Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Watson and Other Excitable Characters - Ejaculations in the Sherlock Holmes Canon

Hopefully, this heading did not make you ejaculate with shock! Recently, I watched the first episode of the QI J-season, and after a particularly entertaining passage on language and literature, I ejaculated with joy. However, I did so not in the most common modern sense of the word, but in the late 18th century sense. The e comes from latin out (of) while iaculor is to throw or hurl (like a javelin), so while re-ject means to throw/send something back and e-ject means to throw/send something out, an ejaculation used to be just any kind of outburst.

In this particular QI episode, the use of the word in the Sherlock Holmes canon was the object of much mirth. There are 23 ejaculations in the canon, all of which presumably intended to be verbal, but like imagining Frodo and Sam as lovers in The Lord of the Rings, once you've thought it you can't un-think it and you're scarred for life:

This is just a few, though, and so you might ask, "Surely, this must be something for someone with a blog on literature! Why not the lot?" And you did, to which I reply, "Enjoy!"

You must have observed the way in which he held his head and swung his cane. A steady, respectable, middle-aged man, too, on the face of him—all facts which led me to believe that he had been a sergeant.”
“Wonderful!” I ejaculated.
“Commonplace,” said Holmes
Simple as it was, there were several most instructive points about it.”
“Simple!” I ejaculated.
“Well, really, it can hardly be described as otherwise,” said Sherlock Holmes, smiling at my surprise.
“NOW, WATSON,” said Holmes, rubbing his hands, “we have half an hour to ourselves. Let us make good use of it. My case is, as I have told you, almost complete; but we must not err on the side of over-confidence. Simple as the case seems now, there may be something deeper underlying it.”
“Simple!” I ejaculated.
(Watson, in response to his soon-to-be fiancée)
It was selfish, no doubt, disloyal, wrong, but I could realize nothing save that the golden barrier was gone from between us.
“Thank God!” I ejaculated from my very heart.
She looked at me with a quick, questioning smile.

- A Study in Scarlet -

“What on earth does this mean?” I ejaculated after I had twice read over the extraordinary announcement.
Holmes chuckled and wriggled in his chair, as was his habit when in high spirits

- The Red-Headed League -

This observation of his had the natural effect of removing any traces of doubt which might have remained in the minds of the coroner's jury.”
“It was a confession,” I ejaculated 

- The Boscombe Valley Mystery -

While she was walking in this way down Swandam Lane, she suddenly heard an ejaculation or cry, and was struck cold to see her husband looking down at her and, as it seemed to her, beckoning to her from a second-floor window. The window was open, and she distinctly saw his face, which she describes as being terribly agitated. He waved his hands frantically to her, and then vanished from the window so suddenly that it seemed to her that he had been plucked back by some irresistible force from behind.
With these he constructed a sort of Eastern divan, upon which he perched himself cross-legged, with an ounce of shag tobacco and a box of matches laid out in front of him. In the dim light of the lamp I saw him sitting there, an old briar pipe between his lips, his eyes fixed vacantly upon the corner of the ceiling, the blue smoke curling up from him, silent, motionless, with the light shining upon his strong-set aquiline features. So he sat as I dropped off to sleep, and so he sat when a sudden ejaculation caused me to wake up, and I found the summer sun shining into the apartment. The pipe was still between his lips, the smoke still curled upward, and the room was full of a dense tobacco haze, but nothing remained of the heap of shag which I had seen upon the previous night.
“Awake, Watson?” he asked.
“Game for a morning drive?”
“Then dress. No one is stirring yet, but I know where the stable-boy sleeps

- The Man with the Twisted Lip -

 Sherlock Holmes sat up with a whistle. “By Jove, Peterson!” said he, “this is treasure trove indeed. I suppose you know what you have got?”
“A diamond, sir? A precious stone. It cuts into glass as though it were putty.”
“It's more than a precious stone. It is the precious stone.”
“Not the Countess of Morcar's blue carbuncle!” I ejaculated.

- The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle -

The ejaculation had been drawn from my companion by the fact that our door had been suddenly dashed open, and that a huge man had framed himself in the aperture. His costume was a peculiar mixture of the professional and of the agricultural, having a black top-hat, a long frock-coat, and a pair of high gaiters, with a hunting-crop swinging in his hand. 

- The Adventure of the Specled Band -

“What on earth has that to do with it?” I ejaculated.

- The Adventure of the Copper Beeches -

“The young imp cannot be found,” said Dr. Trevelyan; “the maid and the cook have just been searching for him.”
Holmes shrugged his shoulders.
“He has played a not unimportant part in this drama,” said he. “The three men having ascended the stairs, which they did on tiptoe, the elder man first, the younger man second, and the unknown man in the rear—”
“My dear Holmes!” I ejaculated.

