Sunday, January 25, 2015

Book "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

About the Book: "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is one of the eight stories in the cycle collected as His Last Bow, and one of the few stories in which for much of the plot Watson must act alone and try his best with Holmes left in the background.

About the Author: Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born on 22 May 1859 at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh, Scotland. From 1876 to 1881, he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, including a period working in the town of Aston (now a district of Birmingham) and in Sheffield, as well as in Shropshire at Ruyton-XI-Towns. While studying, Doyle began writing short stories. His earliest extant fiction, "The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe", was unsuccessfully submitted to Blackwood's Magazine. His first published piece "The Mystery of Sasassa Valley", a story set in South Africa, was printed in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal on 6 September 1879. On 20 September 1879, he published his first non-fiction article, "Gelsemium as a Poison" in the British Medical Journal. In 1882 he joined former classmate George Turnavine Budd as his partner at a medical practice in Plymouth, but their relationship proved difficult, and Doyle soon left to set up an independent practice. Arriving in Portsmouth in June of that year with less than £10 (£900 today) to his name, he set up a medical practice at 1 Bush Villas in Elm Grove, Southsea. The practice was initially not very successful. While waiting for patients, Doyle again began writing stories and composed his first novels, The Mystery of Cloomber, not published until 1888, and the unfinished Narrative of John Smith, which would go unpublished until 2011. He amassed a portfolio of short stories including "The Captain of the Pole-Star" and "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement", both inspired by Doyle's time at sea, the latter of which popularized the mystery of the Mary Celeste and added fictional details such as the perfect condition of the ship (which had actually taken on water by the time it was discovered) and its boats remaining on board (the one boat was in fact missing) that have come to dominate popular accounts of the incident. Doyle struggled to find a publisher for his work. His first significant piece, A Study in Scarlet, was taken by Ward Lock Co. on 20 November 1886, giving Doyle £25 for all rights to the story. The piece appeared later that year in the Beeton's Christmas Annual and received good reviews in The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. The story featured the first appearance of Watson and Sherlock Holmes, partially modeled after his former university teacher Joseph Bell. Doyle wrote to him, "It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes ... Round the center of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man." Robert Louis Stevenson was able, even in faraway Samoa, to recognize the strong similarity between Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes: "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... Can this be my old friend Joe Bell?" Other authors sometimes suggest additional influences—for instance, the famous Edgar Allan Poe character C. Auguste Dupin. A sequel to A Study in Scarlet was commissioned and The Sign of the Four appeared in Lippincott's Magazine in February 1890, under agreement with the Ward Lock company. Doyle felt grievously exploited by Ward Lock as an author new to the publishing world and he left them. Short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes were published in the Strand Magazine. Doyle first began to write for the 'Strand' from his home at 2 Upper Wimpole Street, now marked by a memorial plaque. In this period, however, Holmes was not his sole subject and in 1893, he collaborated with J.M. Barrie on the libretto of Jane Annie. Doyle was found clutching his chest in the hall of Windlesham Manor, his house in Crowborough, East Sussex, on 7 July 1930. He died of a heart attack at the age of 71. His last words were directed toward his wife: "You are wonderful." At the time of his death, there was some controversy concerning his burial place, as he was avowedly not a Christian, considering himself a Spiritualist. He was first buried on 11 July 1930 in Windlesham rose garden. He was later re-interred together with his wife in Minstead churchyard in the New Forest, Hampshire. Carved wooden tablets to his memory and to the memory of his wife are held privately and are inaccessible to the public. That inscription reads, "Blade straight / Steel true / Arthur Conan Doyle / Born May 22nd 1859 / Passed On 7th July 1930." The epitaph on his gravestone in the churchyard reads, in part: "Steel true/Blade straight/Arthur Conan Doyle/Knight/Patriot, Physician, and man of letters". Undershaw, the home near Hindhead, Haslemere, south of London, that Doyle had built and lived in between October 1897 and September 1907, was a hotel and restaurant from 1924 until 2004. It was then bought by a developer and stood empty while conservationists and Doyle fans fought to preserve it. In 2012 the High Court ruled that the redevelopment permission be quashed because proper procedure had not been followed. A statue honors Doyle at Crowborough Cross in Crowborough, where he lived for 23 years. There is also a statue of Sherlock Holmes in Picardy Place, Edinburgh, close to the house where Doyle was born.

