Category Archives: History

What Can We Still Take Away from Orwell’s Last and Most Beloved Work?

Plenty of stories make ripples. The ripples they create inspire some, and makes others look deeply into themselves. Some stories can change the world – and frequently have! We would argue that one such book was 1984, the dystopian novel written by George Orwell in 1949. Now that 1984 (the year) has come and is long gone, we thought it might be interesting to take a look at this popular novel and see how its ripples continue to affect society today. 

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1984 was published on June 8th, 1949 – 73 years ago today. It would be English author George Orwell’s last work, as he was dying from tuberculosis while writing it, and passed away less than a year after its publication. Orwell himself was an atheist who supported democracy and vehemently opposed totalitarianism (of course). He was a proponent of simple pleasures, and was a fan of all traditional British delights – fish and chips, a strong cup of tea, a nice pub or chat by a fire, to name a few. It is no wonder how this kind of individual was able to write 1984, a book that played on a fear of oppressive government sanctions and a powerlessness to enjoy the simple pleasures in life.

For those that haven’t read it since their school days, 1984 follows the protagonist Winston Smith as he navigates his feelings towards an undemocratic governmental regime. Smith realizes he is doomed quite early on in the tale, as he buys a journal at a small antiques shop (on a black market of sorts), in order to write his “illegal” thoughts down in. Smith wonders often at the idea of the rebels, constantly interpreting the actions of those around him as either for or against the regime – he rarely views anything as a simple personal interaction. He begins an illicit romantic relationship with a woman named Julia after she hands him a secret note that says “I love you” (yes, after Winston is sure her interest in him is as a government spy). They are happy and in love, though Winston’s interest in rebelling against the regime is significantly stronger than Julia’s. As Winston grows more interested in breaking away, he becomes closer with Mr. Charrington, the owner of the shop that sold him the journal. Winston also believes his direct superior at work is a member of the rebellious “Brotherhood”. Winston and Julia are eventually brought before both of them and invited to join the Brotherhood, before it is revealed that both Charrington and O’Brien (his superior) are actually members of the government’s “Thought Police” task force and Winston and Julia are arrested. After being tortured, interrogated and brainwashed for months, a final act involving fear, rats and selling out each other finally break the couple, individually. They are released back into normal society in Oceania, loving “Big Brother” as newly minted members of the tyrannical and ruthless regime.

While considering the above as a highly abridged Cliff Notes version of 1984, we look toward the meaning behind the novel and how its ripples still affect us today. We are lucky to live in a non-extremist, democratic society. We are obsessed with our Constitutional rights – one of the most important being the right to free speech, as Winston unfortunately did not have. As an article in The Atlantic stated “It’s almost impossible to talk about propaganda, surveillance, authoritarian politics, or perversions of truth without dropping a reference to 1984.” And that is true. “Big Brother” is a household term, a terrifying nightmarish possibility of a government that is allowed to become too involved in the lives of its citizens. Once again, we are lucky that we do not live in such a society. As music critic Dorian Lynskey (author of The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984) writes “By definition, a country in which you are free to read Nineteen Eighty-Four is not the country described in Nineteen Eighty-Four“. But the year of Trump’s inauguration as President saw the rise of 1984 back to the best-seller list. Why? Because many Americans worried about the beginning of the decline of democracy in our country. After all, the rise of a totalitarian administration is certainly something to fear.

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But occasionally, we’ve had cause to ask if the totalitarian we fear may, in fact, be something within ourselves. In today’s world, we already allow companies, rather than the government, to watch our every move. It makes life easier for us, and we’ve had no visibly apparent reason to believe it is otherwise affecting our lives. We police the things each other say online, constantly. To both positive and negative ends. A problem today’s America faces isn’t that we are being oppressed by an authoritarian regime, but that because of the newspeak that we follow or watch we are too divisive to be able to be on the same page about anything whatsoever. It seems the news (and therefore groups of people), fall at two very far ends of a spectrum – without the ability to work together to make changes any which way. Unfortunately causing us to be at a consistent stalemate, daily. Normally we don’t quote lengthy paragraphs from others, but I believe George Packer said it correctly in an article about 1984:

