Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"More like Dr. Watson than Sherlock Holmes"

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, lost his son Kingsley during the 1918 influenza pandemic, two weeks before the Armistice that ended the First World War. Over the course of the war, Conan Doyle’s brother, two brothers-in-law, and nephew also died. In the wake of these losses, he became devoted to promoting spiritualism, which may have provided consolation in his grief, as it did to many who sought contact with departed loved ones. Many of Conan Doyle’s spiritualist writings omitted identifying him as the creator of Sherlock Holmes.

Among Rauner Library’s collections is the archive of the Arctic explorer Viljhalmur Stefansson, who taught at Dartmouth from 1947 to 1962. Stefansson first met Conan Doyle in London in 1913, and the two corresponded during Stefansson’s Arctic travels and through the First World War. Stefansson visited Conan Doyle in England in 1920, and wrote later in his autobiography that in terms of spiritualism, he found Conan Doyle’s “ready acceptance inconsistently naïve. Confronted with the spirit world, Doyle was more like Dr. Watson than Sherlock Holmes.”

Despite his friend’s skepticism, Conan Doyle enlisted Stefansson’s help in debunking a fraudulent séance during his 1922 American lecture tour. When Conan Doyle returned to England, he wrote to Stefansson that he felt his work in America had brought “knowledge and comfort to a lot of people.” He went on to write: “How strange our tasks! You are working on reindeer and I on disembodied spirits & both are equally part of the great whole. I quite see the Imperial aspect of your work.”

Come and see these materials and many others at the new exhibit in Rauner Special Collections Library, “The Adventure of the Archives: Detecting Sherlock Holmes in Rauner,” in the Class of 1965 Galleries. The exhibit was curated by Laura Braunstein and will be on display through December 22.

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