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Monday, March 30, 2015

Holmes and Conan Doyle in the Newspapers

Technology and scholarship have combined to produce a book that belongs on the shelves of every serious Sherlockian.

Mattias Boström and Matt Laffey used online newspaper archives to search papers from around the world and compile a large sampling of articles for Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle in the Newspapers, Volume I 1881-1892 (Gasogene Books, $32.95.)

The articles include both news stories and reviews. It’s fascinating to see what reviewers had to say about Holmes and his author in their early years. A Study in Scarlet, which appeared in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of December 1887, received more press than I had thought – although the reviewers then (and later) often got the author’s name wrong.

“He is a wonderful man is Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” The Glasgow Herald wrote on December 17, 1887, adding that “one cannot lay down the narrative until the end is reached.” Just three years and one more Holmes novel later, The Pittsburgh Dispatch hailed Holmes in 1890 as “the best detective we know of in any of the detective stories.”   

Over the next several years, newspapers commented – almost always favorably – on individual Holmes stories as they appeared in The Strand. One of the few negative voices was the Chicago Herald reviwer who wrote on Oct. 25, 1891 that “Sherlock Holmes will never compare with Monsieur Dupin.” 

In the Dec. 28, 1891 number of The Scotsman, a reviewer compared a detective named Mr. Calvin Sugg unfavorably to Sherlock Holmes. The editors note in an insightful footnote: “Appearing in just six short stories to date, the Great Detective was becoming the definitive yardstick by which all other detectives both literary and real) were to be measured.” 

Interestingly, Conan Doyle’s historical romances, which he thought overshadowed by Sherlock Holmes, were widely and often favorably reviewed before Holmes took off. “No abler historical novel has been published for many a day than Micah Clarke by A.Conan Doyle,” opined The Sunday Chronicle of San Francisco on June 30, 1889.  That sentiment was widely shared. The reaction to The White Company was more mixed.

Later volumes in this series should prove to be at least as interesting, if not more so. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how the newspapers treated “The Final Problem.” Meanwhile, you can order the first volume from Wessex Press.

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