One of the pleasures of summer reading – or of any season for that matter – is settling in with a quirky but capable detective who will unravel the tangled threads and right the wrongs of modern life.
One can debate who originated the modern detective story – Poe? Gaboriau? Collins? – but there is little doubt that Arthur Conan Doyle created the world’s first Great Detective. In Sherlock Holmes he created a character who was immediately popular and who, over a hundred years later, still fascinates us. Doyle’s Holmes novels and short stories have been constantly in print and have been repeatedly the subject for theatre, film and television versions. After illustrator Sidney Paget established the character in the original publications, actors William Gillette, Basil Rathbone, and Jeremy Brett personified Holmes for several generations. Now Robert Downey, Jr. (film), Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC) and Jonny Lee Miller (CBS) are providing updated spins on the character.
Holmes is also part of the Walter Havighurst Special Collections, most notably in our collection of The Strand Magazine (our holdings start with volume 1 in 1891 and run to 1928). After publishing two Holmes novels elsewhere, the new Strand Magazine became Doyle’s publisher of choice for his Holmes short stories and two later novels, beginning with A Scandal in Bohemia in the July 1891 issue. Ten years later The Strand began serializing the classic novel Hound of the Baskervilles. The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place was the last Holmes story to be published there in April of 1927. Although you can find a variety of Sherlock Holmes volumes in the Miami University Libraries and online, there is a special thrill to reading them as they were initially read, for the very first time, with the classic Sidney Paget illustrations.
Among some Holmsiana miscellanea, including a copy of the novel The Sign of the Four entirely in Gregg’s shorthand (!), a highlight is an offprint from the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America titled Sherlock Holmes, Rare Book Collector: A Study in Book Detection, by Madeleine B. Stern (1953). This tongue-in-cheek essay by the great 20th century dealer reconstructs Holmes’ library at 221B Baker Street based on references in the stories and a little deductive reasoning of her own.
Arthur Conan Doyle was a prolific writer who authored a wide variety of novels and short stories distinct from the Sherlock Holmes canon. Yet it is with the Great Detective that Doyle’s fame was established and remains today. If you only know Holmes and Watson from TV and the movies, give the original versions a try. There’s a reason these stories have remained in print for a hundred years.
After all, it’s summer.
Assistant Dean for Technical Services and
Head, Special Collections & Archives