Book: The adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: The adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Sunday, 15 March 2009 at 08:52 am
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Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

Details: Originally published 1892; Pub 1971 Berkley Medallion

Verdict: The adventures of Sherlock Holmes is better than I was expecting.

Reasons for reading it: Between reading Arthur and George and watching a sweet but silly film Young Sherlock Holmes over Christmas, I was intrigued enough to get round to reading some of the original stories.

How it came into my hands: Found it in my parents' house. I'm guessing it's from one of the grandparental collections that we inherited, because I can't remember it being there when I was a kid. And it's physically small compared to most modern books so it fitted nicely in my handbag while I was travelling; actually it's really good for reading on the plane because the short stories are just nicely bite-sized, engaging without needing vast amounts of brain power.

I have to admit my expectations were quite low, partly because Sherlock Holmes has been pastiched and parodied so much , and partly because of the context; I was expecting sensationalist and formulaic Victorian hack writing. Actually the stories have real merit; if you read too many of them at once they get a bit samey, but they are nicely written taken individually. I can really see how this set off the first ever fandom and kick-started a new genre. Holmes and Watson are well characterized, which really brings the mysteries to life.

The mysteries themselves are quite fun, atmospheric and surprisingly varied. A few are genuinely creepy, too. They don't really work as puzzles, except in the sense of trying to second-guess how Conan Doyle writes. The interest is not so much in "whodunnit" (and indeed most of them aren't murders) but in how the story is going to come up with unexpected facts that fit the evidence available at the beginning. The sort of primitive forensic / scientific stuff seems fairly trivial to a modern audience, but I can see how it would have been exciting a century ago.

The odd thing about many of the stories is that nothing really happens after Holmes works out the facts of the case. I mean, sometimes he gets effusively thanked by the person who hired him as a private detective, but he doesn't bring the criminals to justice or anything, he just enjoys the satisfaction of knowing what happened. This often leads to bizarre, rather stretched comments about the criminal getting his just desserts just because of the way things work out. A lot of those I didn't find satisfying and some were downright unpleasant. There are some bizarre ideas about class and gender, but considering the epoch nothing really egregious.


Whereaboooots: London
Moooood: contentcontent
Tuuuuune: The Decemberists: The legionnaire's lament
Discussion: 12 contributions | Contribute something
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:March 18th, 2009 09:23 am (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 09:23 am (lethargic_man's time)
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I too only read Sherlock Holmes for the first time recently (four years ago).

I can really see how this set off the first ever fandom and kick-started a new genre.

Actually, the genre wasn't new; Edgar Allen Poe started it with his short story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue". I really recommend you read it, actually; the way Poe establishes Auguste Dupin as a Great Detective in the mould later followed by Holmes is both impressive and fun.

One of the things I liked about The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is how the very first story subverted the genre—it simultaneously introduced Sherlock Holmes as the Great Detective who never fails to solve a case, and also shows him getting outwitted. (It was a little disappointing that the rest of the book did not keep up this level of self-subversion.)
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:March 18th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 09:02 pm (livredor's time)
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Ooh, thank you, this is interesting. I didn't know the Poe story, and I will add it to the ebook library on my tiny computer. I would argue that the existence of the detective fiction genre is largely thanks to the popularity of the Sherlock Holmes books, even if Conan Doyle wasn't the first to write in that mode. The pioneering work often doesn't define the genre, it's the clutch of imitators that establish it as a set style with its own conventions and tropes.
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hairyears: default
From:hairyears
Date:March 18th, 2009 11:14 am (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 11:14 am (hairyears's time)
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I have the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes as an Ebook on the iPhone: the stories are short, easy to pick up on if you're reading intermittently, and mentally-undemanding. Perfect for journeys on London Underground.
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livredor: geekette
From:livredor
Date:March 18th, 2009 09:04 pm (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 09:04 pm (livredor's time)
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That's a really good idea! I should make a point of collecting public domain short stories for just that sort of purpose. (My not quite optimal ebook reader is my Eee, but the same principle applies.)
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feanelwa: default
From:feanelwa
Date:March 18th, 2009 06:19 pm (UTC)
10 hours after journal entry, 06:19 pm (feanelwa's time)
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You haven't read the one where an black man comes to see him, have you? I was shocked. He was really, horribly offensive to him, for example:
Black man, getting frustrated with this rude man: "I don't want no lip, I just want your advice"
Holmes: "I don't intend to give you lip; I can see you have more than enough of your own".
I know people were quite racist in the time it is set and written, but I had some notion that it wouldn't have been quite so brazen and rude, at least in an environment like the rest of the Sherlock Holmes stories seem to exude. But then maybe it's meant as a contrast to show how unconcerned with manners and society Holmes is, like it would have been rude then, just not as rude as it does now.

