Thursday, January 28, 2016

Arthur Conan Doyle, Master of Victorian Literature by R. Graham 1897

Arthur Conan Doyle, Master of Victorian Literature by Richard D. Graham 1897

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Conan Doyle, who was born at Edinburgh in 1859, perpetuates the interest of a name already famous for two generations in connection with the arts of political caricature and book illustration. After an education obtained partly in England and partly abroad, he graduated M.D. in the university of his native town. Thereafter he proceeded to London, where he commenced a practice; but finding success more tardy than he expected, he ultimately abandoned medicine for literature. This, however, was not done until he had assured himself of success in his new profession. Like Mr Weyman, Conan Doyle put forth his ventures in the Romantic School, and some of his best works have also helped to revive an interest in the historical novel. It is not, however, in this field that his greatest popularity has been achieved.

After A Study in Scarlet (1888) came Micah Clarke (1889), a tale of the Monmouth rebellion, full of stirring incidents and vivid pictures of life and manners in southern England towards the end of the seventeenth century, and especially of the circumstances that led up to and followed the great collapse of Sedgemoor. The Firm of Girdlestone (1890) contains reminiscences of the author's student days in Edinburgh. The Captain of the Polestar, with other short tales, was followed by a work still more decisive of Doyle's position, The White Company (1891), a tale of the times of Edward, the Black Prince, as full as heart of man or boy could wish of deeds of hardihood and romantic chivalry, picturesquely and dramatically set forth. The character-drawing is excellent, Sir Nigel Loring, the Captain of the White Company, with his sweet and gracious courtliness but lion-like prowess; his gentle, monk-trained squire, Alleyne Edricson; Sam Aylward, the bluff, soft-hearted bowman; the red-headed giant, Hordle John; the Black Prince himself and Don Pedro—all are drawn with great vigour, and stand out with sharp-cut clearness from a page that is never wanting in life and interest. Another novel of the same class, The Refugees, followed in 1893. In this the reader is again carried to France, but now it is the time of the Grand Monarque, and we find ourselves involved in the endless Court intrigues and heart-searchings of Versailles at the critical moment when the star of Montespan is paling to its eclipse before that of Madame de Maintenon. The Refugees is full of exciting incidents, conceived in the true spirit of romance, and when these reach their climax in France, the principal characters are transferred to the wilds of Canada, not, however, without considerable loss of interest and artistic congruity. But for one reader that knows Conan Doyle by such works as these, there are probably twenty who know him as the author of The Adventures (1892), and The Memoirs (1893) of Sherlock Holmes. With these two series of detective stories Dr Doyle has achieved one of the most remarkable successes of our time, not only by the skill with which interest is sustained throughout, but also by the dramatic force with which their principal character is conceived. The writer has told us that he drew this character from the life in the person of Dr Joseph Bell of Edinburgh. None the less do we feel that in Sherlock Holmes he has added a distinct and original creation to English literature. In A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, the wonderful astuteness of Sherlock Holmes is also the subject. The Doings of Raffles Haw (1892), a short but excellent piece of work, again shows the writer's clever handling of a mystery.

Dr Doyle has more than sustained his reputation by such recent work as The Stark-Munro Letters (1895) and Brigadier Gerard (1895). Many indeed will prefer the latter even to the Sherlock Holmes books for its lifelike and amusing delineation of the delightfully naive and unconscious vanity of one of the bravest of the great Napoleon's officers. Rodney Stone (1897) is a clever study of English society life and manners under the Regency, when George III. was king.

In all his work Conan Doyle shows himself to be a deft and capable craftsman. His art is pre-eminently that of the story-teller. A sure instinct enables him to escape the temptation to dulness. There may be little that is piquant or brilliant in his style. He touches no deep chords of human feeling. But there can be no doubt as to his power of handling a plot, or his success in recounting a stirring and vivid tale.

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