“We are living with a new kind of regime that didn’t exist in Orwell’s time. It combines hard nationalism—the diversion of frustration and cynicism into xenophobia and hatred—with soft distraction and confusion: a blend of Orwell and Huxley, cruelty and entertainment. The state of mind that the Party enforces through terror in 1984, where truth becomes so unstable that it ceases to exist, we now induce in ourselves… Today the problem is too much information from too many sources, with a resulting plague of fragmentation and division—not excessive authority but its disappearance, which leaves ordinary people to work out the facts for themselves, at the mercy of their own prejudices and delusions.” 1984 hasn’t become obsolete, on the contrary – it is more important than ever that we look to it as the cautionary tale it was meant as. Let us not follow anyone blindly – and perhaps we can stop screaming at each other long enough to help each other. To see the problems in our society and make changes necessary for the safety, health and happiness of us all.

And whatever you do, don’t ever trust the antiques shop owners selling books, journals and other trinkets… obviously it is the quiet ones you need to watch out for!

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Who was Juliette Récamier? OTD in 1849, France (and the World) Lost a Celebrity

How do we believe fame differs today than a few hundred years ago? With today’s social media and instant internet access, celebrities of all backgrounds are scrutinized in almost every moment of their lives. At the end of the 18th century, this would obviously not have been the case. To be famous the world over, word had to literally travel from mouth to mouth… and that is precisely how one Juliette Récamier, the darling of the European literary scene, came to be a legend in intellectual circles.

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Juliette was born on December 3rd, 1777 in Lyon, France. As the only child of her father (the King’s notary and counsellor) and mother, Juliette enjoyed certain amounts of freedom and attention as a child that many others of the time did not. Juliette was also highly educated, her father being an educated man himself. Most importantly of all, accounts of Juliette did not portray her as a precocious or obnoxious child and teenager. If anything, she was described as shy, kind, modest and affectionate. With these wonderful qualities, a sharp mind and interest in literature, and a great amount of beauty, it is no wonder that Juliette had suitors from a young age. At the age of fifteen she was married, platonically, to a banker in Paris – Jacques-Rose Récamier, who was thirty years her senior.

Despite being married to a young, vivacious and beautiful girl, the marriage always remained chaste, and Juliette remained a virgin until her forties (there has been evidence to support the notion that Jacques was her own natural father, after having an affair with her mother 16 years prior to his marriage, and knowing that he was considered an “enemy to the republic” at the height of the French Revolution, Jacques may have married the girl to make sure she inherited his estate). Jacques noted her charitable nature, her interest in their reciprocal desire to bring forth happiness and contentment in each other. He treated her with great respect and freedom (at one point being willing to have her divorce him to marry someone with more advantageous finances, after he began experiencing financial woes, though she would not leave him), and she flourished. In Paris, Juliette became the socialite known for entertaining some of the greatest political and literary minds of the day in her “salon”.

juliette1As time went on and interest in her intelligence, loveliness, refinement and gentility grew, Juliette became friendly with all manner of people. Some of the most notorious members of her salon were François-René de Chateaubriand (a French politician, diplomat, activist, historian and writer who ended up as one of Juliette’s life-long friends), Benjamin Constant (Swiss-French political activist and writer), Prince Augustus of Prussia (whose proposal she would ultimately reject), and the political Madame Germaine de Staël. Juliette enjoyed almost unprecedented independence in her ability to entertain and act as she saw fit – she also received many proposals, and was “courted” by many men, but never, as far as history is concerned, betrayed her husband. People were attracted to Juliette not solely because of her good looks, but because of her academic and literary prowess, her interest in social and political endeavors, and her apparent ability to charm a room with a single glance, smile or comment. Juliette Récamier was the epitome of an esteemed lady – a patron, a scholar, a magnetic and irresistible personality, and a beautiful and charismatic individual. Political and intellectual persons flocked to her sitting room, and the discourses had there (both with Madame Récamier and with each other) can be credited with several of the ideas and large-scale changes in the turbulence of the French politics of the day.

