Sign for the Sherlock Holmes pub in Melbourne, Australia.

"A Case of Identity"' is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It first appeared in print in the September 1891 issue of the magazine The Strand. It would be published again in October 1892 as part of the anthology The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

In the story, a woman named Mary Sutherland asks the brilliant consulting detective Sherlock Holmes to investigate the sudden disappearance of her fiancé Hosmer Angel. Hosmer Angel vanished on what was to have been their wedding day. Holmes quickly develops a theory as to what happened and his suspicions are soon confirmed. Holmes chooses not to tell Mary Sutherland the truth of the case because he is certain that it would hurt her. He has to admit that no crime has been committed, although he feels that a cruel trick has been played on Mary Sutherland and that its perpetrator deserves to be punished.

There have been several adaptations of the story to other media.

Plot

Holmes greets Mary Sutherland. 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget.

Some weeks after the events of "A Scandal in Bohemia", Dr. Watson again visits the Baker Street apartment of his friend Sherlock Holmes. During Watson's visit, a young woman named Mary Sutherland arrives seeking Holmes' help.

Holmes quickly and correctly deduces that Mary Sutherland is short sighted and works as a typist. Mary Sutherland lives with her mother and stepfather James Windibank. James Windibank married Mary's mother soon after her father's death. He works for a wine importing company and often travels to France on business. He is fifteen years younger than Mary's mother and is only five years older than Mary. Nevertheless, he has taken on the role of an authoritarian father to Mary. He has often prevented her from going out and meeting other people of her own age and has forbidden her to have male visitors at their house.

Mary's late father was a plumber who ran his own business. Mary's mother kept the business going for a while after his death, until James Windibank sold it for four thousand seven hundred pounds. Mary inherited some shares from an uncle in New Zealand. The interest on those shares gives Mary an income of a hundred pounds a year. Since she makes a good living as a typist and because she does not want to be a burden on her mother and stepfather, Mary allows them to keep her annual hundred pounds for as long as she continues living with them.

Mary's father used to receive tickets for the annual gasfitters' ball. After his death, the tickets continued to be sent to Mary and her mother. Mary wanted to attend the most recent ball. James Windibank refused to allow her to go. However, on the date of the ball, he had gone to France on business. Consequently, Mary and her mother went anyway. At the ball, Mary met a man called Hosmer Angel.

Mary Sutherland and Hosmer angel. 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget.

Hosmer Angel is five foot seven inches tall and strongly built. He has black hair, a mustache and sideburns. He says that his eyesight is poor and always wears tinted glasses. His voice is very quiet, which he says is the result of having had a peritonsillar abscess as a child. He says that he works as a cashier in an office in Leadenhall Street and that he sleeps at his place of work. However, he does not tell Mary the name of the company that employs him. After the ball, Hosmer Angel called on Mary on two different evenings, he said that his shyness prevented him from going out with a woman in the daytime. The two soon got engaged. After James Windibank returned from France, Hosmer Angel stopped calling on Mary but continued to write to her. He insisted that all of Mary's letters be handwritten although his were entirely written on a typewriter. He even typed his name instead of writing his signature. Mary sent all her letters to the Leadenhall Street Post Office because Hosmer Angel said that the others in the office would tease him if he was seen receiving letters from a woman.

When James Windibank again went to France on business, Hosmer Angel began to call on Mary again. On one visit, he made Mary swear on a Bible that, whatever happened, she would always be faithful to him. He then said that he and Mary should get married within the week, before James Windibank was due to return home. Mary was uncertain but her mother appeared to be very keen on the idea. Both Hosmer Angel and Mary's mother told her not to worry about James Windibank's reaction. Nevertheless, Mary wrote a letter asking for her stepfather's approval and mailed it to the French offices of his company. The letter was returned unopened after James Windibank had already come back to England.

Hosmer Angel's cab is found to be empty. 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget.

On their wedding day, Hosmer Angel again made Mary swear to remain faithful to him whatever happened. Mary and her mother got into one cab and Hosmer Angel got into another. When the cabs arrived at the church, Hosmer Angel's one was found to be empty. Since then, Mary has not seen Hosmer Angel or received any letters from him. She has told James Windibank what happened. He appears to be sympathetic and says that he is certain that Hosmer Angel will return one day.

Mary Sutherland placed an advertisement in a newspaper asking for information about Hosmer Angel. She gives Holmes the description of her fiancé which she wrote for the advertisement and four letters which he wrote to her. Holmes is confident that the mystery will soon be resolved. However, he tells Mary that he does not think she will ever see Hosmer Angel again and advises her to forget about the man. After Mary Sutherland has left, Holmes says that he will write a letter to Mr. Windibank and another one to a "firm in the City".

