The View from Sherlock Peoria (102)
May 16, 2004
The Literary Agent's Effects
This coming Wednesday, Christie's auction house will drop the hammer on a wonderful bunch of artifacts and memorabilia from Watson's literary agent. As the expected prices range a bit above the amount my wife will let me out of the house with, I don't expect to be doing any of bidding, absentee or otherwise. How do I console myself, that such an intriguing opportunity is going to pass me by untapped?
With the simplest of justifications: I am a Sherlockian.
For some, that reasoning might not work. The idea of being a fan of Sherlock Holmes without being a fan of Conan Doyle is something quite absurd to them. Doyle wrote the Holmes stories, so how can one enjoy the stories without appreciating the hand that wrought them? It's just rude!
Well, when I consider how many books I've thoroughly enjoyed without giving a second thought to the fingers that punched it out on a keyboard, I am indeed the rudest of villains. Names of authors come to be simple trademarks that one uses to identify a brand of reading that will guarantee a moment's pleasure. And I think the authors really like it that way. Prowling through the personal effects of a living author the way people pour over the effects of a dead one will get you labeled a stalker, rather than a scholar.
Conan Doyle was a remarkable fellow, a celebrity as eccentric as any other, but in the end, he was no Sherlock Holmes. As much as biography authors want to sell a few more book identifying him with Sherlock Holmes, Doyle was no more Holmes than J. K. Rowling is Harry Potter.
Some people love reading non-fiction, a good many going so far as to disdaining all fiction. It doesn't serve a practical purpose for them. They see no benefits in the construction of an artificial reality using words on paper, and don't want to waste time dwelling in those lands of dream.
Me, I tend to go the other way. I know plenty of real people, and I love them to death. For all his varied accomplishments and interests, I didn't know the real Conan Doyle, just a historical figure who appears at his best when given an almost fictional treatment by a skilled biographer. Yet none of those biographers is as skilled at bringing Conan Doyle back to life as Conan Doyle was at bringing Mr. Sherlock Holmes to life to begin with.
It's an odd sort of irony, that Sherlock Holmes should seem more real to many of us than Conan Doyle at this point in time. But it makes perfect sense, if you consider it. There are those who would pooh-pooh the "Doyle as literary agent" affectation as evidence of some social defect, but to those who understand it, it is the greatest tribute: We have raised Conan Doyle to that plane where only legends like Holmes and Watson can truly exist, even though he never appears on a printed page with them in any of their adventures.
Now I've gone and done it. Unlike a true essayist, I'm never sure where these blogs are going when I start writing them. Remember how I started this one with the thesis that being a Sherlockian was the reason I wouldn't miss not getting any Doyle artifacts? Well, unbeknownst to you, I've just ruined my own argument.
In my Sherlockian collection, I have a few items that I like to consider as being from the universe of Sherlock Holmes, such as a letter from Wilhelmina Norman-Neruda or from her husband Charles Halle. Such folk are intersection points of our own history with that of Holmes, and I've always enjoyed picking them up for my collection, as they can be had for quite reasonable prices.
But as you saw in the previous bit, I just wrote than a Sherlockian using the "literary agent" idea allows Conan Doyle entry into the world of Holmes and Watson himself. And you know what that means: a non-Sherlockian Conan Doyle manuscript is now within the parameters of even the most diehard "literary agent" Sherlockian's collection.
Ah, well, now I guess I'll be sighing in envious resignation with everyone else come Wednesday's sale.
Your humble correspondent,