Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Arthur Conan Doyle: His Muses and How They Amused Him

Arthur Conan Doyle created a literary icon, Sherlock Holmes, the quintessential detective who utilized his ingenious methodology of analyzing the facts and through a priori reasoning solved the 56 cases Doyle wrote about swiftly.
Doyle credited his antecedents Edgar Allen Poe, Wilkie Collins and Emile Gaboriau; as his muses.
In Collins' masterpiece "The Moonstone" Sergeant Cuff
Mr. Bruff hired a boy Gooseberry to stand watch for Luker. Likewise, Holmes hired street urchins to aid in his pursuit in "A Study in Scarlet"
Godfrey Applewhite in disguise received the Moonstone the night it disappeared from the heiress' room.
In "Monsieur Lecoq" Lecoq examined footprints in the snow outside a bar and ascertained by their strides the height and size of feet of several of the main characters involved in a triple murder. Lecoq meticulously followed the patterns of their adventures both during and after the crime. He spent over four hours tracing their footpaths.
Eventually their trail ended on a highway and through his deductive reasoning Lecoq brilliantly formed a theory about the females who were escaping the crime scene.
The perpetrator of the murder May was finally allowed to escape and Lecoq disguised himself as a street gamin to pursue May unbeknownst to him.
Finally after a long ordeal May jumped a fence at a palatial estate and Lecoq couldn't figure out what happened to him.
Eventually he went to seek counsel from Monsieur Tabaret who aided the French police when they couldn't solve a crime.
Tabaret advised Lecoq, "Always distrust appearances; believe precisely the contrary of what appears true, or even probable."
In conclusion Tabaret prophetically summarized his methodology, "Always distrust what seems probable."
These influential detective stories served as the models for Doyle's creation of Holmes and his methodology. Doyle wrote in his "Through the Magic Door" that if I had to name a few books which have really influenced my own life I should have to put Poe's fall of the House of Usher second only to Macaulay's Essays. I read it young when my mind was plastic. It stimulated my imagination and set before me a supreme dignity and force in the methods of telling a story." He hailed Poe as the master in deployment of "strength, novelty, compactness, intensity of interest, and a single vivid impression left upon my mind." He was "the supreme original short story writer of all time. His brain was like a seed-pod full of seeds which flew carelessly around, and from which sprung nearly all our modern types of stories. Just think of what he did in his off-hand, prodigal fashion, seldom troubling to repeat a success, but pushing on to some new achievement. To him must be ascribed the monstrous progeny of writers on the detection of crime -- 'quorum pars parva fui!' " This is in reference to Aeneas when he said to Dido about the Trojan war and its close was "quorum magna pars fui" (of which things I was a great part) according to Owen Dudley Edwards in his book "The Quest for Sherlock Holmes" When Doyle visited the United State in 1894 he insisted to the New York "Herald" interviewer that Poe's detective and not his own was the greatest in literature. In "A Study in Scarlet" Holmes tells Watson "No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin...Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after of a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine" and then goes on to describe Gaboriau's Lecoq as "a miserable bungler...That book made me positively ill." Arthur Guitermann's rhyme "The Case of the Inferior Sleuth" mocked Doyle: "Holmes is your hero of drama and serial; All of us know where you dug the material Whence he was moulded - 'tis almost a platitude; Yet your detective, in shameless ingratitude -- Sherlock your sleuthhound with motives ulterior Sneers at Poe's Dupin as "very inferior!" Labels Gaboriau's clever "Lecoq", indeed Merely a 'bungler', a creature to mock, indeed! This, when your plots and your methods in story owe More than a trifle to Poe and Gaboriau, Sets all the Muses of Helicon sorrowing. Borrow, Sir Knight, but be decent in borrowing!" Doyle's response entitled "To an Undiscerning Critic" "Have you not learned, my esteemed commentator, That the created is not the creator? As the creator I've praised to satiety Poe's Monsieur Dupin, his skill and variety, And have admitted that in my detective work I owe to my model a deal of selective work. But is it not on the verge of insanity To put down to me my creation's crude vanity? He, the