Arthur Conan Doyle

A Case Of Identity

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A Case Of Identity Summary

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective Sherlock Holmes appeared in fifty-six short stories and four full length novels. “A Case of Identity” is one of the lesser known stories in the series, possibly because the case does not focus on a major crime in the same way as the majority of the other tales do. “A Case of Identity” was first published in 1891 in Strand Magazine, a month after the publication of Conan Doyle’s better known story, “The Red Headed League”. The following year it was included in the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In “A Case of Identity,” Holmes does not deal with a robbery or a murder, as in earlier cases, but with the disappearance of his client, Mary Sutherland’s fiancé. Holmes’ ever-present sidekick, Dr. Watson, does not know what to make of the case, but Holmes doesn’t need to leave the confines of his flat at 221B Baker Street to solve it.

When Mary explains her situation to Holmes and Watson, they learn that she lives with her mother and her mother’s new husband, Mr. Windibank. Mary has an income of one hundred pound per year, the result of an inheritance from her Uncle Ned. This money she gives to her mother and stepfather so as not to be a burden on them. In spite of having poor eyesight, Mary is able to do typing work to earn a bit of extra money. Mary is unhappy that her mother has remarried the much younger Windibank. Windiband has amassed a considerable amount of money for Mary’s mother by selling her late husband’s business for her. He does not like to socialize and is upset when his wife wants to go to the gasfitters’ ball with Mary. At the time of the ball, he goes on a business trip to France. At the ball, Mary meets Mr. Hosmer Angel and within a short time they become engaged. Mary and her mother do not tell Mr. Windibank of the engagnment.

When Windibank returns from France, Mary and Hosmer decide that they will communicate with each other via letter, rather than in person. While Hosmer types his letters, he requests that Mary make hers more romantic by writing them by hand. Mary knows little about Hosmer. She does not know where he works or lives. The letters she sends him are addressed to the Leadenball Street Post Office, where he picks them up. Being a shy man, Hosmer likes to walk with Mary by night, rather than by day. His voice is weak as the result of a childhood illness. He wears tinted glasses because his eyes are sensitive to light. When Windibank returns to France on business, Hosmer convinces Mary to marry him before her stepfather returns. He makes her promise that she will always be true to him, regardless of anything that might happen. Her mother agrees to Mary making this promise to Hosmer.

Mary does not believe she needs her stepfather’s permission to get married, but she still feels uncomfortable doing so without his knowledge. Hosmer tells Mary and her mother not to worry about Windibank, but he does write to him. The letter is returned by the post office. Mary sees this as an indication that Windibank left before the letter reached him and is on his way back to England. A small wedding is planned and Hosmer arrives in a Hansom cab to bring Mary and her mother to the church. Once again, he insists that Mary vow to remain true to him no matter what. Hosmer takes a separate cab to the church because there is not enough room in the Hansom. Later, when Hosmer’s cab arrives at the church, it is empty, and the driver can offer no explanation, as he had seen Hosmer get on board.

Mary defends Hosmer to Holmes, even though Holmes points out how shabbily he has treated Mary. She fears that he has been in some sort of accident and is sure he will be in touch as soon as he is able to. She thinks he must have felt that something bad might happen, which is why he made her promise to remain true to him. In response to Holmes’ questions about other people’s reactions to Hosmer’s disappearance, Mary says that her mother is too angry to discuss the situation, while her stepfather agrees that something unfortunate must have happened to Hosmer and that Mary will hear from him in time. Holmes tells Mary that she should forget about Hosmer as she will never see him again. When she presses him for more information, Holmes asks Mary for the typed letters Hosmer sent her and for a description of him. He also takes note of Mary’s address, which is the same as Windibank’s, and the name of the company Windibank works for. As Mary takes her leave, Holmes reminds her to forget about Hosmer, but she continues to pledge her allegiance to him.

Holmes writes a letter to Winidbank and receives a response typed on the same machine as Hosmer’s letters. This confirms what Holmes already knows, that Windibank and Hosmer are the same person, which explains why they are never in the same room at the same time. Windibank, in disguise and taking advantage of Mary’s poor eyesight, pretended to be Hosmer to engage Mary in a love affair which would never enfd in marriage. All of this was designed to help Windibank and Mary’s mother retain the one hundred pounds per year they receive from Mary’s inheritance. Holmes chooses not to tell Mary the outcome of the situation, beliving Windibank will follow a path that will ultimately lead him to the gallows.