On Conan Doyle
by Michael Dirda, JHWS “Alex”
Published by Princeton University Press
Available from Amazon $12.50
A passionate lifelong fan of the Sherlock Holmes adventures, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda is a member of The Baker Street Irregulars. Combining memoir and appreciation, On Conan Doyle is a highly engaging personal introduction to Holmes’s creator, as well as a rare insider’s account of the curiously delightful activities and playful scholarship of The Baker Street Irregulars.
Because Arthur Conan Doyle wrote far more than the mysteries involving Holmes, this book also introduces readers to the author’s lesser-known but fascinating writings in an astounding range of other genres. A prolific professional writer, Conan Doyle was among the most important Victorian masters of the supernatural short story, an early practitioner of science fiction, a major exponent of historical fiction, a charming essayist and memoirist, and an outspoken public figure who attacked racial injustice in the Congo, campaigned for more liberal divorce laws, and defended wrongly convicted prisoners. He also wrote novels about both domestic life and contemporary events (including one set in the Middle East during an Islamic uprising), as well as a history of World War I, and, in his final years, controversial tracts in defense of spiritualism.
On Conan Doyle describes all of these achievements and activities, uniquely combining skillful criticism with the story of Dirda’s deep and enduring affection for Conan Doyle and his work. This is a book for everyone who already loves Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and the world of 221B Baker Street, or for anyone who would like to know more about them, but it is also a much-needed celebration of Arthur Conan Doyle’s genius for every kind of storytelling.
Michael Dirda is a bookman in the tradition of Christopher Morley and Vincent Starrett: highly intelligent, well educated, widely read, and entirely unpretentious. All this is gratifyingly evident in his latest book “On Conan Doyle, or, The Whole Art of Storytelling”, which concentrates largely on Sherlock Holmes but finds space in its 220-odd pages for perceptive discussion of Brigadier Gerard, Professor Challenger, Nigel Loring and pretty much all of Conan Doyle’s important fiction – which is to say, most of it. As the subtitle indicates, Mr Dirda doesn’t disagree with Greenhough Smith’s claim in “The Strand Magazine” that Arthur Conan Doyle was `the greatest natural storyteller of his age’, but he knows that there was far more to it than natural talent. He knows too, that the telling of tales is not to be despised, and that Conan Doyle was actually one of the most important observers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Mr Dirda is, enviably, able to tell you just why he loves Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, so that you realise, yes, that’s why you love them too.
-Roger Johnson, JHWS “Count” and Editor the Sherlock Holmes Journal