Muse du Jour

My name is Marianne Plumridge. I am an artist of mythic fantasy works and fine art images. I also satisfy my creative muse with sewing, cooking, writing and reading. These are my thoughts and adventures with whichever muse drives me each day. You can find more of my art at www.marianneplumridge.com

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Location: New England, United States

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Goodnight, Mr. Holmes...a Book Review

GOOD NIGHT, MR. HOLMES
By Carole Nelson Douglas

1990, (This Edition – 2005); Forge. Massmarket Paperback, ISBN 0-765-34574-9; 407 pages; Price $7.99

It’s often a pinnacle of an author’s literary career, when the author’s publisher repackages, re-releases and beautifully redresses one’s entire series of novels – while the series is very much still in print. Popularity and accolades aside, the very well written Irene Adler mysteries by Carole Nelson Douglas are re-presented to us by Forge Books in elegant form and have lost none of the polish from their clever wit, daring adventures and swift pace interlaced with danger and murder.

One of the most enduring icons of the 20th Century remains the Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes; accordingly accompanied by a coterie of slightly lesser characters who also endure. Among these are Professor Moriarty, the good and faithful Doctor Watson, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, and also “The Woman" – the ‘incomparable’, mysterious Miss Irene Adler. Since the closing years of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary legacy, all of the above personages have gone on to appear in their own stories as pastiches of the Sherlock Holmes realm by other authors, or in cross over stories into other equally prestigious Victorian worlds. Some of these latter stories are well written, some are not; some portray amateur melodrama or shallow characterization, others tell subtle tales of well-evolved mystery and entertaining drama. Carole Nelson Douglas’ ‘Good Night, Mr. Holmes’ falls indubitably into the latter.

This is the first in a highly regarded series of books about Irene Adler: the only woman ever to reach the heady levels of intelligence that match the legendary Holmes, and to outwit him into the bargain. Their first and only original adventure, ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ is retold in this book to a much greater length and depth than ever before. The author skillfully interweaves the original story with credible character development and depth without once slipping into melodrama or treating Sherlock Holmes as a two-dimensional cut out. ALL of the characters have been given equal care and attention by the author. Even as Holmes has his Watson, Irene Adler has her foil in a ‘Watsonian’ counterpart, by the name of Penelope “Nell” Huxleigh, the orphaned daughter of a country parson.

It is from Nell’s point of view that we first encounter Irene in the flesh. And it is from Nell’s perspective that the reader becomes an unwitting partner in the unraveling of the complicated layers that constitute Miss Adler’s persona. Nell had moved to London from Shropshire, in search of respectable employment after her father’s death. It began well enough, but eventually ended up in dismissal for Nell, from a haberdashery shop of all things. Wrongly accused of a theft she did not commit, she was thrown on the street with no reference, money, food or accommodation. Nell was at her weakest, from hunger, and in the midst of having her belongings snatched by a street urchin when Miss Irene Adler took a hand and rescued her. A scandalous, to Nell’s eyes anyway, episode in a teashop, a ride in a hansom cab, and listening spellbound to the confession of a self-acknowledged murderer in his heartbroken tale of revenge immediately followed. In that first encounter, Irene was a confusing bundle of contradictions wrapped in fine swaddling to the eyes and dismay of poor befuddled Nell. But from then on, they moved forward together, and Nell began to learn something of the world around her and how to live in it. Throughout all, they skirt scandal and destitution as two independent women living in Victorian London, with as much dignity as they can muster. And encounter mystery and outrage, love and laughter, danger and betrayal in doing so – dealing with each situation as their very opposite personalities will allow.