I must have read it as a child when I loved Sherlock Holmes stories, because it is in the same set of stories, but I must have forgotten about it, like the unquestioned class and race prejudice that goes through so much of Enid Blyton's work. I still like a lot of Holmeses, but not that one.
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feanelwa: default
From:feanelwa
Date:March 18th, 2009 06:19 pm (UTC)
10 hours after journal entry, 06:19 pm (feanelwa's time)
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(And that paraphrased quote is just the one I remember most; there are ruder things he says to him in that story.)
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simont: default
From:simont
Date:March 18th, 2009 08:48 pm (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry
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"The Adventure of the Three Gables". I'm guessing livredor hasn't read that one, since it's one of the later stories, and AIUI the title "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" usually refers to a specific set of the earlier ones.

Irritatingly, it appears to still be under copyright, and hence hasn't appeared on Wikisource with most of the rest of the Holmes canon, so I can't helpfully link to it as I'd planned. I was going to mention that Holmes is indeed very rude to the black man in that story, but at least not unprovoked, since the man hadn't come for help but to threaten him. (Though that doesn't make it a great deal better, and in fact I think I was more shocked by some of the things Watson's narrating voice says about the man than by what Holmes said to his face...)
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livredor: livre d'or
From:livredor
Date:March 18th, 2009 09:22 pm (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 09:22 pm (livredor's time)
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The adventures of Sherlock Holmes is indeed a specific collection, originally published as a collection under that title. (It's not a modern anthology of otherwise unconnected single works.)

The adventure of the Three Gables can't still be under copyright, because the copyright period depends only on when the author died, not on when the story was written during his lifetime. There seem to be a few editions online, though that doesn't necessarily mean they're legitimate. I think it's more likely that people just haven't got round to putting it in Wikisource (or on Gutenberg, for that matter).
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lethargic_man: default
From:lethargic_man
Date:March 18th, 2009 09:39 pm (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 09:39 pm (lethargic_man's time)
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There's something funny going on about the copyright of Sherlock Holmes; I recall rysmiel telling me once that Holmes was still in copyright, but his brother wasn't.

A quick Google reveals Holmes only entered the public domain in the UK in 2000; and one book remains in copyright in the States.
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simont: default
From:simont
Date:March 18th, 2009 11:22 pm (UTC)
15 hours after journal entry
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My source for "still in copyright" was this, which certainly seems to be why Wikisource thinks they can't put it online. Looks as if that's a US-specific oddity, though, so you're probably right on this side of the puddle :-)

eta oh, hang on, that very page has a link to it hosted somewhere else. Possibly I should go to bed before I talk any more drivel.
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feanelwa: default
From:feanelwa
Date:March 19th, 2009 11:04 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 11:04 am (feanelwa's time)
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Gah, I still didn't remember half the story! Bah.
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livredor: ewe
From:livredor
Date:March 18th, 2009 09:09 pm (UTC)
13 hours after journal entry, 09:09 pm (livredor's time)
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That's pretty gross. It's not in this collection, no; the only mention of race here is in The five orange pips which is about how the KKK and other racist Americans are clearly nutcases that no reasonable person would take seriously. There are a few bits where foreigners are assumed to be eccentric and stereotyped, but nothing really horrendous. I ranked the book as reasonably progressive for the nineteenth century, because although it does make generalizations (also about lower class people and women), it gives Holmes several lines about how people from all walks of life are equally interesting and their suffering equally important. It's a pity about the black character, though.
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