Chapters 4 & 5: Musings on Marvin

Just a few thoughts about the contextual significance of Captain Marvin ‘of the Coal and Iron constabulary’ in Chapter 4, and simply ‘of the Coal and Iron’ in Chapter 3. Rather than a straight-forward policeman, Marvin’s position is altogether more slippery. The Coal and Iron police were essentially a private police force, allowed by state legislation and given police-like powers to help the interest of mining corporations and colliery owners; their role was to protect property, but they were also apparently used for strikebreaking and intimidation. They were active in Pennsylvania from the 1860s to the 1930s, and were plagued by accusations of discrimination and civil rights violations; some government officials wanted them monitored by official authorities. Marino C Alvarez, in ‘The Valley of Fear : Three Missing Words’, in the Baker Street Journal, reports accusations of workers being forced by the Coal and Iron Police to by goods from company-owned stores, preventing striking workers from entering private stores, and assorted accusations of physical brutality and even murder. Marino also notes that their name was altered in American editions of The Valley of Fear. At the time of the publication issues of workers rights and social justice were much debated, with the C&I police at the centre; Alvarez notes that Arthur Conan Doyle had recently lectured in the U.S.A, and so may well have been appraised of these topical issues. In 1934 all Coal and Iron commissions were revoked. Does this have any impact on the way you view the events in Vermissa Valley? Perhaps McGinty’s accusations that Marvin is just ‘the paid tool of the men of capital, hired by them to club or shoot your poorer fellow-citizens’ have a ring of truth to them. Are the aggressive interests of big business are being accused of creating the violence of the Scowrers. It seems apposite, in this light, that Holmes should associate the enterprising criminality of Moriarty with ‘the American business principle’.

It is perhaps also worth mentioning at this point that the Scowrers, at least in part, take for their basis The Molly Maguires, an Irish-American society who took part in various incidents of activism against mine owners, and claiming to be acting for workers and union rights. They were also known as The Ancient Order of Hibernians. However, you might not want to look up much information about this organisation until you have finished the Valley of Fear, as you may come across some spoilerish facts and events! We will discuss them more in depth later, on the blog and in Monday evening’s final reading group meeting.

I shall leave you with this picture from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, an American publication, which portrays a scene perhaps not a million miles away from the events of The Valley of Fear.

Cheerio for now,


2 thoughts on “Chapters 4 & 5: Musings on Marvin

  1. Dave

    Hard to believe this is the same story or even the same author. The usual detective story with subtle humour has developed into a chilling frightner and brings home just how good a story teller Doyle is. It’s like an episode of Morse directed by Quentin Tarantino. I need to know where this is going but feel sure that McMurdo pops up in rural England. We shall see….


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