intense sensations

The public hiss at me

Posted on: March 21, 2012

A Study in ScarletA Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a lot better than I remembered it being. I was a bit disappointed by it the first time I read it because it lacks the concentrated focus of the short stories.

I’d only dimly remembered Holmes flogging the corpses in the mortuary and it was good to be reminded of that. But then there’s also an incongruent description of Holmes’s purity, which we know, from the later stories, to be a lie:

I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes that I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion.

The author makes a bold narrative leap in Part Two, whisking us away to Utah. I have to admit he lost me here. I stopped reading for several days and had to make a determined effort to go on with the story. By the time we returned to London and Sherlock Holmes, I’d forgotten everything that had gone before.


And my brain is not responsive to training.

But re-reading the Utah chapters led me to the conclusion that the author is a blessed genius. The sentences are perfect. Every word is apt. He writes in short, crisp sentences that buzz with energy. The words are apt but they are not obvious. Like his hero, Conan Doyle has a penchant for the singular, the unusual, the outré. Yet there is nothing affected about his style. The words seem to spring spontaneously from his pen.

I sincerely believe that if I would only read a few pages a day of the writings of Mr. Arthur Conan Doyle, I could vastly improve my appreciation and use of the English language.

But what about that troublesome bit of Latin at the end?

Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo
Ipse domi stimul ac nummos contemplar in arca.

A translation found on the internet gives us:

The public hiss at me, but I cheer myself when in my own house I contemplate the coins in my strong-box.

Which is a good motto for an author of sensational stories. I think I’ll adopt it.


8 Responses to "The public hiss at me"

Love the Latin quote–have to adopt it, too. Thanks for sharing!

🙂 You’re welcome, Guilie!

My favorite A Study in Scarlet is Arthur Conan Doyle’s first (in the series, as far as I remember) and it seemed his best to me, when I first read it. Perfect work. And the Latin quote is absolutely lovely. Not remembering of it, I read it in the review and realized that I’ve adopted the idea, some time ago. 🙂

Yes, it’s the first Sherlock Holmes story, and also the first to be adapted in the new-look Sherlock Holmes series on the BBC. Their adaptation, written by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, is called Study in Pink and is also quite brilliant in its way. It picks up on an amazing number of things in the original story, but crucially omits the whole Mormon revenge motive.

The new-look Sherlock Holmes, BBC series, was on Russian TV too, but the show was too late at night, when I sleep, and I didn’t see any of the movies. But I’ll have a chance to do it some day in the future and then, maybe, once again, I’ll say “How I hate screen versions!” As for remaking a famous old story, this seems yet more absurd than a mere screen version, or rather this suggests that the moviemakers’ gumption proved to be much quicker than anybody else’s of their colleagues, that’s it.

I believe when they had the idea their first thought was, Oh my God, we’ve got to do this before somebody else does! One Goodreads reviewer tells you not to read Study In Scarlet, just watch Study In Pink etc. BUT! Conan Doyle has a humanity and wisdom that go far deeper than the showy brilliance of Gatiss and Moffat, which is all on the surface. Their representation of modern Chinese culture in The Blind Banker is more bogus than Conan Doyle’s representation of the Mormons in Study In Scarlet. Besides, reading is a far different experience from watching. It engages different faculties and, to my mind, TV can never come close to the experience of reading a good book.

On the whole, I prefer the Holmes short stories, and Hound of the Baskervilles is my favourite of the novels, but I do love all the Sherlock Holmes canon. And I totally agree about the power of the writing. It’s wonderful storytelling.

3 pages a day of Sir Arthur C.D. and 3 pages a day of Portia D.C. would do anyone’s English a power of good! I almost said so in my review but I know you shy English artists are embarrassed by praise.

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