CONAN DOYLE by Ronald Pearsall


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Biographies of Sherlock Holmes tend to outclass those of his creator, the rotund and highly respectable Conan Doyle. And why not? Holmes was the most exotic of men; Doyle a very ordinary sort of chap, true blue and straight-arrow with never a kink in him. Pearsall does well by both of them, being something of an expert on Edwardian fads, literary and otherwise (The Table-Rappers, 1973; Edwardian Life and Leisure, 1974). In his middle years Conan Doyle could have posed for a portrait of John Bull, so well did he embody the prejudices of his age and his class. Pearsall recognizes that from the start ""Holmes made Doyle uneasy; he had created a monster who was more real than himself""--and ail his efforts to write uplifting, historical novels would not distract the public from the detective who stored his tobacco in the toe of a Persian slipper. Doyle, by contrast, had ""the ordinary man's aversion to artiness"" and his devotion to sporting and military exploits was typical Of a man who heaped scorn on the post-Impressionists and mistrusted intellectuals. Pearsall has the good sense (as Charles Higham, last year, did not) to depict Conan Doyle as the bluff, patriotic figure he was without reaching for overly subtle resonances between Holmes and his originator. Conan Doyle's credulous Spiritualism and his glorification of war may be an embarrassment to skeptical Sherlockians but the personage of Holmes was ""a great comfort to readers who were dimly aware that the old order was coming apart""--readers not unlike Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1977
Publisher: St. Martin's