Book review

The Great Detective, by Zach Dundas; Gender and the modern Sherlock Holmes, edited by Nadine Farghaly; and Sherlock Holmes, edited by Alex Werner

Julia Knaus

University of Nottingham, Nottingham, England, United Kingdom

[0.1] Keywords—Arthur Conan Doyle; Fandom; Sexuality; Victorian England; Victoriana

Knaus, Julia. 2017. The Great Detective, by Zach Dundas; Gender and the Modern Sherlock Holmes, edited by Nadine Farghaly; and Sherlock Holmes, edited by Alex Werner [book review]. In "Sherlock Holmes Fandom, Sherlockiana, and the Great Game," edited by Betsy Rosenblatt and Roberta Pearson, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 23.

Zach Dundas. The Great Detective: The amazing rise and immortal life of Sherlock Holmes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015, hardcover, $26 (336p), ISBN 978-0-544-21404-0, e-book $15.95 (2378 KB), ISBN 978-0-544-22020-1, ASIN B00LZ7GP6U.

Nadine Farghaly, ed. Gender and the modern Sherlock Holmes: Essays on film and television adaptations since 2009. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015, paperback, $35 (260p), ISBN 978-0-786-49459-0, e-book $9.99 (3353 KB), ISBN 978-1-4766-2281-1, ASIN B019WQQEY8.

Alex Werner, ed. Sherlock Holmes: The man who never lived and will never die. London: Ebury Press, 2014, hardcover, £25 (256p), ISBN 978-0-09-195872-5, e-book £12.99, ISBN 978-1-47-350264-2.

1. Introduction

[1.1] "Nobody writes of Holmes and Watson without love," John Le Carré (2013, xv) famously states, and it certainly seems as though there is still plenty left to say about Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and its surrounding worlds. This book review examines three recent nonfictional publications about the Great Detective: Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die, compiled by Alex Werner (2014); Gender and the Modern Sherlock Holmes: Essays on Film and Television Adaptations since 2009, edited by Nadine Farghaly (2015); and Zach Dundas's The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes (2015).

2. Werner, Sherlock Holmes

[2.1] Werner's Sherlock Holmes is the accompanying publication to the Sherlock Holmes–themed exhibition held at the Museum of London in 2014–15. The volume follows the exhibition's structure, focusing on Holmes as character and literary work, on his world, and on his cinematic history in turn. It works equally well as an exquisitely illustrated stand-alone volume for those who did not have the chance to go to the exhibition itself and as a means of revisiting the exhibition for those that have. Alongside the illustrations, which include photographs, maps, and sections of the Strand Magazine, stand a selection of diverse and fascinating articles. Conan Doyle's work is here a springboard to a wider exploration of the Victorian world: united by the thread of Sherlock Holmes, sections move from an exploration of the Holmesian production context to a discussion of what it means to be Bohemian in the Victorian era to an examination of the art and photography capturing the typical Victorian atmosphere—a truly refreshing and informative mix. While aimed at the general reader, the articles also give longtime friends of Sherlock Holmes something new to discover. David Cannadine's "A Case of [Mistaken?] Identity" starts off the volume with an exploration of the Holmesian London—or rather, how Conan Doyle constructs this fictional London (part of it is actually Edinburgh) and the detective's position within this "great cesspool." It then touches on all of the main points of the exhibition: the literary work, its world and era, and its cinematic history. These points are then explored in shorter, more detailed essays and images.

[2.2] "The 'Bohemian Habits' of Sherlock Holmes" by John Stokes gives an account of the second meaning of "Bohemian." It does not simply allude to a territory of the then–Austro-Hungarian empire, well remembered from "The Scandal in Bohemia" but also hints at an intriguingly diverse "way of life, a caste [sic] of mind" (57). The essay makes it easy to imagine Holmes and Watson in this context as it moves from describing eating habits to "lounging, loafing, loitering—and idling," a context in which boredom becomes "a mark of superiority" (84). Especially fascinatingly, the essay also touches on female Bohemians. While acknowledging women's "exclu[sion] from both contemporary accounts and retrospective male autobiographies," Stokes highlights the prominence of the play The Bohemian Girl as "probably the best-known application of the term," as well as the rise of more "visible" "'Bohemian' women, who would flaunt their sexual independence, even from the more earnest members of their own gender" (66).

