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The View from the East End (37)

By Inspector Hopkins

April 23 , 2006

Sibling Rivalry, Ambition, and Mycroft Holmes

by Inspector Hopkins

As I mentioned last time, when you start earnestly reading through the Canon you will develop your own unique sense of how all the parts and pieces fit together. But you will also quickly discover that no matter how many times you read and enjoy a story, there always seems to be a fresh perspective or new idea that dawns on you.

Or one that someone else suggests to you . . .

Such was the case from the recent Spring meeting of my “Epilogues of Sherlock Holmes” scion society.  The routine at our meetings is to discuss two stories and determine how they are related. This time our assignments were The Greek Interpreter (GREE) and The Bruce-Partington Plans (BRUC), both of which involved Sherlock Holmes’s brother Mycroft.

Having read both these stories many times, I was used to looking for the Villains, the Victims, the plots, who the Inspector was, what the final outcome was, etc. If you have read these stories by now, you are as familiar as I am with Watson’s descriptions of Mycroft Holmes: his massive size, corpulent body shape, fat flipper-like hands and so forth.  I have always enjoyed reading his vivid descriptions of Canonical characters, and I visualize Mycroft towering above Sherlock. I also enjoyed reading the deductions they both made about the retired soldier outside the windows of the Diogenes Club. I admired the way that both brothers were able to get right down to the very last bit of information they could squeeze from their observations.  Up until this time, I had always considered this scene simply as Watson’s way of showing us how easily the Holmes brothers were able to make deductions about people. I further inferred that this demonstrated an innate skill shared by two brothers with similar genes, and that Watson was driving the point home.

That is, until someone suggested it was sibling rivalry.

Once you consider that possibility, it opens up whole new avenues of thought, doesn’t it? Well, on re-reading the scene again, I found that I could indeed see traces of one brother trying to out-do the other, with Mycroft coming out on top and getting in the last word. I had to admit it was a possibility, and one which I never considered previously. Further reading in Klinger’s Annotated bolsters this concept because, since Holmes never divulged much of his past, it can be easily postulated that he had an unhappy childhood. An unhappy childhood shared with a brother may have indeed created rivalry.

Our discussion of both stories continued, and we spent a great deal of time analyzing Mycroft’s personality and character traits. Another of our members pointed out how, in GREE, his life was so greatly regulated that Sherlock knew his brother was at the Diogenes Club “from quarter to five to twenty to eight”.  (Why did he not state, for example, “about three or four hours”?) Mycroft’s life was so regimented that it begged further analysis!  Holmes clearly mentioned Mycroft’s lack of ambition, particularly in BRUC. In that story Mycroft himself also stated that “I extremely dislike altering my habits”. Again, these are points that I hadn’t really paid much attention to despite all the many times I had read the stories.

That is, until someone else suggested the link between ambition and civil servants.

By Jove!  All of a sudden it hit me!  As a government employee myself, I can most definitely assure all of you out there that lack of ambition and an extremely regimented environment are the hallmarks of  . . . you guessed it . . . bureaucracy!

What has been taken as Mycroft’s “laziness” or “lack of ambition” may be simply nothing more than the result of his years and years of dealing with red tape and regulations.  He was probably so burned out from dealing with all those levels of government that he took comfort in solitude.  This would explain his association with, and membership in, the Diogenes Club.  Further still, I would postulate that what we might interpret as “extreme regulation in his habits” was simply a coping mechanism for him. Mycroft was seeking what all government employees seek: some control over their own environment.  Yes folks, if you can’t control the forces battering the walls all around you at work, you can at least control (to the minute if need be), the time you decide to leave your Club.

Speaking as the Sherlockian “Sophomore” that I am, every time I think I’ve gotten all the details out of the Canon, I find that there are plenty more left. It is this seemingly inexhaustible source of new ideas and how the Canon can relate to your own life that is the true essence of what Sherlockiana is.

I still have a lot to learn and some way to go yet before I become a “Junior”.

Until next time, when we will take a brief look at how the life of Watson’s “literary agent” helped shape the Canon, I am indeed,

Yours faithfully,