One of Juliette’s society friends, Madame Germaine de Staël, greatly influenced Juliette politically and their liberal and centrist opinions were the reasoning behind the two being exiled from France by Napoleon in1806. Juliette left for Lyon, then Rome, then settled in Naples, before she was eventually allowed to return to her native country, and to Paris almost ten years later. By her later years, however, Récamier had lost much of her money and was living, while not in destitution, in significantly reduced circumstances. That being said, Juliette’s enticing manner and charm made sure she continuously enjoyed a consistent stream of friends, intellectuals, politicians and activist visitors up until her death at age 71 of cholera. Today, her contributions may not be a well-known fact, but in today’s world there is (at the very least) a sofa, similar to a chaise lounge, named after her – as that was her preferred method of reclining while entertaining her guests!

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“The beginning is always today” – Happy Birthday to Mary Wollstonecraft!

“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

Yes, Queen.

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Mary Wollstonecraft was born on April 27th, 1759, in London. Though later on in her life she would be known for her writings and her advocacy of the social and educational equality of women, she was born somewhat inconsequentially as the second of seven children. Mary grew up in a household with a violent alcoholic father who squandered away all their savings and inheritance before Mary could come of age. She worked as a governess and a lady’s companion in her young life, both of which were formative influences on her views of the role of women in society. Mary also had two significantly influential friendships as a young woman – with Jane Arden and Fanny (Frances) Blood. Arden’s philosophical and academic family greatly impacted Wollstonecraft’s ability to think outside-the-box (so to speak), and her friendship with Fanny gave her purpose and female companionship. As a matter of fact, at one point Mary, her sister Eliza and Fanny opened up a school for girls in Newington Green. Her experiences in the education of young women (and subsequent job as a governess) gave her her greatest ideas on the education of women and how it affects their future in society.

“If women be educated for dependence; that is, to act according to the will of another fallible being, and submit, right or wrong, to power, where are we to stop?”

Unfortunately, Mary’s closest friend Fanny died relatively young, after becoming pregnant while suffering from a weak constitution. A heartbroken Mary used her connections to become a governess to a family of girls in Ireland, and although the girls found her an inspiring instructor, a frustrated Mary decided to give up the position to pursue writing and publishing full-time (a radical notion for a woman, in 1787). In 1788 she began working as a translator for a London publisher, Joseph Johnson, whom she regarded as a father/brother figure, and whom she remained quite close to for the rest of her life. During her first stint working for Johnson she wrote several reviews for his Analytical Review publication, all the while expanding her mind through translating texts and writing her own. Mary seemed happy in London - constantly meeting intellectuals, activists and other interesting figures at meetings and dinners at Johnson’s. Some of these influential individuals included Thomas Paine and William Godwin (the scholar considered the father of modern anarchism – though Mary and Godwin did not originally hit it off). Mary’s free-thinking ways led her to propose to live platonically with a married man she was enamored with (artist Henry Fuseli) and his wife – the astonishment of society at such an idea leading her to decide to move abroad. Well… that and her obvious interest in the French Revolution, as was evidenced in one of her most famous works, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in London in 1790 as a response to Whig MP Edmund Burke’s conservative critique of the events in France. Her publication shot her to activist stardom seemingly overnight (though at the very first it was published anonymously – the second edition published a month after the first pronounced her as the author). Wollstonecraft left for Paris, to witness the Revolution firsthand.

