The Man with the Twisted Lip

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For the 1921 short film with the same name, see The Man with the Twisted Lip (film).
"The Man with the Twisted Lip"
1891 illustration by Sidney Paget
Author Arthur Conan Doyle
Series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Publication date 1891

"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.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Dr Watson is called upon late at night by a female friend of his wife. Her husband has been absent for several days. Frantic with worry, she seeks Dr. Watson's help in fetching him home from an opium den. Watson does this, but he also finds his friend Sherlock Holmes in the den, disguised as an old man, trying to extract information about a new case from the addicts therein.

The missing man, Mr. Neville St. Clair, is a respectable and punctual man who makes his family's home in the country but regularly visits London on business matters. Making the matter more mysterious is that Mrs. St. Clair is sure that she saw her husband at a second-floor window of the opium den, in Upper Swandam Lane, a rough part of town near the docks. He withdrew into the window immediately, and Mrs. St. Clair is sure that there is something wrong.

She tries to enter the building, but her way is blocked by the opium den's owner, a lascar. She fetches the police, but they cannot find Mr. St. Clair. The room, in the window of which she saw her husband, is that of a dirty, disfigured beggar known to the police as Hugh Boone. The police are about to put this report down as a mistake of some kind when Mrs. St. Clair spots and identifies a box of wooden bricks that her husband said he would buy for their son. A further search turns up some of her husband's clothes. Later, his coat, with the pockets full of several pounds' worth of pennies and halfpennies, is found in the Thames, just below the building.

The beggar is arrested and locked up at the police station, and Holmes initially is quite convinced that Mr. St. Clair has been the unfortunate victim of murder. However, several days after Mr. St. Clair's disappearance, his wife receives a letter in his own writing. The arrival of this letter forces Holmes to reconsider his conclusions, leading him eventually to an extraordinary solution. Taking a bath sponge to the police station in a Gladstone bag, Holmes washes Boone's still-dirty face, causing his face to be revealed — the face of Neville St. Clair. Upon Mr. St. Clair's immediate confession, this solves the mystery, and creates a few problems.

It seems that Mr. St. Clair has been leading a double life, one of respectability, and the other as a 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, during which he earned a very large amount of money. Later in his life, he returned to the street to beg for several days in order to pay a large debt. Given a choice between his newspaper salary and his high beggar earnings, 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 never knew what he did for a living, and Holmes agrees to preserve Mr. St. Clair's secret as long as no more is heard of Hugh Boone.

Points of interest[edit]

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.[2] 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.[3] Another such example is in the city of Mumbai, India (old name Bombay), where newspapers have reported stories about several beggars who are Rupee millionaires.[4] The London Daily Mail has reported on a Putney beggar reportedly earning £300 per day,[5] a sum roughly equivalent to the 99th percentile of UK earnings,[6] while the New York Post has described a Grand Central Terminal panhandler "raking up" $200 an hour.[7][8]

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.[9]


A silent version of "The Man with the Twisted Lip" was filmed in 1921,[10] directed by Maurice Elvey.[11]

In 1951, Rudolph Cartier produced[12] 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.[13]

In 1964, the story was adapted into an episode of the BBC series Sherlock Holmes starring Douglas Wilmer. The adaptation developed St Clair's attributed ability at repartee by showing him quoting from the classics, including Shakespeare.

Granada Television also produced a version in 1986, adapted by Alan Plater as part of their The Return of Sherlock Holmes television series.[14]

"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.[15]

The 21st episode of Season 2 of the CBS television series Elementary shares its title with "The Man with the Twisted Lip", though there is virtually no resemblance between the stories.

The 2014 Sherlock episode "His Last Vow" begins with Holmes being found in a drugs den by Watson, reminiscent of the scene in the opium den from this story.


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