Thursday, 28 December 2017

Sherlock Holmes-Not so Loved Detective

If I claim full justice for my art, it is because it is an impersonal thing- a thing beyond myself. Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell. You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales.

 “At the same time, you can hardly be open to a charge of sensationalism, for out of these cases which you have been so kind as to interest yourself in, a fair proportion do not treat of crime, in its legal sense, at all.

Sherlock Holmes to Dr John Watson in “The Adventures of the Copper Beeches”

Isn’t it surprising to note that these thoughts are expressed by one of the most loved fictitious detective in the world? My first encounter with the doctor’s memoir of the sleuth’s detective skills was when I got a copy of the book titled The Adventures of Copper Beeches as a prize in the sixth standard. I hadn’t read any detective novels till then. And after reading this one, I dreamt of bumping into the pair on Baker Street, for a long time. It took me many years to realise that these two were actually fictitious characters. It took me further more years to accept that their creator was a doctor with literary interests.

It was equally surprising to know about how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wanted to get rid of this pair of most loved detectives most of his life. Though Sir Arthur had come to dislike the detective he had created, he managed to write stories which pleased millions of readers all over the world are still shared with great enthusiasm even today. The character of Sherlock Holmes, portrayed as a sociopath in Sherlock or as the lead detective of recent tele-series Elementary still remains the most famous detective of all times-in fact or fiction. Then what was it that led the creator of this character hate his own creation?


In the beginning, Sir Arthur found his thoughts turning more and more to the science and literature of detection. And so he decided to create a fictional detective who had an excellent scientific mind. That’s how he wrote about John Watson narrating an incident in A Study in Scarlet about Sherlock Holmes. This book was rejected by various publishers before it was liked by the editor of Lippincott’s Magazine. And then he asked Sir Arthur to write another story about the two. I had never imagined that the bone-chilling Sign of Four was just the second adventurous episode undertaken by the two.

Within a short span of two-three years, a series of six short stories of Sherlock and Watson were published in The Strand Magazine. Soon the sleuth pair was established as the favourites of the British readers. But the author had tired of Holmes and wanted to concentrate on what he thought of as his ‘serious ‘ writing, so he did not want to write any more stories of Sherlock and Watson. Sir Arthur asked for a fee of 50 pounds per story to discourage the editor thinking that he would refuse and that would be the end of Holmes. But that was not to be so- the editor was well-aware of the popularity of the detective with his readers and he willingly paid the fees. As a result, Sherlock featured in six more stories of Dr. Watson.

The love for Sherlock’s art of deduction grew more and the editor demanded a new set of 12 stories. Once again, Sir Arthur raised his price to deter the editor from further demands. But, surprisingly enough, he too accepted the exorbitant fees of 1000 pounds for 12 stories! He did write the 12 stories and at the end he planned the sleuth’s death in the raging waters of the Reichenbach Falls along with his enemy Professor Moriarty.
“Thank God, I’ve killed the brute!” he had said after completing the story. 
I always wondered why any author would decide to end the life of his best-selling detective and then bring him back to life after a short gap? But, he had to succumb to the public demand. The Magazine had managed to create keen and loyal following who were very sad and angry that the classic stories had come to an end. He might have been dead, as far as his creator was concerned, but he refused to lie down. The public demand for more stories continued. Sir Arthur was recovering at Dartmoor after the Boer War. He got greatly interested in the local legends and tales. Although its funny to know that he let go an offer from none other than Rudyard Kipling about writing a story about a ghost in the Savoy Hotel in India. It so happened that although he didn't write about the mysterious death of a British lady in side her locked room, but did mention it to a dear female friend who started her career as a detective story writer with it. Read more about it in my blog titled "The ghost that gave birth to the detective" on vidulaabhyankar.blogspot.com. He decided to write a mystery story about a family living on Dartmoor that was haunted and terrorized by a hound. But he still did not want to bring him back to life again! So he wrote ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ as an early adventure in the life of Sherlock Holmes. 

After the success of this adventure, I can understand how it would be nearly impossible for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to resist the demands of the publishers and readers to resurrect Holmes. Hence, he had
to produce ‘The Empty House’ to explain how Holmes had escaped death in the Falls and had spent some time travelling extensively abroad in the intervening years, before returning to London. Since the author was himself strongly convinced about the death of Holmes, his reasons for not disclosing the facts related to his existence even with his partner in all adventures did not seem very convincing to many for a long time.

This must be the only detective who had his Final Bow appearing after the Final Problem. People say that The Valley of Fear is supposed to be the “swan song in fiction” of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which was published in between the series of some more stories of the detective. What initially started as a work of fiction actually became the most scientific description of the art of deduction. As somebody has rightly said that Truth is more fictitious than Reality, similarly, the fictitious Sherlock and Dr
Watson’s adventures had more life in them as compared to the real life of those times. Or maybe, the crime and criminals of those times were the real inspiration behind these tales? So maybe the British readers could associate with petty criminals portrayed in stories such as the greedy concierge in The Blue Carbuncle, the shrewd father in The Copper Beeches, the ever- scheming the vindictive pirates and gold-diggers of The Resident Patient.

 In addition to this, probably one more reason for Sherlock’s unabated following can be the fact that:
it is frequently in its least important and lowliest manifestations that the keenest pleasure is to be derived.

So although Sherlock kept saying “the criminal man has lost all enterprise and originality”, the readers could associate with the faithful wife in The Dancing Men, the anxious Governesses of The Problem at Thor Bridge, The Copper Beeches, the terrified Greek Interpreter and many more. So even if it was “degenerating for recovering lost lead pencils and giving advice to young ladies from boarding schools” for Sherlock, Dr Watson’s simple narration made the most mundane items like the lost walking stick in The Hound of Baskervilles or the black hat in The Blue Carbuncle become interesting threads to solve mysteries which normal public would have never noticed.
Read my other blog on to know about my love for Sherlock from childhood in " Detectives Kids Love" on vidulaabhyankar.blogspot.com.

So, even if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not want to actually wish the adventures of Sherlock Holmes to become the reason for making him memorable, I agree with what Dr Watson had to say about his memoirs:

It seems to me that I have done you full justice in the matter.

No comments:

Post a Comment