A passionate lifelong fan of the Sherlock Holmes adventures, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda is a member of The Baker Street Irregulars--the most famous and romantic of all Sherlockian groups. Combining memoir and appreciation, On Conan Doyle is a highly engaging personal introduction to Holmes's creator, as well as a rare insider's account of the curiously delightful activities and playful scholarship of The Baker Street Irregulars.
Because Arthur Conan Doyle wrote far more than the mysteries involving Holmes, this book also introduces readers to the author's lesser-known but fascinating writings in an astounding range of other genres. A prolific professional writer, Conan Doyle was among the most important Victorian masters of the supernatural short story, an early practitioner of science fiction, a major exponent of historical fiction, a charming essayist and memoirist, and an outspoken public figure who attacked racial injustice in the Congo, campaigned for more liberal divorce laws, and defended wrongly convicted prisoners. He also wrote novels about both domestic life and contemporary events (including one set in the Middle East during an Islamic uprising), as well as a history of World War I, and, in his final years, controversial tracts in defense of spiritualism.
On Conan Doyle describes all of these achievements and activities, uniquely combining skillful criticism with the story of Dirda's deep and enduring affection for Conan Doyle and his work. This is a book for everyone who already loves Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and the world of 221B Baker Street, or for anyone who would like to know more about them, but it is also a much-needed celebration of Arthur Conan Doyle's genius for every kind of storytelling.
Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and longtime book columnist for the Washington Post. He is the author of four collections of essays, Readings, Bound to Please, Book by Book, and Classics for Pleasure, as well as the memoir An Open Book. A lifelong Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle fan, he was inducted into The Baker Street Irregulars in 2002.
"[A] brief, elegant reflection. . . . With thoughtful care, Dirda explains how Conan Doyle 'rose above the conventions of his time' in many of his writings. Dirda shines a helpful light on the adventurers Professor Challenger and Brigadier Gerard, while a selection of 'weird' fiction causes him to declare that those stories 'can stand up to the best work of such masters of the uncanny as Sheridan Le Fanu and M.R. James.' Dirda circles back to Holmes, directing our attention to overlooked aspects of the stories--the elusive presence of Professor Moriarty, for example, or Holmes' brother Mycroft. He also treats us to a delightful, intimate glimpse of the magical power of books in his own early life. What book lover hasn't had at least one cherished experience of reading? Dirda's own involves his loving preparations, as a youth, to read The Hound of the Baskervilles on an appropriately stormy day when the rest of his family was out of the house. . . . And there's much of that same feeling in Dirda's inviting book, which demonstrates why for so many years Dirda has been such an insightful guide to literatures past and present. (Note to director Guy Ritchie: If you're still looking for more Conan Doyle fare after 'Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows' opens next month, you might read Dirda's book for ideas.)"--Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times
"Charming. . . . As any Conan Doyle aficionado knows, the adventures of Holmes comprise a mere fraction of the oeuvre . . . and one of Dirda's chief concerns is to give the rest of it appropriate attention. . . . Dirda is also enlightening on the author's influences and literary heirs."--Toby Lichtig, Times Literary Supplement
Table of Contents:
Preface "You Know My Methods, Watson" ix
"A Hound It Was" 1
"A Most Dark and Sinister Business" 16
"The Lost World" 32
"Twilight Tales" 50
"Steel True, Blade Straight" 74
"I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" 98
"It Is the Unofficial Force" 126
"I Play the Game for the Game's Own Sake" 140
"A Case for Langdale Pike" 149
"A Series of Tales" 169
"Good Night, Mister Sherlock Holmes" 188
Appendix "Education Never Ends, Watson" 203
Biographical Note 210