The Man with the Twisted Lip

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"The Man with the Twisted Lip"
Short story by Arthur Conan Doyle
Hugh Boone begs for pennies in a London street, 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget
Text available at Wikisource
CountryUnited Kingdom
Genre(s)Detective fiction short stories
Published inStrand Magazine
Publication dateDecember 1891
SeriesThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Five Orange Pips
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle

"The Man with the Twisted Lip", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the sixth of the twelve stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The story was first published in the Strand Magazine in December 1891. Doyle ranked "The Man with the Twisted Lip" sixteenth in a list of his nineteen favourite Sherlock Holmes stories.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins when a friend of Dr. Watson's wife comes to Watson's house, frantic because her husband, who is addicted to opium, has gone missing. Watson helps her pull him out of the opium den and sends him home. Watson is surprised to find that Sherlock Holmes is there too, in disguise and trying to get information to solve a different case about a man who has disappeared. Watson stays to listen to Holmes tell the story of the case of Neville St. Clair.

St. Clair is a prosperous, respectable, punctual man. His family's home is in the country, but he visits London every day on business. One day when Mr. St. Clair was in London, Mrs. St. Clair also went to London separately. She happened to pass down Upper Swandam Lane, a "vile alley" near the London docks, where the opium den is. Glancing up, she saw her husband at a second-floor window of the opium den. He vanished from the window immediately, and Mrs. St. Clair was sure that there was something wrong.

She tried to enter the building; but her way was blocked by the opium den's owner, a lascar. She fetched the police, but they did not find Mr. St. Clair. The room behind the window was the lair of a dirty, disfigured beggar, known to the police as Hugh Boone. The police were about to put her story down as a mistake of some kind when Mrs. St. Clair noticed a box of wooden toy bricks that her husband said he would buy for their son. A further search turned up some of St. Clair's clothes. Later, his coat, with the pockets stuffed with hundreds of pennies and halfpennies, was found on the bank of the River Thames, just below the building's back window.

Hugh Boone was arrested at once, but would say nothing, except to deny any knowledge of St. Clair. He also resisted any attempt to make him wash. Holmes was initially quite convinced that St. Clair had been murdered, and that Boone was involved. Thus he investigated the den in disguise. He and Watson return to St. Clair's home, to a surprise. It is several days after the disappearance; but on that day Mrs. St. Clair had received a letter from her husband in his own handwriting, with his wedding ring enclosed, telling her not to worry. This forces Holmes to reconsider his conclusions, leading him eventually to an extraordinary solution.

Holmes and Watson go the police station where Hugh Boone is held; Holmes brings a bath sponge in a Gladstone bag. Finding Boone asleep, Holmes washes the sleeping Boone's dirty face—revealing Neville St. Clair.

Mr. St. Clair has been leading a double life, as a respectable businessman, and as a beggar. In his youth, he had been an actor before becoming a newspaper reporter. In order to research an article, he had disguised himself as a beggar for a short time, and was able to collect a surprising amount of money due to a skillset uncommon to beggars; his actor's skills enabled him to emulate a more sympathetic character with make-up, as well as provide a repertoire of witty dialogue with which to entertain passers-by to offer coins—he was as much a street performer as a beggar. Later, he was saddled with a large debt, and returned to the street to beg for several days to pay it off. His newspaper salary was meagre and, tempted by the much larger returns of begging, he eventually became a "professional" beggar. His takings were large enough that he was able to establish himself as a country gentleman, marry well, and begin a respectable family. His wife and children never knew what he did for a living, and when arrested, he feared exposure more than prison or the gallows. But there is no murder, so he is released, and Holmes and the police agree to keep Mr. St. Clair's secret as long as no more is heard of Hugh Boone.

Points of interest[edit]

The ability of St. Clair to earn a good living begging is considered by some to be an unlikely event, but others disagree.[2]

Doyle may have got the idea of a professional man making his money from begging from a short story by William Makepeace Thackeray called "Miss Shum's Husband" (1838).[3]

In one in-universe point of interest, Watson's wife Mary calls him by the name "James" despite his established first name being "John". This led Dorothy L. Sayers to speculate that Mary may be using his middle name Hamish (an Anglicisation of "Sheumais", the vocative form of "Seumas", the Scottish Gaelic for James), though Doyle himself never addresses this beyond including the initial.[4]

Publication history[edit]

"The Man with the Twisted Lip" was first published in the UK in The Strand Magazine in December 1891, and in the United States in the US edition of the Strand in January 1892.[5] The story was published with ten illustrations by Sidney Paget in The Strand Magazine.[6] It was included in the short story collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,[6] which was published in October 1892.[7]


Film and television[edit]

A silent short film version of the story titled The Man with the Twisted Lip was released in 1921.[8] It was made as part of the Stoll film series starring Eille Norwood as Holmes.[9]

In 1951, Rudolph Cartier produced[10] an adaptation entitled The Man Who Disappeared. This adaptation was a pilot for a proposed television series starring John Longden as Holmes and Campbell Singer as Watson.[11][12]

In 1964, the story was adapted into an episode of the BBC series Sherlock Holmes starring Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock, with Peter Madden as Inspector Lestrade and Anton Rodgers as Neville St Clair.[13] The adaptation developed St Clair's attributed ability at repartee by showing him quoting from the classics, including Shakespeare.

