With the recent successes of Robert Downey, Jr. on the big screen and Benedict Cumberbatch on TV, the popularity of Sherlock Holmes is riding high and here is the essential guide
Who is Holmes? The world's most famous detective, a drug addict with a heart as cold as ice, or a millstone around the neck of his creator? He's all of these things and much, much more. Sherlock Holmes was the brainchild of Portsmouth GP Arthur Conan Doyle. A writer of historical romantic fiction, Doyle became unhappy that the detective's enormous success eclipsed his more serious offerings. But after attempting to wipe him out at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, Doyle was faced with a vociferous backlash from the general public and eventually he had no choice but to bring his sleuth back from the grave to face more puzzling mysteries. While not strictly speaking "canonical," Holmes' deerstalker, curved pipe, and cries of "Elementary, my dear Watson!" have been immortalized in countless stage, film, television, and radio productions. An iconic fictional creation, inseparable from his partner-in-crime Dr. John Watson, Sherlock Holmes has charmed and fascinated millions of people around the world since his first appearance more than a century ago. He is one of English literature's finest creations.
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Read an Excerpt
By Mark Campbell
Oldcastle BooksCopyright © 2012 Mark Campbell
All rights reserved.
Please Continue Your Most Interesting Statement
It's difficult to imagine a world without Sherlock Holmes. But what if Arthur Conan Doyle had had a busier medical practice? Would he have had the time to write? And if he had, and his first major success had come with Micah Clarke, would he have even thought to create Holmes? Doyle was never as enamoured of the detective as he was of his historical stories, and it's unlikely the Baker Street sleuth would exist were it not for the doldrums he experienced at his Southsea practice.
Alternatively, what if Doyle was ill and never went to dinner with the editor of Lippincott's Magazine? The Sign of Four might never have been written and Micah Clarke would stand alone as a mildly interesting example of nineteenth century sensationalistic prose, a footnote in academic textbooks. And if neither of these two novels had been published, what would Doyle have written for The Strand? Brigadier Gerard a few years before his time? Professor Challenger two decades early? Perhaps we would have got Sherlock Holmes, perhaps not.
But this book is about what we have got. Four novels. Fifty-six short stories. The so-called 'sacred texts'. The Penguin editions sit next to me as I write this, in a little pile 11cm high, and I think Doyle would laugh if he knew the reverence people show to them. He was as good as he could be, but he was, when all is said and done, just a jobbing writer. A highly professional writer, but a jobbing one nonetheless. His Holmes was an entertainment, a diversion, a character he devoted just enough time to, and no more. His real interests lay elsewhere. He loved his romanticised historical fiction, exemplified by Rodney Stone. He loved his wives. He loved his country. He cared passionately about social justice and parity between the sexes. He championed the underdog. He believed in fairies.
If Doyle was still alive and you happened to mention Sherlock Holmes to him, I imagine that he would raise his eyebrows and say, 'Oh yes, him. Now, let's talk about something interesting.' Which should make us all the more grateful that we have such a rich legacy to look back on. The stories are (for the most part) beautifully crafted little tales, full of character, incident and revelation. Holmes is not an identikit set of characteristics, as has sometimes been claimed, and Watson is far from boring. Quite simply, they are real people caught up in real dramas. What is more, the bond of friendship between them is utterly believable, utterly right. Holmes needs Watson as much as Watson needs Holmes. They are mutually dependent – as all real friendships should be. One tense, intellectual, artistic; the other quiet, stable, sensible. They are like a comfortably married couple – only without the sex. Yes, even though they strolled along arm in arm once, please note their relationship is purely platonic; don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
There have been many attempts to fathom why these stories are so popular. Reading them again in one fell swoop for this guide I was struck by the number of similar themes:
Holmes and Watson are rarely in danger (neither is ever imprisoned, tied up, kidnapped etc.).
The good guys are obvious from the start (except, oddly enough, in the four novels).
Holmes invariably says, 'I have never seen such a singular case,' or words to that effect.
The gender of letter writers is always obvious.
Most of the crimes boil down to relationship problems (usually involving a ménage à trois).
