The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die: Sherlock Holmes

January 2, 2015

51jCL3VW8ZL._AA160_A wonderful, unexpected Christmas gift: this book was published in conjunction with the major exhibition at the Museum of London (which I haven’t managed to get to). I thought it might therefore have been a general recycling of all sorts of stuff about Holmes, but no, it’s a serious work with some excellent, detailed and analytical essays on various aspects of the great detective and his past.

There are half a dozen essays in the book, including a first-rate contextual introduction, which convinced me how much of the plots of many of the stories in fact takes place out of London: when I think Sherlock Holmes, I automatically think Victorian London, but it’s clearly nowhere that simple, and apparently Conan Doyle only lived in London briefly, so much of the encyclopaedic knowledge he gave Holmes actually came from maps and directories. There’s a very interesting chapter on the original illustrations of the stories, which did so much to build up the physical impression of the man, and this links into the history of magazines, serialisation and the development of the stories’ popularity. Another essay develops this, analysing how the stories are structured and how they create and manipulate the reader’s response.

There are dozens of marvellous photographs and postcards of Victorian London, and plenty of contemporary maps, too, as well as plenty on art and artists at the time, with the paintings of Monet and Atkinson Grimshaw featured among others. All of these do help with the visualising of London as the canvas or backdrop for the characters and stories, even if London isn’t always the seat of the action.

Although I often wished the book had had better copy-editing and spell-checking before it got to the printers, it’s certainly a real addition to the serious work on the writer, stories and contexts: if you’re a Holmes fan, you need to find someone to buy you this…

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