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BBCTwistedLip

Screenshot from the 1965 BBC television adaptation of "The Man with the Twisted Lip".

"The Man with the Twisted Lip" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It first appeared in print in the December 1891 issue of the magazine The Strand. It would be published again in October 1892 as part of the anthology The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

In the story, the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes is asked to investigate the disappearance of a wealthy man named Neville St. Clair. A beggar called Hugh Boone, the story's title character, an extremely ugly and filthy looking man, is detained by the police on suspicion of having murdered Neville St. Clair. After Holmes spends a night contemplating the known facts of the case, he realizes that Hugh Boone is connected to Neville St. Clair's disappearance in a completely different way.

There have been several adaptations of the story to other media.

Plot

On the evening of Friday June 19, 1889, a visitor comes to the house of Dr. Watson and his wife.[1] The visitor is Kate Whitney, a friend of Mrs. Watson. Mrs. Whitney is worried about her husband Elias, a known opium addict who has not been seen for two days. Mrs. Whitney believes that he might be in an opium den[2] called the Bar of Gold which is located near the docks in the East End of London. Dr. Watson goes to the Bar of Gold, finds Elias Whitney, pays his bill and arranges for a cab to take him home.

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Watson realizes the old man is Holmes in disguise. 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget.

While he is in the opium den, Dr. Watson feels a tug at his clothes and hears an old man say, "Walk past me, and then look back at me." Watson does as he is told. He is surprised to discover that the old man is the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes, his friend and former housemate, in disguise. Holmes asks Watson to send a message to his wife, informing her that he will not be home that evening, and to join him in the case that he is investigating. After leaving the opium den, Holmes explains that he went there hoping to gain information. The disguise was necessary because he had previous dealings with the lascar[3] who owns the Bar of Gold and his life would be in danger if he were recognized. Holmes and Watson travel together to a large house called The Cedars in the town of Lee in Kent.

The Cedars is the home of Neville St. Clair. Mr. St. Clair appears to be a wealthy man. He arrived in the town of Lee five years earlier. Two years after his arrival, he married and had two children. He does not have a job but he owns shares in several companies. It is apparently for that reason that he travels to London's financial district every day. On the previous Monday, Neville St. Clair left home a little earlier than usual and promised that he would bring home some toy bricks as a present for his son when he returned.

On the some day, Neville St. Clair's wife received a telegram from a shipping company, asking her to come to their offices by the docks in the East End of London to collect a parcel. After having picked up her parcel, Mrs. St. Clair looked around for a cab to take her back to the train station. She was surprised to see her husband at an upper story window of the Bar of Gold opium den. Neville St. Clair appeared to be very nervous. He did not say anything but made an inarticulate noise. He waved his arms in front of him before suddenly disappearing from the window. Mrs. St. Clair noticed that he was wearing the same coat that he had on in the morning but was not wearing a shirt collar or tie. Mrs. St. Clair tried to go to the upper floor of the Bar of Gold but the opium den's lascar owner barred her way. She returned a few minutes later with several policemen. The upper floor of the opium den was found to be made up of a simple living room and bedroom which were occupied by the beggar Hugh Boone.

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Hugh Boone, 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget.

Hugh Boone is a familiar figure in London's financial district. He has bright red hair and walks with a limp. A scar runs down one side of his face from his eye to his chin. His upper lip is twisted, leaving three teeth permanently exposed. Since begging is illegal, Hugh Boone always carries some matches with him that he can sell. This means that, if necessary, he can deny that he is a beggar and tell the police that he is a salesman. Most people, however, give him money without taking his matches. Partly because he always has a witty comeback ready for anyone who makes a rude comment to him, Hugh Boone has been able to make a reasonable living as a beggar.

