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The View from the East End (60)

By Inspector Hopkins

March 11 , 2007

ACD and Spiritualism

 by Inspector Hopkins 

As newer Sherlockians expand their knowledge, they are bound to hear, read, and discuss, more and more about Watson’s “literary agent”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (ACD).

And as you may recall from my series on the Many Facets of Sherlockiana, one of the joys of our hobby lies in assembling and appreciating all the many various nuances and aspects that it contains. Speaking for myself, I have always been fascinated by “spiritual” subjects such as Near Death Experiences (NDE’s), Out of Body Experiences (OBE’s), Séances, Mediums, Meditation, Scrying (reading crystal balls), and so forth. As I had confessed to you in an earlier article, I am not as much of a reader as most other Sherlockians seem to be. In spite of that, I have in fact enjoyed reading the works of Edgar Allan Poe (or, should I say tried to read those works, as much of his writing is wordy and quite difficult to follow). I have also been entranced by other great horror authors such as Ambrose Bierce, Guy de Maupassant, M.R. James, and H.P. Lovecraft to name a few.

Although I had heard that ACD was keenly interested in, and involved with, the subject of spiritualism, I did not pay much attention to this Facet of Sherlockiana until recently. I had been exploring some of the many NDE’s offered on the Web, and read quite a number of them scattered amongst perhaps a dozen different websites. I became absorbed in those recollections, and thought about them frequently. I also researched many sites and articles on Séances and, during the process, came to realize just how popular spiritualism actually was during the Victorian era. It turns out that interest in spiritualism reached its zenith between approximately1850 and 1920.  This time period struck me immediately.

 Imagine my surprise and delight, then, to eventually stumble across some links regarding ACD’s own writings on this subject!  All the past three decades I had only focused on his Canonical works and I had never really been interested in any of his other material. (As more experienced Sherlockians know, ACD regarded Sherlock Holmes as only a “stepping stone” to higher literary greatness. Thank goodness public opinion prevailed, and he was encouraged to bring Holmes back in The Empty House).

We are all aware of Watson’s narrative style of writing, and it is this style which gives us those familiar and warm feelings as we read (and re-read) through the Canon countless numbers of times. The stories that ACD wrote regarding an NDE-like tale (as told through a “Medium”) and a Séance story are told in the exact same narrative style as Watson employed. Not surprisingly, I found both tales to be very comfortably familiar and believable, and I was very impressed by this.

To see what I mean, please visit the following links:

There is very, very much more written about ACD and his fascination with the occult and spiritualism.  In retrospect, I am surprised that he did not “edit” Watson’s writings more heavily in favour of that subject.  Recall for example that Holmes indicated in SUSS that “no ghosts need apply”.

Perhaps this was before ACD became so interested in spiritualism?

Until next time and thanking you once again for your attention, I remain,

Yours Faithfully,