My Review: In this story, Holmes sends Dr. Watson to Lausanne to investigate Lady Frances Carfax’s disappearance. Holmes is too busy in London. Lady Frances is a lone, unwed woman denied a rich inheritance on account of her sex. She does, however, carry valuable jewels with her. It is also her habit to write to her old governess, Miss Dobney, every other week, but for the past five weeks, there has not been a word from her. She has left the Hôtel National for parts unknown. Her last two bank transactions were checks, one to pay her hotel bill, and another for £50 to her maid, Miss Marie Devine.
In Switzerland, Watson finds out that Lady Frances stayed at the Hôtel International for several weeks, but then suddenly left in a hurry one day. Only one witness could suggest an explanation, one involving a big, bearded man who kept hounding her. It also emerges that Lady Frances’s maid has left her employ, although it is not known why.
Watson finds out where Lady Frances went, and inquires at the Englischer Hof in Baden, Germany. She stayed there for a fortnight and met a couple named Schlessinger, a missionary from South America, and an invalid. Lady Frances left with them three weeks ago for London, and nothing has been heard of her since. Watson also finds out that the big bearded man, the “savage”, came about a week ago looking for her. Watson telegraphs Holmes about his progress, and oddly, Holmes wires back asking for a description of Dr. Schlessinger’s left ear. Watson believes this to be Holmes’s attempt at humor. Holmes is actually in earnest.
Watson visits Marie Devine, the former maid, in Montpellier, France, and it turns out that her upcoming wedding was why she left Lady Frances’s employ. The £50 was a wedding present. She, too, believes that the bearded man was the reason that her former mistress left Lausanne. He was quite a rough man. During this interview, Marie sees the very man in question in the street. Watson rushes out and demands to know who he is and what he has done with Lady Frances. A fight ensues and Watson is nearly strangled. A French workman breaks the fight up with his cudgel and the bearded man withdraws. It then turns out that the workman is a disguised Holmes, who suggests that Watson accompany him back to London, and wryly observes that there is no blunder which Watson has failed to commit in this investigation.
Before leaving, however, Holmes interviews someone. It is the bearded man, Philip Green, an old suitor of Lady Frances’s. Yes, he is seeking Lady Frances, but he still wants to win her heart. As a younger man, he was not rich. Now that he has made his fortune in South Africa, he hopes she will see him differently, but he is still rather churlish and clearly Lady Frances is unwilling. Holmes recommends that he go back to London.
Once Holmes and Watson are back at 221B Baker Street, Holmes reads a telegram from Baden about Dr. Schlessinger’s left ear — “jagged or torn”. This confirms Holmes’s suspicion that Dr. Schlessinger is in fact Henry Peters, a vicious rascal from Australia (his earlobe was chewed away in a bar brawl). His wife’s real name is Fraser. He beguiles young women by playing to their religious beliefs, as Schlessinger did with Lady Frances. This suggested his true identity to Holmes. Holmes believes that Lady Frances is in London, and quite possibly dead, or if not, confined in some way.
The search seems hopeless. The police follow known associates, Holmes places advertisements hoping to learn something, but nothing happens. Then, a pawnshop reports that someone matching Schlessinger’s description has pawned a pendant very much like one owned by Lady Frances. He gave a false address, but this gives Holmes what he needs. He has Philip Green wait in the pawnshop, knowing that Henry Peters will want to pawn more jewellery. It takes a few days, but he is not disappointed. His wife shows up this time to pawn a matching pendant, and Green follows her, first to an undertaker’s, where he finds Peters’s wife discussing an “out of the ordinary” order, and later to an address in Brixton. He watches the house and sees some men deliver a coffin.
Holmes writes Green a note and sends him to the police to fetch a warrant. Meanwhile, Holmes and Watson go first to the undertaker’s to ask about the funeral — it is at eight o’clock the next morning — and then to Brixton where they demand to see Dr. Schlessinger, or whatever he may call himself. Once inside, in the absence of a warrant, Holmes is obliged to resort to force to search Peters’s house. He finds the coffin, and deep inside it is a small, emaciated, very old, dead woman. It is certainly not Lady Frances. Peters explains that it is his wife’s old nurse. The police come and tell Holmes and Watson that they must leave. Peters gloats over Holmes’s obvious humiliation.
The day ends in apparent failure. Nothing suspicious can be found about the household, no warrant arrives, and Holmes and Watson go back to Baker Street. Holmes does not sleep that night, preferring to go over the case in his mind.
Finally, early the next morning, Holmes realises what is going on. He and Watson rush to Brixton and make sure that the coffin is not removed from the house to go for burial. They unscrew the coffin lid and find Lady Frances inside, chloroformed. The Peterses, while dishonest enough to kidnap someone to steal her jewels, were too squeamish to commit murder. Watson manages to revive her, and the Peterses are found to have fled. It was the remark heard by Green at the undertaker’s that helped Holmes deduce the truth. The woman there had been talking about an unusual coffin, and Holmes then also remembered that it was a big coffin for a very small woman, the idea being to obtain the necessary legal documents for the old woman, and then “legitimise” the burial of a coffin containing two bodies.
Another excellent plot, I recommend this book to the permanent library of any reader that appreciates a well written mystery story, mainly featuring Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

If you read this review, feel free to leave a comment!

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