Decoding the Subtext: The Mazarin Stone
Baring-Gould dates The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone in the summer of 1903. As only the season is given, dating the Mazarin Stone is a complicated matter. This is especially true when one considers the questions of canonicity that surround the story. We will examine both dates and the story's authenticity in our analysis. The story was first published in October of 1921.
The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone is an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Play, The Crown Diamond. Holmes, commissioned by some of the highest offices in England, sets the stage for the dramatic conclusion of his most recent case; the recovery of the Mazarin Stone, a priceless crown diamond. Written in the third person and containing only a brief appearance by Dr. Watson, The Mazarin Stone does not focus on the case itself, but rather on the stunning recovery of the jewel.
In the entire Canon, no story has occasioned as much speculation (or, indeed, as much controversy) as The Mazarin Stone. An overwhelming majority of scholars dismiss this story as a forgery, and while its authorship remains in dispute, it is quite clear that we cannot assume MAZA's canonicity.
Indeed, it is your author's conviction that The Mazarin Stone is a fake. As such, the subtext contained within cannot be properly examined. In its place, then, we shall examine evidence which suggests that this story does not belong amongst Holmes' cases.
The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone contains several elements which have led scholars to question the story's authenticity. Here we shall examine each in turn, before turning to the question of authorship.
The dating in this story is quite inconsistent (and while Watson was famous for his random assignment of dates, this story goes above and beyond mere typos and misread notes).
By all accounts The Mazarin Stone should be placed in the later half of Canon (the casual use of a gramophone and the presence of Holmes' wax bust assures us of this) and yet the presence of Billy the page makes this quite impossible. The reader will undoubtedly recall Billy's last appearance, which occurred in The Valley of Fear. As this case was set in 1888, Billy, who at best was ten, would now be twenty-five. Odd, is it not, that in MAZA Billy remains an unchanged child. This certainly gives new meaning to Watson's comment that Billy does not change.
There is, of course, another explanation; that the author was trying, desperately, to make this story as authentic as possible. There is a good deal of evidence to support this theory. The inclusion of Billy, then, can be seen as a mere attempt at duplicating Watson's earlier work.
In fact, we see this again in the description of Baker Street:
He looked round him at the scientific charts upon the wall, the acid-charred bench of chemicals, the violin-case leaning in the corner, the coal-scuttle, which contained of old the pipes and tobacco.
Surely at this point in Canon there is no need to describe Baker Street in such exacting detail. In fact, the entire sentence reeks of effort.
It is also quite unusual for Holmes' cases to present elements of familiarity, and yet, The Mazarin Stone does exactly that. A large portion of this story was borrowed from The Adventure of the Empty House. We know it unlikely that Holmes would have occasion to reuse his wax bust (which is oddly lacking in a bullet hole through its skull), but if he had then surely the events warranting its use would differ from EMPT. Holmes, fearful of air riffles for a second time, goes beyond mere coincidence; and here again we see evidence that MAZA is not an authentic story, the borrowed plot simply too convenient, the parallels between the Count (MAZA) and Moran (EMPT) almost laughable.
Holmes' role in the story, too, only serves to increase our doubt. The Mazarin Stone is not a tale of Holmes using his powers of observation and deduction. It is a story of Holmes outwitting two criminals. While we will concede that Holmes was, on occasion, exceedingly clever, Holmes' true gift was in the investigation, not the dramatic conclusion. MAZA gives us only the conclusion, suggesting that the story's author was unfamiliar with the Great Detective's true work.
As the story progresses, we discover that Holmes anticipates being murdered. In (we will admit) a very Holmes-like fashion, Holmes sends Watson away. There is some protest on Watson's behalf, but all too soon Watson agrees to take Holmes' note to Scotland Yard, leaving Holmes in mortal danger. This is perhaps the biggest indication of this story's falsehood, for Watson would never leave Holmes to face danger alone. As wilful as we know Holmes to be, when it comes to Holmes' safety, Watson is by far the more stubborn man.
There are also layout problems with Baker Street. At one point, Holmes asks Billy to see the Count in their waiting room, and yet, never before has it been suggested that Baker Street even has a waiting room. The same can be said for Holmes' mysterious second bedroom door. The entire layout of Baker Street, then, has been changed to suit this story's plot. Had this story been authentic, this could not have happened.
Gone, too, are Lestrade and Gregson, replaced by Youghal of the C.I.D.. It should be noted that this is the first, and last, time we hear of Youghal (and the C.I.D.).
There are also questions surrounding the case's plausibility. In the final act, Holmes sneaks out from his bedroom and crosses across the sitting room to displace the wax dummy and sit in its place. Given previous accounts of Baker Street, this is absolutely impossible to accomplish without being seen. Even if Holmes banked on the Count's distraction, there is no possible way he would have taken so great a risk.
The gramophone, too, brings up several interesting questions. Holmes uses it to stage his violin playing, and yet, at that point in history, finding a recording with an unaccompanied violin would have been next to impossible. Surely Holmes did not expect the Count to believe he was playing an entire orchestra.
Finally, both Holmes and Watson are horribly clichéd. At one point the author tells us:
Holmes seldom laughed, but he got as near it as his old friend Watson could remember.
We have long since dismissed this claim (in fact, at one point Holmes dances and laughs and wrings Watson's hand --HOUN) and so we must question why it is that, in this story, of all stories, Holmes is known to seldom laugh. Clearly this story was written by one who did not know Holmes well.
We have shown, then, that this story was not written by Watson. We can safely assume that it was not written by Holmes (surely Holmes would have focused on the process of observation and deduction which led him to uncover the Count's identity). Who, then, did write this story?
We know that The Mazarin Stone is an adaptation of a play written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Could it be that Doyle (who had been acting as a literary agent for Watson for some time) wrote this tale? Perhaps Watson (who was now busy with domestic life in Sussex) was unable to meet his publisher's deadline. Perhaps it was he, then, who requested Doyle's aid (recalling, of course, Doyle's successful play).
This is certainly the most popular theory, and yet others have suggested a variety of authors, ranging from Watson's wife, to Mrs. Hudson, to Billy the Page, to Inspector Lestrade.
Perhaps the most interesting theory of all (and it should be noted that it is by far the least popular theory) is that the entire Casebook of Sherlock Holmes is a forgery. Scholars have speculated that the Casebook was written by an anonymous third party who had access to Watson's notes. There has been some speculation that Watson, at this point, had died prematurely, leaving Holmes alone with his bees. While this explanation would certainly explain the inconsistencies in the Casebook, it is still your author's conviction that Watson was alive and well, and that he simply lacked the time to meet a contracted deadline, hence requiring him to seek out Doyle's aid in throwing together a hastily constructed story.