Weekly Forum: October 7, 2014

“A Case of Identity”

There is something “jewel-box-like” about IDEN and it may be one of Watson’s great triumphs of writing. It is almost wholly personal.

It has four distinct parts: 1) the philosophical discussion between Watson and Holmes; 2) the client’s characterization and statement of the case; 3) the interview with the miscreant, Windibank; and 4) the solution.

In the philosophical discussion in the first few pages, prior to the arrival of Mary Sutherland, Holmes and Watson have what Buttons interprets as one of their most interesting and revealing talks about their personal positions and beliefs.

In the middle sections, the “crime” is not actionable and James Windibank and his wife– Mary’s mother– who is an equally guilty partner in the deception, exit stage left with impunity.

But, in the end, what of Mary Sutherland who exits the case unconsidered, unfulfilled, and apparently unloved by anyone?  How does the philosophical discussion of Holmes and Watson–setting up the story–pertain to Mary?  Is Mary Sutherland already a sadder, but wiser, independent woman for her experience, or is she to be forever a woman wronged and dependent upon the kindness of others?

This is fertile ground, essentially unplowed by Watsonians and Sherlockians, and ready for a provocative and fascinating joint-article for The Watsonian.  Will you contribute?  We welcome your participation.

5 Replies to “Weekly Forum: October 7, 2014”

  1. Hey Buttons: I think JHWS got spammed. Obviously from the construction of the discussion question, you do not need a college scholarship. I am amazed at how much you ‘see’ in the text of IDEN. Frankly, I’ve always thought Mary Sutherland to be such a twit that I’ve not given the tale much re-reading or consideration. I am going to go re-read the opening now to mull over your thoughts about it. But as for Mary being any wiser, I must say ‘I doubt it.’.

  2. Yes . . . We have a spammer leaving comments. Ignore his emails and be assured we are in the process of blocking access.

    IDEN is often overlooked and, yet, it contains some very powerful material. The lack of closure or even characterization detail about Mary Sutherland–as a person–has always intrigued me. Perhaps you and others will read and share your thoughts with the Members. Thanks.

  3. For some reason, I always think TWIS is “A Case of Identity”, so I have to remind myself which story IDEN is! Worry not – I remember now, but I’m going to have to re-read before I can say anything about it.

    (On the other topic: please just ignore the spam comments. We are indeed in the process of blocking them.)

  4. At a meeting where we were asked to summarize a Canonical story in one sentence, I could not resist choosing IDEN: Mary Sutherland, with the encouragement of her mother, dates her own stepfather, in a plot line later stolen by Jerry Springer.

  5. I have been especially interested in this case as I’m doing a book on “The Code of the Canon: How Sherlock Holmes Made His Decisions.” This is a unique and very peculiar case and you are so right in pointing out the importance of the philosophical discussion at the start. It is in stark contrast to the solution. Everyone knows the solution except the victim herself. There is a black hole in Holmes’ handling of this case. The mother and step-father have been so vile and cunning and the case has such sexual predator overtones, that it is shocking and surprising that Holmes chooses NOT to reveal the whole sordid mess to Mary. Did Holmes really think that they wouldn’t try something else on Mary? Did he have so little feeling for her future that he didn’t warn her what danger she was in. Might not Holmes have suspected that they might try to murder Mary next time she became interested in a suitor? We get the feeling Holmes thought Mary was just toooooo stupid for words, yes, but what about Victorian chivalry? He did save her — once — but it’s kind of like he pulled her out of the way of an oncoming train, then he lets her stand in the very same spot to await her fate when the next train arrives on schedule! What did Watson think of Holmes not revealing what he knew to Mary?? I’d love to hear your opinions.

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