The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"What a woman – oh, what a woman!" cried the King of Bohemia, when we had all three read this epistle. "Did I not tell you how quick and resolute she was? Would she not have made an admirable queen? Is it not a pity that she was not on my level?"
"From what I have seen of the lady, she seems, indeed, to be on a very different level to your Majesty," said Holmes coldly. "I am sorry that I have not been able to bring your Majesty's business to a more successful conclusion" (Scandal.3.31-32).
Here, Holmes is making a little play on "level": on the one hand, he could be referring to Irene Adler's social rank, which is, of course, much lower than the King of Bohemia's. But the coldness of his speech and the emphatic "indeed" in the middle of his sentence suggests that he's using "level" to mean her value as a person – which is much greater than the King of Bohemia's. So Holmes seems to be implying that social status will always take a back seat to other ways of evaluating people. But then, why is Irene Adler so much better than the King of Bohemia? Is it simply that she's smarter than he is? More daring than he is? What standards does Holmes use to judge people? What is most important to him of those different values?
Now for the sinister cripple who lives upon the second floor of the opium den, and who was certainly the last human being whose eyes rested upon Neville St. Clair. His name is Hugh Boone, and his hideous face is one which is familiar to every man who goes much to the City. He is a professional beggar [...] I have watched the fellow more than once before ever I thought of making his professional acquaintance, and I have been surprised at the harvest which he has reaped in a short time. His appearance, you see, is so remarkable that no one can pass him without observing him (Twisted Lip.64).
The whole concept of a "professional beggar" is one that depends on the modern development of cities: Hugh Boone sets up his business in a busy street in the financial district of London. Without a certain number of people passing every day, he'd never make any money.
"When you see a man with whiskers of that cut and the 'Pink 'un' protruding out of his pocket, you can always draw him by a bet," said [Holmes]. "I daresay that if I had put £100 down in front of him, that man would not have given me such complete information as was drawn from him by the idea that he was doing me on a wager" (Carbuncle.147).
Holmes may be willing to interact with you regardless of social class, but that doesn't mean he won't judge you according to your background. Here, he manages to dupe a poultry seller into giving him information by using assumptions about the man's habits based solely on his appearance. We have to admit, scenes like this shake us out of the stories a little bit because, in today's world, we're trained not to profile people based on physical signs of class, race, or gender. As a reader of Holmes, how do you deal with the cultural differences between his time and now? Do these moments stick out to you, or are they just a part of Holmes's overall, self-contained fictional world?