Sunday, February 24, 2019

Conan Doyle, as a baby boomer and science denier?

Here's a question that treads upon all sorts of dangerous ground: If Conan Doyle were alive today, would he be a celebrity anti-vaxxer? How would he feel about climate change?

The answers are impossible to make with any certainty. T'were Conan Doyle born in 1959 instead of 1859, and a Baby Boomer at that, he would not have come out nearly the same man he was back in the day. The whaling adventures would have been off his resume, and his medical training would have been a very different thing. We would hope he would still be a doctor and writer, and not a child who succumbed to watching Gilligan's Island incessantly at a young age.

So why do I pose this question?

In looking for some entirely different information, I came upon a couple of lines from Doyle at the end of the sixth chapter of Daniel Stashower's Teller of Tales:

"For what is science? Science is the consensus of opinion of scientific men, and history has shown it to be slow to accept a truth. Science sneered at Newton for twenty years. Science proved mathematically that an iron ship could not swim, and science declared that a steamship could not cross the Atlantic."

Admittedly, these are the words of a narrator whose sole purpose is to convey a certain feeling in the reader at the story's end, empowering the mystic threats of faraway lands. They are the words of a character Conan Doyle created, just like John Watson, Charles Augustus Milverton, etc., and as Conan Doyle himself wrote in "To An Undiscerning Critic," "The doll and its maker are never identical."

But as Stashower used those lines to lead into the subject of Doyle's transition to spiritualist beliefs, that context does leave one to wonder.  But there are a great many aspects to Conan Doyle's personality that make one wonder what he would be like as a contemporary. Leaving spiritualism and fairies behind,  trying to guess what form Conan Doyle's socially active nature would take, what causes he would champion, what investments he would have poured his profits into . . . this was not an easy man to predict, even in his own time.

A Conan Doyle born in 1989 would be far different from even the same man born in 1959, and a Conan Doyle who could take selfies by age eight? Who knows where that kid would be headed?

It makes interesting dinner conversation, if nothing more. Each of us can only attempt to live our best lives in the era we're born into, and we have to trust that Conan Doyle did that very thing. The celebrity gossip machines of our current era, however, would surely have love that guy whichever direction he went.

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