Saturday, February 11, 2017

"I Shall Never Write Another Holmes Story"

IF YOU'VE READ much detective fiction from the Gaslight Era, then you know who Robert Barr was, the author of one of the most anthologized stories in mystery fiction ("The Absent-Minded Coterie," 1905), a tale which features to great advantage his series character Eugène Valmont, star of a baker's dozen adventures (1904-06).

A decade before presenting Valmont to the world, Barr was given the assignment of inter-viewing Conan Doyle for S. S. McClure's magazine as part of his "Real Conversations" series, about which he writes in his usual cheeky fashion:
The only fault that I have to find with these Real Conversations is that they are not conversations, and that they cannot be real. Try to imagine two sane men sitting down deliberately to talk for publication! Only a master mind could have conceived such a situation—a mind like that of Mr. McClure, accustomed to accomplishing the impossible. 
"Real Conversations V - A Dialogue Between Conan Doyle and Robert Barr."
By Robert Barr (1849-1912).
First appearance: McClure's Magazine, November 1894.
Article (11 pages, with 12 illos).
Online at UNZ (HERE).
"To get an idea to penetrate to the masses of the people, you must put fiction round it, like sugar round a pill. If he [the author] can't get his sugar right, people will refuse his pill."
While Barr and Doyle discuss some contemporary authors, a few of whom are still known to us, sooner or later you know they'll come to the ineluctable topic of "Art" and what it's for:

   Barr: "But there is the question of art."
   Doyle: "We talk so much about art, that we tend to forget what this art was ever invented for. It was to amuse mankind—to help the sick and the dull and the weary. If Scott and Dickens have done this for millions, they have done well by their art."
   Barr: "You don't think, then, that the object of all fiction is to draw life as it is?"
   Doyle: "Where would Gulliver and Don Quixote and Dante and Goethe be, if that were so? No; the object of fiction is to interest, and the best fiction is that which interests most. If you can interest by drawing life as it is, by all means do so. But there is no reason why you should object to your neighbor using other means."

And it's obvious how they dance around the subject of Sherlock Holmes, whom Doyle has just recently killed off:

   On the bookcase in the study there stands a bust of a man with a keen, shrewd face.
   "Who is the statesman?" I asked.
   "Oh, that is Sherlock Holmes," said Doyle. "A young sculptor named Wilkins, from Birmingham, sent it to me. Isn't it good?"
   "Excellent. By the way, is Sherlock Holmes really dead?"
   "Yes; I shall never write another Holmes story."

But he did . . .

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