Adventure of Wisteria Lodge

#H - 38 WIST

Unearth the "grotesque" and irregular features of this two-part who-done-what story in our analysis of Sherlock Holmes The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge

A distraught but respectable gentleman put Sherlock and Watson on the trail of an international criminal. But for the first time, Holmes has real competition from the official police force.

This is the thirty-eighth Sherlock Holmes short story and the first in the collection His Last Bow.

In this series we look at some of the unique features of each Sherlock Holmes short story. We do not summarize the plot on this page, assuming that each reader has already read the actual story.

Dating of the Story

This story represents one of the difficult contradictions in the Sherlock canon: the date given in the story (March 1892) is during the period in which Holmes was in hiding and Watson believed him dead (1891 to 1894.) This contradiction is explained away by Sherlockian Gamers as a mere error caused by Doctor Watson's penmanship - he actually wrote March 1894 but you know how hard it is to read doctor's handwriting. For a more literary explanation, see our description of contradictions in the Sherlock stories.

Action Plot: 2 Main Parts

Because The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge was published in two parts, it modifies the typical Sherlock Holmes action plot.
  1. Singular Experience of Mr. John Scott Ecles: Part I
    • Pre-Introduction (described above)
    • Introduction
      1. the case as described by Mr. Ecles
      2. the murder described by the police
    • Rising Action
      1. Holmes and Watson discuss the case at Baker Street
      2. They arrive at Surrey
  2. The Tiger of San Pedro - Part II
    • Rising Action continued from Part I
      1. Fright of police officer at the house
      2. Inspection of the house
      3. 5 Days of apparent inactivity on the part of Holmes/Watson
      4. Newspaper Report about arrest of the man
      5. Holmes explains theory/information about Henderson household
      6. Rescue of Miss Burnet
    • Climax: Revealing the Tiger of San Pedro
    • Falling Action:
      • Outcome - murdered 6 months later
      • Holmes reviews all key points with Watson
    • Denouement: The role of the savage and the grotesque in this story

Story Opening

Of the three types of Sherlock Story Starters used by Doyle, Wisteria Lodge begins with a Baker Street Scene. Watson and readers observe Sherlock as he opens a telegram and muses on it before breaking his silence.

Pre-Introductory Pronouncement and FulFillment

Astute readers can investigate the pronouncement and fulfillments weaved into the stories.


In the case of this story, Sherlock introduces the telegram, the case, and the pronouncement with these words:

"How do you define the word 'grotesque?"


"You will recognize how often the grotesque has deepened into the criminal."

So our pronouncement is to look out for the grotesque in this story.


Holmes' words in the denouement mark the fulfillment of his pronouncement in the pre-introduction.

"It is grotesque, Watson, but as I have had occasion to remark, there is but one step from the grotesque to the horrible."

Theme: Grotesque

So what is so "grotesque" in The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge?

Watson's Role

Two of Watson's roles are highlighted in this story.


First, this was one of several cases where Watson plans to join Sherlock in the act of breaking and entering:
It was not, I must confess, a very alluring prospect. The old house with its atmosphere of murder, the singular and formidable inhabitants, the unknown dangers of the approach, and the fact that we were putting ourselves legally in a false position all combined to damp my ardour. But there was something in the ice-cold reasoning of Holmes which made it impossible to shrink from any adventure which he might recommend. One knew that thus, and only thus, could a solution be found. I clasped his hand in silence, and the die was cast.
This is the only story where his role as co-burglar is impeded by the departure of Henderson's household.

The Blind Assistant

It has been noted that Sherlock frequent leaves his assistant in the dark without explanation:
After his habit he said nothing, and after mine I asked no questions. Sufficient for me to share the sport and lend my humble help to the capture without distracting that intent brain with needless interruption. All would come round to me in due time.
From a literary perspective Watson's ignorance fulfills a role: we the reader learn the solution at the end when Sherlock gets around to explaining it. Watson is our eyes and ears, and if the colossal intellect were to include his assistant into his thinking, the climactic suspense for us would be ruined.

In a real detective partnership, this would be a liability. You would WANT all involved to use their collective brains to search for the answer. But in a few later stories (including this one) Watson explains this from a practical perspective. Holmes had a lightening fast brain as well as an intuition about crime. When he was developing a mental thread it would slow him down to stop and explain it. He found his trusting assistant to be a genuine asset, a companion he could count on to obey orders without needing an explanation.

Fictitious Transparency

Fictitious Transparency hints at Watson's publication of the stories within the stories. In Wisteria Lodge and a number of other stories, Holmes insults Watson while referencing his work:
Holmes: If you cast your mind back to some of those narratives with which you have afflicted a long-suffering public, you will recognize how often the grotesque has deepened into the criminal.
In this quote above Holmes empathizes with the "long-suffering public" (ironic considering how eagerly the public awaited the next story.) He also ties the theme of "grotesque" back into our narrative.

"Come, come, sir," said Holmes laughing. "You are like my friend, Dr. Watson, who has a bad habit of telling his stories wrong end foremost."
I can't think of a time when he actually did this, but Watson does use foreshadowing from time to time.

Closer Look At Holmes

Every story provides the reader with additional clues about Sherlock Holmes unusual personality.
My mind is like a racing engine, tearing itself to pieces because it is not connected up with the work for which it was built.

I could tell by numerous subtle signs, which might have been lost upon anyone but myself, that Holmes was on a hot scent. As impassive as ever to the casual observer, there were none the less a subdued eagerness and suggestion of tension in his brightened eyes and brisker manner which assured me that the game was afoot.

Holmes Meets His Match

A First!

The first detective to earn Sherlock's praise, Inspector Baynes is a country constable who alone is on par with Holmes. We observe Baynes reciting his findings about the letter in a true Sherlockian fashion. (Though we can take secret delight in the fact that Holmes does "squeeze some extra juice out of it.")

Later, Inspector Baynes even tricks Sherlock when he leads the public on a false-scent via the newspaper. We could imagine Baynes might have joined forces with Holmes and Watson had he lived in London.


The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge closes with a different tone than that which marks the typical end of a Sherlock Holmes story. Rather than flippant, we see a somber Holmes close his notebook and the case:
It is grotesque, Watson," Holmes added, as he slowly fastened his notebook, "but as I have had occasion to remakrk, there is but one step from the grotesque to the horrible.
While the fulfillment of the pre-introductory pronouncements often come in the denouement, here we have the unusual feature of it being the last remark made by Holmes himself.

Baker Stree Treasure Hunt

What unique object at Baker Street do you find in this tale?

Brandy and soda

The unit study below analyzes eight of the most popular Sherlock Holmes stories. The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge is not one of the eight in this unit study.

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A catalog of our pages on Sherlock Holmes.

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List of All Short Stories List of Sherlock Holmes Short Stories
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