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Deerstalkerstalker: I had an aggravating flu the past couple of days so I was in bed reading a big book of Sherlock Holmes stories. This was not a complete Sherlock Holmes, like the two-volume set I read about fifteen years ago when I had the flue, but it was all the stuff that was serialized in Strand and illustrated by Sidney Paget. These illustrations are interesting because I'd read from various sources that they, not the text of the stories, were responsible for creating the modern image of Sherlock Holmes.

This is true as far as it goes. Holmes is depicted throughout as being gaunt and angular though the text never goes further than thin and stringy. What I'm not so sure about is the deerstalker cap thing. It's not as clear-cut as "Paget did it." It looks like Paget introduced the deerstalker as an innocuous one-off, and then fans took it and spun it out of control, the way you get entire franchise novels nowadays based on an offhand remark in the canon.

We begin the hat search. The fourth story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes anthology is "The Boscombe Valley Mystery", and the first picture shows Holmes and Watson travelling in a train. Holmes is wearing the deerstalker (text: "close-fitting cloth cap") and the cloak, which is apparently an Inverness cloak (text: "long grey travelling cloak"). Very iconic. But they never show up again til the first story in Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, "The Adventure of 'Silver Blaze'" (visible here. Again, the drawing shows Holmes and Watson traveling in a train, and he's wearing the hat (text: "eager face framed in his earflapped travelling cap") and cloak. It never shows up again for the rest of the book. This seems to indicate that the deerstalker and cloak are some kind of specialized outfit for traveling by train.

Doyle kills Holmes off at the end of Memoirs, published in 1893. Next is the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, serialized in Strand in 1901-1902. Again Sidney Paget does the illustrations and again Holmes never wears the deerstalker, despite spending most of the book in the country, a faraway place accessible only by train.

Then, suddenly, in 1903, a new set of short stories: The Return of Sherlock Holmes. And suddenly the deerstalker is everywhere! He wears it (with a trenchcoat) in the first story "TAot Empty House", in which not only does he not board a train, he never goes any further afield than next door! The deerstalker shows up again in "TAot Dancing Men" (where Holmes and Watson are about to board a train), "TAot Solitary Cyclist", "TAot Priory School", and "TAo Black Peter". In none of those is Holmes wearing the famous cloak, and in the last three train travel is implied in the text but not shown explicitly. Note that the hat is not completely correlated with train travel: in "TAo Abbey Grange", for instance, Holmes is depicted in a train carriage, but wearing a jacket and top hat.

What happened? It looks like the deerstalker became part of Holmes folklore between the time of Holmes's death and retconrrection, to the extent that, as the world forgot the Victorian taboo on wearing deerstalker caps when not actually inside the train car, Paget himself felt pressure to draw the cap even when Holmes was nowhere near a train. The illustrations for Pursuit of the House-Boat, published in 1897, shows Holmes in what appears to be a Stetson, so I think it was after that.

That's cutting it pretty close, but The Definitive Holmes gives the date as 1899, when William Gillette took to the stage with a hit Holmes play. He wore the deerstalker on stage, probably based on the drawing from Boscombe or "Silver Blaze", and that sealed it. Proof of Gillette's mythmaking power is that he also introduced the curved pipe.

This doesn't explain the lack of hat in the illustrations for Hound, nor these 1892-1893 illustrations that show the hat prominently despite the absence of any train. Of course, if one person can take the wardrobe in one drawing out of context, so can another person.

I am now officially tired of talking about the semiotics of hats.


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