by Michael HardwickRead via Open Library.
The premise of this book is that in many ways Arthur Conan Doyle was himself Sherlock Holmes and had played the part of a detective in many incidents in his life, and so Doyle's biography is covered with the addition of many quotes from various Holmes stories. The book jacket calls it "a dual profile." Before I read it I noted the book was only 92 pages, which I thought was oddly short for Doyle's busy life. And it was - because it feels like it's been suddenly cut off at the end, on page 90. (The other pages are index.)
Short version: this is the Cliff notes version of Conan Doyle's life. There's some good detail here on the criminal cases Doyle involved himself in in a way that seems very Holmesian, but you will wish for more detail on these and other areas of Doyle's life. So calling this a "profile" rather than a biography is really accurate. Think of it as an expanded magazine article and you won't be disappointed. There are also multiple photos of Doyle, his family members, and various other people mentioned in the text.
First, random author info: the book I read was written by both Michael and Mollie Hardwick, though she's not mentioned on the GR page (well, not currently). From the bookjacket:
"Michael Hardwick's radio adaptations of Sherlock Holmes stories for the BBC have been broadcast by more than eighty networks in forty countries. Mollie Hardwick is a free-lance writer and producer of radio drama. The Hardwicks live in London."
One problem with the book is that the majority of Holmes quotes don't cite which stories they're from. Sometimes the author will mention the tale, if the content is relevant, but otherwise nothing. For Holmes fans this could be annoying, especially if you're trying to figure out which story was written during which time period in Doyle's life. Also the quotes, which are used to give the reader a sense of Holmes' personality and beliefs, don't really work for me as sketching a biography of the character - but that is probably my bias as someone who's read the stories. I'm particularly skeptical of the "Doyle is Holmes" theory. That theory's not a new one by the way, other authors have employed this idea.
Another issue about continually adding Holmes quotes in amongst biographical information about Doyle is that frankly many of the quotes used aren't as interesting as the actual facts. For instance, in the cases of George Edalji and Oscar Slater (see below) I was continually annoyed at the insertion of such quotes because I was much more interested in the outcome of the cases and Doyle's role in it. I repeatedly skipped over the Holmes quote I'd heard before to find out what happened. (I'll add a quote or two below that will give you an example.)
Oddly there's a significant blank about the Cottingley Fairies - it's not mentioned at all. This seems particularly strange since the book does give us some information about Doyle's father, artist Charles Altamont Doyle. On that wikipedia link you'll see some of Charles Doyle's art depicting fairies, and he was apparently known for such fantasy paintings. This was also the first I'd heard of this tie to fairy art in the Doyle family, and you'd think there could be some sort of ponderings you could add to the Cottingley incident in light of that.
There are only brief allusions to Doyle's Spiritualism (though it is pointed out that this essentially became his religion) and how that is completely un-Holmesian. (Doyle wrote multiple books on spiritualism, read his bibliography - the nonfiction and memoir sections.) But then, this is a sort of fan-book where the author really wants us to see Doyle as Holmes, and nothing from Doyle's Spiritualism works into that narrative. And everything in Doyle's later life really revolved around the Spiritualism movement (a period of over 40 years of his life, starting with the date of his first wife).
This is the real problem of the idea that Doyle is secretly Holmes - you have to ignore a lot about the actual man's life, and the reality of crime to make this theory work. Not to mention the reality that when you write a mystery you're setting a case in a world in which the author is controlling everything, and there are no limitations. Solving a real case is different - there are unknowns that may never be resolved, even scientific tests can have results that don't make sense or can't be readily explained, and there are no easy, quick, amazing Holmesian answers. What works in fiction doesn't always transfer to reality (and vice versa). (See the CSI effect for more along these lines.) I'm not saying that a comparison of Doyle to Holmes isn't interesting - I'm just saying that it only works with a certain, very limited segment of Doyle's personality and abilities.
Yet another issue I have is that the book quotes from Conan Doyle's autobiography, Memories and Adventures (1924), and possibly a book about Doyle by his son, Adrian Conan Doyle. I'm not entirely sure about that last one, but there are obvious quotes from Adrian about his father, so I'm hazarding a guess that it's a book and not an article or an interview - the book doesn't cite texts or have a bibliography so I can't be sure. Which is why I referred to this as a "fan-book." There's nothing wrong with that - it's just that I actually would like to hunt down those texts and the author hasn't given me any help. (The book is possibly Adrian's The True Conan Doyle , 1945. Both it and Memories and Adventures look to be hard to track down unless I buy them.)
And now, time for multiple quotes...
"Conan Doyle inherited his names: Sherlock Holmes had to have his bestowed on him. His creator refused to invoke 'the elementary art which gives some inkling of character in the name, and creates Mr. Sharps or Mr. Ferrets.' But, like his predecessor Dickens, he was unable to resist the pull of the subconscious. From the depths of his mind came the name 'Sherrinford Holmes.' The 'Holmes" was for Conan Doyle's revered Oliver Wendell Holmes, the sage of New England. Sherrinford has a distinctly Irish ring, a sort of fusion of Sheridan and Wexford; and it was in County Wexford that Alexander d'Oilly, Conan Doyle's ancestor, was granted estates in 1333. The link is tenuous - but the subconscious is a shadowy thing.
