Adaptations bringing Sherlock Holmes into the current era didn’t start with Benedict Cumberbatch and his three-patch problem, or even Basil Rathbone fighting the Nazis. Holmes on the screen has often kept up with the times. For many of us, though, the late Victorian setting is part of the Canon’s allure.
That world, the one which Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about, was at the heart of a well-staged conference on “Sherlock Holmes and the British Empire” last weekend at Bear Mountain, NY, sponsored by the Baker Street Irregulars and open to all. About 125 Sherlockians attended.
With 12 presentations on Saturday, July 30, and 10 on Sunday, July 31, the range of topics was amazing. Marshall S. Berdan set the stage with an overview of the British empire. From there, speakers branched off to such subjects as scion societies in the Commonwealth, publishing the Canon around the empire, food, Kipling, India (and the plundering thereof), Canada, Egypt, whist, guns, the armed forces, the Privy Council, the five most important soldiers in the Canon, Silver Blaze and horse racing in art, and “Women, Power, and the Empire in the Canon.”
Ashley D. Polasek’s talk on “Sherlock Holmes on Stage Across the British Empire” wasn’t a survey of plays. Rather, she speculated on Holmes performing as an actor during his travels of the Great Hiatus. Peggy Perdue’s talk on British Colonial Africa put us into a jeep for a safari. Alex Katz and Karen Wilson rocked the house with a musical review, putting Sherlockian lyrics to well-known tunes of the Victorian era.
Saturday evening offered the opportunity to play whist (using a specially created Sherlockian edition of a classic deck of playing cards from Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee), buy books and other Sherlockian goodies (which I did), enjoy the musical talents of Henry Boote, and mingle with old and new friends.
The BSI presents a conference about every four years—although this one was delayed two years by COVID. Earlier conferences have all been followed by a book containing the talks in essay form. I’m looking forward to the same treatment for “Sherlock Holmes and British Empire.” It would be a great resource for those of us who attended as well as for those not so fortunate.