Sunday, February 13, 2022

When did Sherlockian fandom truly start?

 In the last few months, we've been seeing a lot of early writings on Sherlock Holmes, with internet archives yielding some things far beyond where we normal think Sherlockiana began. Ronald Knox's cornerstone 1911 essay has been preceded by Helen Wilson's 1898 mini-biography of Holmes, and now this week's episode of the podcast The Watsonian Weekly features a reading by Paul Thomas Miller of an 1893 work from the St. James Gazette.

The issue's full date is December 29, 1893, and it's headline reads, "THE LATE SHERLOCK HOLMES." Subheads announce "SENSATIONAL ARREST" and "WATSON ACCUSED OF THE CRIME." What follows is a new item reporting the events told in "The Final Problem." In the column next to it are comments on the London County Council's doings and a piece on how "thin-skinned" American ladies are, so the writer(s) were covering a diverse range of current matters.

Appearing in St. James Gazette the very same month that "The Final Problem" appeared in The Strand Magazine, the piece -- whether pastiche or article -- demonstrates the impact Holmes's death made on the British public of the day. No writer is credited, but the hand holding that pen was definitely a fan with much imagination. And it's actually very good.

With the discovery of Helen Wilson's 1898 work, we were quick to wonder if she was the first known Sherlockian. Other writers soon discovered after were not necessarily fans, complaining how Doyle didn't measure up to Poe. But this piece from 1893 plays the grand Sherlockian game as devoutly as any Sherlockian work that came later.

The mystery of "the dark horse," the new addition to Holmes's indoor target practice (this time involving a portrait of Watson in bullet pocks), and the weird rumor that Sherlock Holmes is still alive and at 221B at the article's end are all as fun and intriguing as anything Knox or Morley put down. And the fact that it came so soon after "The Final Problem" . . . well, one has to wonder:

Was the publication of "The Final Problem," and the surge of attachment to Sherlock Holmes after the announcement of his death, the true start of Sherlockiana as we know it?

The article that Paul Thomas Miller reads on this week's Watsonian Weekly podcast surely seems to indicate that. (As it's still Sunday morning of February 13th as I write this, we're still about ten hours or so from that podcast appearing, so you'll still have to wait a bit.) And I promise a bit more analysis of said piece as well on that very same podcast. 

Stay tuned.

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