Like Nell, we never fully plumb those depths of Irene, but a better understanding is achieved. For Miss Adler is a self-confessed adventuress and actress, albeit one who sings opera extremely well: able to walk away from any situation and material possessions as she pleases. Irene’s interests are aroused by mystery, puzzles, curiosity and intellect – and any chance to test herself against them. Her flair for the dramatic, risk-taking, and danger sees an equal only in Sherlock Holmes himself, or perhaps her new husband Godfrey Norton. Let there be no mistake, though, regarding Irene’s morals. Skewed as they are, Irene has a strict code of behavior and will not prostitute her person or her values by selling either for baubles from rich admirers or suitors, as other actresses have done. Her ‘word’ is inviolate according to King Willie of Bohemia, who accepts that she will do naught to compromise him after hearing her so swear. So aside from her budding career as a vocalist, Irene takes on small assignments of the mind by way of mysteries and puzzles for a consideration, to keep her from being bored and to feed her avid curiosity, not to mention feed herself. Although Irene can sometimes be as ruthless and high handed as her compelling rival, Sherlock Holmes, she has what he lacks: a fuller understanding perhaps of some kinds of people; and compassion and kindness. For Holmes has the all-consuming intellect of a scientist, including many of the blind spots that accompany such a personality. Although he has his own charm and magnetism, Holmes is arrogant, self-assured, occasionally pompous, and incurably dismissive of women. The last is probably his greatest failing in his encounter with Irene Adler, and the assumptions he makes about her. However, he rises to the moment when he realizes that not only has she outwitted him, but predicted his behavior as well. It is then that Holmes ultimately, and singularly, develops a burgeoning admiration and respect for a woman, Irene: as much for her intellect as for her talent and beauty. It rises somewhat higher when he learns of her code of ethics. Although the main story is predominantly Irene’s, it contains periodic welcome chapters of Holmes and Watson. Holmes and Adler never actually formally meet, in spite of distant sparring of intellect and talents, but pursue different avenues of the same problems they are engaged in: from years pursuit of Marie Antoinette’s famous missing belt of diamonds whose secret is steeped in antiquity, to opposite sides of the same scandal in Bohemia. Holmes ponders and calculates, while Irene sings, acts, inquires and darts her way through doors and company where a normal Victorian woman would fear to tread.

Nell and Irene, forced to find income without sacrificing self or values, are independent women in Victorian England – far ahead of their time. Both grow as they mature, but neither lose or endanger their self-respect and sense of purpose. Only Irene comes close in her dealings with the King of Bohemia, but she reacts of old when she realizes that her dream of a royal wedding have been but clouds in the sky.

Wonderful additions to the cast of Victorians include the energetic Godfrey Norton, who so proves equal to Irene’s sense of action and queer ethics that she eventually loves and marries him in most unorthodox circumstances. But there are reasons, dear reader. There are reasons. And so add Oscar Wilde, Lilli Langtree, Bram Stoker, and the artist James ‘Jimmy’ McNeill Whistler to the mix, a host of compelling lesser characters, as well as a foul-mouthed bird called Casanova, and things get definitely very interesting indeed.

This novel is an incredibly entertaining and diverting read, filled with adventures, danger, verbal sparring, train chases, hansom cabs, high society and fashion, as well as the lowest levels of the cultural divide, and is entirely deserving of its printed longevity. A sweeping tale that encompasses years and miles across England and the Continent, that is apt to still leave one breathless with anticipation even upon successive re-readings. ‘Good Night, Mr. Holmes’ is an enriching tale of Victorian England made palatable for modern readers, which is sometimes a difficult hurdle to accommodate. Ms. Douglas manages both with aplomb and panache.

However, dear reader, this is only the beginning…

Marianne Plumridge

2 Comments:

Blogger phaseoutgirl said...

Hi Marianne,

Followed you here through David M's blog. I like your painting that resembles the "Marianne" which is as you know, France's national symbol for liberty and reason. Did you draw this on purpose?

cheers,
Cecilia

9:59 AM  
Blogger Marianne said...

Hello Cecilia.

Are you refering to the painting in my icon? If so, this is a small painting called 'Sad Dryad'. I kind of came home from a trip to the Oregon forests with a sadness of leaving the place. Also, we came home to an overpopulated and overbuilt State that just felt cramped, so I just painted a saddened wood nymph idea that stuck with me all the way home. :-)

I had no idea that my name was associated with something so meaningful. What a wonderful thing to know. :-D I went and looked up more about it.

Have you been to look at my other artwork on Daub du Jour (it's in the links bar) or my website - www.marianneplumridge.com ?

Thanks so much for stopping by.

Cheers
Marianne

10:25 AM  

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