Granada Television also produced a version in 1986, adapted by Alan Plater as part of their The Return of Sherlock Holmes television series, starring Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke, with Denis Lill as Inspector Bradstreet, Clive Francis as Neville St. Clair, and Albert Moses as the Lascar.[14]

An episode of the animated television series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century was adapted from the story. The episode, titled "The Man with the Twisted Lip", aired in 2000.[15]

The 2014 Sherlock episode "His Last Vow" begins with Sherlock being found in a drug den by John, reminiscent of the scene in the opium den from this story.


Edith Meiser adapted the story as an episode of the American radio series The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which aired on 24 November 1930, starring Richard Gordon as Sherlock Holmes and Leigh Lovell as Dr. Watson.[16] Remakes of the script aired on 12 May 1935 (with Louis Hector as Holmes and Lovell as Watson)[17] and 22 February 1936 (with Gordon as Holmes and Harry West as Watson).[18]

Meiser also adapted the story as an episode of the American radio series The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson, that aired on 23 October 1939.[19] Other episodes in the same series that were adapted from the story aired in 1940,[20] 1943,[21] 1944,[22] and 1946 (with Frederick Worlock as Neville St Clair and Herbert Rawlinson as Inspector Bradstreet).[23]

A radio adaptation aired on the BBC Light Programme in 1959, as part of the 1952–1969 radio series starring Carleton Hobbs as Holmes and Norman Shelley as Watson. It was adapted by Michael Hardwick.[24]

"The Man with the Twisted Lip" was dramatised by Peter Mackie for BBC Radio 4 in 1990, as part of the 1989–1998 radio series starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson.[25]

The story was adapted as an episode of The Classic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a series on the American radio show Imagination Theatre, with John Patrick Lowrie as Holmes and Lawrence Albert as Watson. The episode first aired in 2012.[26]

See also[edit]

  • Arthur Pember, a real-life 19th-century journalist who published stories based on disguising himself as a beggar


  1. ^ Madsen, Diane Gilbert (20 September 2016). "What's Your Favorite Sherlock Holmes Story?". The Strand Magazine. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
  2. ^ "How much money do beggars make?". 27 June 2006. Retrieved 16 January 2009.
  3. ^ John Robert Moore, "Sherlock Holmes Borrows a Plot," Modern Language Quarterly 8 (1947): 85-90.
  4. ^ Dorothy L. Sayers, "Dr Watson's Christian Name", in Unpopular Opinions (London: Victor Gollancz, 1946), 148–151.
  5. ^ Smith (2014), p. 54.
  6. ^ a b Cawthorne (2011), p. 64.
  7. ^ Cawthorne (2011), p. 54.
  8. ^ "SilentEra: PSFL: The Man with the Twisted Lip (1921)". Archived from the original on 5 July 2008. Retrieved 5 October 2007.
  9. ^ Eyles, Alan (1986). Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. Harper & Row. pp. 131. ISBN 0-06-015620-1.
  10. ^ "Cartier, Rudolph (1904–94) — Film & TV credits". Screenonline. Retrieved 24 February 2007.
  11. ^ "The Man Who Disappeared (Failed Pilot) (1951)". Internet Archive. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  12. ^ Davies, David Stuart (2007). Starring Sherlock Holmes. Titan Books. pp. 73–74. ISBN 978-1845765378.
  13. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 186. ISBN 9780857687760.
  14. ^ "Plater, Alan (1935–) — Film & TV credits". Screenonline. Retrieved 24 February 2007.
  15. ^ Barnes, Alan (2011). Sherlock Holmes on Screen. Titan Books. p. 225. ISBN 9780857687760.
  16. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 25.
  17. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 64.
  18. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 73.
  19. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 87.
  20. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 90.
  21. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 129.
  22. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 135.
  23. ^ Dickerson (2019), p. 200.
  24. ^ De Waal, Ronald Burt (1974). The World Bibliography of Sherlock Holmes. Bramhall House. p. 386. ISBN 0-517-217597.
  25. ^ Bert Coules. "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes". The BBC complete audio Sherlock Holmes. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  26. ^ Wright, Stewart (30 April 2019). "The Classic Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Broadcast Log" (PDF). Old-Time Radio. Retrieved 14 June 2020.

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