- The Resident Patient -

“Surely the gate was open!” ejaculated Phelps.
“Yes, but I have a peculiar taste in these matters. I chose the place where the three fir-trees stand, and behind their screen I got over without the least chance of any one in the house being able to see me. I crouched down among the bushes on the other side, and crawled from one to the other—witness the disreputable state of my trouser knees—until I had reached the clump of rhododendrons just opposite to your bedroom window. There I squatted down and awaited developments.
“The blind was not down in your room, and I could see Miss Harrison sitting there reading by the table. It was quarter-past ten when she closed her book, fastened the shutters, and retired.
“I heard her shut the door, and felt quite sure that she had turned the key in the lock.”
“The key!” ejaculated Phelps 
(and finally)
A moment later the servant's door was opened, and Mr. Joseph Harrison stepped out into the moonlight.”
“Joseph!” ejaculated Phelps

- The Naval Treaty -

Once or twice it seemed to me that I had seen the same figure before, and I especially noticed two men who appeared to be sheltering themselves from the wind in the doorway of a house some distance up the street. I tried to draw my companion's attention to them, but he gave a little ejaculation of impatience and continued to stare into the street.

- The Adventure of the Empty House – see my earlier post featuring this short story!

As Holmes turned up the lamp the light fell upon a card on the table. He glanced at it, and then, with an ejaculation of disgust, threw it on the floor. I picked it up and read:—
Appledore Towers, 
“Who is he?” I asked.
“The worst man in London,” Holmes answered

- The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton -

Amid the droning of the wind there had come the stamping of a horse's hoofs and the long grind of a wheel as it rasped against the kerb. The cab which I had seen had pulled up at our door.
“What can he want?” I ejaculated, as a man stepped out of it.
“Want! He wants us. And we, my poor Watson, want overcoats and cravats and galoshes, and every aid that man ever invented
Tut-tut! Well, then, these tracks upon the grass, were they coming or going?”
“It was impossible to say. There was never any outline.”
“A large foot or a small?”
“You could not distinguish.”
Holmes gave an ejaculation of impatience.

- The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez -

This brought his hand within a few inches of the broken end of the rope, but it was not this so much as the bracket itself which seemed to engage his attention. Finally he sprang down with an ejaculation of satisfaction.
“It's all right, Watson,” said he.

- The Adventure of the Abbey Grange -

My visit was specially made to the good Mr. Ames, with whom I exchanged some amiabilities, which culminated in his allowing me, without reference to anyone else, to sit alone for a time in the study.”
“What! With that?” I ejaculated.
“No, no, everything is now in order. You gave permission for that, Mr. Mac, as I am informed. The room was in its normal state, and in it I passed an instructive quarter of an hour.”

- The Valley of Fear - 

In the bedroom he made a rapid cast around and ended by throwing open the window, which appeared to give him some fresh cause for excitement, for he leaned out of it with loud ejaculations of interest and delight.

- The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot - 

(Holmes misses Watson…)
And here it is that I miss my Watson. By cunning questions and ejaculations of wonder he could elevate my simple art, which is but systematized common sense, into a prodigy.

- The Blanched Soldier -


What do you think?

Once more with the etymology! Is the fact that the predominant meaning of words change, sometimes with comic results, the most appealing part of language, or is it something else? According to Queer  and Feminist Theory, a lot of literature can be read from a new angle, as with Lord of the Rings and now clearly the Holmes canon. Have you read anything lately where a different understanding of the genders and gender roles alters your understanding of the text?

Comments on The Tale of Sir Bob are always welcome! 

Sources: As given

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Kurt Vonnegut's Backwards Movie

I am a slow reader, but Kurt Vonnegut's A Man Without a Country is to date the only book I have read all in a day. Kurt Vonnegut's innocent and quaintly humorous tone betrays a wit as sharp and piercing as an antibiotic syringe and this kept me rapt for an entire day. Expectations were therefore high before reading Vonnegut's most acclaimed novel, Slaugherhouse Five.

The novel figures on Modern Library and Time Magazine's lists of the 100 most significant English-language novels and the American Library Association's list of the 100 most frequently challenged books 1990-1999 (i.e. books requested for withdrawal from libraries). It is also known as one of the great anti-war novels, as it follows the protagonist Billy Pilgrim's experience of the Second World War, the bombing of Dresden and their results for Billy's subsequent civilian life. Vonnegut, who experienced the Dresden bombing, created this compelling argument against war halfway through his semi-autobiographic novel. The protagonist, many years after the war has become somewhat peculiar. He can't sleep, and goes into the kitchen.


