The Man with the Twisted Lip
|"The Man with the Twisted Lip"|
1891 illustration by Sidney Paget
|Author||Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Series||The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes|
"The Man with the Twisted Lip", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the sixth of the twelve stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The story was first published in the Strand Magazine in December 1891. Doyle ranked "The Man with the Twisted Lip'' sixteenth in a list of his nineteen favourite Sherlock Holmes stories.
Late at night, Kate Whitney, a friend of Dr. Watson's wife, calls on them. Her husband, Isa, has been absent for several days. Frantic with worry, she begs Dr. Watson to fetch him home from the opium den where he goes. Watson does this; but he also finds his friend Sherlock Holmes in the den, disguised as an old man, seeking for clues among the habitués of the place.
The case involves Mr. Neville St. Clair, a prosperous, respectable, punctual man, who is missing. His family's home is in the country, but he visits London every day on business. One day when Mr. St. Clair was in London, Mrs. St. Clair also went to London separately. She happened to pass down Upper Swandam Lane, a "vile alley" near the London docks, where the opium den is. Glancing up, she saw her husband at a second-floor window of the opium den. He vanished from the window immediately, and Mrs. St. Clair was sure that there was something wrong.
She tried to enter the building; but her way was blocked by the opium den's owner, a lascar. She fetched the police, but they did not find Mr. St. Clair. The room behind the window was the lair of a dirty, disfigured beggar, known to the police as Hugh Boone. The police were about to put her story down as a mistake of some kind when Mrs. St. Clair noticed a box of wooden toy bricks that her husband said he would buy for their son. A further search turned up some of St. Clair's clothes. Later, his coat, with the pockets stuffed with hundreds of pennies and halfpennies, was found on the bank of Thames, just below the building's back window.
Hugh Boone was arrested at once, but would say nothing, except to deny any knowledge of St. Clair. He also resisted any attempt to make him wash. Holmes was initially quite convinced that St. Clair had been murdered, and that Boone was involved. Thus his investigation of the den in disguise. He and Watson return to St. Clair's home, to a surprise. It is several days after the disappearance; but that day Mrs. St. Clair had received a letter from her husband in his own handwriting, with his wedding ring enclosed, telling her not to worry. This forces Holmes to reconsider his conclusions, leading him eventually to an extraordinary solution.
Holmes and Watson go the police station where Hugh Boone is held; Holmes brings a bath sponge in a Gladstone bag. Finding Boone asleep, Holmes washes the sleeping Boone's dirty face—revealing Neville St. Clair.
Mr. St. Clair has been leading a double life, as a respectable businessman, and as a professional beggar. In his youth, he had been an actor before becoming a newspaper reporter. In order to research an article, he had disguised himself as a beggar for a short time, and collected a surprising amount of money. Later, he was saddled with a large debt, and returned to the street to beg for several days to pay it off. His newspaper salary was meagre and, tempted by the much larger returns of begging, he eventually became a professional beggar. His takings were large enough that he was able to establish himself as a country gentleman, marry well, and begin a respectable family. His wife and children never knew what he did for a living, and when arrested, he feared exposure more than prison or the gallows. But there is no murder, so he is released, and Holmes and the police agree to keep Mr. St. Clair's secret as long as no more is heard of Hugh Boone.
Points of interest
The selling of opium or other drugs was in and of itself no crime in the London of 1889. Although the opium den was an environment connected with crime and underworld, it operated openly and legally.
A contention is that many Sherlockian mysteries have solutions based on seemingly unlikely events. The ability of St. Clair to earn a good living begging is considered by some to be such a plot point, but others disagree. For example, in Toronto a woman known as the "shaky bag lady" did this very thing, surpassing the efforts of common beggars by presenting herself as more pathetic than legitimate beggars. In Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, several beggars are reportedly Rupee millionaires. A Putney beggar reportedly earned £300 per day, a sum roughly equivalent to the 99th percentile of UK earnings. A Grand Central Terminal panhandler claimed to be "raking up" $200 an hour.
In one in-universe point of interest, Watson's wife Mary calls him by the name "James" despite his established first name being "John". This has led fans to suggest that Watson's middle name, which is only alluded to as "H.", could be "Hamish", a variant of the name James. Doyle never addressed the possibility during his lifetime.
In 1951, Rudolph Cartier produced an adaptation entitled The Man Who Disappeared. This adaptation was a pilot for a proposed television series starring John Longden as Holmes and Campbell Singer as Watson.
In 1964, the story was adapted into an episode of the BBC series Sherlock Holmes starring Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock, with Peter Madden as Inspector Lestrade and Anton Rodgers as Neville St Clair. The adaptation developed St Clair's attributed ability at repartee by showing him quoting from the classics, including Shakespeare.
"The Man with the Twisted Lip" was dramatised for BBC Radio 4 in 1990 as part of Bert Coules' complete radio adaptation of the canon, starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson.
- Trivia on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Favorite Sherlock Holmes Stories | Trivia Library
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- "Shaky Lady" TRIBE MAGAZINE Main Forum
- "Millionaire beggars" Mumbai Mirror Archived 11 April 2013 at Archive.is
- 'Beggar' who sat outside Natwest bank with a 'hungry and homeless' sign raked in £300 A DAY while living in a £300,000 flat, Daily Mail, 5 June 2013
- Income in the United Kingdom#Post tax household income
- Kevin Fasick, Sarah Trefethen, & Kate Sheehy. "This bum boasts he makes $200 an hour panhandling" New York Post, 11 November 2015
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- Bert Coules. "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes". The BBC complete audio Sherlock Holmes. Retrieved 12 December 2016.