Doyle’s Posthumous Joke* or Holmes & Watson on Censorship

“It is one of the greatest accomplishments of an author to inspire his reader’s imagination. We can read the same story and because of the miracle of our uniqueness it lights up our imaginations differently.”

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were at the fire, smoking their post dinner pipes. Holmes opened a thin green-backed journal and quickly read through it, then addressed Watson.

“My dear fellow: it says here, I am not allowed to talk with historical figures, nor consort with women, or dance, nor play any of the music of the twentieth century! I do so love Gershwin and Ives. You know, for introspection, the Americans have topped the Germans. Watson this is appalling! Could these people have the ability to curtail my life this way?”

“Holmes, let me see that. It’s the Watsonian journal. What’s this? A journal in my name? If it wasn’t so funny, I’d cry. Maybe I should sue?”

“Watson, it says I deviate from canonical convention if I don’t follow these rules. The author quantifies how many times I take tobacco from my Persian slipper, that I laughed most in 1887, how many times I wore my dressing gown and which colour, even where your war wounds are! This is a serious idee fixe. Might even be mono mania. What do you say, Doctor?” He looked around. “Watson?”

Watson ran up the seventeen steps to the sitting room, returning from a phone call. “Holmes, I’m all set, I’ve engaged my solicitor, Clarence Darrow. He thinks it’s a joke, but might be worthy of a suit.”

“A man after my own heart.”

“Holmes, you have railed against Scotland Yarders who have no faculty of imagination, and shared with me that in your estimation it is one of the main ingredients for a successful detective. I find it is also necessary for a successful author.”

“Your success as an author is not in doubt, Watson. You do have some facility for imagination on the page, my friend.”

“It is one of the greatest accomplishments of an author to inspire his reader’s imagination. We can read the same story and because of the miracle of our uniqueness it lights up our imaginations differently. But you mentioned famous historical characters, Holmes?”

“Yes, this composition asserts that under no circumstances have you used them in your chronicles, but my memory serves up something else.”

“Holmes, are you sure this is about my stories? Right from the first one, A Study in Scarlet, I brought famous, historical characters into it: Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. These men are considered religious prophets: you can’t get more famous than that! My characters’ lives were endangered and compromised by their association with the Mormons.”

“I don’t think I’ve told you how proud I was of that one. Your first and one of your best.”

“Thank you, Holmes. In the Five Orange Pips I cast an historical and very real organization, the Ku Klux Klan as the villain. I even described how their name came about.”

“I think we can agree, Watson, that you are a courageous gentleman who rarely steps away from a good fight.”

“The story of the Scowrers of Vermissa, Pennsylvania, is about a real place, a real time, and a real people. The Pinkerton National Detective Agency featured in two of my stories. It was established in the United States by Scotsman Allan Pinkerton in 1850 around the assassination of President Lincoln. It employed women and Africans from its founding and became the largest private law enforcement organization in the world.” 

“I have a high regard for the Pinkertons.”

“In ‘The Adventure of the Second Stain,’ I placed a notable person in the centre of the story. A main character and though referred to as Prime Minister throughout, everyone knows William Ewart Gladstone is the PM. It’s his 3rd term! I didn’t think it necessary to spell it out.”

Holmes in his bedroom was exchanging his mouse grey dressing gown for white tie. “I think you have thoroughly made your case, Doctor. So, shall we go dancing? There’s a Cinderella Ball at the Langham tonight, and a bevy of beauties recently disembarked at Southampton from America. Watson, get dressed!”

AFTERWARD: Dr. John H. Watson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 60 (or 62) original Sherlock Holmes stories. That is it. Everything else is pastiche. Stories he inspired us to create from our imaginations. No matter how we categorize pastiche, they are all something else from the 60 stories Doyle created. I assert it is imagination and genius we ought to be lauding, as this is our true connection with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.

*I consider the fact that all Sherlock Holmes pastiche authors write historical novels a posthumous joke of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Published in the Fall 2020, Watsonian Literary Journal of the John H. Watson Society. It is a reply to Mr. Wolfe’s, “An Imitation Must Imitate” article in the 2020 Spring Watsonian Journal. If the purpose of writing is to inspire the reader, you have certainly done so, Sir.

Gretchen Altabef is an MX author of Sherlock Holmes novels. Mondadori Publishing has contracted to translate her novels into Italian. Ms. Altabef strives to emulate Dr. John Watson’s and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary style. The first, These Scattered Houses, is in Holmes’ own voice and resourcefully chronicles the last two months of his ‘great hiatus’. The second in the series is, Remarkable Power of Stimulus. After 3 years away, Holmes finds London awash in murders, No. 221B under siege, anarchists threatening Paris, and the return of Irene Adler. Fully aware he is being watched by Moriarty’s men, Holmes steps out of the cab into Baker Street knowing he will find Watson’s friendship and unerring aim are as dependable as the British Rail.

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