The lascar and Hugh Boone insisted to the police that Neville St. Clair had never been in Hugh Boone's rooms. The police were almost prepared to take their word for it, when Mrs. St. Clair noticed a box of children's toy bricks on a table. A further search of the rooms uncovered all of Neville St. Clair's clothes, except for his coat, hidden behind a curtain. Blood was found on the bedroom floor and the bedroom windowsill. Hugh Boone claimed that he had no idea how the toy bricks and Neville St. Clair's clothes got into his rooms. He said that the blood was his and that he had cut his finger earlier. After a slight delay, Hugh Boone was arrested on suspicion of having murdered Neville St. Clair. The narrow strip of land beneath Hugh Boone's bedroom window is dry at high tide but is covered with more than four feet of water at high tide. At low tide, Neville St. Clair's coat was found to be beneath the window. Its pockets had been filled with almost seven hundred low denomination coins which had weighted it down.

On arrival at The Cedars, Sherlock Holmes tells Mrs. St. Clair that he has no news, either good or bad, for her. He reluctantly admits that he believes that Neville St. Clair has been dead since Monday. Mrs. St. Clair tells him that she received a letter from her husband earlier that day. She shows Holmes and Watson an envelope postmarked Gravesend, Friday June 19, 1889. Although the handwriting on the outside of the envelope is not that of Neville St. Clair, Mrs. St. Clair insists that the handwriting on the letter is how her husband writes when he is in a hurry. The letter tells Mrs. St. Clair not to worry. The envelope had also contained Neville St. Clair's signet ring. Holmes is not completely convinced that Neville St. Clair is still alive. Mrs. St. Clair, however, is certain that he is. She tells Holmes that there is a strong bond between her husband and herself. She says that on Monday morning, her husband cut his finger. Although he was upstairs in the bedroom and she was downstairs in the dining room, she immediately and instinctively knew that something was wrong and rushed up to see him. She is therefore certain that she would know if her husband were dead.

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Sherlock Holmes spends the night smoking his pipe and contemplating the case. Colorized 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget.

Dr. Watson goes straight to bed. Holmes, however, spends the rest of the night smoking his pipe and contemplating the known facts of the case. Shortly after dawn, he wakes up Watson. He says that he has found the solution to the case in the bathroom and has now put it in his Gladstone bag. Holmes and Watson return to London and go to the police station where Hugh Boone is being held.

Inspector Bradstreet, who is on duty at the station, tells Holmes that Hugh Boone has not caused any real trouble. However, he has only agreed to wash his hands and has refused to wash his face. Holmes and Watson are taken to Hugh Boone's cell. Holmes reveals that his Gladstone bag contains a large sponge. While Hugh Boone is still asleep, Holmes begins to wash his face. The scar is revealed to be a fake. His lip is revealed not to be naturally twisted. The red hair is revealed to be a wig and the man's real hair is dark. Holmes announces that the man is Neville St. Clair. Inspector Bradstreet realizes this is true because he recognizes Neville St. Clair from his photograph. Neville St. Clair awakes. He realizes that he has been unmasked and makes a full confession.

Neville St. Clair had been an actor who was well known in the theater for his skill in applying his own make up. He later became a newspaper reporter. His editor asked him to write a story about beggars in London. As part of his research, Neville St. Clair spent a day begging, having first used his skill as a make up artist to make himself look truly pathetic. He was surprised by how much money he made. Some time later, he ran up a debt of twenty-five pounds. He turned to begging again and made enough money to clear his debt within ten days. Realizing that he could earn as much money in a day as a beggar as he could in a week as a newspaper reporter, Neville St. Clair decided to become a full time beggar. However, he continued to feel ashamed of the way he made his living and kept his Neville St. Clair and Hugh Boone identities separate. The only person who knew that the two people were one and the same was the lascar who owned the Bar of Gold opium den. Neville St. Clair rented rooms there where he changed his clothes, put on and took off his make up. Neville St. Clair was confident that the generous rent he paid the lascar would buy his silence. Neville St. Clair was arrested a few times for begging but could always easily pay the fine and his true identity was not discovered.

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Hugh Boone is revealed to be Neville St. Clair. 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget.

