Wednesday, August 14, 2013

61. Suicide

“The example of patient suffering is in itself the most precious of all lessons to an impatient world.”
“The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger”

“The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger” is, like “Cardboard Box” and “His Last Bow,” one of the most reflective and meditative of the stories in the canon. On the surface, it is not a tale of detection, but of confession, with Mrs. Ronder, a mysteriously veiled tenant of a South Brixton rooming house run by a Mrs. Merrilow, seeking to finally, after much time has passed, bear her soul to the one person who may have exposed her at the time—Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is, per usual, familiar with the case and its particulars, and agrees to hear the woman’s story.

It seems fitting that, in this penultimate story, it is Holmes himself who bemoans that he was never asked to investigate and, thus,  Mrs. Ronder was never caught in her crime (though she was punished, and severely) and has instead lived with the painful burden alone for so long. In confessing her crime to Holmes, Mrs. Ronder finally seeks to unburden herself, to lift both the literal and figurative veil that has clouded her existence in the years since, and, she is motivated to do so by a firm intention to finally end her troubled life. In Holmes’s far more complex moral calculus, he reverses what Mrs. Ronder may have thought she was achieving by confessing to him—her confession, after so long, is not about justice, but rather peace. And, after hearing of her crimes, Holmes concludes that, while the act itself was heinous, her motives were not unwarranted, her reason not unsound, and her victim not blameless, that the fact that she has borne the physical and emotional scars for so long is proof positive of her ability to find the peace she so craves, not in the afterlife, but in this one.

“The example of patient suffering is in itself the most precious of all lessons to an impatient world,” Holmes declares and demonstrates perhaps an overlooked aspect of his criminal investigations—their impact on the criminals themselves. The detective’s aid to the police and justice system, or what impact they might have on the safety and well-being of an unsuspecting public, are, we might imagine Holmes saying, ‘trifles’ when compared to the closure felt by the guilty parties themselves. By doing so, Mrs. Ronder is, in Holmes’s estimation, “brave,” and, as recipient of evidence that she has let go of the instrument of her suicidal intentions, Holmes sees an opportunity for life to begin anew. 



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