, with 7%.

And when you run out of new books to read, just go back to the Canon. The Holmes stories have become a phenomenon because they get better with each re-reading. Some overlooked detail, some subtle nuance, some plot twist---these all become apparent anew each time you read the stories.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
There have been so many sentinel events that rock the Sherlockian world every few years---Gillette on stage, Rathbone on film, Brett on television. 7% reinventing the concept of the pastiche. BBC Sherlock dazzling us and proving that there's always a new way to look at things. And that's a limited list of everything that has influenced the Sherlocian universe.

Social media has added an entirely new dimension. So I don't exactly know how the Sherlockian world will look in five or ten years. But then, that actually doesn't matter. What counts, and I am absolutely positively certain of this, is that there will be Sherlockiana in five years, ten years, and beyond. It will bear similarities to the present. It will be radically different. But there will be a fixed point in the changing of the ages. The characters of Holmes and Watson, the relationship between Holmes and Watson, the sophistication of the studies involving Holmes and Watson----these will be the bedrock of the field.

And of perhaps equal importance, the friendships and relationships that are the glue of our unique society will be as strong as they have always been. All of that sustains us and impels us to take Sherlockiana into new and creative directions. Is there anything better than being a Sherlockian?

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Education Never Ends

When I first started this blog in 2017, I toyed around with the idea of calling it "Some Poor Bibliophile" because my main interest in Sherlockiana is the books aspect.  For whatever reason, I went with Interesting Though Elementary, but my love of books continues as strong as ever.  

As I posted in one of my BSI Weekend posts, the Dealer's Room on Saturday was a sight to see.  Books, books, books, everywhere!  And it was here that I got what may be my favorite Sherlockian book of all time.  

"Education Never Ends: Educators, Education and the Sherlockian Canon" is only 210 pages long, but I deliberately took a few days to read this because I was enjoying it so much and wanted to savor every bit of it.  Obviously, as a Sherlockian and an educator, this book was right down the middle of my wheelhouse.  This is the third in the BSI Professions Series, the first two being on doctors and lawyers.  I never picked either of those up because I thought, "I'm not a lawyer or doctor so those books aren't for me."  But after reading "Education Never Ends," I realized that these books are made for everyone.  Yes, the doctors, lawyers, and educators will get an extra level of enjoyment from these titles, but they are very accessible to anyone out there.  In fact, "Canon Law" and "Nerve and Knowldege" are now at the top of my TBR list after reading this offering from the professions series.

But what's in this book that would appeal to the average Sherlockian?

The book is broken up into four sections, history of education in the Victorian era, what Sherlock Holmes's education might have looked like, examples of education in the Canon, and how Sherlock Holmes can be used in different classrooms (full disclosure: I have an essay in this section).

The first section, Education and the Victorian Era, is full of great history lessons of England during the canonical times.  Mattias Bostrom, who is never NOT informational, kicks it off with an overview of the education that Arthur Conan Doyle received, full of plenty of quotes from primary sources.  Kenneth Carr and Marino Alvarez follow that up with a one-two punch of essays on Holmes's Baker Street Irregulars and the types of schooling that would have been available to children in that social class during the time.  But the one that stuck out most to me was Richard Ryan's great piece on the board schools of England.  Being a modern day American, I had presumed that board schools were just the long-standing standard education of the day.  After reading Richard's essay, I will never take Holmes's predictions about the future of England at face value again.

The Holmes and Education section bounces around from topic to topic.  Since we know so little of Holmes's early life and these essays are all theoretical, that's to be expected.  Martin Fido gives an overall look at what the education of Sherlock Holmes's youth would have looked like as a child of a country squire.  Bob Katz, Henry Boote, and Curtis Armstrong all make cases for their own specific fields of medicine, music, and acting respectively in their essays arguing that Holmes received training in each of their own fields of study.  (In fact, I posted about Bob's chapter when I first heard it in 2017 as a great talk)  And three more essays round out this section showing how Holmes used certain skills picked up in his educational career in his detective work: Alex Warner on visualization, Katherine Ramsland on synthesis, and James O'Brien on the scientific method.

Bob Katz, 2017, arguing that Holmes received a medical education

As you can see, no specialized knowledge is needed for any of these early chapters.  The reader is carried along with historical information, theoretical musings, and canonical applications on every page.  The following section, Educational Reflections in the Canon, keeps that streak alive.  Even though this section only has two essays in it, they are the ones that I found myself tweeting about the most.  Timothy Greer gives a run down of teachers in the canonical tales.  And they do run the gamut of behaviors!  (IMO, Tim also has the two best lines in this whole book)  Now, you could make an argument that a history of the London libraries don't necessarily fit into a book about education.  You may be right, but it doesn't matter.  Catherine Cooke's chapter on the London library system of the 1800s and 1900s is worth the price of the book alone!

Only in the last section do things get a little technical.  Using Education to Promote the Study of the Sherlockian Canon: Essays for Educators is the section for the teaching nerds like me out there.  I would argue that these essays can be fun to see how some of us are getting a new generation interested in Sherlock Holmes, but wouldn't blame you if you skipped out on this one.

But wait!  Before you do, Francine Kitts has a great write up on the Beacon Society.  This one isn't just for teachers.  Anyone can enjoy the work that the Beacon Society is doing, and most of the Beacon Society members are not involved in education at all.  My one quibble with this book is that placing the Beacon Society chapter at the very end does it a disservice.  Even if you're not interested in the nuts and bolts of education, skip to Francine's article at the end.  It's a short one, and gives you great insight into what's going on in the world of Sherlockiana.

But if you are curious about how we educators are slipping Sherlock Holmes into our lesson plans (or you're a completest and refuse to not finish a book), the final section will take you through some very different and interesting ways it's being done.  Shannon Carlisle goes over how she has used the Canon in different elementary grades, I talk about how to get to kids in fifth grade before they become jaded middle schoolers, Tim Greer made me wish that I had a teacher like him in high school, and Ashley Polasek shows us that you can teach collegiate level classes in Sherlock Holmes, and somehow achieve that elusive dream: being a professional Sherlockian.

Marino Alvarez and Tim Greer have done a great job with this collection.  I was very excited to be asked to participate, but when I saw the list of other contributors, I was over the moon.  And let me tell you, the material that is in this small volume definitely deserves a spot on your shelf.