Quintessential Doyle

Madhumita Chakraborty

Arthur Conan Doyle
Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, Year 2017, pp.231, Rs.250


You think of Arthur Conan Doyle, and the name that immediately comes to mind is that of the iconic Baker Street detective Sherlock Holmes. For lovers of crime fiction and Holmes, Baker Street is on the bucket list during any trip to London. Even today, Sherlock remains the most popular and iconic detective of all times, comparable perhaps only to Poirot, with a canon that has enthralled generation after generation of crime fiction lovers. However, like Christie who apart from Poirot, Miss Marple or even Tommy and Tuppence also wrote a number of stories not involving any of them, this collection of Doyle is interesting for not using Holmes as the detective. Sixteen out of Doyle’s total number of 56 short stories are included in the collection, and many of which are significant as Doyle, who was qualified as a doctor makes use of his medical knowledge in a number of them. The second aspect that one notices is the dominance of reason over emotion in many of the stories. Whether it is the opening story ‘The Physiologist’s Wife’ or ‘The Sealed Room’, Doyle’s own vision as a rationalist are evident. Also, everything in the stories is constructed in such a manner so as to be believable, and explicable at the level of reality—as Jerry Pinto writes in his Introduction to the collection, ‘particularly that which seemed to first belong to the realm of the supernatural, the hellish, the horrible: the blanched face at the window in the middle of the night, the dead man in a closed room…, the curious incident of the dog at night time’ (Introduction, p. vii). In keeping with the time period during which they were written, the stories also depict a changing world—a world where industrialization, urbanization, discoveries and inventions, science and technology are beginning to gain credibility—while at the same time, the relationship with the non-scientific, the non-rational superstitious, supernatural and spiritual continue, thereby occupying a liminal space between the two worlds. The stories in the collection are therefore rational yet supernatural, horrific yet contain the element of the neo-Gothic that dominated late Victorian and early 20th century thought processes. ‘The Mind of the Man’ also dominates the thread of the collection. Therefore, in the opening story we see the protagonist literally dying of a broken heart, the title story of ‘The Case of Lady Sannox’ sees the ...

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