It is now the end of week five of my Sherlock Holmes 2018 challenge, and I have three new illustrations to share with you.
As we have seen previously, the first two Sherlock Holmes novels introduced us to Holmes, Watson, 221B Baker Street, and the motley assortment of hangers-on and bit-part players in the Sherlock universe. With his characters assembled, Conan Doyle then made the move from full-length novels to short stories.
And that is where we shall pick up the tale…
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Conan Doyle’s first two Sherlock Holmes stories were not a great success.
Having hawked his first Sherlock Holmes story around various publishers without any joy, he finally managed to sell it for a mere £25. Published in the 1887 Beeton’s Christmas Annual it was, according to the Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia, “totally unnoticed at the time”.
A few years later, with The Sign of Four having also found its way to the market, Conan Doyle came across a new monthly magazine, The Strand. He wrote to the publisher and suggested a new set of Sherlock Holmes stories, written specifically for them.
This initial batch of submissions saw A Scandal in Bohemia and The Red-Headed League published. And something exciting was about to happen.
A Scandal in Bohemia
The Red-Headed League
I’d give it all up for you
With the Victorian magazine-reading public gobbling up his new Sherlock Holmes stories, Conan Doyle was soon under contract for a dozen tales for The Strand, at a rate of a story-per-month. These 12 short stories would become the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
This success allowed him to give up medicine and to devote himself full-time to writing.
It was not Sherlock Holmes, however, that he wished to be writing about. Conan Doyle is notoriously grumpy about his most famous creation, claiming that Holmes obscured his “more important” work (to his mind, his historical novels).
Nevertheless, it was Sherlock Holmes the public wanted, and a regular stream of new short stories came tumbling from his pen, all the way through to the end of 1893 and The Adventure of the Final Problem. Those familiar with the Sherlock Holmes canon will recognise that the “Final Problem” was neither final nor, as it turned out, a problem for Sherlock Holmes.
But there I am getting ahead of myself.
What surprised me, re-reading these short stories for the first time in over 20 years, was where we find our characters in A Scandal in Bohemia.
Bear in mind that these short stories are the first Holmes mysteries that many people would have read (considering how popular the first two novels weren’t). To these new readers, Sherlock Holmes and Watson do not live together. Watson has a house elsewhere, with a wife he collected at the end of The Sign of Four. Sherlock remains at 221B Baker Street, sans his sidekick. Holmes Alone, if you will.
“I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away from each other.”
Considering the collective memory we have of Holmes, this seems surprising. Only two stories in, with over 50 still to come, the relationship I thought I knew – two crime-busters living together in their flat – has already come and gone. That is why, when it came to illustrating that story, I knew I had to capture something about that altered relationship.
“His rooms were brilliantly lit, and, even as I looked up, I saw his tall, spare figure pass twice in a dark silhouette against the blind. He was pacing the room swiftly, eagerly, with his head sunk upon his chest and his hands clasped behind him.”
Strand and deliver
With Conan Doyle now under contract to churn out a story-a-month, the new Sherlock Holmes adventures were coming thick and fast. After The Red-Headed League came A Case of Identity, a story I shall delve into more deeply next time.
But, I have my own timetable to keep. I am re-reading these stories and illustrating them as I go.
Here, at the end of the fifth week, we are five illustrations down and many, many more to go.
Until next time…
See all of the Sherlock Holmes illustrations so far.