Wednesday, January 4, 2017

1 - Optimism

The new year usually brings resolutions and offers a new beginning. In our new podcast which begins in January 2017, we thought it was the ideal time to look at optimism in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Was there more hope or despair in the Canon? Certainly, many cases began with despair, but which ones ended in optimism?

From "The Stockbroker's Clerk" to "The Copper Beeches," we have clients who were optimistically heading into new jobs. But all was not as it seemed... And what ends well for Sherlock Holmes does not always mean the same thing for his clients.

Download | 7 MB 15:14


Music credits

Performers: Uncredited violinist, US Marine Chamber Orchestra
Publisher Info.: Washington, DC: United States Marine Band.
CopyrightCreative Commons Attribution 3.0

Special thanks to John Rabe for our intro/outro and to Tom Richmond for our artwork.


Narrator: [00:00:01] Welcome to Trifles - a weekly podcast about the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Clive Merrison: [00:00:05] It is of course a trifle but there is nothing so important as trifles.

Narrator: [00:00:10] Yes the band was speckled and there were six Napoleons but there are so many other details to pick apart the stories.

Jeremy Brett: [00:00:17] Pray be precise as to details.

Narrator: [00:00:20] You know the plots but what about the minutiae? Have you ever stopped to wonder about why Dr Watson was called James by his wife? Or of Sherlock Holmes is dining habits. But what happened when he let a criminal escape.

Dennis Quilley: [00:00:33] You are very inquisitive Mr. Holmes.

Jeremy Brett: [00:00:35] It is my business to know what other people don't.

Narrator: [00:00:38] Scott Monty in Burt Wolder will have the answers to these questions and more in Trifles.

Clive Merrison: [00:00:44] The game's afoot.

Narrator: [00:00:46] Episode 1: Optimism.

Scott Monty: [00:00:50] Hi and welcome to Trifles. The first episode of Trifles. I'm Scott Monty and I'm Burt Wolder and you may recognize us from I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere but even if you don't that's OK because this is a fundamentally different show. We want to delve into some of the details and the Sherlock Holmes stories and we're going to kick it right off since this is our first show of the new year, 2017. We want to talk about things related to new years - in particular, we thought we would touch on the theme of optimism. You know the new year usually brings resolutions, promises that may or may not go anywhere but it offers people a new beginning. Visually, January is represented by the Roman god Janus who was looking back and looking forward. So we wanted to take a look at the role of optimism in the canon. And so Burt I will pose to you. Do you think there was more optimism more hope in the canon or was there more pessimism and despair?

Burt Wolder: [00:01:57] Well I think in general more optimism but you know it's interesting that in the cases of Sherlock Holmes very few of them affect only one or two immediately coming to mind encounter characters or people who are about to start something new. However I think that in general the cases of Sherlock Holmes have a tremendous amount of optimism in them because they all represent or many of them represent the solution of the mystery. You know the fathoming of a problem and that is encouraging, rewarding, exciting.

Scott Monty: [00:02:39] I mean look the reason people first arrive at Baker Street is usually because there's some there's some problem or some difficulty. But let's think about one person who wasn't a client per se at least not right off the bat but was brought into the case by virtue of a friend of his uncle - and that is Sir Henry Baskerville. Here's a guy who is just off the boat - literally just off the boat from Canada - coming into a major inheritance. One would think that all would be right in the world. And yeah he's heard of this little family legend and whatnot. But as far as Sir Henry is concerned he must be wondering well who's here to rain on my parade. Why is this going on.

Burt Wolder: [00:03:32] Well you know it was all very new to him clearly.

Scott Monty: [00:03:35] Yeah. And then he goes out to the Dartmoor, he falls in love with his beautiful neighbor. I mean who was you to know that she was married to the guy who was trying to kill him? I mean, he had every good thing though to look forward to.

Burt Wolder: [00:03:51] Well you know he does inherit based on his uncle's demise and he immediately meets Dr. Mortimer, who's got some strange tales to tell and then of course there's the missing boot. So mysterious things seem to accrue to Sir Henry early on in the game. I was thinking of. I was thinking of the Stock-broker's Clerk - you know, Hall Pycroft who is who is taken advantage of by a very clever villain because he's just starting something out you know he's going after this new job. You know which I think is very telling because so many of the villains in the canon are people who understand that connecting to their marks' hopes and dreams is really important. And so people like Hall Pycroft are taken advantage of. But then I guess you could say Sir Henry's taken advantage of as well.

Scott Monty: [00:04:51] Yeah, although not in my mind it was more of a nefarious way rather than just a gift or a con. Our friend Violet Hunter from The Copper Beeches - very much the same - she was seeking a new job.

Burt Wolder: [00:05:09] She was in desperate straits. You know what sends her back to that. That I'm trying to remember the name of the woman who runs the bureau trying to find governess's work what would send her back there as she goes back to her flat and realize as you know that she's really running out of money.

Burt Wolder: [00:05:31] Ms. Stoper How about that.

[00:05:35] Well done.

Scott Monty: [00:05:37] Yeah well that's that's true. And in doing so she accepted a position that was many times the going rate.

Burt Wolder: [00:05:50] Yes that really seemed too good to be true.

Scott Monty: [00:05:53] Right.

Burt Wolder: [00:05:54] And the interesting thing about her is that she wasn't you know she wasn't the sort of woman to say oh well look at my good fortune I'll just take advantage of these gullible people. She was smart enough to say I don't think could be. Something's not right here. I better consult someone now. How about this fellow Sherlock Holmes?

Scott Monty: [00:06:14] Well then we had a we had a similar issue with regard to being able to get someone a half wages that cheapskate Jabez Wilson and The Red Headed League was able to do.

Burt Wolder: [00:06:28] Oh right.

