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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Interviews and Recollections

His autobiographical Memories and Adventures apart, there have been fourteen biographical studies of Conan Doyle -- by the Reverend John Lamond, Hesketh Pearson, Adrian Conan Doyle, John Dickson Carr, Pierre Nordon, Michael and Molly Hardwick, Mary Hoehling, James Playsted Wood, Ivor Brown, Ronald Pearsall, Charles Higham, Julian Symons, Owen Dudley Edwards and Geoffrey Stavert. There would not, one might think, be much more territory of Doyle's 71 years' fossicking on this side of the veil remaining unexplored, but now Professor Orel has collected together a miseellany of resurrected interviews and recollections which forms a kind of vital appendix or supplementary volume to the life story.

A fascinating omnium gatherum, resembling nothing so much as the contents of one of those formidable scrap-books of Holmes's which stood in a row upon a shelf at 221B, preserving all manner of tit-bits. Silas Hocking, for instance, best remembered as author of that Victorian tear-jerker tale of the harsh Liverpool slumland, Her Benny, here lays modest claim to having suggested to Doyle the means of putting an end to the troublesome Sherlock Holmes -- |Why not bring him out to Switzerland and drop him down a crevasse?'. Doyle duly precipitated him over the Reichenbach Falls.

A report of a speech by Doyle at the Stoll Convention Dinner at the Trocadero in London in 1921, shows him protesting against the confusion of the author with his character and remembering the |thrill of disappointment' that ran through the assembly when he was delivering a lecture in New York and the audience |all expected to see in me a cadaverous looking person with marks of cocaine injections all over him'. In fact, he looked, according to one American observer, more like the great detective Thomas Byrnes, Chief Inspector of the New York Detective Bureau.

Talking with the artist, Mortimer Menpes, Doyle told him that he had no faith whatever in the professional critic. He preferred the child's views. |I want the boy critic ... who will chuck a book down and call it "rot", or will read it through twice and call it "ripping".' That brings additional significance to Doyle's poem dedicatory to The Lost World:

I have wrought my simple plan

If I give one hour of joy

To the boy who's half a man,

Or the man who's half a boy.

There are interesting glimpses of Conan Doyle through the eyes of, among others, Bram Stoker, Jerome K. Jerome, James Barrie, Eden Phillpotts, Coulson Kernahan and the Great Houdini.

Of his work as the |paladin of lost causes', as the celebrated criminologist, William Roughead, called him, there is here some reference to his successful championing of the cause of George Edalji, the Parsee solicitor, falsely convicted, as Doyle believed, of the Great Wyriey horse maimings, but the much more important case of Oscar Slater, wrongfully found guilty of murder, is barely touched upon.

The book is divided into five parts: The Years at Edinburgh University, 1876-81; Sherlock Holmes 1886-1927; The Professional Writer; Speaking Out on Public Issues; Sports; and, finally, Spiritualism -- the story of how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave up all further fame and fortune, seeing fairies and taking upon himself the apostolate of spiritist revelation.

It was a long, long trail a'winding from Picardy Place, Edinburgh, via Stonyhurst to Spiritism, but the pilgrimage was one of knight errantry, and Professor Orel's gatherings from the wayside flourish a very worthwhile adornment of the old crusader's standards.
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Author:Whittington-Egan, Richard
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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