'Sherrinford,' however, was abandoned, and a happier choice adopted - Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock, again, is an Irish name. A branch of the Sherlocks of Sherlockstown held the neighboring estate to the Doyles in County Wexford."
p 14: the author suggests that a writen description of Holmes sounds like Conan Doyle's grandfather, John Doyle and refers to his image in London's National Portrait Gallery - this one, I think.
p 14-15, about Doyle's mother, who eventually had seven children, 6 after Conan Doyle:
"Mary Doyle worked hard to rear her family and run her Edinburgh home. ...A French scholar, she could discourse easily of the Goncourts, Flaubert and Gautier while clearing out the grate and sweeping the hearth. She would stir the family porridge with one hand and hold up the Revue des Deux Mondes in the other. There were few domestic tasks she could not combine with reading. It was said that during the perusal of one particularly interesting passage she inserted a spoonful of rusk and milk into her baby daughter's ear, instead of her mouth."
p 21-23, Doyle is in med school at Edinburgh University, 1876, and works for Dr. Joseph Bell. I'm unsure whether this is all a quote from Doyle's memoir - but it is placed in quote marks in the text:
'Bell was a very remarkable man in body and mind. he was thin, wiry, dark, with a high-nosed acute face, penetrating grey eyes, angular shoulders, and a jerky way of walking. His voice was high and discordant. He was a very skillful surgeon, but his strong point was diagnosis, not only of diesase, but of occupation and character. For some reason which I have never understood he singled me out from the drove of students who frequented his wards and made me his out-patient clerk, which meant that I had to array his out-patients, make simple notes of their cases, and then show them in, one by one, to the large room in which Bell sat in state surrounded by his dressers and students. Then I had ample chance of studying his methods and noticing that he often learned more of the patient by a few quick glances than I had done by my questions. Occasionally the results were very dramatic, though there were times that he blundered.
[Bell questions a patient, correctly assessing army career, regiment, officer, where stationed, etc.]
..."You see, gentlemen," he would explain, "the man was a respectful man but did not remove his hat. They do not in the Army, but he would have learned civilian ways had he been long discharged. He has an air of authority and he is obviously Scottish. As to Barbados, his complaint is elephantiasis, which is West Indian and not British." To his audience of Watsons it all seemed very miraculous until it was explained, and then it became simple enough. It is no wonder that after the study of such a character I used and amplified his methods when in later life I tried to build up a scientific detective who solved cases on his own merits and not through the folly of the criminal. Bell took a keen interest in these detective tales and even made suggestions which were not, I am bound to say, very practical.'
"Searching for a theme to write about, Conan Doyle had recalled his youthful admiration for two fictional detectives - Poe's Dupin and Gaboriau's Lecoq."Although mentioned many times as a seminal detective, Poe's C. Auguste Dupin can be found only in the stories "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), "The Mystery of Marie Rogêt" (1842) and "The Purloined Letter" (1844). Meanwhile Emile Gaboriau wrote five novels and a short story about police officer Monsieur Lecoq.
"The influence of Conan Doyle, working sometimes through Holmes, sometimes on his own account, upon European and Asiatic criminology was widespread. The Surete named its crime laboratories at Lyons after him; the Egyptian Police trained upon his methods, and his books were made required reading in several other police forces; his inventiveness in the matter of plaster of Paris casts for preserving delicate clues, in the differentiation of tobacco ashes, about which Holmes wrote his celebrated monograph, and in the examination of dust from a man's clothing to establish his profession or habitual whereabouts all helped to pioneer techniques which today are in common use through the world."
"...Watson, of the square jaw, thick neck, mustache, burly shoulders and indeterminate bullet-wound, was drawn in general terms from a Major Wood, another Southsea friend who later served as Conan Doyle's secretary for many years. ' "Watson" was my father's Goodman Friday for forty years, and as a boy I was many a time sternly rebuked by him for disturbing "Sherlock Holmes" when engaged on the consideration of some problem,' writes Adrian Conan Doyle."
p 48-9, Ma'am is Doyle's name for his mother:
"Writing to the Ma'am, who had never ceased reproaching her son for his brutal treatment of his most popular character, Conan Doyle said calmly: 'You will find that Holmes was never dead, and that he is now very much alive.' "
"'The scenes at the railway-bookstalls were worse than anything I ever saw at a bargain sale,' wrote an eye-witness when Holmes returned in The Empty House in the Strand magazine of October, 1903."
p 50 - the case of George Edalji that Doyle became involved in is discussed in chapter titled "The Case of the Myopic Parsee." Which is supposed to be a title we're to recognize as sounding Holmesian. And since much of the reason Edalji was targeted was due to racial prejudice I suppose it's accurate.
