“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
A few months ago, a friend of mine read “The Naval Treaty,” for the first time, in response to one of my earlier blog posts. When she reached the famous “soliloquy on flowers,” she set the book down and leaned in towards me, conspiratorially. “Was this,” she asked, “One of those moments when Holmes was…well...you know…” Her question trailed off for a moment, but then her voice dropped to a whisper. “Was this one of those times when Holmes was…on drugs?”
“Oh, for goodness sake…no,” I replied, quite defensively. As if the Great Detective’s honor were in question, and for some reason it was my job to defend it. And I wasn’t even sure if my answer to her question was correct, not in the fullest sense. How could I be? Watson certainly did not record every single one of Holmes’s actions, and even then, who can say what the Detective got up to when the Doctor’s back was turned. So, it was entirely possible that Holmes was on drugs (as my friend had so furtively put it) when he spoke on the goodness of flowers. But I understood what she was really asking, what she could perceive even from reading this single tale: Sherlock Holmes is acting a little strange here, isn’t he?
Monday of this week, September 12, marked the sixteenth anniversary of the passing of Jeremy Brett, who played Sherlock Holmes in the Granada Television series from 1984-1994. The series was famous for the manner in which it remained faithful to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, and exhaustively captured the minutest details in setting, costume, and performance. Granada’s interpretation of NAVA manages to be both nuanced and theatrical, and thus successfully captures the scope of the original story. Brett’s performance manages to mitigate some of the strangeness of Holmes’s dialogue, and as a result, the passage becomes a part of Holmes’s character, rather than a deviation from it. As Dr. Watson says in NAVA, in regards to Holmes’s speech: “It was a new phase of his character to me, for I had never before seen him show any keen interest in natural objects.” Likewise, David Burke’s Dr. Watson seems perplexed, and perhaps a little embarrassed by his friend’s behavior, but his expression is mostly gently accepting. His face reads more, “Oh, he’s off again,” and less, “What is he on about?”
|This is a moss rose, apparently. I learned something today.|
|Photo Credit: bookishadventures.tumblr.com|
When Holmes unexpectedly parts company Dr. Watson and Percy Phelps, as the trio was supposed to be leaving Woking for London, Phelps says of Holmes: “He really is the most inscrutable fellow, Watson.” And NAVA certainly demonstrates some of Sherlock Holmes’s more inscrutable moments. But the Granada adaptation of this tale goes a long way towards translating some of that inscrutability for the reader, and like Watson, allowing them to see “a new phase of his character.”
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