Elementary

September 14th, 2011

Annotated Paragraph

Posted by sasha in

An New Critic Interpretation of “A Scandal in Bohemia”

(Just as a note, when annotating in this theme, the word doesn’t change color, so you might have to hover hover hover until you find something that’s annotated. Sorry about that.)

I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away from each other. My own complete happiness, and the home-centred interests which rise up around the man who first finds himself master of his own establishment, were sufficient to absorb all my attention, while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature. He was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime, and occupied his immense faculties and extraordinary powers of observation in following out those clues, and clearing up those mysteries which had been abandoned as hopeless by the official police.

This paragraph appeared early on in “A Scandal in Bohemia.” It does a great job of introducing the character Sherlock Holmes, summarizing a lot of what we would have learned if we’d read the previous Sherlock stories. Doyle starts off with having Watson say, “I had seen little of Holmes lately.” This really sets the vibe for the upcoming paragraphs, where Watson and Holmes interact for the first time in a while. Holmes, in the beginning paragraphs, is a mystery himself. His friend doesn’t know what he’s been up to in a while, and with the descriptions of his drug abuse and seclusion, whatever he’s been up to is a bit questionable. Maybe only the great sleuth can figure himself out. By placing this sentence first in the paragraph, it plays the part of foreshadowing, as well as in setting the tone of the paragraph. If it were placed at the end of this paragraph, the meaning wouldn’t be as clear or important to the story.

It could be argued that Watson and Holmes are the foils of each other. Holmes is the enigmatic leader, while Watson represents the loyal friend. Watson has moved on from this role to marry and become “the master of his own establishment,” something he was not at Baker Street. Holmes is left behind, which is a rare occurrence, and he has no interest whatsoever in women. That is, until the end of “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Watson mentioning his new marriage could just him mentioning his marriage… But here it’s once again foreshadowing to the shift that Holmes takes, though it’s only a slight shift in interest, for Irene Adler later in the story.

Holmes is said to have a “Bohemian soul.” A Bohemian, being a vagrant, a vagabond, or someone with an alternative lifestyle in general, truly describes Holmes. This paragraph is the only reference to Bohemia in relation to Holmes – it brings up the idea that the “Scandal in Bohemia” is in Holmes’ own Bohemian world, as opposed to the King of Bohemia’s world. The upcoming incidents with Irene Adler certainly count as a scandal for Holmes. Continuing with Holmes’ “Bohemian soul,” there’s an almost poetic rhyme in the lines, “…while Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul.” I think the word choice of whole and soul really puts an emphasis on Bohemian.

Another example of specific word choice that lends to literary meaning is in the line, “…remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature.” Since Watson has not seen Holmes lately, and Watson is the one who chronicles Holmes’ adventures in the form of stories, Holmes has been figuratively “buried” in his books. He’s trapped there in Baker Street until Watson returns to write his story. His “ambition” for solving crime is what revives him, brings him back from his stupor, and back to the story. The word “buried” implies that Holmes is not alive unless he’s solving crime, and it’s defended by the description of his drowsy cocaine-filled days when he’s without a mystery to tend to. And just as Watson’s “attention” is completely occupied by his wife, Holmes’ attention is occupied by crime. “He was still, as ever, deeply attracted by the study of crime, and occupied his immense faculties” Holmes is “deeply attracted” to his livelihood, in the same way that Watson is attracted to women. (Did you know Watson is a bit of a ladies man in the Sherlock Holmes canon? I think I’m a little biased in this interpretation.)

Once again, if we turn to this line, “…Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature.” With this syntax, with the frequent commas, it feels almost as Holmes’ days go on and on and on when there are no mysteries for him to lose himself in.

This paragraph, though it appears early on in the story, does a great job of foreshadowing, and setting the tone for the rest of the story, through it’s use of word choice, syntax, and even rhyme. We can tell that Sherlock Holmes is going to be a part of an interesting scandal, which extends past the King of Bohemia into his own mysterious life.

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One Response to ' Annotated Paragraph '

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  1.    Kevin L. Ferguson said,

    on November 4th, 2011 at 12:57 am

    Hi Sasha,

    I was hoping to see you say more about the connotation of individual words, rather than mainly the denotation. Like for instance, with the first sentence, I think you’re on the right track that we are being introduced to this character as being a kind of mystery, but I want to hear more evidence of this–what specifically is important about the words that Doyle uses? What kinds of paradigmatic choices are being made here?

    Same thing for the idea that Watson and Holmes are foils for each other. Other than what happens in the narrative, how does Doyle get that point across in his choice of syntax, diction, or formal elements?

    I’m sot convinced wan you discuss the word “Bohemian,” and especially the paragraph about Holmes being “buried.” There’s a nice tension that the New Critics would appreciate there–one week he is a manic and all over the place, the next week he’s drowsy and drugged up. Do you think Doyle resolves this tension–creates an “organic unity”?

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