"Like so many of the wronged folk who had climbed the stairs of 221B Baker Street in order to tell their stories to Sherlock Holmes, George Edalji had the wisdom to write to Conan Doyle, enclosing the newspaper clippings of his case."
p 59, Doyle on the Edalji case:
"...He continued inquires in the Great Wyrley district itself, hoping to discover proof that would cover-ride any last remaining doubt about the injustice of Edalji's conviction - the identity of the real slasher. He was not left long in doubt that he was close to the right trail. Letters addressed to himself began to arrive. 'I know from a detective of Scotland Yard that if you write to Gladstone and say you find Edalji is guilty after all they will make you a lord next year. Is it not better to be a lord than to run the risk of losing kidneys and liver. Think of all the ghoulish murders that are committed, when then should you escape?'
Such letters brought Conan Doyle no fear. He knew that if they continued the writer might let slip a clue..."
p 59-61, Edalji case, Doyle finds a suspect:
"...'Peter Hudson,' as Conan Doyle chose to name him, rather than publish his real name, had been expelled at the age of thirteen as beyond control. He had been known to forge letters, and one of his delights had been to rip with a knife the furnishings of railway carriages. He had subsequently been apprenticed to a butcher, and had then gone to sea, serving part of his time in cattle ships, thus adding to his experience of handling animals.And the authorities "refused to admit that any case existed against 'Peter Hudson.'" (p 62)
...Those [points] which he did not choose to publish in his detailed newspaper account of the investigation he submitted privately to the Home Office.
The committee of three investigators concluded its deliberations and presented its findings to the Home Secretary. ...The jury who had convicted George Edalji of horse-maiming had been at fault; but there remained no reason to doubt that Edalji had written the anonymous letters. He had 'to some extent brought his troubles on himself.' Therefore, he would be pardoned, but granted no compensation whatsoever."
p 62, on Conan Doyle remarrying after the death of his first wife:
"'Sherlock Holmes Quietly Married,' ran one newspaper's headline."
p 64, the chapter called "The Case of the Diamond Crescent" deals with the story of Oscar Slater, his conviction for the death of 83 year old Marion Gilchrest.
p 71-72, an example of how awkwardly the continual Holmes quotes are often worked into the text, and also for how the author sets up the Doyle = Holmes = amazing (not subtle):
"Conan Doyle's booklet The Case of Oscar Slater appeared in August 1912, by which time Slater had been in jail for more than three years. As with Edalji, he tore the case against Slater piece by piece to shreds. As with the Edalji case, an alternative suggestion was presented: Holmes again - "one should always look for a possible alternative and provide against it. It is the first rule of criminal investigation."Unfortunately there was not information on what that document was, only theories as to what it might have been. Like a will.
Conan Doyle's alternative was so simple that it had occurred to no one. ("It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.") Why, with expensive jewellery lying all about him, had Miss Gilchrist's assailant contented himself with stealing only a crescent brooch? ...Conan Doyle's suggestion - and to this day no one has offered a more convincing one - was that a document, not jewellery, had been the intruder's object..."
p 77, Slater was released after serving 19 years, without "mention of a pardon, a public inquiry, or of compensation." Doyle had a suspect, but we aren't told much about that. And the end of the chapter:
"One recalls Inspector Lestrade's words to Jonas Oldacre in The Norwood Builder: "You have done your best to get an innocent man hanged. If it wasn't for this gentleman here, I am not sure that you would not have succeeded." The identity of Miss Gilchrist's murderer never emerged, although shortly before Conan Doyle's death, he confided it to his son, Adrian."And that's it. No other hint or suggestion of how he came to that conclusion. I'll let you guess how annoyed with the book I was at this point.
p 89-90, summing up the Conan Doyle/Holmes similarities:
"Both liked working in solitude, in old dressing-gowns; both carried out chemical tests, smoked pipes, carefully compiled scrapbooks on all manner of subjects, but were dreadfully untidy in dealing with papers and personal possessions. Each kept on his desk a magnifying-glass, and in a drawer, a pistol. Both Conan Doyle and Holmes were excellent boxers. They shared the same bankers; they were each offered a knighthood in the same year. Both were brilliant pioneer criminologists, with lessons to teach the detective forces of the world. "In over a thousand cases I am not aware that I have ever used my powers upon the wrong side," Holmes could assert. Conan Doyle made no such claim, but his record makes it for him, because, like Holmes, he used those powers on the right side, to save innocent men from prison and the gallows.
In the early days of the Holmes stories the public saw none of the links between their detective idol and his creator, and had no cause to seek them. Holmes, to them, had a vivid reality in his own right. This being so, what would have been easier than for Conan Doyle to have made Holmes his personal mouthpiece, his propaganda vehicle in the crusades which took up so much of his life? Yet, in all the utterances of Holmes (and he made some very profound ones) there is hardly one of which it can be said, 'Ah! There speaks Conan Doyle.' Not a political opinion, or a reflection of the world crises which so occupied Conan Doyle's mind. Not a word of the vulnerability of the soldier and sailor. No plea for the reform of divorce laws, or for religious freedom. Not one scrap of propaganda for Spiritualism, about which he cared so passionately. If the public's hero, Sherlock Holmes, had spoken up for these things there would certainly have followed a wave of interest and support. Conan Doyle's artistic integrity forbade him."
|Title||Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes|
|eBook format||Hardcover, (torrent)|
|File size||6.6 Mb|
|Book rating||3.84 (14 votes)