The murders are often hastily covered-up accidents or the result of crime passionel.
The obvious culprit is always innocent.
Holmes invariably takes the law into his own hands.
The criminal, once discovered, normally says, in effect, 'It's a fair cop', and explains all.
These elements are part of a formula that makes the Sherlock Holmes stories so engaging. Familiarity breeds contempt, but it can also equally engender affection. Who but a robot does not feel a warm glow as Holmes stares out of the window at the glowering clouds, Watson glances through a medical journal, and the soft footfall of their next client is heard upon the stair? Who does not feel a strange thrill as the aforesaid client describes the mystery and Holmes interrupts to ask one of his peculiar questions? Ah, you think, he's onto it already. You sit back and let the story unfold around you, safe in the knowledge that the Great Detective is never wrong. (Well, hardly ever.)
Odd, then, that so much controversy rages over such gently absorbing stories. Sherlock Holmes aficionados have been debating for decades the dating of the stories, the precise location of 221B Baker Street, the number of Watson's marriages, the Christian names of the (three?) Moriartys, the cause of Holmes' misogyny, the disappearance of Watson's dog ... the list of niggling inconsistencies goes ever on. Papers have been written, books published, speeches made. And we're still no closer to the truth. Which is, as I've said, that Doyle was a jobbing writer and the internal continuity of stories written over a period of forty years just did not interest him. And why should it?
If you visit Baker Street, you'll find a block of luxury apartments now straddling the famous 221B address, where the former Abbey National building once stood (it covered 215–229). But just down the street is the Sherlock Holmes Museum at the fictional 221B (actually 239). There you can curl up in front of a roaring fire with a deerstalker perched on your head while a young and attractive Mrs Hudson snaps your picture. And opposite you'll find a bright, friendly shop selling Sherlock Holmes memorabilia. You can witness at first hand the genuine props from the Granada TV series, guided by a chap in a grey ulster and deerstalker. It's all so damned ... British. So whether you're new to the whole business, whether you've only seen a few Basil Rathbone films (and there's nothing wrong with that) or whether you're one of those who play 'The Great Game' and think Sherlock Holmes is real, I hope this short book provides a decent introduction to this quintessentially British phenomenon.
Sixty stories, millions of readers, three centuries of enjoyment.
Cheers, Sir Arthur. Thank goodness you weren't very busy.CHAPTER 2
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle ('Conan' derived from his great-uncle Michael Conan, a distinguished journalist) was born on 22 May 1859 at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh, the son of Charles Altamont Doyle and Mary (née Foley) and the second of ten children, of whom seven survived. Doyle's father was a civil servant and artist, and his grandfather John Doyle was known as the caricaturist 'HB'. His brothers were also creative: Henry became the manager of the National Gallery in Dublin, James wrote The Chronicle of England and Richard, better known as 'Dicky Doyle', was a cover designer for Punch magazine.
In 1868 Doyle attended the Jesuit preparatory school of Hodder in Lancashire for two years, before spending a further seven at Stonyhurst. It was here that he rejected Catholicism in favour of agnosticism. At 16 he did a further year in a Jesuit school at Feldkirch in the Austrian Tyrol (where he lapped up tales by Edgar Allan Poe) before returning to his birthplace to study medicine at Edinburgh University from 1876 to 1881.
His first published piece, a letter entitled Gelseminum as a Poison, appeared in the British Medical Journal of 20 September 1879. It detailed the effect of the drug on his own system. His first (uncredited) short story, The Mystery of Sasassa Valley, was published in the popular Chambers Edinburgh Journal in October that year.
In 1880, Doyle sailed to the Arctic Circle as an unqualified surgeon on the 400-ton Greenland whaling ship Hope. A year later he graduated from Edinburgh University as Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery, and attempted to replicate the success of his Arctic journey by cruising the west coast of Africa on the steamship Mayumba. But he suffered badly from seasickness and decided it was not the life for him. It was during this time that his father Charles began to receive treatment for alcoholism and epilepsy. (He began as a fee-paying patient and was later committed to an asylum until his death in October 1893.)
