Friday, October 19, 2012

James-A-Day: The Two Doctors

MRJ in 1900
MRJ's later stories mostly have elements of detective stories included (as we've already seen).  "The Two Doctors" really is a murder mystery for the reader to solve; it's just a supernatural murder mystery.  If you piece together the clues, you can figure out what happened.

I hate to tell you what happened, though, which doesn't exactly give us a lot to talk about today.  I will point out that the doctors' names, Quinn and Abell, sound remarkably like Cain and Abel, although their characters are switched.

I do love the opening sentence.  It really made me laugh when I read it:
It is a very common thing, in my experience, to find papers shut up in old books; but one of the rarest things to come across any such that are at all interesting.
I rather assumed that a bedstaff is one of the posts on a four-poster bed, but Ghosts & Scholars says that it's "a staff for making up a bed," which is hardly helpful.  How do you use a staff to make up a bed?  A general Internet search turned up much clearer information; Johnson's Dictionary defined it as "A wooden pin stuck anciently on the sides of the bedstead, to hold the clothes from slipping on either side." Even better, a website called Finding Shakespeare has an entire article on bedstaves, complete with photographs!  Wow, you can find anything on the Internet.

It made me happy to see one character, Mr. Pratt, say distinguo.  It's Latin for "I distinguish," and was once commonly used in debate to say "Now wait a minute, let's just define our terms clearly before we continue."   Dorothy Sayers used it in her essay about classical education, and I didn't know what it meant then.  I think we should bring it back into common usage!

See what I did there, sneaking one of my favorite essays in?


Nancy Leek said...

This one has me baffled. What has Dr. Abell been up to? Did he murder Dr. Quinn with the bedclothes? (That's very MRJamesian.) Did he do it remotely? What does a bedstaff have to do with it? Or the mausoleum in Middlesex?

Jean said...

The servant seems to have seen Dr. Abell doing something sinister with the bedstaff (practicing his telekinesis skills?), but what we do not know. Abell got into Quinn's house and did something to the bedclothes to make them uncomfortable so Quinn would go looking for new ones; then he made stolen ducal burial sheets available to Quinn to make new bedclothes out of, but they were bewitched to kill him. I think.