|Dr. Marilynne McKay at the Indiana Medical History Museum|
Is there a doctor in the house?
In the Canon, the answer is definitely “yes.” Each of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 60 Sherlock Holmes stories has at least one doctor, either as a major character or referred to and significant by his absence. His name, of course, is Watson.
But many of the other stories include doctors in major roles. You will find them as villains, victims, clients, colleagues, consultants, and suspects, for example. Marilynne McKay, MD, gave a delightful overview of some of the most important last Saturday to a packed audience of about 100 at the Indiana Medical History Museum in Indianapolis.
All Sherlockians know that our hero was inspired by one of Conan Doyle’s medical-school professors, Dr. Joseph Bell. But I learned from Dr. McKay that Dr. Leon Sterndale may have been based on both Stanley and Livingston (as in “Dr. Livingston, I presume?).
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of her talk was a discussion of social ranking of the various medical men in Victorian England. Surgeons learned their profession by apprenticeship and were called “Mr.” Apothecaries, also trained as apprentices, were the equivalent of today’s general practitioners. Only MDs were called “doctor,” but sometimes in the Canon they achieved the loftier title of “Professor” or “Sir.”
This stuff is so interesting it should be in a book – and it is: Nerve and Knowledge: Doctors, Medicine andthe Sherlockian Canon, published by the Baker Street Irregulars. Marilynne McKay wrote one of the chapters, which covers some of the same ground as her Saturday lecture. Co-editors, Andrew L. Solberg, also spoke Saturday, giving an overview of the book.
“Nerve and Knowledge: Two Lectures on Doctors, Medicine, and Sherlock Holmes” was sponsored by the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis, the Baker Street Irregulars (both speakers are members), and the Indiana Medical History Museum. Now that’s what I call great synergy.