Eccentric university colleague George Turnavine Budd engaged Doyle to share his medical practice in Plymouth, but later acrimoniously sacked him. Doyle (along with his brother Innes) sailed to Southsea, a suburb of Portsmouth, and started his own general medical practice at 1 Bush Villas, Elm Grove, in June 1882. Business was quiet, and he turned to writing to keep himself occupied. He joined the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society in winter 1883. On 6 August 1885 Doyle married Louise ('Touie') Hawkins, the sister of a patient who had died at his premises the year before. In 1887, Beeton's Christmas Annual published his first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. Two years later his first child was born, Mary Louise, and his historical novel Micah Clarke was published. Doyle's second Holmes novel, The Sign of Four, appeared in 1890.
After a brief spell in Vienna in 1891, the Doyles moved to 23 Montague Place, London, where he practised as an oculist at 2 Upper Wimpole Street, just off Harley Street. He received very few patients and decided to write short Sherlock Holmes stories for the new monthly magazine The Strand. With the success of these and the publication of his novel The White Company, he decided to give up medicine in favour of writing.
Three months later, the Doyles rented a large house at 12 Tennison Road, South Norwood. Doyle's first son Alleyne Kingsley was born in 1892. A year later Louise, who had earlier contracted tuberculosis, was declared incurably consumptive and went to the Swiss resort of Davos to convalesce. In November 1893, Doyle joined the Society for Psychical Research, the president of which was Arthur J Balfour (who would later become prime minister), but it would be another 23 years before he began proselytising Spiritualism seriously.
Tired of Sherlock Holmes' effect on his 'serious' literary career, Doyle killed him off in The Final Problem in December 1893. The following year he went on an American lecture tour with his brother Innes. Doyle and his wife then spent most of 1895 in Europe before moving on to a tour of Egypt. When fighting broke out between the British and the Dervishes he volunteered as a war correspondent for The Westminster Gazette, giving a good account of the preparations for the campaign.
In October 1897, he and Louise moved into 'Undershaw', a house he had built in Hindhead, Surrey. Because of its height Hindhead (known as the 'English Riviera') was considered to have clean, healthy air, and Doyle hoped it would aid in Louise's recovery. But that year he met and fell in love with Jean Leckie.
The following year, he wrote two relatively unknown short stories for The Strand in which Holmes makes off-stage appearances. In The Man With the Watches (July 1898), 'a well-known criminal investigator' sends an ingenious solution to the Daily Gazette, while in The Lost Special (August 1989, later serialised by Universal in 1932) it is implied that Moriarty is the villain and Sherlock Holmes the 'amateur reasoner of some celebrity'.
In 1899 Doyle became involved in the Boer War. He sailed to South Africa in February 1900 as part of John Langman's 50-bed medical unit and worked in appalling conditions in a hospital in Bloemfontein that dealt with enteric fever. He began writing The History of the Great Boer War there, and also published a pro-British pamphlet entitled The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct. In Doyle's opinion, it was this pamphlet that led to his knighthood on 9 August 1902.
Having already succumbed to public pressure and written The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1901 (a story set before Holmes' disappearance at the Reichenbach Falls), he finally resurrected Sherlock Holmes properly in September 1903 in a short story called The Empty House.
Louise died on 4 July 1906, aged 49. The same year Doyle involved himself in the case of George Edalji, a Parsee barrister whom he claimed had been wrongly accused of maiming animals. The year after, Doyle married Jean Leckie and they moved to 'Windlesham', a large house in Crowborough, East Sussex. Three children were born to this marriage: Denis Percy Stewart (1909), Adrian Malcolm (1910) and Jean Lena Annette (1912, known as Billy).
Doyle wrote more Sherlock Holmes short stories and continued campaigning against injustices. He wrote a leaflet attacking the Belgian misrule in the Congo, exposing the suffering of the natives, and investigated the case of the convicted murderer Oscar Slater. In 1909 he became president (for ten years) of the Divorce Law Reform Union. Three years later he wrote The Lost World, the first of three novels to feature Professor Challenger.
