Weekly Forum: Mrs Turner

The Mrs Turner Question

Weekly Forum 2014: 15 July 2014

Below is all of the textual evidence concerning Mrs Turner who is mentioned only once in the Canon and then disappears forever into question. 

From the text, a number of explanations can be developed from the following snippets: “Mrs Turner;” “brought in the tray;”  “our landlady had provided.”

You may wish to put forth explanations as to Mrs Turner’s antecedents that seem most promising to you and perhaps others will do the same.

The text:

[Watson] “But what is it you wish?”

[Holmes] “When Mrs Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you. Now,” he said, as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that our landlady had provided, “I must discuss it while I eat, for I have not much time. It is nearly five now. In two hours we must be on the scene of action. Miss Irene, or Madame, rather, returns from her drive at seven. We must be at Briony Lodge to meet her.”

17 Replies to “Weekly Forum: Mrs Turner”

  1. Mrs Turner is one of the great enigmas of the Canon, along with Watson’s Second Wound and the John/James issue. My own views are expressed in an article I wrote some time ago: Robert S. Katz, “A Study in Landladies,” BAKER STREET JOURNAL, Vol. 38, No. 2 (June 1988), pp. 92–93.
    Catherine Cooke, always a thoughtful and meticulous scholar, has also addressed the topic in an article dealing with Mrs Hudson, also published in the BSJ.
    I am looking forward to reading the views of the JHWS membership on this subject, as recent discussions have produced several insightful comments and new ideas.

  2. While I don’t know if I’ve read Dr. Katz’ BSJ article (1988 was awhile ago), I have explored Mrs Hudson myself and looked into Victorian landladies to expand on what I’ve previously written.

    On possible explanation is that, as most Baker Street buildings had businesses on the ground floor, Mrs Turner ran the business and was perhaps sister or sister-in-law to Mrs. Hudson who was the actual landlady (or Hudson and Turner were co-landladies) and Mrs. Hudson took care of the everything else involving 221. There may have been exceptions, such as Mrs. Hudson being ill or away and Mrs. Turner temporarily filled in.

    Outside of the Game, I am looking forward to the BSI Manuscript Series on “The Empty House” where Mrs. Turner reappears, only to be corrected out by Doyle mid-holograph

    1. By coincidence, the next volume to appear in the BSI Manuscript Series will be “The Empty House”. The JHWS is well-represented in the book. I had the privilege of being able to serve as a co-editor with Andy Solberg and Steve Rothman. The Series Editor is Andrew Fusco….all JHWS members. Several of the articles are provided by members of this group. I won’t speculate on the publication date but the Production Team is very effective and talented. It’s not speculative for me to say that we were fortunate enough to have assembled a stellar group of contributors and their articles are really outstanding.

      1. IHOSE Episode 63 on “The Irregular Stain” with you and Andy Solberg mentioned the upcoming “Empty House” book. Great and informative interview and it whet my appetite for the next in the series. Very nice to hear that Watsonians will be well represented.

  3. Alas, I missed the discussion time yesterday, but I’ll throw in my tuppence anyway.

    I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone quite new to the Canon, and I’ve not read that BSJ article (though I did recently acquire the e-BSJ).

    Reading that passage cold, I wouldn’t necessarily assume that “Mrs Turner” and “our landlady” refer to the same person at all. “Mrs Turner” could very well be the person bringing up the tray while “our landlady” is downstairs, having provided the food.

    Of course, I know next to nothing about Victorian landladies, and I have no speculation on what Mrs Turner’s actual role at 221 might have been.

    That said, I went back and read the full passage, and as a sometime-writer-and-beta-reader, I find it odd that there is no break between “‘When Mrs Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you.’” and ” ‘Now,’ he said, as he turned hungrily on the simple fare […]“. When, exactly, *did* Mrs Turner appear?

    1. Thank you, “Selena,” for the excellent insight. It would seem that you have proposed what is a very plausible explanation. I have been waiting to see who would propose this possibility before commenting myself.

      In an earlier, separate email to JHWS Member, Dr Robert Katz, “Willow,” the author of the BSJ article which serves as a catalyst for this discussion topic, the following was proposed:

      Dear Dr Katz “Willow”

      Your BSJ paper is an excellent catalyst for this discussion point and hinges on your position that Mrs Turner is the de facto landlady. If you look at the textual evidence with a small shift in interpretation of the term “landlady,” there may well be a plausible and enormously simple explanation:

      Mrs Hudson, for whatever reason, saw fit to employ an assistant in the running of the establishment as she had done in other instances (page boy, scullery maid, etc.). This assistant, Mrs Turner, carried the food trays, etc. that Mrs Hudson prepared. It is a supposition contained entirely in the text: “When Mrs Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you.” “Now, he said, as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that our landlady had provided . . .”

      I read this as Mrs Hudson (“our landlady”) had prepared simple fare for the resident lodgers and Mrs Turner had delivered the tray. This may imply that Mrs Turner was simply a temporary member of the household staff, employed by Mrs Hudson to share in the duties; in effect, an “upstairs maid.” Clearly, this arrangement did not work out and she either “took her box” and departed or was let go by Mrs Hudson.

