Saturday, October 23, 2021

Unpopular Opinions

 A Sherlockian library can contain a lot of non-Sherlockian material. Sometimes you pick up a book for only one piece about Sherlock Holmes in a collection, especially when it comes to the oldest school of Sherlockians, like Father Ronald Knox, who only wrote the one Sherlockian essay. And one definite gem in that category is a slim volume titles Unpopular Opinions by Dorothy L. Sayers.

If you're not a fan of Lord Peter Wimsey, you might not be familiar with the author, whose main body of work occurred in the 1920s and 1930s. And in 1946, at the age of fifty-three when a person tends to have built up a few opinions on things, Dorothy Sayers published Unpopular Opinions.

In the introduction, Sayers explains that "all of the opinions expressed have in fact caused a certain amount of annoyance one way and the other." She goes on to say that three of her essays were so unpopular that the very people who commissioned their writing suppressed them before printing could occur.  For one, she received the response "American readers would be shocked by what they understood of it." And after tackling Christianity, Britain, sexism, mechanization, biased reporting, and other big issues of politics and religion, she winds down the collection with five pieces concerning Sherlock Holmes and company.

Looking at the collection at as a whole, one can see many a line that would stir up a good online argument in the modern day, and looking at the book from this distant remove, her Sherlockian bits don't seem all that controversial. Indeed, her essay "Dr. Watson's Christian Name" is now the next thing to Canon in Sherlockian circles, as "Hamish" has been widely accepted as the perfect solution to an "H" middle name that would allow his wife to call him "James" on one notable occasion.

Do we have "Unpopular Opinions" in Sherlockiana any more? There was an age, legends tell us, where a man could get bodily thrown out of a Baker Street Irregulars dinner for suggesting that Watson was female. We do still have folks with strong opinions on matters Sherlockian, 'tis true. But do we see much backlash against any particular bit, or do folks just go off into their corner and group with those of a similar mind, rather than trying to convert the unconvinced? 

The biggest controversies in Sherlockiana that I can recall of a more recent vintage have revolved around individual Sherlockians, and not Holmes or Watson. And even there the controversies are often at some back-channel level where one notices something is going on, but doesn't quite understand the full story. We've a lot of Watson in us, it seems, with our unrecorded cases in that area, but perhaps it's for the best. We don't really want to get into . . . well, I just don't want to get into that . . . in our relaxing hobby time.

I really wonder what Sayer's trajectory of unpopular opinions would have been in the social media age, though. Would she have navigated it with agile deftness, or slammed headlong into a wall of trending unpopularity? It's amazing how many of her arguments still ring true with battles we're still fighting to this day. Humans don't evolve nearly as fast as science fiction would hope.

Sherlockiana, however, keeps ringing true as well. That's nice enough.

1 comment:

  1. Love those Sayers essays on Holmesian topics (I here use the British form in her honor).