Aged 55 when the First World War broke out, Doyle joined the Crowborough Company of the Sixth Royal Sussex Volunteer Regiment, but this was disbanded after a few weeks. On 2 September 1914, the Liberal politician Charles Masterman, head of the War Propaganda Bureau, asked Doyle to attend a secret meeting of Britain's leading writers to discuss ways of best promoting Britain's interests during the war. After this, Doyle went away and wrote the recruiting pamphlet To Arms! He then visited the Western Front, and the pamphlet A Visit to the Three Fronts resulted in 1916. During the war Doyle also started his six-volume The British Campaign in France and Flanders, completed in 1920.
In 1916, Doyle first announced his belief in Spiritualism – he claimed that the year before he had received a communication from his brother-in-law Malcolm who had died at Frameries, Belgium, in 1914. He became a passionate convert and spent the rest of his life writing and lecturing on the subject all around the world. His eldest son Alleyne was wounded at the Somme and died of pneumonia in October 1918.
Doyle believed in the Cottingley Fairies (later admitted to be a hoax), and was friends with sceptic Harry Houdini: they exchanged a series of letters on psychic matters, later published. He opened a psychic bookshop with a library and museum, and set up a psychic press which published several books.
He originally intended the short story His Last Bow (1917) to be the final word on the Great Detective, but nevertheless went on to write a further twelve Holmes stories over the next seven years.
By 1925 he was dividing his time between Bignell House near Minstead in the New Forest and his Crowborough abode. Following a lecture tour of Scandinavia and Holland in 1929 he developed angina pectoris and suffered a heart attack. Bedridden for several months, he died on 7 July 1930 aged 71. His last book, The Edge of the Unknown, had appeared a week earlier. He was buried at Crowborough but his remains were later moved – along with his wife Jean who died on 27 June 1940 – to Minstead Church. His tombstone inscription reads:
Arthur Conan Doyle
Patriot, Physician & Man of LettersCHAPTER 3
Notes on the format:
Full title (omitting, if applicable, 'The Adventure of ...' in other references).
UK and USA first publication details (with date and initials of illustrator [see below] in brackets).
The Case: A one-sentence résumé.
Date: The stated period of time in which the story takes place, occasionally as a flashback (no suppositions allowed).
Characters: Italicised ones are not directly encountered in the narrative (they usually feature in reported speech, flashbacks or passing references). Certain characters are revealed as having aliases – to preserve the twist, both names are included.
Recorded Cases: Direct references to other canonical stories.
Unrecorded Cases: Non-canonical tales that are mentioned in passing.
Holmes: Character details, personal history, mannerisms etc.
Elementary: Inspired deductions unrelated to the case in hand.
Quotable Quote: Holmes is the speaker unless otherwise stated.
Disguise: If any.
Problems: Inconsistencies, errors, illogical premises etc.
Observations: Background detail.
Verdict: Personal opinion about the story's merits, with a mark out of 5.
Illustrators: AB (Alec Ball), WTB (WT Benda), HMB (HM Brock), HCE (Harry C Edwards), HKE (Howard E Elcock), JRF (John Richard Flanagan), DHF (DH Friston), AG (A Gilbert), GH (Gilbert Holiday), WHH (WH Hyde), AIK (Arthur I Keller), GPN (G Patrick Nelson), SP (Sydney Paget), WP (Walter Paget), FDS (Frederic Dorr Steele), JS (Joseph Simpson), AT (Arthur Twidle), FW (Frank Wiles)
Excerpted from Sherlock Holmes by Mark Campbell. Copyright © 2012 Mark Campbell. Excerpted by permission of Oldcastle Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword Richard Lancelyn Green 11
1 Please Continue Your Most Interesting Statement 13
An introduction to the consulting detective of Baker Street
2 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 17
A survey of the facts surrounding his life and death
3 The Canon 23
Being an examination of the 60 stories mitten by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
4 Literary Pastiches and Parodies 108
Being a leisurely stroll through the Great Detective's rich literary legacy
5 An A-Z of Sherlock Holmes Actors 115
Being a list of thespians who have donned the deerstalker
6 Reference Materials 148
The game is afoot - where to find out more