[2.3] Following on from there, we have "Sherlock Holmes's Central London in Photographs and Postcards," and Alex Werner's exploration of Sidney Paget's illustrations for the Strand, which examines both Paget's technique and his role in shaping an image of Holmes—for instance, his choice of clothing (Paget famously introduced the deerstalker cap) and his "skill in conveying natural posture" (121). This is followed by a brief exploration of Conan Doyle's circumstances and bibliography directly from the Strand, "A Day with Dr. Conan Doyle." From Holmesian art, the volume then moves on to art in the Holmesian world: Pat Hardy explores artists' presence in and work on the atmospheric London in "The Art of Sherlock Holmes: 'The air of London is the sweeter for my presence,'" accompanied by a selection of photographs by Alvin Langdon Coburn, both of which focus particularly on the quality of light and the famous London fog. Next the volume turns to the apparent ephemerality of Holmes in the Strand in Clare Pettitt's "Throwaway Holmes," which explores Victorian magazine culture and convincingly argues that the phenomenon of Holmes transcends it. Finally, Nathalie Morris's "Silent Sherlock Holmes and Early Cinema" offers a quick historic overview of early film incarnations, followed by snapshots of Holmes in adaptations up to the present day.

[2.4] The volume succeeds in enriching the reading experience of the Sherlock Holmes stories by bringing the world in which they move back to life. It does not offer a close textual analysis; instead, it brightly illuminates the era in which Holmes, had he been real, lived. It situates Arthur Conan Doyle as Holmes's creator within the reality of the time of Holmes's inception, shedding light on production contexts, illustrations, and cinematic afterlives. It is at its strongest when it explores and illustrates the real atmosphere of Victorian London and its people that Watson (and Conan Doyle) so skillfully evokes in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

3. Farghaly, Gender and the modern Sherlock Holmes

[3.1] Farghaly's Gender and the Modern Sherlock Holmes offers a diverse set of essays from an equally diverse range of contributors, including artists and academic scholars. If the volume suffers from anything, it is the sometimes unfortunate conflation of gender and sexuality. Standing under the title of "Gender," many essays discuss sexuality and queerness; the collection would have perhaps been better served with the title Gender and Sexuality and the Modern Sherlock Holmes. However, that should not deter the reader from picking up the collection, as it offers a satisfyingly wide range of discussions, focusing especially on the Holmesian female characters. Within academic publications on recent Holmesian adaptations, this volume stands out in particular through its inclusion of Elementary (and its Joan Watson), about which little academic material has yet been published. Indeed, the volume could be split into three main sections, the first primarily interested in Irene Adler in various incarnations, the second focused on Elementary (2012–) and Joan Watson in particular, and the third discussing queerness.

[3.2] After a brief introduction by Farghaly, the collection opens with an article by Greg Freeman, "The Evolution of Sherlock Holmes: An Examination of a Timeless Figure amid Changing Times." It provides a quick overview of recent incarnation of Holmes in film and TV, starting with the Granada series and Jeremy Brett, and ending with Elementary. Unfortunately, this article also gives the collection a rocky start. While most of the rest of the volume clearly distinguishes issues of gender from issues of sexuality/queerness, Freeman barely addresses gender at all, and when he does, he establishes erroneous links between sexuality and masculinity (10). What is more, the article makes unfortunate sweeping assumptions about both the sex appeal and the sexuality of the various incarnations without backing them up with textual or other evidence. We are left with the dubious assertions that Joan Watson and Holmes in Elementary, despite their lack of romance so far, have "just the right amount of underlying tension to make the couple's interactions suspenseful" (15) and that it "is indeed laughable to imagine previous Holmes actors, Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett, […] appearing naked to the waist" (19). Freeman attempts to argue that newer Holmeses possess a "sex appeal" (19) not found in older incarnations, but in doing so, he disregards the historicity of these adaptations and fails to back up the "laughable" with any evidence from audiences. If anything, this first article succeeds in highlighting precisely what makes gender and sexuality in the modern (and, for that matter, past) Holmesian adaptation a worthy and necessary point of discussion.