Billy looked at the clock on the gas stove. He had an hour to kill before the saucer came. He went into the living room, swinging the bottle like a dinner bell, turned on the television. He came slightly unstuck in time, saw the late movie backwards, then forwards again. It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground., to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn't in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.


If the significance of this passage eludes you, have no fear. The below illustration, accompanied by Kurt Vonnegut's reading of the passage succincly explains how contrary and illogical war is.

What do you think?

Do you think Vonnegut makes a compelling argument with this passage, or could it be read otherwise? Assuming it communicates an anti-war message, you agree with him and the way he presents it? Vonnegut is known for using short sentences meant for high reading speed rather than contemplation. Do you think this is a fitting style for discussing a topic as deep as war? Did the segment make you want to read more from Vonnegut?

Comments on The Tale of Sir Bob are always welcome! 

Sources: Vonnegut, Kurt: Slaugherhouse 5, London 2000, 60-61, pic, film, as given

Monday, 1 July 2013

"Tiger" Jack Moran and his Enemies - Doyle, Fraser and Gaiman Ride a Bicycle Made for Three


"I have not introduced you yet," said Holmes. "This, gentlemen, is Colonel Sebastian Moran, once of Her Majesty's Indian Army, and the best heavy-game shot that our Eastern Empire has ever produced. I believe I am correct, Colonel, in saying that your bag of tigers still remains unrivalled?"
The fierce old man said nothing, but still glared at my companion. With his savage eyes and bristling moustache he was wonderfully like a tiger himself.

 "What business have you got at your time of life to be trying to slaughter a man fifteen years younger than you are, in the middle of civilised London, especially when he’s a high-tailed gun-slick with a beltful of scalps who can shoot your ears off with his eyes shut? For that’s what Tiger Jack Moran was, and no mistake." 

"My shoulder, touched by the Queen, continues to improve; the flesh fills and it heals. Soon I shall be a dead-shot once more"


"Tiger" Jack Moran first appeared in the Sherlock Holmes short story The Adventure of the Empty House in Arthur Conan Doyle's 1903 The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes had just been resurrected due to public pressure only to face another threat. A lieutenant of his now conquered nemesis Professor Moriarty was after his blood. This lieutenant was Colonel Sebastian Moran, famed tiger hunter and marksman. The first quotation is from this story.

Colonel Moran
as portrayed by Sidney Paget

Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels and short stories inspire in mysterious ways, however, and 96 years later a different short story converged with Doyle’s by the hand of George MacDonald Fraser. Fraser was at this time nearing the end of his Flashman series and the short story Flashman and the Tiger from the book of the same name saw Sir Harry Paget Flashman encounter Moran, whom he calls “Jack” at the infamous battle of Insandhlwana in 1879. However, their paths cross again when Moran manages to draw the old yellow-bellied shirker to confrontation. What he did to provoke this stupendous feat is better enjoyed from Fraser’s pen, but suffice it to say this puts Moran, Holmes, Watson and Flashman in the same room. The second quotation is Fraser's.

Then, in 2006, that master of plot twists and twisted plots Neil Gaiman added the short story A Study in Emerald to his collection Fragile Things. While clearly appropriating Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, there is a twist to the story which really strengthens Moran’s position as one of Moriarty’s lieutenants in the Sherlock Holmes corpus. The third quotation is from Neil Gaiman's short story. While it takes a tremendous Sherlock Holmes addict who has studied the novels and short stories in depth (twice) to identify Moran’s position in the short story, Neil Gaiman once more manages to make his story expand beyond the mere 9 pages on which it is written. It also makes said addict revisit said corpus.

If you enjoyed the first two seasons of BBC’s television revision and update of the Sherlock Holmes stories, aptly named Sherlock, you will be delighted to know that there is a third season in the works. Although not expected to air until 2014, the first episode is expected to build on The Adventure of the Empty House as the last episode of the second series saw Holmes fall to his death. There is hope though, because if you find the wait for The Empty Hearse long and unbearable, you can discover these three short stories in the meantime.

Feel free to read them in any sequence you like, but in retrospect, this one would be highly recommended:

Arthur Conan Doyle - The Adventure of the Empty House

George MacDonald Fraser - Flashman and the Tiger (starts on p. 179)

Neil Gaiman - A Study in Emerald

What do you think? 

Which story did you like the best? Which author would you like to read more by? Are you looking forward to the third season of Sherlock? Do you know of any other good literary constellations like this one where plots and characters merge surreptitiously? See also my post on the appeal of the villain!

Comments on The Tale of Sir Bob are always welcome!

Sources: As given, Collage, Frame, Pics