How Sherlock Holmes came to be – a gap in the market
“It’s all so obvious,” Holmes said after a long draw from his pipe.
Holmes’ eyes pierced through my sideways glances. He was expecting an answer. I didn’t have one.
“Really, my dear friend, you must see it,” he said, his voice mixed with delight and exasperation. “Look closely at the market. Tell me what’s not there.”
Now, I was completely flustered. All of Holmes’ attempts to educate me — all his efforts to increase my powers of discernment — had come to nothing in this moment. Once again, I had to admit to defeat by his intellect.
Okay, so Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t write that, but I’m not the first to try my hand at a bit of Holmes-like dialogue.
The question of the moment is: How did Sherlock Holmes come into existence?
The answer: Look at the market and tell me what’s not there.
That’s what Doyle did in 1886. Doyle was a practicing physician and on his way to becoming successful, but he was determined to become a writer. He had been selling his stories for a number of years, and his reputation as a writer was growing. Doyle also read widely, both the newspapers of the day and the fiction that was being published. His reading included detective stories.
But, according to his biographer Martin Booth (The Doctor and the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), most of the stories did not make much sense to him. The plots were thin, and they relied on coincidence or hidden clues for their resolution. What wasn’t there was a clever character who could solve a crime with the evidence at hand — evidence that would also be given to the reader. Doyle was determined to create a “scientific detective” who could reason his way through a situation and come to a logical conclusion.
“In short,” Booth writes, “Conan Doyle shrewdly spotted a gap in the market . . . .” (p. 104)
Sherlock Holmes was thus born, and his first appearance occurred in the novella A Study in Scarlet, which was published in 1887 in Beeton’s Christmas Annual.
True crime podcast, in a different direction
If you are looking for a true-crime podcast without all the blood and guts of much that’s in the genre, try The Grift. The Grift is
. . . a show about con artists and the lives they ruin. Best-selling author and New Yorker writer Maria Konnikova takes us to the darker side of human nature and deceit. Ten stories about card sharks, cult leaders, art forgers, impostors and more. Why do we fall for them time and time again?
Con artists figure out what we want and give it to us — as well of fleecing us at the same time. Listen to Episode 2 about the art forgeries. This is a good one. (And the episodes run about 30-40 minutes, which is another draw.)
I love reading your letters each week and always take the time to savor them. Your dulcimer looks beautiful. I have been playing a mountain dulcimer since 2002. We have a group that meets weekly – as much playing as support for each other. I hope you are able to belong to a group that meets on a regular basis. Dulcimer festivals are also fun. Check out the Gateway Dulcimer Festival in Belleville, IL. Thanks again for your posting each week.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: Henry Louis Mencken
Best quote of the week:
“I have learned, by some experience, that virtue and patriotism, vice and selfishness, are found in all parties, and that they differ less in their motives than in the policies they pursue.”
William H. Seward, U.S. Secretary of State, governor, senator (1801-1872)
Helping those in need
This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org)is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: The man who wanted every book; the quintessential English detective; and the first American crime novel; and more: newsletter May 18, 2018
Here’s an excerpt from H.L. Mencken’s The American Language. It’s from the section on the Characters of American:
The Characters of American
American thus shows its character in a constant experimentation, a wide hospitality to novelty, a steady reaching out for new and vivid forms. No other tongue of modern times admits foreign words and phrases more readily; none is more careless of precedents; none shows a greater fecundity and originality of fancy. It is producing new words every day, by trope, by agglutination, by the shedding of inflections, by the merging of parts of speech, and by sheerbrilliance of imagination. It is full of what Bret Harte called the “sabre-cuts of Saxon”; it meets Montaigne’s ideal of “a succulent and nervous speech, short and compact, not as much delicated and combed out as vehement and brusque, rather arbitrary than monotonous, not pedantic but soldierly, as Suetonius called Caesar’s Latin.” One pictures the common materials of English dumped into a pot, exotic flavorings added, and the bubblings assiduously and expectantly skimmed. What is old and respected is already in decay the moment it comes into contact with what is new and vivid. Let American confront a novel problem alongside [Pg027] English, and immediately its superior imaginativeness and resourcefulness become obvious. Movie is better than cinema; it is not only better American, it is better English. Bill-board is better than hoarding. Office-holder is more honest, more picturesque, more thoroughly Anglo-Saxon that public-servant. Stem-winder somehow has more life in it, more fancy and vividness, than the literal keyless-watch. Turn to the terminology of railroading (itself, by the way, an Americanism): its creation fell upon the two peoples equally, but they tackled the job independently. The English, seeking a figure to denominate the wedge-shaped fender in front of a locomotive, called it a plough; the Americans, characteristically, gave it the far more pungent name of cow-catcher. So with the casting where two rails join. The English called it a crossing-plate. The Americans, more responsive to the suggestion in its shape, called it a frog.
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Tags: Arthur Conan Doyle, Claude Monet, dulcimer, Eugene Delacrois, Goodbye Columbus, H.L. Mencken, impressionists, J.M.W. Turner, Matthew Rosza, Philip Roth, Project Gutenberg, Saalon.com, Sherlock Holmes, The American Language, urban sketchers, watercolor, William H. Seward