Casebook of adventure
How a Failed Surgeon Invented his Most Famous Character
It was 130 years ago that the world was introduced to a lanky, sharp-eyed sleuth by the name of Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, John Watson. He certainly was not the first of his kind to appear in literature. So what makes him — with his distinctive pipe and deerstalker cap — the default image of the very word ‘detective’?
Michael Sims’ Arthur & Sherlock — Conan Doyle and the creation of Holmes narrates the fascinating tale behind the conception of the most portrayed literary human character in film and TV. Vigorously researched, the book contains a good deal about Arthur Conan Doyle’s childhood and upbringing in Edinburgh, his natural affinity for storytelling and most important, how his time period coincided with the growth of scientific reasoning and the shift from poetry to fiction as a respectable form of literature, all of which were essential to his work’s success.
Sims divides his book into three parts: Conan Doyle’s early years and entry into medicine, his literary influences and eventual rise to fame with Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle’s portrayal, his rise from abject poverty to a not-so-successful physician to famous author, is most empathetic. He lives on a shoestring budget in Portsmouth, subsists on canned beef and bread, stocks up basic furniture on credit and struggles to find patients. Yet, he refuses financial help from his mother. One can almost relate to the plight of a bachelor, fresh out of college, trying to find his own feet in another city. But what a leap of faith it must have been, in the 1870s, to pause studies and take up an unpaid internship as a doctor onboard a ship sailing in the Arctic or along the western African coastline.
He slowly realises he can make more money through these experiences than slogging it out to become a surgeon of repute. That too turns out to be easier said than done; his first attempts at short stories face rejection or return a pittance.
The storyteller in Sims seems to be a trivia aficionado, embedding gems of information that some might find inconsequential: how the surname Doyle derived from the Anglo Norman d’oïl, for instance. The tales, especially of Conan Doyle’s mentor, the legendary Dr. Joseph Bell whom he acknowledges as the primary inspiration for Holmes, are unputdownable. In all fairness, Sims’ work is nothing less than a labour of love: an extraordinary resource for fans of crime fiction.
Credit: The Hindu