The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Foreignness and 'The Other' Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Through the gloom one could dimly catch a glimpse of bodies lying in strange fantastic poses, bowed shoulders, bent knees, heads thrown back, and chins pointing upward, with here and there a dark, lack-lustre eye turned upon the newcomer. Out of the black shadows there glimmered little red circles of light, now bright, now faint, as the burning poison waxed or waned in the bowls of the metal pipes. The most lay silent, but some muttered to themselves, and others talked together in a strange, low, monotonous voice, their conversation coming in gushes, and then suddenly tailing off into silence, each mumbling out his own thoughts and paying little heed to the words of his neighbour. At the farther end was a small brazier of burning charcoal, beside which on a three-legged wooden stool there sat a tall, thin old man, with his jaw resting upon his two fists, and his elbows upon his knees, staring into the fire.
As I entered, a sallow Malay attendant had hurried up with a pipe for me and a supply of the drug, beckoning me to an empty berth (Twisted Lip.14-6).
This dark and dangerous space of the opium den is strongly associated with two things: moral decay and Asia. We see here the Malaysian attendant; the den itself is owned by a "Lascar," a racialized term for an Indian soldier. Conan Doyle may not approve of the Ku Klux Klan, but he is also not free of his own racial stereotypes.
When the commissionaire had gone, Holmes took up the stone and held it against the light. "It's a bonny thing," said he. "Just see how it glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil's pet baits. In the larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed. This stone is not yet twenty years old. It was found in the banks of the Amoy River in southern China and is remarkable in having every characteristic of the carbuncle, save that it is blue in shade instead of ruby red. In spite of its youth, it has already a sinister history. There have been two murders, a vitriol-throwing, a suicide, and several robberies brought about for the sake of this forty-grain weight of crystallised charcoal. Who would think that so pretty a toy would be a purveyor to the gallows and the prison? I'll lock it up in my strong box now and drop a line to the Countess to say that we have it" (Carbuncle.69).
The Blue Carbuncle in this passage seems like a distillation of both the danger and the attraction of colonialism. The featured stone is immensely valuable, sure, but the means of its circulation through the world, from China to London, comes at the high price of "two murders, a vitriol-throwing, a suicide, and several robberies." Yikes. Staying put and avoiding such things seems like one potential recipe for safety in this otherwise topsy-turvy world.
Violence of temper approaching to mania has been hereditary in the men of the [Roylott] family, and in my stepfather's case it had, I believe, been intensified by his long residence in the tropics. A series of disgraceful brawls took place, two of which ended in the police-court, until at last he became the terror of the village, and folk would fly at his approach, for he is a man of immense strength and absolutely uncontrollable in his anger (Band.25).
Going abroad and then returning again has (a) made Roylott a stranger in his own village and (b) worsened characteristics he already had. What we find interesting in this passage is that Helen Stoner is really laying out a case for nature and nurture as factors that contribute to criminal behavior. Yes, Roylott's violence has gotten a lot worse since his time in India, but he also has a long family history of madness. Conan Doyle's not just giving us a criminal; he has given us a scientific-sounding explanation for how Roylott got that way. It's not that much of a leap from this passage to later FBI-type criminal profiles on TV or in the movies.