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Doctor Watson’s Descriptive Words
“Cut out the poetry, Watson,” Holmes famously declared in RETI.
What are your favorite examples of Watson’s descriptive writing?
8 Replies to “Weekly Forum 2015: #15”
I love Watson’s descriptions of heavy weather.
“It was in the latter days of September, and the equinoctial gales had set in with exceptional violence. All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life, and to recognize the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilization, like untamed beasts in a cage. As evening drew in, the storm grew higher and louder, and the wind cried and sobbed like a child in the chimney.” [FIVE]
“Outside the wind howled down Baker Street, while the rain beat fiercely against the windows. It was strange there, in the very depths of the town, with ten miles of man’s handiwork on every side of us, to feel the iron grip of Nature, and to be conscious that to the huge elemental forces all London was no more than the molehills that dot the fields.” [GOLD]
“In the evening I put on my waterproof and I walked far upon the sodden moor, full of dark imaginings, the rain beating upon my face and the wind whistling about my ears. God help those who wander into the great mire now, for even the firm uplands are becoming a morass. I found the black tor upon which I had seen the solitary watcher, and from its craggy summit I looked out myself across the melancholy downs. Rain squalls drifted across their russet face, and the heavy, slate-coloured clouds hung low over the landscape, trailing in gray wreaths down the sides of the fantastic hills. In the distant hollow on the left, half hidden by the mist, the two thin towers of Baskerville Hall rose above the trees.” [HOUN]
So I sat down here with only five minutes to spare this AM, and started to “Dash” (sorry, bad pun) something off quickly about my favorite parts being Watson’s love lamentations in SIGN and his excited thoughts while standing behind the door at Milverton’s, and then I read Reggie’s post. I enjoyed it so much that I read it again and then I started thinking about Watson near the Tor, trying to decide if he saw a curlew, and I sort of got lost in that moment; then my hovel mess of a brain (no Mind Palace or tidy Lumber Room for me) went to a piece I read recently by one of the early Sherlockian scholars (which one escapes me) which begged the question: how does Watson know what a child sobbing in a chimney sounds like? Where did that information come from? Long story short: I have no decent post to put here but I had a great time in my five Sherlockian minutes. Thanks Reggie and Dash!
This is my personal favorite because it is a bit of descriptive writing has stuck with me ever since I first read it…
“I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained.”
It’s one of Watson’s most cynical descriptions of his city, but also one of his most vivid metaphors. I’ve lived in or near cities all of my life, so I can relate to that occasional wave of pessimism towards the sprawling metropoli I would call home.
Also, this line shows off a bit of Watson’s pawky humor in his writings. This is especially true in the line that precedes the above one: “I had neither kith nor kin in England, and was therefore as free as air—or as free as an income of eleven shillings and sixpence a day will permit a man to be.” Oh, very funny, Watson. 🙂
Margie, if you are interested in chimneys and sobbing children, you’ll find something “from my pen upon the subject” in the forthcoming issue of The Watsonian (including, I guess, quotations from the “early Sherlockian scholar” you mentioned).
Hi Reggie: That is great news! One more reason to look forward to reading the thing from cover to cover. And Carla: I have to say that I totally agree with you about your quotes from STUD–such remarkable beauty and wit in those lines.
Great to see Watson’s style and humour so appreciated. I did my best for him too, in “In Search of Dr. Watson”. Best wishes to everybody.
(Please pardon the length, needed the whole description to realize how it affected me…no knowledge of opium dens or smoking…seemed so exotic)THE GOOD DOCTOR’S DESCRIPTION OF THE BAR OF GOLD IN “TWIS” HELPED DRAW ME IN TO THE CANON AS A LAD: “Upper Swandam Lane is a vile alley lurking behind the high wharves which line the north side of the river to the east of London Bridge. Between a slop-shop and a gin-shop, approached by a steep flight of steps leading down to a black gap like the mouth of a cave, I found the den of which I was in search. Ordering my cab to wait, I passed down the steps, worn hollow in the centre by the ceaseless tread of drunken feet; and by the light of a flickering oil-lamp above the door I found the latch and made my way into a long, low room, thick and heavy with the brown opium smoke, and terraced with wooden berths, like the forecastle of an emigrant ship.
Through the gloom one could dimly catch a glimpse of bodies lying in strange fantastic poses, bowed shoulders, bent knees, heads thrown back, and chins pointing upward, with here and there a dark, lack-lustre eye turned upon the newcomer. Out of the black shadows there glimmered little red circles of light, now bright, now faint, as the burning poison waxed or waned in the bowls of the metal pipes. The most lay silent, but some muttered to themselves, and others talked together in a strange, low, monotonous voice, their conversation coming in gushes, and then suddenly tailing off into silence, each mumbling out his own thoughts and paying little heed to the words of his neighbour. At the farther end was a small brazier of burning charcoal, beside which on a three-legged wooden stool there sat a tall, thin old man, with his jaw resting upon his two fists, and his elbows upon his knees, staring into the fire.
As I entered, a sallow Malay attendant had hurried up with a pipe for me and a supply of the drug, beckoning me to an empty berth.”
Long and short, all excellent examples of Watson’s skill as a writer. Thanks, all!
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