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Why was Holmes resurrected?

Following on from my post about fan influence, it has been suggested to me that Sherlock Holmes was resurrected due to fan interest/influence. This is not quite true.

If Arthur Conan Doyle had been so influenced by his fans he would never have sent Holmes to his "death". In fact, he chose to do so at a time when Sherlock Holmes was immensely popular. Why? He was tired of the demand for more stories and wanted to do other things. In this case the fans influenced Holmes's end.

The Fall
He had only written as many stories as he had because the money had been good and he was, at that stage, only finding his feet as a professional writer. At the time of The Final Problem Conan Doyle had been a professional writer for under three years and nothing else he had written had done anywhere near as well as Holmes.

It was not until 1897 that a significant return of Holmes was contemplated by ACD and it was done purely and simply for the money. He was short of funds at the time due to the enormous costs he had incurred looking after his seriously ill wife - taking her to Switzerland and Egypt for their respective climates and medical facilities - and the building of his new Surrey home - Undershaw. His writing in the interim had been irregular (no pun intended) and certainly not as lucrative. Funds were low and the only way he knew to bring in good sums quickly was to dust down Holmes.

He shunned the written story medium though and instead went for a play which committed him to nothing as far as short stories were concerned. The play written, it was dispatched to Charles Frohman who handed it to William Gillette who redrafted it.

William Gillette

In 1900 ACD went to South Africa to work as a doctor in The Boer War. He wrote while there but did so sporadically and produced no money spinners. During his return to England he talked with Daily Express journalist Bertram Fletcher Robinson about Dartmoor legends and ghostly hounds and the two men agreed to go golfing together in 1901 to discuss it further.

In April 1901 they did just that and conceived the story The Hound of the Baskervilles which was going to be a joint effort and an out-and-out supernatural tale. ACD approached the Strand to describe it as such and state it would be a collaboration. He was offered a per word rate accordingly.

It was some little time later that the two men realised that they could not stretch the idea to a full novel and between them they hit upon the idea of making a crime story with a supernatural element to it. ACD, rather than creating a new detective, knew that using Holmes would bring in the cash and wrote to the Strand to enquire if the rate previously offered would be doubled if he made it a Holmes story. The answer was yes.

So, again, Holmes came back only because of money. ACD knew that interest in Holmes was already ramped up as a result of the William Gillette play (based on his original) which had already done very well in the US and was due to début in the UK that same year. It was a perfect time to churn out a story and capitalise on the extra hype.

The story was billed as having taken place prior to Holmes's "death", to avoid ACD being committed to further adventures, and was ultimately serialised in the Strand in parallel to the the play's run at the Lyceum Theatre in London. That was clearly no coincidence.

Holmes then went quiet again for two years. In 1903 Norman Hapgood of US publication Collier's Weekly offered ACD stupid money to bring Holmes back for eight stories (later increased) and ACD agreed. Again it was only for the money, it was not a direct result of pleading fans.

Please come back Mr Holmes!

Yes, fan interest in the stories and the detective meant the prices on offer were high but, ultimately it was the cash that tempted ACD not the idea of pleasing fans of Holmes. Fan influence in this sense can best be described as indirect.


Written by Alistair Duncan
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6 comments:

  1. Hm. Fan influence, though indirect, was the only reason for him writing again, I suppose. Yes, as opposed to today, fans had not so easy access to the writer but had to go through the publisher, but the publisher wouldn't have had any inkling of the fans' wishes had they not made them known.

    I imagine that apart from waning or increasing turnover whether or not there was a new Holmes story, fans may have written to the publisher to demand more of what they liked.

    But unlike today they probably just said, "More, more, more..." not detailing *what* exactly they wanted, like "give us Johnlock!" ;-)

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  2. Oi. Quit commenting and start writing.... ;-)

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    1. Oyvay, there starts the harassing and wipping.... ;-)

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  3. We do have to thank the influence of one fan, Doyle's mother, for keeping Holmes alive as far as "The Final Problem". Doyle was thinking of ending Holmes at the end of the first twelve stories. When Arthur wrote Mary Doyle of his plan, she asked him not to and even gave her son the idea that became "The Copper Beeches".

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  4. Well written. From what I've read of Doyle I've always felt that no one but himself & his needs influenced really anything that Doyle did over his lifetime (that may sound a but harsh but truly I'm not trying to insult the man just describe him according to the accounts I've seen ;) ).

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