Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


AT FIRST glance, the phrase “Matryoshka Holmes” looks like one of Sherlock’s obscure Russian relatives. And, in a sense, this is correct—by way of China, in more ways than one.

A matryoshka doll, also known as a Russian nested doll, is a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size, each nestled inside the next larger. I have only a most modest collection of these artful objects, namely two: Perestroika and Holmes.

My Perestroika includes Lenin, then Stalin, then Khrushchev, then Brezhnev and finally Gorbachev.

My Perestroika is authentically Soviet, signed and dated 1991, marked C.C.C.P. I thought initially that this folk genre was anciently Russian, but it turns out the first matryoshka dates only from 1890. It was carved by Vasily Zvyozdochkin and painted by folk artist Sergey Malyutin. The doll earned a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle held in Paris in 1900.

Quite appropriately, Sherlock Holmes is the principal character in my nested Holmes set.

My matryoshka Holmes is more recent and made in China. There’s a certain poetic justice in this, as some say the nested doll concept traces to a traditional art of nested Chinese boxes. Others credit this folk art to originating in Japan.

John H. Watson is second in the set, easily recognized by his doctor’s bag.

After Holmes and Watson, the easiest one to recognize is the smallest: the hound of the Baskervilles. The intermediate two figures form a good Sherlockian puzzle.

Is this third one Inspector Lestrade? He looks the part. Or could he be from The Hound of the Baskervilles?

If the overall Canon is respected, this third most important figure in the set would be Scotland Yard’s Inspector G. Lestrade. We know from Watson’s description that Lestrade was a “sallow, rat-faced, dark-eyed fellow,” though we never do learn his given name.

Also, the fourth figure looks sufficiently portly to be Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft. (See for earlier Mycroftian lore.)

Is this fourth figure Sherlock’s portly brother Mycroft? And yet….

On the other hand, matryoshka dolls can’t help but be portly, and thus this could be a red herring.

Being the smallest of the set, the Baskerville hound is anything but “gigantic,” as described in the Canon. I like his scary orange background, though.

Given that the last figure is the Baskerville hound, it might be worth exploring whether these intermediate two might be modeled after people in this adventure.

The candidates are Dr. James Mortimer; Sir Charles Baskerville, deceased; Sir Henry Baskerville, his heir; Barrymore, the butler of Baskerville Hall; and Mr. Stapleton, a naturalist neighbor.

Sherlockian deduction crosses each off the list. Neither doll carries a bag; scratch Dr. Mortimer. Sir Charles is dead before the case even begins; forget him. According to Watson, Sir Henry is a “realistic and sturdy young man.” He’s out. Barrymore is easily eliminated: The larger doll is too scruffy to be allowed in service; the smaller one’s pink tie would never do below stairs. Last, Stapleton’s “grey clothes and jerky, zigzag, irregular progress made him not unlike some huge moth himself.” Hardly a matryoshka by any measure.

No, these intermediate fellows must be Inspector Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes, paradoxically in decreasing size. But then they are matryoshkas. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2012

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This entry was posted on November 23, 2012 by in The Game is Afoot and tagged , .
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