Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Watson's favorite author

 John H. Watson doesn't tell us too much of himself in his chronicles of Sherlock Holmes. Favorite foods? No. Details of his marriage or possible offspring? No. What his club was? No.

But he does tell us of one stormy evening when he's enjoying a nautical novel by William Clark Russell, indicating that he's read more than one by calling it "one of Clark Russell's fine sea stories." Watson doesn't tell us about reading any other authors, but we know he likes Clark Russell and his tales of the sea.

Clark Russell himself was less than ten years older than Watson, the son of British composer. The author was born on Broadway in America and went to private school in England where he got to be friends with the son of Charles Dickens. But here's where it gets weird.

Looking for a life of adventure, as all boys imagine, Clark Russell joined the Merchant Navy at the tender age of thirteen. Thirteen. Headed for the worst summer camp ever, where Clark Russell stayed for the next eight years, his health, as Watson would later write about himself "irretrievably ruined." And like Watson, that health-ruining experience would set off his entire career as an author. Those eight years gave Russell the raw material for the rest of his life of writing.

He got married a few years later and started having kids, but it would be a good ten years after he left his service as a seaman before he would start writing sea stories. He worked as a journalist and an editor, writing novels for women under female pseudonyms, thinking stories of life at sea could not compete with writers like Herman Melville. 

Having gotten a good bit of writing experience and building up some steam before his second sea novel, The Wreck of the Grosvenor, became his breakout hit. (Russell's seems to have liked shipwrecks as the best way to get drama in his sea story plots.) The Wreck of the Grosvenor was initially published anonymously and was most popular in America, which was big on -- ironically -- pirating books back then.

My favorite Clark Russell novel, The Frozen Pirate, came soon after in 1877, and I favor it strongly as the book Watson was reading in "Five Orange Pips," especially considering that in some universes Watson's ancestors have to deal with frozen Sherlocks, including one that Watson helped put into that state. (Possibly getting the idea from The Frozen Pirate? Very well could be!)

Russell lived until his late sixties, but pushed out nearly a hundred books in his lifetime, so Watson naturally had to admire him not just for his novels, but for his productivity as an author, as well. And I'd be very curious about when their paths might have crossed -- something that might make a nice little pastiche. 

Maybe that's for Clark Russell's next birthday, though. For this one, his spirit just has to settle for a hearty "Happy Birthday!" from fans of his fan.

1 comment:

  1. I had always wanted to read a William Clark Russell sea story based on John H Watson's recommendation. Since time became available due to the pandemic, I located and read The Wreck of the Grosvenor. It appears that JHW was more of a fan of WCR than I but to each his own. I was glad to have made the effort and can check this item off of my list. Now I can head back to the Canon and the Writings!