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Monday, October 20, 2014

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892) by Arthur Conan Doyle

Robert Downey Junior most recently has portrayed Sherlock Holmes in the endless series of films about the character

Book Review
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
 by Arthur Conan Doyle
AUDIO BOOK AVAILABLE ON SPOTIFY
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Sherlock Holmes in the recent BBC series, which has drawn fans in America
     This was the first audio book I've ever listened to, period.  I found it in Spotify, where you could play it as two five and half hour "songs."  I listened to it mostly when running, and otherwise while driving between San Diego and Los Angeles.  So it is an eleven hour time commitment, and it seems like it would be much faster to simply read the 12 short stories that comprise this volume.  The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the classic single volume compilation of Conan Doyle's short stories, though they do not represent all of them- there were contemporary stories that were not selected for the book and there were the "return" stories, like The Hound of the Baskervilles.

   I would say that Sherlock Holmes is maybe the first biggest literary character to emerge out of English Literature in the 19th century: Frankenstein and Dracula would be the top two. Like those other two, Sherlock Holmes has long since become unmoored from the source material.  It's important to emphasis which 12 stories actually constitute the book, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes:

"A Scandal in Bohemia"; Client: The King of Bohemia
"The Adventure of the Red-Headed League"; Client: Jabez Wilson
"A Case of Identity"; Client: Mary Sutherland
"The Boscombe Valley Mystery"; Client: Alice Turner
"The Five Orange Pips"; Client: John Openshaw
"The Man with the Twisted Lip"; Client: Mrs. St. Clair
"The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"; No client.
"The Adventure of the Speckled Band"; Client: Miss Helen Stoner
"The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb"; Client: Victor Hatherley
"The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor"; Client: Lord Robert St. Simon
"The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet"; Client: Alexander Holder
"The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"; Client: Violet Hunter

   There are other, unincluded short stories from the same time period, but they were not selected for this volume. Some themes do emerge: the theft of precious stones (The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle and the Beryl Coronet); noble clients (Noble Bachelor, A Scandal in Bohemia), and women in distress (Copper Beeches, Speckled Band, Twisted Lip, A Case of Identity.)  Although the enduring legacy has made Holmes a timeless figure, the original mysteries are interesting in terms of Holmes being simultaneously a "modern" figure, obsessed with the scientific method and the mysteries being quintessentially Victorian.  It is fair to observe that Holmes is a Victorian Hero, even though Conan Doyle was writing at the end or even beyond the end of that period, most of the mysteries are actually set several years in the past, with Watson being a veteran of the second Anglo Afghan war (ended 1870) and mentioning cases happening back in the 1880s. 

   Many of the edgier aspects Holmes character, his Cocaine usage, for example, are only mentioned in passing, his sex life not at all. 

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