Wednesday, October 31, 2012

23. Medicine

“It is an interesting case, too, at the bottom of it.”
"The Adventure of the Resident Patient"

Writing in The Baker Street Journal in 2006, Harold Billings noted:

“The Resident Patient” has been called the most medical of the stories in the Canon. The story involves Dr. Percy Trevelyan, a specialist in “obscure nervous lesions.” Trevelyan had accepted the invitation of a (very frightened) patient to take up his practice in the patient’s private home. This was very helpful given Trevelyan’s troubled financial straits, circumstances that Conan Doyle knew well. Subsequently, a patient who claimed to have cataleptic attacks consulted Trevelyan for treatment [...] An understanding of medical practice by both Holmes and Watson is made apparent in this story, although it cannot be said that they were completely successful with the case.

Indeed, it is medical science that permeates “The Resident Patient,” as it features not just Watson taking on a more clinical (and deductive) role than most of the Memoirs, but also features Percy Trevelyan, another stand-in of sorts for Conan Doyle himself. The story, and, particularly, its nostalgic or autobiographical slant, dates it far earlier within the canon than many of the Memoirs (October of 1886, per Baring-Gould’s estimate in The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, and others placing its action either much earlier, in 1881, or later, around the same time in 1887 as the events of “The Noble Bachelor”). Watson begins his narration in a nostalgic mode, evoking both A Study in Scarlet and “The ‘Gloria Scott’” and mentioning the difficulties of reconciling the biographical quandary of relaying Holmes’s methods and conveying the facts of the cases he solves. Often, Watson tells the reader, one obscures the other.

Much the same could be said for the author himself. Conan Doyle, in composing the tale, drew upon elements of medical science that he knew of, but did not specialize in, but outfitted Trevelyan with many of the aspects of a young surgeon: passion and vigor matched with the periodic boredom and precarious financial status. As it was precisely these circumstances that gave birth to Holmes, it is fitting that, in placing Holmes and Watson into the arena of a medical practice, the reader is able to see a glimpse of a young Conan Doyle at the earliest moments of Holmes’s creation.

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