SHORT STORY: MAN WITH THE TWISTED LIP by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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    “The Man with the Twisted Lip”, is one of the 56, short, Sherlock Holmes stories, written by 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.

    The story goes as follows. 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 and worried, she begs Dr. Watson to fetch him home from the opium den where he goes. Watson does this, but in the process he also finds his friend Sherlock Holmes in the den, disguised as an old man, seeking for clues of among the frequent habitués of the place.

    The case involves Mr. Neville St. Clair, a prosperous, respectable, punctual man, who has gone missing. His family’s home is in the country side, but he visits London every day on business. One day when Mr. St. Clair was in London, Mrs. St. Clair also goes to London separately. She happens to pass down Upper Swandam Lane, an unpleasant narrow “vile alley” near the London docks, where the opium den is. Glancing up, she sees her husband at a second-floor window of the opium den. But he vanishes from the window immediately. This insinuates Mrs. St. Clair that something is wrong somewhere.

    She tries to enter the building. But her way is blocked by the opium den’s owner, a lascar. She calls the police, but they do not find Mr. St. Clair. The room behind the window has a dingy animal den where a dirty, disfigured beggar, known to the police as Hugh Boone is found. The police puts her story down as a mistake of some kind when Mrs. St. Clair notices a box of wooden toy bricks that her husband said, he would buy for their son. A further search discovers some of St. Clair’s clothes. Later, his coat, with the pockets, stuffed with, hundreds of pennies, and halfpennies, is found on the bank of the River Thames, just below the building’s back window.

    Hugh Boone is arrested immediately, but he denies any knowledge of St. Clair. He also resists any attempt to make him wash and cleanse. Holmes initially is convinced that St. Clair has been murdered, and that Boone is involved. So he investigates in disguise. He and Watson return to St. Clair’s home, to a surprise. It is several days after the disappearance. But on that day Mrs. St. Clair has 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 and that reveals the real face of Neville St. Clair.

    Mr. St. Clair has been leading a double life, as a respectable businessman, and also 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 so he was tempted to beg, and that got him larger returns. He eventually became a professional beggar. His earnings were large enough with which 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. And there is no murder in the story. Finally, he is released. Holmes and the police agree to keep Mr. St. Clair’s secret as long as they don’t hear of Hugh Boone again.

    A silent version of “The Man with the Twisted Lip” was filmed in 1921.

    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 a 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.

    “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.

    The 2014 Sherlock episode “His Last Vow” begins with Sherlock being found in a drug den by John, reminiscent of the scene in the opium den from this story.

    An interesting story out of Conan Doyle’s ilk. I would give it seven out of ten.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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