SH, the real and imagined

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Vincent Starrett (1933)

This book often has a tone of loving mockery, particularly of Watson and his inexactitude with dates and, by extension, Arthur Conan Doyle’s carelessness (or laziness), that makes it a pleasure to read for those of us (me) who equally love SH but are not blind to his, his biographer’s, and his author’s foibles.

The book explores: the history of SH (his personal history and history of the character created by ACD), his life as presented by Watson (including his death, return, and retirement), the fictitious setting (another area of Watsonian inexactness) and the speculated real location of 221-B, the named and alluded-to untold adventures, SH’s own writings, ACD’s own detection work, SH on stage and in parody, and SH’s illustrators. Then there is a thorough bibliography at the end. In sum it addresses everything you could want to know about the detective and his world, real or fictional.

  • assertion that Watson’s “failure to suspect” [what Holmes did, but really, to suspect everything] is what made Watson Watson
  • assertion that though the first short story and the only failure on SH’s part, “A Scandal in Bohemia” is the quintessential SH tale with “all on exhibition”—the Baker Street prologue, references to other cases, arrival of client, the “mystifications” of Sherlock, the adventure, and the “anti-climactic explanations”
  • “Yet whereas Watson in The Final Problem declares his utter ignorance of even Moriarty’s name, in The Valley of Fear [which according to Watson took place earlier] he speaks of him with some familiarity. One often wonders that Homes relied as much on Watson as he did.” among other Watsonian/ACD inaccuracies
  • “There can be little doubt that Watson was a very patient man.”
  • “And it is at home, in Baker Street, that one likes best to think of them—alone and puttering with their secret interests. Little vignettes of perfect happiness, wreathed in tobacco smoke and London fog.”
  • “So they still live for all that love them well: in a romantic chamber of the heart: in a nostalgic country of the mind: where it is always 1895.”
  • Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes with the combination of SH tales “so skillfully interpolated and so subtly changed as almost to defy the expert.” cf. Sherlock
  • “It is an old aphorism that familiarity breeds contempt. Like most old aphorisms—which should be reexamined annually and then thrown out of court—it isn’t always true. Familiarity at worst breeds, as a rule, only familiarity; at best, it breeds something approaching adoration.”
  • In parody and burlesque chapter: the comic of SH surrounds by stones (“Portrait of celebrated detective regretting his rash decision to leave no stone unturned.”) & Lee Harrison’s song with “a number of verses equally good or bad.”
  • “In time [ACD] came almost to hate poor Sherlock. But that, in spite of everything here set forth, is an emotion one cannot share.”
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