      All one has to do to see this potential is to read “our landlady” as being the ever-present Mrs Hudson and see Mrs Turner as a supernumery staff member, similar to the page, the scullery worker, etc. that appear and disappear in the Canon. Another, slightly more “read into it” explanation is that Mrs Turner could be a relative of Mrs Hudson (married sister, sister-in-law, cousin) who was doing part-time work or simply needed income and turned to Mrs Hudson. This “relative” explanation is further supported as Turner is a Scots name and Mrs Hudson was, indeed, a Scots woman, as per Mr Holmes. Perhaps Mrs Hudson’s maiden name was Turner, or Mrs Turner’s maiden name was Hudson.

      If you rewrite/interpret the text slightly, it becomes very plausible:

      “ ‘When Mrs Turner has brought in the tray I will make it clear to you.

      “Now, he said, as he turned hungrily on the simple fare that Mrs Hudson had provided . . .’”

      Of course, other interpretations are just as plausible. I am confident our Members can propose any number to cover the facts. Thank you, all, for your very informative and interesting comments. please feel free to take the discussion deeper and wider, as you wish.

  4. Here is one of many possible explanations in support of the theory that Mrs. Turner is a relative of Mrs. Hudson who is helping with light housework…

    Mrs. Turner is the aging widow of Thomas Hudson Turner (1815-1852), an “archaeologist and architectural historian who was born in London of Northumbrian extraction. He was educated at Mr. Law’s school in Chelsea…and his great interest in literature and antiquities led to his appointment in the Record office of the Tower of London. He is best remembered for his work ‘Some Account of Domestic Architecture in England: from the Conquest to the End of the Thirteenth Century,’ published in Oxford in 1851.” He died in 1852 at the age of 37 from health problems caused by his “arduous studies” (Wikipedia article).

    “Hudson” was the maiden name of Mr. Thomas Hudson Turner’s mother, who was sister to our Mrs. Hudson’s husband’s paternal grandfather.

    At the time of SCAN, Mrs. Turner would have been in her mid-sixties or early seventies. We can suppose that, having been widowed sometime between her late twenties and mid-thirties, and being the widow of a scholar, she had little means of support left and had probably lived a hard life.

    This would account for her presence in Mrs. Hudson’s home, where she was a guest who wished to help with the work of the household to earn her keep. Her age and the likelihood of her failing health account for the fact that she is never mentioned again. We can surmise that Mrs. Hudson would not allow her to help beyond her physical capabilities, so Holmes and Watson probably saw less and less of her, and then at some point, she passed away.

  5. The passage can very easily be read as Mrs.Turner brought up the tray with the food provided by the landlady Mrs. Hudson. Now, it is unlikely that Mrs. Turner is the cook, as the reference to “the simple fare that our landlady had provided” would be redundant. Back in the Victorian era “Mrs.” would have been a title of respect for a woman’s social position. As a landlady and businesswoman, Hudson would have been called “Mrs.” regardless of marital status. The cook could also be called “Mrs.” due to the importance of the position and the size and economic status of the household. However, no matter how aged, the maid or other staff would have been called by their first name (“As to Mary Jane, she is incorrigible, and my wife has given her notice…” SCAN). So to call Turner “Mrs.” indicates some social rank; a visiting relative helping out Mrs. Hudson would fit the bill.

    1. Excellent additional support, “Pippin.” Thank you.

      This is all newly ploughed ground on the “Mrs Turner” conundrum. We have here another excellent potential for a scholarly article for The Watsonian, perhaps a joint effort by those commenting and Bob Katz who originally put the question and a possible solution.

      Just a thought!

      1. An excellent suggestion by our Buttons. I would be honored to pen the opening paragraphs, delineating the problem and briefly summarizing my 1988 article. Perhaps one of the other contributors to this thread can take the other comments above and turn them into the remainder of the article (with appropriate attributions). Buttons can put the parts together and send the finished article on to our excellent Editor. I will get it started….who volunteers to finish it?

  6. I would consider it a privilege to complete the article if you think my explanation above worthy of inclusion, Willow.

    1. Faith—-your ideas, along with all of the others expressed above, are more than worthy of inclusion. I will prepare an opening paragraph (or two) and send it on to Buttons. I would suggest you complete the article by including the other interpretations, along with your own. We’ll ask Buttons to make sure everything transitions, and then send it along to our Editor. I think it would be the first time a JHWS website conversation becomes an article for The Watsonian!!!

      1. We will proceed as you suggest, then. I look forward to receiving your contribution from Buttons!

  7. This was a fantastic read! I greatly enjoyed everyone’s contributions to this discussion!

    I have very little to add, except that I also enjoyed one rather elaborate explanation for Mrs Turner’s presence: In the BBC Radio 4 series, she is mentioned as a visiting relative to Mrs. Hudson who is helping out while the dear landlady is feeling under the weather. Mrs Turner and Sherlock Holmes quickly get on each other’s bad side and Mrs Turner seems very happy to leave in the end, because not everyone has the sort of patience and fortitude as Mrs. Hudson and Dr. Watson do for such an odd tenant as Mr. Holmes. 🙂

    1. Dear “Carla”

      Precisely! This very real possibility, as an explanation, deserves to be in the joint paper being prepared. Would you like to make this point as a contributor? We would welcome having your point of view, particularly as it is a logical and very likely explanation. We will send you the paper for your review and potential additions.

  8. Marvelously creative and insightful comments all! I love the idea of creating a jointly authored article from them, and look forward to seeing it in The Watsonian.

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