Friday, March 27, 2015

"If He Had a Tail He Would Wag It Incessantly"

"My Favorite Fiction Character."
By Stephen Vincent Benét (1898-1943).
The Bookman, February 1926.
Online HERE.

You might be surprised at who was Benét's favorite fictional personality:
HEROES and idols are birds of a different feather. If one could crack a bottle of Anjou with the Three Musketeers — or come jingling down for Christmas to Mr. Wardle's. But there an uneasy sense of my own incapacities overwhelms me. Porthos would have on his company manners for a stranger and Aramis look a little askance as soon as he discovered one's lack of quarterings, while the Comte de la Fere's exquisitely handsome features would take on the perturbed expression of one who unexpectedly finds a fly in his wine. And the hearty practical fun of Manor Farm might seem a little too hearty and practical after a while for a constitution degenerately modern.
Watson, on the other hand — one cannot imagine feeling gauche or ill at ease in Watson's presence — the very thought of him is as stodgy and comfortable as a morris chair. Surely there is no other character in fiction with so ineffable a capacity for surprise or so restfully limited a vocabulary for its expression. "Marvelous, my dear Holmes, marvelous!" the hearty voice booms out for the thousandth time, with as fresh an accent of wonder as a child's. If he had a tail he would wag it incessantly — there is something very canine about him somehow; it is easy to see him transformed, a solemn, ponderous St. Bernard, galumphing after Holmes with portentously stately bounds.
As far as professional skill goes, one cannot rank him with the leaders, I fear — his practice was too subject to continual interruption. But his bedside manner must have been ideal. I would rather die some pleasantly fictional death with Watson in attendance than recover under the aseptic hands of a modern practitioner.
And then, of course, there are the tales still locked in his little black bag. Holmes discusses only bees, now, and Conan Doyle has forgotten — but I am sure that if you got Watson alone in a corner, you could wring from him a few, at least, of the superb, unwritten adventures to which his creator has so tantalizingly alluded only in passing — the repulsive story of the red leech and the terrible death of Crosby the banker — the Addleton tragedy — the incident of Wilson, the notorious canary trainer, whose arrest removed a plague spot from the East End of London.
- We've communed with Pulitzer Prize and O'Henry Award winner Benét before; go HERE.

Category: Detective fiction criticism

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