Monday, June 01, 2009

Victorian Conan Doyle

Japanned box... toque... astrakhan... scurvily... bow-window... post-obits... Every so often, I'm pulled up by words that defeat me, in nuance if not in outright meaning.

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote much more than Sherlock Holmes. And reading through some of the esoterica has been a journey best described as interesting. I have a couple of non-Holmes Doyle volumes: one is along the lines of 'tales of the macabre', but the one I'm currently reading is called 'The Original Illustrated Conan Doyle', published in facsimile by Castle Books, 1980.

I have found little sympathy in late Victorian writing in general. For example, wherever my sympathies lie - and although many doubtless differ -
I had always found in the great science fiction progenitor, Herbert George Wells, a dry, unengaging tone, as is my impression of much Victorian writing.

But what is there so different about Conan Doyle? His style has a particular precision, which for some reason I find less dry than that of the similarly precise Patrick White. For me, he has a greater urgency - and intrigue, perhaps - than either White or Wells.

And, of course, it is so Victorian. And written as only befits someone of a class that would seem to have enough leisure and education to chronicle the times with a particular slant. Upper middle class, perhaps, with a due respect (never mind longing or aspiration) for the titled 'betters'. For example, a character that "was expecting a rather long visit to Bankruptcy Court" in the next breath was reluctantly "ordering my valet to pack my valise". Vicars and gentlemen populate his world, with the occasional (reluctant) doff for the earnt money of, say, the 'club-footed grocer'. A regional relative's "benevolence had been so universal" in his community that it drew "the supposition that he had Parliamentary ambitions".

Enjoyable, despite finding the flow interrupted by the occasional obscure period word.

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