Dr. Watson returns to Sherlock Holmes' apartment the following evening, shortly before James Windibank arrives. James Windibank is a stocky, clean shaven man of medium height who has "wonderfully sharp and penetrating gray eyes". He apologizes to Holmes for Mary Sutherland having bothered him and says that he is certain that Hosmer Angel will never be found. Holmes shows Mr. Windibank the letter which he sent to him from his office, confirming that he would see Holmes that evening, and letters that Hosmer Angel sent to Mary. Holmes says that sixteen peculiarities in the typed text prove that all the letters were written on the same typewriter. Holmes says that he has found Hosmer Angel and locks the door.

Sherlock Holmes and James Windibank. 1891 illustration by Sidney Paget.

James Windibank married Mary Sutherland's mother for her money. He knew that he would lose Mary's annual income of a hundred pounds when she married and left home. He therefore tried to stop that from happening. He prevented Mary from going out and did not allow her to receive male visitors. However, he knew that he could not keep Mary isolated forever and came up with another way of keeping young men away from her. Having pretended to leave for France on business, with his wife's help, James Windibank disguised himself as Hosmer Angel. He covered his face with a fake mustache and sideburns, hid his distinctive eyes behind tinted glasses and spoke in a whisper to disguise his voice. Mary's poor eyesight also helped to prevent her from recognizing her stepfather. She was flattered by the attention and pleased that her mother seemed to like Hosmer Angel too.

Since it was not possible to keep up the masquerade forever, James Windibank decided to bring it to an end in a dramatic fashion which would leave Mary uncertain about what happened to Hosmer Angel and prevent her from becoming engaged to anyone else. By twice making her promise to remain faithful to him whatever happened, James Windibank planted the suggestion in Mary's head that something unfortunate might happen to her fiancé. He simply entered the cab through one door and immediately left it through the other.

James Windibank says that no crime has been committed and that Holmes is illegally detaining him by keeping the door locked. Holmes opens the door. He admits that no crime has been committed but says that a great wrong has been done to Mary Sutherland for which James Windibank deserves to be whipped. He goes to fetch a hunting crop. At which point, James Windibank runs out of the open door.

Holmes later reveals that the other letter which he wrote was to the wine importing company for which James Windibank works. Holmes asked if any of the company's employees matched the description of Hosmer Angel, minus the mustache, sideburns, tinted glasses and quiet voice since those could all be part of a disguise. In reply, Holmes was told that James Windibank matched the description exactly. Knowing that it would only hurt her, and fearing that she would not believe him anyway, Holmes decides not to tell Mary Sutherland the truth about Hosmer Angel. Holmes is certain that James Windibank's greed and unpleasant nature will eventually lead to him commit crimes for which he will be severely punished.

Adaptations

A British silent movie based on "A Case of Identity", starring Ellie Norwood as Holmes, was released in 1921.

1953 photograph of John Gielgud.

An American radio adaptation of the story, starring Tom Conway as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson, aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System in 1948. The story has been adapted twice for British radio. A version starring John Gielgud as Holmes and Ralph Richardson as Watson was broadcast on BBC radio in 1954. A version starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson first aired on BBC Radio 4 on November 21, 1990.

"A Case of Identity" was adapted as an episode of the British-American animated TV series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, which was first shown in the United States on July 21, 2001, and as an episode of the Japanese TV series Puppet Entertainment Sherlock Holmes, which first aired on NHK on October 20, 2014.

The 1996 anthology Morse's Greatest Mystery and Other Stories by the British crime writer Colin Dexter includes a reworking of the story called "A Case of Mis-Identity". As in the original, Sherlock Holmes believes that Mr. Windibank disguised himself as Hosmer Angel. His brother Mycroft[1] disagrees. He thinks that Mary Sutherland was lying and that she and her mother concocted the story that she told Sherlock Holmes in an attempt to get rid of Mr. Windibank. Dr. Watson tells them that they are both wrong. Hosmer Angel is a real person who was suddenly taken ill on his wedding day and whom Watson has been treating.

See also

Footnotes

  1. Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft only appears in three of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's sixty stories which make up the Sherlock Holmes Canon, "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter" (1893), "The Final Problem" (1893) and "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" (1908). Mycroft Holmes features more prominently in adaptations of Doyle's works to other media and more recent Sherlock Holmes stories by other writers.

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