“It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men.”

maryw2During her time in France, Mary witnessed the execution of King Louis XIV, even saw some of her friends executed when the Jacobins took power, was refused her requests to leave the country, and lived with American adventurer Gilbert Imlay, with whom she had a passionate affair. (“Which of these things is not like the other?”, you may as well ask!) Though all of her experiences greatly influenced her thoughts and views of humanity, she decided to put her individuality and power to the test by living unmarried with a man, and bearing a child by him, named Fanny after her dearest deceased friend. Wollstonecraft and Imlay remained together long enough to do a bit of traveling, and for Mary to publish two other works - An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution, and a introspective and personal travelogue, Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. After Imlay left her, Wollstonecraft returned to England to pursue him, and after bouts of suicidal tendencies and depression fell back into Joseph Johnson’s literary circle. Eventually, Mary began striking up a friendship, and then a passionate love affair with William Godwin. Of her work (her travel Letters, in particular) Godwin wrote, “If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book. She speaks of her sorrows, in a way that fills us with melancholy, and dissolves us in tenderness, at the same time that she displays a genius which commands all our admiration.” Despite not being proponents of marriage in general, the two wed shortly before Wollstonecraft’s second child was born – her daughter Mary, who would later go on to write Frankenstein as Mary Shelley (to read our blog on the second brilliant female mind in the family, click here). Eleven days after the birth of her second daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (as she was then known) passed away due to complications from the birth.

“It appears to me impossible that I should cease to exist, or that this active, restless spirit, equally alive to joy and sorrow, should be only organized dust—ready to fly abroad the moment the spring snaps, or the spark goes out, which kept it together. Surely something resides in this heart that is not perishable—and life is more than a dream.”

Wollstonecraft died much too young – and one might now argue that the world as she knew it was too little, too conservative for her rather modern notions. Nevertheless, her legacy lived on – not only did she propose radical notions of educational equality and female power, but she ran in circles that picked up her theories and helped spread the word. Her legacy also lived on in her children, particularly in Mary Shelley – who supported similar ideas of female empowerment and sexual freedom. To this day, the name Mary Wollstonecraft is a household name symbolical of female rights and equality, as she was the epitome of a free-thinker! Happy Birthday to Mary Wollstonecraft!

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The Household Name that Was a Radical Before it was Cool to be a Radical

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Every American-raised person once attended (though when I was in school it was more like seven years in a row attended) classes on American history. We all know the name Thomas Paine, we all associate him with the American Revolution. We all know he wrote Common Sense. Who among us has read it? Don’t worry if you haven’t, you wouldn’t be alone. That being said, however, there is so much to this gentleman… born into an age that both revered and scorned him, whereas if the man lived in today’s world he might have been revered and revered only. Let’s find out just how cool Thomas Paine really was, shall we?

Born on February 9th, 1737, in Norfolk, England, many Americans who didn’t pay much attention in history class would be surprised to find out that he lived a relatively average British life… for thirty seven years before emigrating to the British colonies in America. Born to a tenant farmer and stay-maker (a tailor specializing in the making of corsets), Paine’s baptized name is spelled “Pain” – a change he apparently made when moving to America. His early life seems uneventful, he attended a few years of schooling, then apprenticed with his father as a stay-maker. He married at 22, but his young wife died in childbirth along with the baby soon after. Paine dealt with typical difficulties – many of which were financial in nature. After working several occupations in several towns, in 1768 Paine ended up in Lewes – a town in Suffolk known for its radical notions (like an opposition to the monarchy). It was here that Paine first became involved in political and civic matters, and gained an interest in the plight of freedom of the every-man.

In Lewes, Paine was a member of the parish vestry, and in the early 1770s joined excise officers in their ask of Parliament for better wages and treatment. It was during this period that he published his first political work – a twelve page article entitled The Case of the Officers of Excise. He failed again financially around this time, and moved to London – where he was introduced to one Benjamin Franklin, who convinced Paine to emigrate to the colonies, and even wrote him a letter of recommendation for the change. Paine agreed, and arrived in Philadelphia in November of 1774.

