Thursday, June 26, 2014

"The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" by Vincent Starrett

This is not a tell-all expose of deep, dark secrets supposedly harbored by the world's first consulting detective.  And it has nothing at all to do with the Billy Wilder film by the same title.  This is actually a very scholarly biography of Sherlock Holmes, possibly the first biography of a fictional character ever published.

But this is more than simply a chronology of Holmes' life and accomplishments.  Yes, it does discuss what little detail Doyle provided about Holmes in the original texts.  It also delves into the lives of Dr. Watson and Mrs. Hudson, and when Starrett runs out of actual facts, he makes some very credible speculations about what was and wasn't likely to have occurred in their lives.  He also discusses the theories of others about things like where Holmes attended university and when Dr. Watson got remarried.

I'm not at all sure why, but it took me more than a month to get through this book.  It's well-written and engaging, not at all dry, and I dearly love the subject matter.  But I only managed to read a few pages at a time, partly out of lack of time, but I think also because I had to digest what I was reading, it was so thought-provoking and, yes, deep.  Also, it's not fiction, so I didn't have the "fictive dream" to pull me back in over and over.  Still, I'll be returning to this book again and again in the future, I'm sure, to research or review some aspect of Sherlockiana.

Vincent Starrett was the foremost authority on Sherlock Holmes when he wrote this.  Possibly foremost of all time, after A. Conan Doyle, of course.  He helped found the original Baker Street Irregulars, the first group dedicated to discussing all things canonical and Conanical.  He wrote a very famous poem about Holmes, "221B" (read it here), as well as a rather good pastiche called "The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet," both of which are included in the edition I read.

Particularly Good Bits:

His theatricality is evident in nearly all of the adventures.  It is his most human failing -- his appreciation of applause (p. 24).

But Watson, although he may have faltered, never really blundered.  Holmes knew the qualities of his assistant.  No case was ever lost by Watson's failure (p. 72).

Watson, good fellow, was inclined to be a trifle curt until he had his coffee (p. 79).

Resurrection must always, one fancies, occasion dramatics more spectacular than the more familiar phenomenon of death (p. 93).

That is the way we feel about Sherlock Holmes.  Let us be done with all this talk of... whatever we may happen to dislike in the daily headlines.  Let us speak rather of those things that are permanent and secure, of high matters about which there can be no gibbering division of opinion.  Let us speak of the realities that do not change, of that higher realism which is the only true romance.  Let us speak, and speak again, of Sherlock Holmes.  For the plain fact is, gentlemen, that the imperishable detective -- I hope I have said this before -- is still a more commanding figure in the world than most of the warriors and statesmen in whose present existence we are invited to believe (p. 148).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G for Great.  Nothing objectionable whatsoever.

This is my ninth book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Challenge and my tenth for The Classics Club.


  1. This sounds fantastic! I love the quotes you picked, too!

  2. What is your favorite Sherlock Holmes' story (novel or short story)? I read The Study in Scarlet and I wasn't a fan. I have been told that the short stories are better than the novels, but I am curious to know what you consider is the best Holmes story. Thanks.

    1. My absolute favorite is The Hound of the Baskervilles (my review here), and I'm actually thinking of hosting a read-along of it in October. My favorite short story is... wow, that's hard. Possibly "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" or "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," both of which are collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

      At any rate, I agree that A Study in Scarlet has issues. You can read my full review here from when I read the whole Holmes canon last year. The middle is weak and feels like padding to make it longer -- is that what bugged you? Anyway, I would totally recommend trying The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, as it contains some of the finest (and most famous) short stories.

      I hope you do give Holmes another shot! But I know not everyone loves these stories the way I do. If you do try some more, I'd love to hear what you think!

  3. Sounds very interesting!



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