Monday, January 20, 2014

Negative Sidelights on Doyle

"It is not easy to describe shortly the disability from which he suffers, but one might, perhaps, best express it by calling him a latitudinarian bigot. He is at once very broad and very prejudiced, very illiberally liberal; very dogmatically hostile to dogma."
The creator of Sherlock Holmes held controversial opinions about religious issues such as easy divorce that some found objectionable, but the last straw for this critic was Doyle's infatuation with spiritualism. Brief excerpts follow:
Take, for example, the business of divorce. Sir Arthur is for making divorce cheap and easy — how cheap and how easy I hesitate to say, for fear of misrepresentation. He may be right, or he may be wrong, on the main question. Can he possibly be right in dismissing as mere antiquated prejudice the objections of millions of earnest, intelligent, disinterested, and upright men?
Then there is his enthusiasm for spiritualism. Here, again, Sir Arthur is quite entitled to his opinion, and has a right to state it. But how can he blame the Wesleyans of Nottingham for not allowing him to lecture in their hall, so that he was forced to speak in a room half the size? No doubt there are, in the immortal words of the Grand Inquisitor, 'Wesleyan Methodists of the most persecuting and bigoted description.' But was this particular act bigoted?
Is it not rather bigoted to say, as he did quite lately, that spiritualism gives the afflicted 'a satisfaction which no creed-bound religion could supply'? How does Sir Arthur know? He cannot possibly speak with authority concerning the spiritual experiences of hundreds of millions of the quick and of the great host of the dead. It is quite open to him, as a free man, to believe that the dogmas of Christianity 'matter little,' and have added 'needlessly to the contentions of the world.'
The same English desire to have it all ways is apparent in Dr. Watson's maker. He wants to have the best of all possible and impossible worlds, to be at ease both in Zion and Valhalla, as well as in a scientific lecture room. — E. T. Raymond, "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle As Doctor Watson," THE LIVING AGE (March 22, 1919)
Harry Houdini, left, and Doyle.
In a later article this same critic returns to Doyle's championing of spiritualism and finds the contrast between the attributes of the commonsensical Holmes stories and Doyle's mystical avocation just a little too much. Short excerpts:
What can now be the feelings of those readers over the latest vagaries of their old favorite? One can imagine the devout Doylist wringing his hands over every fresh appearance of Sir Arthur in the character of an exponent of spiritualism. For Sir Arthur the spiritualist makes cruel war on the great legend of the perfect detective.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in his new character, is the exact opposite of his creation. Instead of common sense penetrated with glamour [like his Sherlock Holmes stories], we have here the wildest mysticism tamed down and vulgarized by a dreadful ordinariness. — E. T. Raymond, "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and His Spooks," THE LIVING AGE (January 3, 1920)
. . . how could Conan Doyle, a medical man steeped in empirical reasoning at Edinburgh University and the creator of a super-rational detective, have fallen for this mumbo jumbo? His support for spiritualism lent credence to some of the more outrageous frauds perpetrated on people desperately trying to get in touch with loved ones lost in the First World War. In his desire to prove the existence of spirits, he notoriously promoted two Yorkshire girls who, for a lark, claimed they had photographed the Cottingley Fairies.
On one level, his was the story of a lapsed Roman Catholic troubled by an alcoholic father and never quite able to cast off his sense of the supernatural. On another it was the intellectual journey of an inquisitive man, dissatisfied with Victorian materialism but intent on using its tools to examine alternative forms of consciousness. This was also a time when orthodox religion was giving way to Darwin and science. — Andrew Lycett, "The Odd Spiritualism of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle," MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE
- A webpage ("Arthur Conan Doyle, Spiritualism, and Fairies") is HERE.
- Part of a Wikpedia article about Doyle is HERE.
- A short PBS article with more about Doyle and Houdini is HERE.

Category: Detective fiction

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