The Mysterious World of Sherlock Holmes by Bruce Wexler

An entertaining large-format, coffee table book with brief chapters on Conan Doyle’s biography, Holmes’s print history, turn of the century London, medical and forensic science, the Victorian police and so on.

Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget, 1904

Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget, 1904

It is worth it for the many full-page, colour illustrations including plenty of Sidney Paget’s iconic images as well as photographs of Victorian London, of weapons that were common to the era, as well as newspaper and magazines from the era, notably the coverage of the appalling Jack the Ripper murders from the late 1880s.

A scene from the Man With The Twisted Lip by Sidney Paget (1891)

A scene from the Man With The Twisted Lip by Sidney Paget (1891)

From it I learned that:

  • Doyle sold the text and copyright of A Study In Scarlet to Beeton’s Christmas Annual for just £25. In 2007 Sotheby’s sold a battered first edition of that edition for $156,000.
  • Conan Doyle married Louise Hawkins in 1885 but he had been treating her brother, who died suddenly and was buried in a hurry, giving rise to ugly rumours that he’d murdered him and married the sister for her money.
  • Sheridan Hope became Sherrinford Holmes became Sherlock Holmes.
  • Conan Doyle had qualified as a doctor in 1881. He gave up practising in 1891 as his writing career took off. As well as Holmes, he had knocked out two historical novels Micah Clarke (1889) and The White Company (1891). He was soon to create the first of the Brigadier Gerard stories set in the Napoleonic Wars.
  • When Conan Doyle threw Holmes off the Reichenbach Falls in 1893 it was a devastating blow to the Strand magazine which had been serialising the stories: an amazing 20,000 readers cancelled their subscriptions and dedicated fans wore mourning.
  • Conan Doyle bought a plot of land near Hindhead in Surrey in 1895 and had completed building Undershaw house by 1897. Mark Gatiss is now patron of the Undershaw Preservation Trust. In the same year he met the beautiful actress Jean Leckie who was to become his second wife when Louise died in 1907.
Miss Jean Leckie, 1897

Miss Jean Leckie, 1897

  • Conan Doyle was knighted in 1902. It’s not crystal clear why but probably because of his patriotic duties as a volunteer doctor in South Africa during the Boer War, and then for the two books – The Great Boer War and The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct – which he wrote soon after. In the same year he was made Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey.
  • After the success of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) publishers offered Conan Doyle $4,000 per short story, making him one of the best-paid authors of all time.
  • Doyle’s original manuscript Hound was broken up into individual leaves as part of a promotional campaign by the Doyle’s American publisher and used as part of window displays. Out of an estimated 185 leaves, only 36 are known to still exist. A newly-rediscovered example was sold at auction in 2012 for $158,500.
  • In 1907 Conan Doyle married Jean Leckie and moved to Windelsham, near Crowborough, Sussex, home for the rest of his life.
  • In 1912 Doyle published the first of the Professor Challenger stories, The Lost World, inspiration for numerous B-movies.
  • On the outbreak of the Great War Conan Doyle volunteered but was turned down. In 1916 he enlisted as a volunteer in the Volunteer section of the Royal Sussex Regiment. He visited the front line trenches, was appalled, and wrote a series of articles for newspapers on conditions.
  • Conan Doyle’s eldest son and brother died of war-related diseases along with two brothers-in-law, and his mother died in 1920. These deaths crystallised CD’s interest in spiritualism, trance-writing, seances, spirit-writing and the rest of it which dominated the last decade of his life and involved him in the famous Cottingley Fairies forgery.
Elsie Wright, a girl from Yorkshire, surrounded by fake fairies, 1917

Elsie Wright, a girl from Yorkshire, surrounded by fake fairies, 1917

  • After his death in 1930 Conan Doyle disappointed his family and spiritualist followers by not getting in touch from beyond the grace 😦
  • Sidney Paget created no fewer than 356 Sherlock Holmes illustrations!
  • Much of Holmes’s science was on the cutting edge of forensics. Sir Francis Galton only formalised the study of fingerprints in Fingerprints (1892).
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