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The Adventure of the Cardboard Box Characters

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

Police detective Lestrade asks Sherlock Holmes for help figuring out who sent a pair of severed ears to Susan Cushing in '~'The Adventure of the Cardboard Box Characters.'~' Find out more about Susan and the other important figures in this story.

A ''Terrible Chain of Events''

Do you get excited when you receive a package in the mail? Fortunately, you've probably never had that excitement turn to disgust when you find two recently severed ears inside like in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's ''The Adventure of the Cardboard Box.'' At first, it seems like this might just be someone's idea of a disgusting prank, but police detective Lestrade gets ahold of super investigator Sherlock Holmes just in case. Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson travel to the house of the woman who received the ear. It doesn't take long for Holmes to figure out the case after learning more about her and her family. Let's dig a little deeper into the information we learn about the important secondary characters in this story.

A Trio of Sisters

At the heart of this story are the three Cushing sisters: Susan, Sarah, and Mary. Since the story itself begins with Susan, we'll start with her too.

Susan

Susan, the eldest, is a quiet, unassuming ''maiden lady of fifty'' with blue and ''large, gentle eyes.'' Susan lives alone and prefers working on embroidery rather than having company. The only trouble she's ever seemed to have with anyone was years ago when she had to kick out some medical students who were renting rooms from her, because of their ''noisy and irregular habits.'' Other than that, though, Susan is a ''good woman.'' So, you can imagine how surprising and puzzling it would be when someone sent her a package with two severed ears.

Sarah

The middle sister, Sarah, is quite different than Susan. Sarah has a temper and ''was always meddlesome and hard to please.'' Sarah is ''a fine, tall woman'' who has ''a proud way of carrying her head, and a glint from her eye like a spark from a flint.'' Sarah was close with their youngest sister Mary, and even lived near her for a while. But that living arrangement went downhill when Sarah made a move on her sister's husband and got angry when he turned her down. Her love for him quickly turned to hate, and she started speaking badly of him in order to ''poison'' Mary against him. Eventually, things got so bad that Sarah moved in with Susan, which didn't last long. Sarah was the intended recipient of the ears: she had only recently moved out of Susan's house, and the ears were accidentally sent to her old address.

Mary

Now let's look at Mary, the baby of the family. Despite being the youngest, Mary is the only one of the sisters who is married, and she didn't get married until she was 29. At that point she was very close with Sarah, who was 33 at the time of Mary's marriage. A lot of what we know about Mary comes from her husband, who might be slightly biased as he calls her ''an angel,'' and thinks there ''was no better woman than Mary.'' But when Sarah starts to say bad things about her husband Mary goes from being ''trusting and so innocent'' to being suspicious.

As innocent as her husband may think she is, Mary might not be quite the angel he claims. When things start going wrong with her husband, she starts having an affair with another man. Not that the other man in Mary's life isn't charming. In fact, Alec Fairbairn is a ''man with winning ways'' who has no trouble making friends. He is a well-travelled, ''dashing, swaggering chap, smart and curled.'' Alec is also remarkably polite, considering he is a sailor - a profession not usually known for having well-mannered men.

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