The Case of Lady Sannox: Summary, Characters & Setting

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy is a Doctoral student at Virginia Commonwealth University studying media studies and cultural history

This lesson describes the story, characters, and setting of ''The Case of Lady Sannox.'' Though not one of his Sherlock Holmes tales, ''Lady Sannox'' concerns a great deal of mystery and intrigue. We will dig into the nature of the crime and speculate about the possible outcomes.

Doyle's Other Tales of Mystery

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known for creating the character of Sherlock Holmes, but he also wrote hundreds of other short stories and series in the crime and mystery genres. In each case, Doyle relates an intriguing story woven with rich details about London and his shadowy characters.

''The Case of Lady Sannox'' is one of his stand-alone tales. It was published in an anthology of short stories called Tales of Terror and Mystery in 1922.

Set in early 20th-century London, Doyle references locations in downtown London: ''the south of Marylebone Road and the north of Oxford Street'' and ''a little quiet place off the Euston Road.'' We travel from upscale parlors and surgery suites to exotic back-alley quarters.

A Scandalous Affair

The story opens with news of the death of an eminent surgeon Dr. Douglas Stone. The doctor's butler, Pim, had found his master in his bedroom, dead by gunshot wound to the head. At the same time, rumor spread that the doctor's lover Lady Sannox had 'taken up the veil,' and chosen to live out the rest of her life as a nun.

Dr. Stone's expertise in the operating room is matched and in some cases surpassed by his penchant for debauchery. Or, as Doyle puts it: ''His vices were as magnificent as his virtues, and infinitely more picturesque.'' Work hard, play harder.

Stone takes the married Lady Sannox as his lover: ''She was the loveliest woman in London and the only one to him. He was one of the handsomest men in London, but not the only one to her.'' The affair between Dr. Stone and Lady Sannox was something of an open secret in London society.

Neither suspected that Lady Sannox's husband, Lord Sannox, was any the wiser. Lord Sannox was an actor in his youth, but developed a passion for gardening that kept him away from the theater.

The Poisoned Blade

One night, a potential client comes to Dr. Stone's house asking for his help. The stranger offers his business card: ''Hamil Ali, Smyrna''. The old, hunched man appears to be a Turk, a merchant trader in London on business.

The Turk offers him a huge sum of money (200 pounds), and promises that the task will take no longer than an hour. Stone is rushed for time, but apprehensively agrees because of the gold laid before him. Still, Stone keeps an eye on his watch so as not to be late for his date with Lady Sannox. She doesn't like to be kept waiting.

On the way, the Turk explains the circumstances of the emergency. His wife has cut herself on the lip by a poisoned blade, one of the daggers of the Almohades. The Turk leads Dr. Stone into his apartments where they discover the patient, sedated by a heavy dose of opium, and wearing a traditional yashmak (veil) that obscures her face.

Since the poison soaks slowly into the circulatory system and there is no known cure, Dr. Stone decides that amputation, or excision, of the lip is the only solution. As Dr. Stone prepares for the operation, the Turk makes an inscrutable statement: '''It was really very necessary for Marion, this operation,' said he, 'not physically, but morally, you know, morally.'''

Operating theater circa early 20th century
surgical operation

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