[3.3] From there on, however, the collection of essays proves to be of excellent quality, offering a remarkable breadth of points of view. The following five articles all concentrate on Irene Adler: Benedick Turner, "There's a Name Everyone Says: Irene Adler and Jim Moriarty"; Rhonda Lynette Harris Taylor, "Return of 'the woman': Irene Adler in Contemporary Adaptations"; Maria Alberto, "'Of dubious and questionable memory': The Collision of Gender and Canon in Creating Sherlock's Postfeminist Femme Fatale"; Katharine McCain, "'Feeling Exposed?' Irene Adler and the Self-Reflective Disguise"; and Lindsay Katzir, "I Am Sherlocked: Adapting Victorian Gender and Sexuality in 'A Scandal in Belgravia'"). Most are interested in either Adler's role in Guy Ritchie's movies (2009, 2011) or in BBC's Sherlock (2010–), though Elementary does receive some discussion. The articles primarily explore the role of Adler's gender presentation, though discussions of sexuality—hers or other characters'—are never far away. The predominant conclusion seems to be that the modern Adler affirms rather than challenges patriarchal gender roles and heteronormativity.

[3.4] The collection then turns more fully to Elementary, with one article on "The Woman and the Napoleon of Crime: Moriarty, Adler, Elementary" (Joseph S. Walker) and two on Joan Watson: Elizabeth Welch's "Joan for John: An Elementary Choice" and Lucy Baker's "Joan Watson: Mascot, Companion, and Investigator." The latter is especially interesting as it shifts the focus off the Holmes-Watson relationship and onto the relationship of Joan Watson and Irene Adler, in the sense that it is Watson, rather than Holmes, who is in conflict with and ultimately bests Adler.

[3.5] The final section of the collection is centered on the question of Holmes's sexuality and the presence of "queerness" in the adaptations. The odd essay out is perhaps Zea Miller's "The Veneration of Violation in Sherlock," which interrogates Sherlock's questionable behavior toward "people, especially women." Miller describes the show as having "a sheer masculinist agenda" and argues that the audience, through their hero-worship of Sherlock, becomes complicit in it (208–9). While the role and treatment of women in Sherlock certainly deserves critical analysis, Miller's article argues so adamantly for the series' embeddedness in "rape culture" (215) that it fails to acknowledge the series' continuing criticism of its title character; rather, it assumes an audience incapable of combining the love for a character with disagreement with his behavior. The four other articles (Ayaan Agane, "Conflations of 'Queerness' in 21st Century Adaptations"; Hannah Mueller, "A Questionable Bromance: Queer Subtext, Fan Service, and the Dangers of Queerbaiting in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes and A Game of Shadows"; Karma Waltonen, "Sherlocked: Homosociality and (A)Sexuality"; and Kathryn E. Lane, "'Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department': The BBC's Sherlock and Interpersonal Relationships") focus on Holmes's sexual orientation. Of particular interest among these essays is Mueller's, which is the only essay in the volume to explicitly discuss not only audiences but fandom, as she considers slash fan fiction and subtextual homoeroticism of modern Holmes adaptations, which frequently takes the form of queerbaiting. Also of note is Waltonen's essay, which applies asexuality as a sexual orientation and the split-attraction model (that is, decoupling sexual and romantic orientation) in its discussion of Sherlock's sexuality. The article seems to lack an awareness of pan- and aromanticism alongside homo-, hetero- and biromantic orientations (199), but it is a much-needed addition to the academic analyses of Sherlock's queerness because it broadens the spectrum beyond the more frequently addressed potential homosexuality, bringing asexuality into the discussion.

[3.6] Overall, this collection of essays is well worth a read, if with a necessary critical eye. Certainly for its discussions of Elementary alone it should not be passed by. If one approaches the volume expecting discussions of sexuality/sexual orientation/queerness alongside questions of gender, the disjoint between title and content is far less jarring, and the volume is indeed at its strongest where the two subjects are allowed to stand side by side without being conflated.

