Monday, May 25, 2015

A Sherlock Holmes Read For July 2015

Almost everyone has some personal reaction to the name Sherlock Holmes. 

You might be a dyed-in-the-wool Sir Arthur Conan Doyle aficionado and have read every one of the fifty-six short stories and four novels, or you might just dearly love the modern adaptations for Doyle’s works.  But there are a host of dedicated enthusiasts who devoutly yearn to walk down Baker Street and knock at 221 B, who crave to know the famous detective’s chosen tobacco and have gone so far as to book a tour to see Reichenbach Falls in the Swiss Alps.

Maybe you have had a secret desire to wear a deerstalker hat. Or smoke a calabash pipe, which has somehow become associated with the famous detective. (In truth Sir Arthur Conan Doyle only references three pipes smoked by Sherlock; a briar pipe, a cherry-wood pipe and most often a clay pipe.)

Guinness World Records awarded Sherlock Holmes “the most portrayed movie character”.  Over 70 actors have portrayed Holmes in over 200 films.  During the 1940s Basil Rathbone gave an admirable portrayal that won him acclaim as a perfect Sherlock that carried for many years with Sherlock devotees. 

But but to many, Jeremy Brett was the best of the screen adaptations for the Doyle character. Critics lauded Brett’s performance as Sherlock  - which stretched over a ten year period - as one of the most definitive and Brett even went on to portray Sherlock on stage. But Brett declared that it was the hardest role of his life.  Britain’s Granada TV’s intent to produce a completely authentic and faithful adaptation intrigued Brett and when he accepted the role, he determined to be the best Sherlock that the world had seen.  He did extensive research on both Sherlock and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He created a file which he kept with him on the set at all times in which he catalogued Holmes mannerisms, habits and traits and introduced little gestures and quirks that viewers became to closely associate with the famous detective.

And then… there came the 2010 BBC One modern version creatively translated into modern times with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  It was a fresh and original take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character that at once captured and intrigued its viewers.  The writing and updated take on the classic was an immediate hit… or was it Benedict…. hard to tell which.

Born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1859, Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle fought his way through a childhood filled with the instability that his alcoholic father brought to the family and, supported by wealthy uncles, was given the opportunity to receive an education that then enabled him to begin his medical school studies at the University of Edinburgh in 1876.

And it was during that time that Arthur Conan Doyle began to write. 

His experience, talents and medical studies contributed to his creations but although he began to submit short stories to magazines, nothing gained him any significant recognition until A Study In Scarlet was accepted by Ward Lock & Co on November 20, 1886.  It then appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual to good reviews and brought Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John H. Watson into the literary world and permanently into reader’s hearts for generations to come.

There are thought to be several inspirations for the inimitable detective Sherlock Holmes, but Joseph Bell, one of Conan Doyle’s university professors, is generally recognized as having introduced ideas regarding deduction, observation and inference that found their way into Sherlock’s personality and methods of detection.

After A Study In Scarlet, The Sign Of The Four was commissioned, followed by other successful and popular short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  With a writing career that continued to be far more successful than his medical career, Conan Doyle began to dedicate himself to also writing historical novels which he considered to be more “important works”.  To clear the path for his new passion, he decided to send Holmes and his nemesis, Moriarty, to their deaths in the story “The Final Problem”

Bad idea.

Needless to say, public outcry brought Sherlock Holmes back in more stories – 56 short stories altogether and four novels produced between 1887 and 1927.  Dr. Watson narrates all but four stories but Holmes tells the story himself in “The Blanched Soldier” and “The Lion’s Mane”. The stories  “The Musgrave Ritual” and “The Gloria Scott” feature Holmes relating the storyline to Watson through his memories as the Doctor narrates between. Both “The Mazarin Stone” and His Last Bow are related in third person and A Study In Scarlet and The Valley Of Fear include additional narration both of events known and unknown to either Sherlock and Watson.

Members of The Jane Austen Tea Society – you have plenty of time to read one of the Sherlock Holmes novels or short stories so that we can meet and discuss on Saturday, July 18th.  You may choose “A Study In Scarlet” so that you can discover how Holmes met Dr. Watson.  But you might choose “A Scandal In Bohemia” if you want to read about Sherlock’s love interest or “The Final Problem” as he crosses paths with Professor Moriarty.  It’s up to you!

Once again lay aside your preconceived notions about Sherlock and Watson and go back to the source – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original works!  After all, as Holmes said in “A Study In Scarlet” – “There is nothing like first-hand evidence.”

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