IHOSE header

Much of the East coast of the United States is bracing today for the approach of Hurricane Sandy, the so-called "Frankenstorm" that is one of the largest in modern history.

And while we don't profess to be meteorologists (nor do we play one on TV), we thought that we might be able to think about Sherlock Holmes through the lens of severe weather.What does the weather have to do with Sherlock Holmes? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

We'd like to invite your ideas, memories and input to help us discern exactly how weather played a role in the Sherlock Holmes stories. You can do that by leaving a comment below. We'll get things started by enumerating a few items that might get you thinking.

Stormy weather is a wonderful literary device for setting the scene. Michael Dirda (who we interviewed on I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere Episode 38: On Conan Doyle), in his own recounting of his first experience with Sherlock Holmes, recalls his preparation one Saturday afternoon in his childhood:
With a dollar clutched in my fist, I pedaled my red Roadmaster bike to Whalen’s drugstore, where I quickly picked out two or three candy bars, a box of Cracker Jack, and a cold bottle of Orange Crush. After my parents had driven off in our new 1958 Ford, I dragged a blanket from my bed, spread it on the reclining chair next to the living room’s brass floor lamp, carefully arranged my provisions near to hand, turned off all the other lights in the house, and crawled expectantly under the covers with my paperback of The Hound—just as the heavens began to boom with thunder and the rain to thump against the curtained windows.
There are a few stories from the Canon that open with such a scene, giving an even more realistic and somber tone to the tale about to unfold. Here are some that we recall vividly.
  • "The Resident Patient"
It was boisterous October weather, and we had both remained indoors all day, I because I feared with my shaken health to face the keen autumn wind, while he was deep in some of those abstruse chemical investigations which absorbed him utterly as long as he was engaged upon them.

  • Occasionally we learn a little bit about Baker Street geography or topography. In this instance in "The Adventure of Thor Bridge," we take a glimpse out of Watson's window to witness the effects of the weather:
It was a wild morning in October, and I observed as I was dressing how the last remaining leaves were being whirled from the solitary plane tree which graces the yard behind our house.

  • "The Noble Bachelor" takes a turn for the matrimonial, both in plot and in Watson's life, and also gives further evidence as to where his war injury was:
It was a few weeks before my own marriage, during the days when I was still sharing rooms with Holmes in Baker Street, that he came home from an afternoon stroll to find a letter on the table waiting for him. I had remained indoors all day, for the weather had taken a sudden turn to rain, with high autumnal winds, and the jezail bullet which I had brought back in one of my limbs as a relic of my Afghan campaign, throbbed with dull persistency.

  • Giving us a sense of the evil and foreboding nature of the Cornish coast in "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot," we're given this description of the surrounding area:
It was a singular spot, and one peculiarly well suited to the grim humour of my patient. From the windows of our little whitewashed house, which stood high upon a grassy headland, we looked down upon the whole sinister semicircle of Mounts Bay, that old death-trap of sailing vessels, with its fringe of black cliffs and surge-swept reefs on which innumerable seamen have met their end. With a northerly breeze it lies placid and sheltered, inviting the storm-tossed craft to tack into it for rest and protection. Then comes the sudden swirl round of the wind, the blustering gale from the south-west, the dragging anchor, the lee shore, and the last battle in the creaming breakers. The wise mariner stands far out from that evil place.

  • And who can forget this passage from "The Five-Orange Pips"?
It was in the latter days of September, and the equinoctial gales had set in with exceptional violence. All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows, so that even here in the heart of great, hand-made London we were forced to raise our minds for the instant from the routine of life, and to recognize the presence of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilization, like untamed beasts in a cage. As evening drew in the storm grew higher and louder, and the wind cried and sobbed like a child in the chimney. Sherlock Holmes sat moodily at one side of the fireplace cross-indexing his records of crime, whilst I at the other was deep in one of Clark Russell's fine sea-stories, until the howl of the gale from without seemed to blend with the text, and the splash of the rain to lengthen out into the long swash of the sea waves.

  • Probably one of the most descriptive, which also leads to the next section on plot development is that of "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez"
It was a wild, tempestuous night towards the close of November. Holmes and I sat together in silence all the evening, he engaged with a powerful lens deciphering the remains of the original inscription upon a palimpsest, I deep in a recent treatise upon surgery. Outside the wind howled down Baker Street, while the rain beat fiercely against the windows. It was strange there in the very depths of the town, with ten miles of man's handiwork on every side of us, to feel the iron grip of Nature, and to be conscious that to the huge elemental forces all London was no more than the molehills that dot the fields. I walked to the window and looked out on the deserted street. The occasional lamps gleamed on the expanse of muddy road and shining pavement. A single cab was splashing its way from the Oxford Street end.

What elemental passages have we missed that you think are worth noting here?

Plot Development

Many times, Holmes makes use of the conditions of the ground in order to detect certain clues. A rain-soaked pathway, lawn or trail may make footprints or other activity more easy to discern. Here is a quick but incomplete list of some of these instances. Add yours below!

  • A Study in Scarlet - the boot prints in the walkway leading to and from 3 Lauriston Gardens, as well as noting that "The whole place was very sloppy from the rain which had fallen through the night."
  • "Silver Blaze" - mud concealed the wax vesta that helped Holmes solve the case.
  • "The Adventure of the Boscombe Valley Mystery" - "It is of importance that it should not rain before we are able to go over the ground."
  • "The Beryl Coronet" - snow allowed Holmes to follow footprints of the perpetrator and hero.
  • "The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez" - it was by tracking the footprints along the garden path that Holmes was able to deduce something about the murderer.
  • "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" - the "severe gale blowing up the Channel" had a direct impact on the plot, to which we will not give spoilers here.

Again, this is just a cursory list. What others can you name?

To us, one of the most fascinating bits of research that went into the development of a number of chronologies of the Sherlock Holmes stories in the last century by the likes of H.W. Bell, Jay Finlay Christ, Gavin Brend, Ernest Zeisler and William Baring-Gould is the use of weather reports and lunar phases to determine the exact dates of particular stories. The examples above show us how key certain weather patterns and descriptions were to certain tales.