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By March of 1775, Paine was the editor of the Pennsylvania Magazine, then becoming the editor of the American Magazine - in a short time becoming a rather important figure. Under Paine’s direction, the magazines flourished, gained a wider audience, and became more and more political in nature. In fact, just a few short months after arriving in America, an untitled essay appeared in the Pennsylvania Magazine entitled African Slavery in America - an early abolitionist essay attacking slavery as an “outrage against Humanity and Justice.” That essay is commonly attributed to Thomas Paine’s own hand. Paine also focused often on the plight of the working man – using his platforms to discuss worker’s rights. Clearly, Paine quickly became a leading figure in the political consciousness of America on the brink of revolution.

Thomas PainePaine’s pamphlets, especially Common Sense, were immediate successes. Common Sense was published on January 10th, 1776, and was signed anonymously, “by an Englishman”. Within the first three months of its existence 100,000 copies were sold throughout the colonies. He employed his eloquence to fan the flames of anger at the British monarchy for their abuses. While published after the start of the American Revolution (which began in April 1775), it served to bolster enthusiasm for the cause, to inspire many and to aid in the confidence of those fighting for freedom. Common Sense largely upholds the ideals of republicanism and encouragement for freedom, and spends some time encouraging readers to join the Continental Army. He advocates an extreme change, a total break in the narrative of history. Though his ideas were not necessarily original nor unheard of, Paine’s method and way of speaking to the public made his pamphlet one of the most popular Revolutionary works in existence. In that vein, Paine became one of the most influential revolutionary writers in history.

Though throughout his life he went in and out of favor, what never faltered was Paine’s personal beliefs in freedom and liberty. He denounced slavery, supported the French Revolution, he advocated religious freedom, condemned and criticized those he did not care for, and had no qualms about staying true to his own personal values until the day he died. As Robert G. Ingersoll once famously said: “Thomas Paine had passed the legendary limit of life. One by one most of his old friends and acquaintances had deserted him. Maligned on every side, execrated, shunned and abhorred – his virtues denounced as vices – his services forgotten – his character blackened, he preserved the poise and balance of his soul. He was a victim of the people, but his convictions remained unshaken. He was still a soldier in the army of freedom, and still tried to enlighten and civilize those who were impatiently waiting for his death. Even those who loved their enemies hated him, their friend – the friend of the whole world – with all their hearts.” Happy 285th Birthday to Thomas Paine, a man ahead of his time!

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“In War, Resolution; In Defeat, Defiance; In Victory, Magnanimity; and in Peace, Good Will.” Honor to All this Anniversary of D-Day

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In honor of today’s day in history, we thought we’d show some of the most interesting World War II items to come across our shelves in the recent past. And to remind ourselves of these words by Winston Churchill… “In Victory, Magnanimity; and in Peace, Good Will.” – as it is sound advice for all seasons, not merely during wartime. Click on the images for more information.

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This pictorial review of the time the 2nd Marine Division spent in Occupied Japan, with their “missions of surveillance, disposition of materiel, and repatriation …” [Smith, Securing the Surrender] is dated from one image “Preparing for the Corps’ 170th Birthday” [USMC founded November 10, 1775]. See it here.

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A beautifully preserved piece of WWII nursing history – the Cadet Nurse Corps program was passed by Congress unanimously and became effective in July of 1943. The Corps was supervised by the United States Public Health Service to (hopefully) train 124,000 young women as nurses during World War II. The war ended before the first Cadets graduated and only a few entered the military. However, in its lifetime (1943-48) it was the largest training program in the history of nursing in the United States. See it here.

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This invaluable source for local history (local being the central coast of California) at the end of World War II… a collection of 30 issues of the Cooke Clarion – detailing happenings at the military training base and disciplinary barracks from 1945-1946. The copies have the usual camp activities, but also includes such informative pieces as “Camp Cooke History … Here’s Chapter 2″ [Vol V - Number 3, March 29, 1946]. See it here.

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This World War II Class Book was printed in 1944 and comes from Ryan Field, in Hemet, California – the 5th A.A.F.F.T.D. Illustrated with both drawings and photographs, it is an interesting piece of printed WWII history from California. Plus it isn’t found on OCLC! See it here.

