Classics, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Red-Headed League

The Red-Headed League


Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are called on to investigate the bizarre proceedings of The Red-Headed League, a philanthropic society which promotes the interests of men with red hair by paying them handsomely to perform small tasks. Holmes soon realises that The League is not as charitable as it appears but rather part of an ingenious criminal plot involving the fourth smartest man in London.

We continue with our journey through The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by reviewing Doyle’s next short story, The Red-Headed League. Narrated by Dr. John Watson, The Red-Headed League is a fun yet bizarre mystery; or as Mr. Sherlock Holmes states “refreshingly unusual”. Even with the unusual case, it is a rather clever scheme, which I believe would have worked out if Mr. Holmes wasn’t investigating it.

“As a rule,” said Holmes, the more bizarre a thing is the less mysterious it proves to be.”

Our first character we are introduced to is Mr. Jabez Wilson and his ‘blazing red head’. A pawnbroker from London and a client to Mr Holmes, Mr. Wilson is a slow and somewhat gullible man. Only himself will have the patience to copy out an entire Encyclopaedia Britannica without questioning for eight weeks. Unknown to Mr. Wilson, his assistant Vincent Spaulding aka John Clay is the criminal who uses him in his scheme to rob a bank. You do start to feel sorry for Mr. Wilson in his current situation. However, his character is rather comical and makes the novel very entertaining.

Dr. John Watson, the sidekick to Mr. Holmes is a lovable character. His observation skills is relatively lacking, but that’s what makes him more likeable to the readers. I do love his initial criticism of Mr. Wilson, describing him as an ‘average commonplace British tradesman, obese, pompous, and slow’, only to have Holmes shaking his head afterwards. It’s as if, Sherlock Holmes can read minds. As Watson narrates the entire story, you find that he is very fond of Holmes. There is a beautiful paragraph in ‘The Red-Headed League’ where Watson describes Holmes as his friend and his ‘perfect happiness’ for music (see Quotes section). He clearly admires him, which I find truly sweet and touching.

“I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routine of everyday life. You have shown your relish for it by the enthusiasm which has prompted you to chronicle, and, if you will excuse my saying so, somewhat to embellish so many of my own little adventures.”

Whilst watching the television series of Sherlock Holmes, I came across ‘The Red-Headed League’ episode, starring Jeremy Brett and David Burke. I was fascinated by Brett’s performance of Holmes. He brings a lot of wit and liveliness to the character, as it should be portrayed. It was the little touches that I liked about the episode. For example, Holmes jumping on the sofa, his busy contemplative mind when Watson was falling asleep; the little things is what made Jeremy Brett, Sherlock Holmes.

As the protagonist, Holmes has a quick-thinking, brilliant mind. I suppose it’s what makes Sherlock Holmes very popular. Doyle created a bizarre, but genius character. The ultimate detective story about good vs bad. There must have been a rise in detective stories during the late 1800s. What makes Holmes brilliant? It’s the way he observes, he sees what others and readers can’t see. Towards the end, all Holmes could say was, “L’homme c’est rien — l’oeuvre c’est tout,” meaning simply: The man is nothing – his work is everything; which fits Holmes’s character perfectly.

Here I had heard what he had heard, I had seen what he had seen, and yet from his words it was evident that he saw clearly not only what had happened but what was about to happen, while to me the whole business was still confused and grotesque.

All things considered, ‘The Red-Headed League’ is a very entertaining novel. Even though it is a short story, Sherlock Holmes’s wittiness makes the story enjoyable. An additional bonus to Dr. Watson’s narration through his observations of Mr. Holmes; there were some fabulous quotes. I do love a fun and unusual mystery novel. It would have been even better, if there were more adventures from the ‘Red-Headed League’.



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