Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Norwood Author   Arthur Conan Doyle And The Norwood Years (1891   1894)The Norwood Author Arthur Conan Doyle And The Norwood Years by Alistair Duncan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There have been a great many books dedicated to chronicling the life of Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle. Whether it was his experiences at his own hand at being a consulting detective or his eventual immersion into spiritualism, Mr. Conan Doyle has been scrutinized to seemingly the last scrap of information available to the average Sherlockian. So what, one might wonder, is the use of a diminutive volume on Conan Doyle's brief time spent in the Norwood neighborhood in South London?

Alistair Duncan's meticulous research and obvious affection for his subject has led him to the years 1891-1894 of Conan Doyle's life in Norwood. We learn of cricket scores, and club meetings, real estate queries and letters to Mom. All of this could easily be an odd, tedious compilation of useless facts except that Mr. Duncan has done a superb job of throwing readable charm into the fray.

Who knew that Doyle co-authored a play with "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie? I found the parts concerning Doyle and his literary friends quite fascinating. Doyle blossomed as a writer whilst in Norwood, and there is much devoted to the tedious writing and submissions process as he sent manuscripts to various magazines and waited for reply. To any reader who is an aspiring or established writer, this would ring as quite a comfort to know that even the great Arthur Conan Doyle and his contemporaries suffered through the same writer's blocks, and submission jitters we do.

Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes to the world while living in Norwood, and gained fame as a result. We learn about Doyle's feelings for his subject which often did not mirror the feelings of his adoring fans. Doyle's first possible forays into spiritualism are also covered, and we learn about a spirited and fascinating debate in one of the gentleman's clubs Doyle belonged to between a female guest and the club president on the subject of spiritual and psychic ideas versus Christian dogma.

A full portrait of Victorian life emerges from the pages as we read about Doyle's goings on in the various clubs he held membership to and his outings with his rather famous literary friends. This adds to the volume a gold mine of small historical facts for any writer researching Victorian life. It makes this book not only a fine read but something to keep on the shelf for further reference.

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