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This interesting WWII archive is from Lt Wesley Dawe, from San Francisco, who served in the Army Air Corps during WWII, ultimately flying the B-17-G. Dawe collected a number of items documenting his early aeronautical career, primarily from the pilot training days of his second enlistment [his first stint was 1938 - 1941, mustering out ~ 6 months before Pearl Harbor; he re-upped in 1943]. See it here.

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The Significance of Don Quixote

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In honor of Miguel de Cervantes’ (assumed) birthday, we wanted to dig a little deeper into this masterpiece of Western literature, to find out why it carries the weight it does in the book world. How can such an early work (the first part having been published in only 1605!) be considered the first modern novel? How can one work be considered social satire, comedy, tragedy and social and ethical commentary all at one time? Let’s find out!

Fairly little is known about Miguel de Cervantes. Remember, he lived at roughly the same time as Shakespeare (who, surprise surprise… we also know fairly little about). We know that he was the second of 7 children, with a father constantly in debt and a mother confident and literate enough to support herself and all of her children while the father was imprisoned for debt from 1553 to 1554. Miguel obviously learned a few things from his mother, as he worked a myriad of jobs as a young man (including being arrested for dueling, having a military commission, being an intelligence agent and as a tax collector) and though he was never an extremely wealthy man, he was not often out of work!

quixoteThroughout this time, Cervantes published a few plays and some poems, none of any great significance, and none that provided a living for the man and his family. By 1605, Cervantes hadn’t been “properly” published in almost 20 years! Nevertheless, he began writing a work he considered a satire – he challenged a “form of literature that had been a favourite for more than a century, explicitly stating his purpose was to undermine ‘vain and empty’ chivalric romances. He wrote about the common man. He used everyday lingo, normal conversation rather than epic speeches – it was considered a great success. Though there was a great amount of time between the two parts of the work, its popularity did not wane. The first part is considered the more popular of the two, with its comedic characterizations and its hilarity, while the second part is considered more introspective and critical, with greater characterization of the individuals in the story.

There are differing opinions on the Don Quixote of the time – it held popularity with the masses, and garnered financial success for Cervantes, but was considered a financial failure in the long haul… we aren’t sure how that works but are willing to trust the experts! The great interest in the work came during a resurgence in popularity during the mid 18th century, when literary editor John Bowle argued that “Cervantes was as significant as any of the Greek and Roman authors then popular”, and proceeded to publish an annotated edition of the work in 1781. Ever since, Don Quixote has been considered a staple of modern literature. Why, you may ask?

Our London 1749 holding of Don Quixote, published into the English by Charles Jarvis and only the 2nd edition of its kind!

Our London 1749 holding of Don Quixote, published into the English by Charles Jarvis and only the 2nd edition of its kind!

Author Edith Grossman published a new English translation of the novel in 2003 and noted how the novel straddles both comedy and tragedy in the same moments… “when I first started reading the Quixote I thought it was the most tragic book in the world, and I would read it and weep… As I grew older… my skin grew thicker… and so when I was working on the translation I was actually sitting at my computer and laughing out loud. This is done as Cervantes did it… by never letting the reader rest. You are never certain that you truly got it. Because as soon as you think you understand something, Cervantes introduces something that contradicts your premise.” And thus is the beauty and genius of the novel… Part I introduces enough comedic elements to amuse and hold your interest in the characterization, with Part II garnering strength and empathy for the characters you’ve come to love, feeling their pains and their moments of humility. Truly a work ahead of its time, today we honor Miguel de Cervantes and his inimitable hero Don Quixote (and the loyal and true Sancho Panza, of course). Happy Birthday (maybe) to Miguel de Cervantes!

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The Only Man Who Ever Hated Sherlock Holmes Also Happened to be His Creator

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On this day in July 1930, a true visionary breathed his last. Of course, he wasn’t born a visionary, he was born simply… Arthur. And as often as people assume his last name to be Conan Doyle, it is simply Doyle… Conan just one of his middle names. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born on May 22nd, 1859, and died on July 7th, 1930, almost a hundred years ago… yet he is a common household name still today. However, he is known to have said that in a hundred years if he was only known as the man who invented Sherlock Holmes, he would consider his life a failure. So let’s remember him for more than that, shall we?

