Wednesday, March 13, 2013

40. Justice


“Play tricks with me, and I'll crush you.”
“The Adventure of the Abbey Grange”

Many of the post-Hiatus stories that comprise Return maintain a characterization of Holmes as resolute, determined, and, above-all, morally justified where the earlier,  more Bohemian Holmes (of the Adventures) could be said to be none of these things, or, in fact, their opposite—capricious, ambivalent, even amoral, when such scruples did interfere with his appetites. Like “Three-Quarter” before it, “Abbey Grange” begins with Holmes striking a Shakespearean air, and the story even portends to be patent where “Three-Quarter” is latent, as in the coinage of a phrase borrowed from the Bard’s Henry V (Act 3, Scene I) that has become synonymous with Holmes: “the game is afoot!” But, in fact, “Abbey Grange” presents us with a surprising and masterful return to form for Holmes which has intrigued scholars, like Russell Hardin, who writes, in a 1990 edition of the journal, Social Service Review

In "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange," Sherlock Holmes explains to Dr. Watson why he does not share his clues with Inspector Stanley Hopkins: "You must look at it this way: what I know is unofficial, what he knows is official. I have the right to private judgment, but he has none. He must disclose all, or he is a traitor to his service. In a doubtful case I would not put him in so painful a position, and so I reserve my information until my own mind is clear upon the matter."' Holmes identifies a difference between what one can reasonably call the ethics of Holmes and the ethics of Hopkins in their very different institutional roles. Despite our perhaps sentimental attachment to Holmes, contemporary professionals should have greater sympathy for Hopkins.

This characterization amounts to Holmes, as we have previously discussed, possessing his own moral calculus and sense of personal and social justice, one which, for the police force in the booming, fin de siècle (the story is dated, by Baring-Gould among others, to 1897) metropolis of London, is otherwise not available. Save for Holmes’s consulting, the personal is outweighed by the larger professional and social role played by the police. The thrust of this is not lost on Conan Doyle, who casts Holmes as an unlikely (even, if the quote above is any indication, vaguely threatening) “judge” in the story’s dénouement, tempering Holmes’s jurisprudence with one that would protect the innocent and thereby upholding Hopkins sworn duty, albeit without his knowledge. In retrospect, it is this combination of the cavalier and socially conservative that would allow the story’s original readership to come to grips with a previously unknown concept—community policing—demanded by the realities of urban life in the new century.

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