Burt Wolder: [00:06:29] So kind of looking at it from the other way around that boy he's happy because here he got this help he came for half wages and then all of a sudden he's got an opportunity to to come in to some money simply because he has red hair.

Burt Wolder: [00:06:43] Yeah well that's why Violet Hunter is somewhat unique I mean we're sort of off topic here in terms of optimism but she's somewhat unique in the canon in that she is a well-rounded thoughtful person with good judgment who encounters who seeks out homes because you know she just wants to be sure about something. The vast majority of people that Holmes encounters are you know don't don't really fit that profile and Jabez Wilson is one who presented with this violent hunter like opportunity this gift of this steady paycheck says to himself, "Yes makes perfect sense to me. Thank goodness non-qualified Where do I have to show up?"

Scott Monty: [00:07:28] Yeah Yeah. That's that's a good point.

Burt Wolder: [00:07:34] But you know the interesting thing about all of this is that it shows you how human and sensitive and observant. If one wants to presume that the literary agent had something to do with all of these stories - that the author is because he's so attuned to these human foibles and opportunities and what happens when people encounter something that might be too good to be true and what the real motivations are and what how might appeal to various people.

Scott Monty: [00:08:08] Very astute at that. And every one of the situations I think was eminently believable. We could all picture ourselves in a situation like that being offered something or having an opportunity to do something and the brain is funny that way - the emotions take over. And I think  it's human nature to at times look at the world through rose colored glasses. And when when an opportunity is offered we usually don't think ill of our fellow man. We tend to believe that people are generally good and that can lead a few unsuspecting naive souls astray because of that what we saw that time and again.

Burt Wolder: [00:09:01] Well you mentioned earlier mark and grifter you know and that harkens back to our conversation that I Hear of Sherlock with Maria Konnikova, who in addition to her How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes also had a book called The Confidence Gamein which she distilled the essence the mechanics of confidence games and tricks like that - and so many of those those characteristics are afoot in the literature of Sherlock Holmes, in Sherlock Holmes cases. In the case of Hall Pycroft the Stockbroker's Clerk an in Violet Hunter and in The Solitary Cyclist and many more.

Scott Monty: [00:09:41] Now if you're not familiar with I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere - that's the companion podcast you can check out the episode with Maria Konnikova by simply going to the URL, you'll find the Confidence Game episode with Maria. Now there's one that certainly involved anything but hope at the outset. But I think we're well we're left with mixed emotions at the end of it. But I think there is hope after all and that is - again not a not a real mystery to be solved here; there was no crime committed at least in the in the case of the client in present day. But that is The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger. This is one of those human tragic stories. Mrs. Ronder, whose face was mauled by the lion at the circus, was contemplating suicide. And I think what we were left with at the end of it was not only a stern rebuke and warning from Holmes, but perhaps perhaps some hope that this woman would not take her own life and that she would continue to live as sad a life as it was. There perhaps was a glimpse of optimism for the true humanists out there.

Burt Wolder: [00:11:25] Well Holmes reminds her that life is worth living and in the end you're left with the very strong impression that she's not going to do herself and which is very positive. But I don't know that I would say that case ends really with any optimism.

Scott Monty: [00:11:42] Well it certainly ends better than it begins.

Burt Wolder: [00:11:45] Big cases that end optimistically I think The Sign of Four ends optimistically - Watson found the love of his life.

Scott Monty: [00:11:55] There's there's another one involving an inheritance and it ends very well for Mary Morstan and John Watson.

Burt Wolder: [00:12:03] And you know here's something to think about I mean the cases that end well for the participants versus the cases that end well for Sherlock Holmes. You know the cases that end well for Sherlock Holmes - in addition to the cases that end with him putting a sizeable check in his pocket - are those cases that come to mind like The Six Napoleons where he you know he's really appropriately praised by his colleagues, which is not something that he's he's used to. As opposed to cases that end well for his clients or not. When I think of people like poor old Hilton Cubitt who without too much of a spoiler alert and up as it were deceased.

Scott Monty: [00:12:49] Yeah. That that was very tragic there. But you know The Six Napoleons, I've always always enjoyed that because you see just a brief crack in the unfeeling exterior of Holmes when Lestrade said "Well, I've seen you handle a good many cases Mr. Holmes but I don't know that I ever knew more workman like one than that were not jealous of you down at Scotland Yard. No sir. We're very proud of you. And if you come down tomorrow there's not a man from the oldest inspector to the youngest constable who wouldn't be glad to shake you by the hand." "Thank you!" said Holmes. "Thank you." And as he turned away it seemed to me that he was more nearly moved by the softer human emotions than I had ever seen him. A moment later he was the cold and practical thinker once more.

Burt Wolder: [00:13:55] It's lovely. But see isn't that the fun? Having regular sort of a conversation about the details of the canon - if you spend the time and read the 56 short stories and the four novels you wind up with a memory of these lovely incidents and it's so much more detailed than simply having a list of quotations. When you think of Robert Louis Stevenson and you think of Jane Austen another lovely little lines of dialogue and great little memorable moments but there does seem to be a rich store of things that are worth recalling in the cases of Sherlock Holmes.

Scott Monty: [00:14:37] Something I think about. Well friends we will leave you with that thought until we see you here on Trifels next time.

Narrator: [00:14:47] Please join us again next week for another installment of Trifles. Show notes are available on Please subscribe to us on iTunes and be sure to check out our longer show I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, where we interview notable Sherlockians, share news and go into even more depth on certain topics.

Peter Barkworth: [00:15:09] You take my breath away, Mr. Holmes.


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Scott Monty and Burt Wolder are both members of the Baker Street Irregulars, the literary society dedicated to Sherlock Holmes. They have co-hosted the popular show I Hear of Everywhere since June 2007.

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