After a few years, Neville St. Clair had saved enough money to buy a house in Lee, where he met his wife. He never told his wife how he earned his money and was terrified of the shame it would bring on his children if it were discovered. He was horrified to see his wife in the street outside the Bar of Gold opium den on the previous Monday. He tried to cover his face with his arms. Realizing that his wife would come up to investigate, he put on his beggar's outfit and make up. He tried to throw all of his decent clothes out of the bedroom window into the Thames. In his haste to do so, he reopened the cut on his finger. However, he only had time to throw out his coat, having first stuffed its pockets with the coins he earned from begging, before the police arrived. Before he was arrested, Neville St. Clair found time to take off his signet ring, write a brief letter to his wife and give them to the lascar. Since the lascar was being watched by the police, he had to give the letter to a sailor customer of the opium den. The sailor forgot to post the letter for several days.

Due to the shame that he continued to feel from making a living as a beggar, Neville St. Clair found the idea of being hanged as Hugh Boone, the murderer of Neville St. Clair, preferable to having to admit that he was Neville St. Clair. For that reason, he refused to wash his face in order to keep his true identity secret for as long as possible.

Inspector Bradstreet tells Neville St. Clair that no criminal charges will be brought against him this time. He is, however, told that he must give up begging and must stop pretending to be Hugh Boone. If he is ever seen as Hugh Boone again, he will be arrested and the full story of his pretense will be made public.

Adaptations

Sherlock Holmes Museum The Man with the Twisted Lip

Wax model of Hugh Boone from the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Baker Street, London.

A short British silent film based on "The Man with the Twisted Lip", starring Ellie Norwood as Holmes, was released in 1921.

In 1951, "The Man with the Twisted Lip" was adapted for American television as The Man Who Disappeared, starring John Longden as Holmes and Campbell Singer as Watson. A major difference from the original story is that Neville St. Clair wrongly believes that he is guilty of murder. He is being blackmailed over the crime he did not commit by the owner of the Bar of Gold opium den. As part of the blackmail, Neville St. Clair is forced to sell drugs. He adopts the character of the elderly and inoffensive-looking beggar Hugh Boone when he goes out peddling narcotics in order to pass without arousing suspicion. The Man Who Disappeared was intended to be the pilot episode of a Sherlock Holmes TV series which was never made. The program passed into the public domain when its copyright was not renewed in 1979.

"The Man with the Twisted Lip" was adapted as the seventh episode of the BBC TV series Sherlock Holmes starring Douglas Wilmer. It was first shown in the United Kingdom on April 3, 1965.

The fifth episode of The Return of Sherlock Holmes, the second Granada TV Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett, is an adaptation of "The Man with the Twisted Lip". It first aired on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on August 13, 1986. In the episode, Hugh Boone's great success as a beggar is largely due to his ability to surprise and delight well-to-do passersby in London's financial district by quoting extensively from the light operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, the Bible and the works of Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Wordsworth and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. At the end of the episode, Neville St. Clair burns the clothes and wig that he wore as Hugh Boone, paraphrasing Hamlet as he does so.

A radio adaptation of "The Man with the Twisted Lip", starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson, was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in the United Kingdom on December 12, 1990. In the adaptation, it is explained that Neville St. Clair used a small piece of wire to make his lip appear twisted.

See also

Footnotes

  1. Curiously, in "The Man with the Twisted Lip", Dr. Watson's wife calls him James. In the first Sherlock Holmes story, the 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet, it is established that his name is John H. Watson. He is not called James in any of the other novels and short stories which make up the Sherlock Holmes Canon.
  2. At the time of Doyle's writing, the sale of opium was not illegal in Britain. Opium dens operated legally and openly, although they were often connected with various other illegal activities.
  3. A lascar was an Asian man (usually from the areas which are now the countries India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) who served as a sailor or militiaman on board a European ship. The character in this story is presumably a retired former seaman.

External links

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