Here are some good books to read
Well, Michael Dirda's On Conan Doyle has proven to be an interesting and pleasant surprise. There is rather less Sherlock Holmes than I had expected, because Doyle wrote rather more non-Sherlock material than I had realized - his bibliography alone runs 700 pages.
Amongst the recommended further readings are:
- The Lost World
- Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard
- Dunsany's Jorkens stories, which I had not heard of, and are voluminous (used editions currently starting at $188 on Amazon)
- Chesterton's Father Brown stories (I just picked off the cheap one, next one up is $40)
Dirda has read extensively in Doyle's non-Holmes oeuvre - if oeuvre is the word I want - and offers a few highlights, such as this pre-Wodehousian exchange with a butler in one of the Challenger stories:
"I'm expecting the end of the world today, Austin."
"Yes, sir. What time sir?"
"I can't say Austin. Before evening."
The taciturn Austin saluted and withdrew.
Professor Challenger, it seems, would have fit right in on The Big Bang Theory:
"You began a paragraph with the words 'Professor G.E. Challenger, who is among our greatest living scientists -'"
"Well, sir?" I asked.
"Why these invidious qualifications and limitations? Perhaps you can mention who these other predominant scientific men may be to whom you impute equality, or possibly superiority to myself?"
"It was badly worded...."
"My dear young friend, do not imagine that I am exacting, but surrounded as I am by pugnacious and unreasonable colleagues, one is force to take one's own part. Self-assertion is foreign to my nature, but I have to hold my ground against opposition."
What there is on Holmes is first-rate, including the revelation (for me anyway) that Doyle had acknowledged to Robert Louis Stevenson that the model for Holmes was their mutual acquaintance, the estimable Dr. Joseph Bell, a lecturer at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh and author of Manual of the Operations of Surgery. Doyle served as his clerk for a time.
Dirda's book is short and good, highly recommended.
UPDATE: Wodehouse comments here:
"When I was starting out as a writer—this would be about the time Caxton invented the printing press—Conan Doyle was my hero. Others might revere Hardy and Meredith. I was a Doyle man, and I still am. Usually we tend to discard the idols of our youth as we grow older, but I have not had this experience with A.C.D. I thought him swell then, and I think him swell now.
We were great friends in those days, our friendship only interrupted when I went to live in America. He was an enthusiastic cricketer—he could have played for any first-class country—and he used to have cricket weeks at his place in the country, to which I was almost always invited. And after a day’s cricket and a big dinner he and I would discuss literature.
The odd thing was that though he could be expansive about his least known short stories–those in Round the Red Lamp, for instance—I could never get him to talk of Sherlock Holmes, and I think the legend that he disliked Sherlock must be true. It is with the feeling that he would not object that I have sometimes amused myself by throwing custard pies at that great man.