4. Dundas, The Great Detective

[4.1] Dundas's exploration of The Great Detective runs 300 pages. The book's lack of illustrations and large blocks of text should not deter the reader: the writer is a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and thus moves easily within circles of Sherlockian aficionados, making his work a fascinating read. The chapter titles evoke a novel rather than a nonfiction work, and the volume's genre skillfully shifts between fiction, biography, autobiography, travel report, journalism, and light academia, which more often than not enriches the reading experience. Alongside Dundas, whose personality rarely fully fades from the text, the reader moves from a discussion of Sherlock Holmes's inception to an imagined scene in Joseph Bell's lecture hall and back again (33–36), or from the narrative of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) to Dundas's own hiking experience on modern Dartmoor (160–61), to give just a small sample.

[4.2] Guided by the chronology set by the Holmes stories—from their first inception to their afterlives—Dundas traces an enjoyable breadth of topics surrounding the Great Detective, always returning to touch base with the Arthur Conan Doyle canon. Not unlike Werner's Sherlock Holmes, Dundas too illuminates Conan Doyle's life and background, the times in which Sherlock Holmes was conceived and proceeded to be written, but he moves his exploration far beyond it. Instead of dwelling on faded photographs and history books (for the most part, anyway), the reader follows Dundas in an exploration of what is left of the Holmesian world today. Dundas paints a picture of the stories' atmosphere by shifting effortlessly from Watson's narration to a modern-day search for the real 221B, or by describing his visit to the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London's Baker Street (not at 221B).

[4.3] The most important of Holmes adaptations and actors are given nearly as much space as Conan Doyle himself, and what is more, the book never loses track of the Holmesian readers, the aficionados, the fans. While Dundas is clearly more at home in the Sherlockian societies than in the online-based fan communities, both are spotlighted in turn. The chapter "Moriarty and Friends" introduces the Baker Street Irregulars, the "mother ship of […] Holmes enthusiasts" (109). "The Great Game" discusses, of course, the Great Game of "quasi-scholarship" (232) in Sherlockian circles (that is, writings that share the inside joke that Holmes and Watson are historical figures and that Conan Doyle was nothing but Watson's literary agent). The chapter also talks about pastiche writing, and "The Return(s) of Sherlock Holmes" highlights not only the more recent TV and film adaptations but also the online fan fiction culture. While doing so, Dundas manages to avoid the fandom's debate about the use of the terms "pastiche" and "fan fiction" almost entirely. "Why the distinction between fic and pastiche?" he asks. Instead of exploring or even acknowledging the debate himself, he opts to give an answer by quoting Elinor Gray, who offers that either "pastiche is done for money, and fanfiction is available for free" or that there is a difference in "tone and intent," one "writing in Watson's voice and re-creating Conan Doyle" and the other "using the characters and world to explore completely different possibilities" (265–66).

[4.4] Dundas's frequent lengthy renarrations of Conan Doyle might be slightly cumbersome for a reader well informed of the Sherlock Holmes corpus, but overall, the read is a fascinating one, if only in its offering of a firsthand and consciously subjective account of what it means to explore the world of Sherlock Holmes today. Dundas merges his personal experience with factual report without boring the reader with either. Dundas's book is based on subjective experience and information gleaned via interviews and thus might not be the best pick for a reader looking for well-sourced information on Holmes and his world. The book's concluding source notes (299–306) take more the form of a "find more here!" than a bibliography, though the book's index is impressively comprehensive. Dundas offers a firsthand, frequently tongue-in-cheek, and highly readable overview of the Holmesian world, covering everything from Arthur Conan Doyle to the Sherlock Holmes Pub.

5. Conclusion

[5.1] These three publications illustrate the breadth of recent engagement with Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, including explorations of his Victorian historical background to contemporary academic themes in recent adaptations to narratives of personal engagement with the material. "Nobody writes of Holmes and Watson without love" indeed—there is clearly still plenty of love going around, finding outlets as diverse as today's friends of Sherlock Holmes, and giving us, the reader, an impressive selection of genres in which to explore Holmes further.

6. Acknowledgments

[6.1] I thank the Midlands3Cities Doctoral Training Partnership and the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding my continuing PhD research.

7. Work cited

Le Carré, John. 2003. Introduction to The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, Vol. 1, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, xiii–xv. New York: Norton.