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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Reconstructting Conan Doyle's American Speech

Christopher Redmond’s scholarship amazes me. 

When the 35-year-old Arthur Conan Doyle visited the United States in 1894, not long after throwing Sherlock Holmes off of the Reichenbach Falls, he gave a talk called “Readings and Reminiscences” 34 times. But he didn’t save that speech for posterity – Redmond did.  

In an appendix to his Welcome to America, Mr. Sherlock Holmes: Victorian America Meets Arthur Conan Doyle, published in 1987, Redmond presents his 10-page reconstruction of the lecture, based on contemporary press accounts. 

“While I have often had to use personal preference to choose among different plausible readings, and in some cases have had to use imagination and a sense of Doyle’s style to provide continuity,” Redmond writes, “I think the text which appears here would not have seemed unfamiliar to him.” 

There is no way to be sure of that, of course, but I could imagine ACD’s Scottish burr in every sentence. Take this one, for example: “At this point a gentleman appeared in my life who certainly has been a very good friend to me, and to whom I think afterward I behaved in a very ungrateful manner – I mean the late Mr. Sherlock Holmes, of Baker Street.” 

But that’s just the appendix. The whole book is a great read. Redmond, a second generation Sherlockian who has written many other scholarly works in the field, has a great way of peering into the future of various characters his hero meets along the way.

One of the cities ACD visited on that trip (and again in 1922) was my home town of Cincinnati. The Commercial Gazette newspaper pronounced him “charming” and The Cincinnati Enquirer chose the adjective “delightful.” ACD, in turn, pronounced himself “much pleased” with the city. “Your public library is really splendid.” (That is still true.) 

But I have to confess that my favorite paragraph in the book is a side note about ACD’s brother, Innes Doyle, and his lack of speechmaking prowess. Redmond records that at his wedding in 1911 Innes’s speech consisted of no more than “Well – I say, don’t know! By Jove, what?” 

Chris Redmond also does a yeoman’s job of maintaining http://sherlockian.net/. Check it out!

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