created, would scoff and would sneer, Where I, the creator, would bow and revere. So please grip this fact with your cerebral tentacle: The doll and its maker are never identical." Another influential writer for Doyle was Robert Louis Stevenson, according to Jacqueline A. Jaffe, who wrote "Arthur Conan Doyle." "Robert Louis Stevenson was and continued to be one of Doyle's most important models; he held both Stevenson's philosophy and his writing in great esteem. His regard for Stevenson as a theorist is evident with the similarity of their literary concerns and the coincidence of certain themes in their works. His respect for Stevenson as a craftsman can be more clearly seen in the obituary Doyle wrote for the "National Review." "He describes Stevenson, along with Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, as one of the three greatest short-story writers of the 19th Century. Even the personal philosophies of Stevenson and Doyle were remarkably similar; they both felt that physical activity verging on actual hardship was intrinsically exciting, and that this excitement imposed a reality of its own that was more important than internal motivation, or, as Robert Keily says of Robert Louis Stevenson, that "motion counted more than direction." (from his biography "Robert Louis Stevenson" "Furthermore, they both felt that the power of the imagination was supreme and should be used to transport the reader away from the all-too-grim reality that comprised ordinary life. Certainly Stevenson's comment 'As I live I feel more and more that literature should be cheerful and brave spirited, even if it cannot be made beautiful and pious and heroic," could be taken as Doyle's dictum. Doyle achieved his first critical success in July 1883, when "Cornhill" magazine bought his story "Habakuk Jephson's Statement". Doyle wanted the accolade of being accepted by James Payn, the demanding editor of that prestigious magazine. He also desperately wanted to be in the company of other writers that he admired, and the "Cornhill" formerly edited by Thackeray and the publication that had printed Edgar Allan Poe's stories, and more recently, the works of Stevenson, provided access to this inner sanctum of literary excellence. James Payn, "the warden," as Doyle described him, of "the sacred gate", was to be a mentor whose influence was to be felt in all Doyle's works for most of his life. As an early indication of Payn's standing with Doyle, he tells us that "(what) for the first time made me realize that I was ceasing to be a hack writer and was getting into good company when James Payn accepted my short story." After the publication of "A Study in Scarlet" Doyle claimed that the character of the detective was largely inspired by his recollections of one of his medical school teachers, Dr. Joseph Bell. Dr. Bell's famous exhortations to the students to use their inductive and deductive powers before making a diagnosis was no dContinoubt a factor in Doyle's creation of Holmes, but the literary antecedents, the detectives created by Eugene Vidocq, Edgar Allan Poe, Emile Gaboriau, Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, are clearly the true sources for Holmes. In "Arthur Conan Doyle, A Memoir" the Rev. John Lamond, wrote, "Whilst studying under Dr. Joseph Bell in Edinburgh, and acting as his out-patient clerk, young Doyle was often startled by the extraordinary deductions made by that celebrated surgeon from simple attitude or movement on the part of the patient which had entirely escaped Conan Doyle's own observation and the observation of his fellow students. He reports one special case in which these deductions were correct. A civilian patient had been brought in. "Well, my man," said Dr. Bell, "you've served in the army." "Aye,sir." "Not long discharged?" "Aye, sir." "A Highland regiment?" "Aye, sir." "A non-com officer?" "Aye, sir. "Stationed at Barbados?" "Aye, sir." "You see, gentlemen," he would explain, "the man was a respectful man, but he did not remove his hat. They do not in the army, but he would have learned civilian ways had he been long discharged. He has an air of authority and is obviously Scottish. As to Barbados his complaint about elephantiasis, which is West Indian and not British." According to Lamond, "It was this rapid deduction from some simple circumstances as applied to the detection of crime that Conan Doyle developed on the part of Sherlock Holmes, and which has led to the formation of several schools of detectives founded on this method." Also mention his mother's influence and the black man he met on the ship.

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