 

Conan Doyle (for as much as we may know his last name is simply “Doyle” we also feel strange writing just Doyle to refer to him) was born to poor Irish Catholic parents, in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father spent a good deal of Arthur’s early years suffering from alcoholism and mental illness, which had a great influence on his later works. Throughout his school-life he noted that he severely detested staunch religious practices in schools, disliking the lack of compassion and warmth, and favoring a more forgiving and compassionate atmosphere (which inspired his predisposition for spiritualism later in life).

 

From 1876 to 1881, Conan Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh Medical School and botany at the Royal Botanic Garden, studies which would help mold his future writings in the Sherlock Holmes series – boggling the minds of civilians with science! It was during this time that he wrote his first short story, The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe, and tried (unsuccessfully) to submit it to Blackwood’s Magazine. A later story was published however, along with several scientific articles in different magazines and journals in Edinburgh. Upon graduating from medical school with a Bachelor of Medicine and a Master of Surgery, Conan Doyle became a ship’s surgeon on the SS Mayumba during their voyage to West Africa. Just a year later he found himself setting up his own independent medical practice in Portsmouth, with less than 10 pounds to his name. His practice did not prove entirely successful, neither did a stint in the field of ophthalmology, and in his free time Conan Doyle found himself drawn back to writing fiction.

 

doyle4Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first Sherlock Holmes installment, A Study in Scarlet, when he was only 27 years old. Written in just under three weeks, it is amazing to think that on how this work has endured and began a legacy, a series the likes of which may be unparalleled in fiction. A Study in Scarlet was popular and successful, and Conan Doyle was commissioned to write a sequel in less than a year. The next work, The Sign of the Four, was no less popular when it appeared in Lippincott’s Magazine. Amusingly enough, even early on in his Holmes works Conan Doyle felt contradictory emotions towards his most famous character. He wished to kill Holmes off after just a couple years, but was dissuaded (more like forbade) from doing so by his own mother! He raised the prices for his stories hoping to dissuade publishers from paying for them, but found that publishers were willing to pay exorbitant sums to keep the stories coming… consequently Conan Doyle accidentally became one of the best paid authors of all time. In all, Conan Doyle featured Sherlock Holmes (often against his will – public outcry was so great after Doyle had Holmes and Moriarty plunge off a cliff together that Holmes was forced to resurrect his famed detective in The Hound of the Baskervilles years later) in fifty-six short stories and four novels – a long and eventful life for a fictional character!

 

During the same years as his publication of Holmes’ adventures, Conan Doyle also worked on several historical novels, works which are commonly considered in academic circles his best, and were his favorite to write. Some of his historical novels include popular titles such as The White Company and Sir Nigel, both set in the Middle Ages. He also wrote dozens of short stories (some set in Napoleanic times), and even dramas for the stage. Later on in his life, Conan Doyle wrote the Challenger Series, a science fiction and fantasy series featuring Professor Challenger as the protagonist – a character that couldn’t be further from Sherlock Holmes if he tried! Where Holmes was calculating and quiet, Challenger was aggressive and hot-tempered. One could imagine writing about a character that was the antithesis of all that made Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes was a great enjoyment for Conan Doyle.

 

Similar to our main man Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (as he was knighted by the Queen in 1902) was one of the most prolific authors of the modern world. Not only that, but he was much involved in the justice system, fighting for those wrongly accused to be exonerated (succeeding in at least two cases, his work inspiring the setup of the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1907), and he was a staunch supporter of mandatory vaccinations! He stood for Parliament twice as a Liberal Unionist, and became a figurehead for the spiritualism movement that swept through England in the 1900s. While he was far from perfect (as we all are), he was certainly an intelligent, resilient individual who should go down in history for a lot more than simply inventing one of the most notable and fascinating characters of all time!

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