What's one thing about The Copper Beeches that you won't forget long after you've read the story?
I'd say it is the deep mystery it creates as you read it.
There comes a point in the story, when you just can't think of a possible ending.
You want to know why so many crazy occurrences are happening in the life of this one woman...
And - talking of this one woman, what if you wanted a second thing about The Copper Beeches you won't forget? I'd say that would be the client in the story.
She's one of the most intelligent, courageous and self-aware women I've seen in any Sherlock Holmes story. I mean, generally clients are like - "Holmes save me, I have no freakin' idea."
But this one's like, "I need your help Holmes and here's exactly the data you need."
As Sherlock Holmes says to her:
Of course there are some nice Holmesian deductions in the story as well but for me: 'rocking mystery + cool client' pretty much sums The Copper Beeches up...
Here go my ratings of the story!
Miss Violet Hunter has come to Sherlock Holmes with a simple request:
Could he help her decide whether to take up a certain job or not?
Now normally such a request would be beneath Holmes. I mean, he's used to solving more difficult problems than that!
But this job is a very interesting one.
Miss Hunter will be a governess - but she is being paid more than double the normal wages. She was selected without being asked anything about her teaching skills. She needs to cut her long hair off before she joins. AND - she needs to wear a blue dress and sit in different positions in the house...
Of course things look awry!
It is obvious that there's more to the job than just being a governess - something - shall we say sinister? Every point in the job description screams: why?
Here's what Holmes says when Miss Hunter asks for an opinion,
Miss Hunter however does join and the case deepens...What happens next is what the story is about!
Miss Hunter's settled in her weird new job when what does she find in a locked drawer in her room?
Her own freaking hair - the hair that she had to cut off to be accepted for this job!
When I read this first, I really got freaked out. To make matters more intriguing - Miss Violet has her actual sample of hair in her bag. So whose hair is this in the drawer?
This image was first drawn by Czech illustrator Josef Friedrich (Thanks Ignisart!)
This scene was very thrilling for me - because of the vision it created. I'd say, it's perfectly suited for a movie.
Imagine the heroine pulling out a drawer and being startled by her own hair! Yup - this is one of the magic moments in the story.
There's this secret wing in The Copper Beeches, the place where Miss Violet works.
This wing is always locked.
Now one way to think about such locked wings is, "That's none of my business." Another way to think about such wings is - "I need to find out why this is locked and why one of the windows of that wing is open."
Miss Violet Hunter - is adventurous - and one day - when the lock is not properly fastened, in she goes. The magical or rather heart numbing moment comes when - she hears footsteps from one of the rooms in the locked wing. That moment - so well created by Doyle - is definitely one of my magical moments in the story.
I mean the way he suddenly mentions... footsteps, can give you the jitters when you read the story for the first time. ;-)
When Holmes has all his data - he comes up with a superb solution to the whole mystery. He says it in such a matter of fact way - as they're all sitting in an inn - the governess, Watson and Holmes - that it is well...magical. :-)
Here's what he says:
This is definitely the moment that I love in all Holmes stories - the final revelation that makes it all look a tad too simple.
Doyle knows how to create drama - even when the mystery's been solved!
The climax scene in the story occurs when Rucastle, Miss Violet Hunter's employer catches Holmes and Watson in the secret room!
Off he goes to get his terrible wild dog...
That's the dog pouncing on the owner of the house - (drawn by Josef Friedrich in 1906)
Any first time reader will wonder, "This guy's gone to get his wild dog - how will Holmes escape?"
The climax occurs when the dog - which listens only to a certain servant in the house - pounces on its owner and gets him by the throat.
That is the moment when your body really eases down and you relax.
"Ah, so that's the story.", you say. :-)
Now, if I told you: "The Copper Beeches has been made into a movie.", you might smile.
I mean - Sherlock Holmes movies are nothing new - there've been loads of them.
The cool thing however is that 8 Holmes stories were made into silent films in 1912 by Adrien Caillard under the actual supervision of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Unfortunately, almost all of these movies are now lost. The only one that exists is...The Copper Beeches.
That is special! Here it is:
I was pretty intrigued because I really had no idea.
Here's what I found out:
A copper beech is a special type of beech tree that has purple leaves that turn green in summer. It was considered to be a "rich man's tree" because of the difficulty in obtaining it.
These trees are present just outside the door of Colonel Munro in the story.
Here's a picture of a copper beech tree.
Here's a picture that shows all the places in the story. Let's begin with London...
Miss Violet Hunter - our dear client - used to earn 4 pounds a month at her previous job as a governess. She is offered 10 pounds a month in her new job.
The question is: what on earth would that money mean now?
Well this government website says that 4 pounds in 1890 would be the same as 240 pounds in 2005. That's around $387 a month. Hmm...
10 Pounds a month would mean around $970 a month today. That's the salary sher's offered in her new job.
That seems quite low, doesn't it? But maybe most wages were that way in those days - quite low.
But then - Miss Violet Hunter also had her apartment and food costs covered, I guess. That's something too...
I've always been curious about the word governess - what Miss Violet Hunter is in The Copper Beeches. I mean - is she some sort of teacher? Do we have governesses these days?
Apparently, a governess was like a female private tutor for small kids. These days there are schools almost everywhere - but in those days there were hardly any schools in the countryside. So rich guys in the country would hire these governesses to teach their kids the basics - reading, writing, arithmetic, maybe a bit of French, some music, some drawing...
In those days it was like this: women had no other occupation they could pursue with social sanction. If you were a woman and did anything other than be a governess, or a private school manager - you were considered to be a part of the "lower class".
Sad, but true.
So being a governess meant you were a part of the upper class but you had money problems.
I'm definitely very glad about the improvement in the way we treat women now - compared to those times.
So - well, that's about The Copper Beeches. Are you saying you haven't read the story yet? OK, here's how to read it...