Why Does It Have To Be Original?
An extract taken from âOnly Connectâ written by Director of The Conan Doyle Estate and Step Great Grandson of Arthur Conan Doyle - Richard Pooley.Â
Richard was interviewed by historian Lucy Worsley which features in the three-hour, three-episode BBC television documentary on Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. âKilling Sherlockâ.Â
âIs it original?â the member of the film crew asked me.
âBeautiful handwriting. And so easy to read.â
âYes, and no crossing-outs. In all the letters he wrote âŚ thousands to all sorts of people...youâll hardly find any crossing-outs. He had a very ordered mind."
She wasnât listening to my wittering. âCan I pick it up?â
She slid her hand under the little letter and lifted it off the table. She placed a finger against the top of the brown-yellowed paper, presumably so as not to touch any ink, and deftly turned over the first page to look at the next two.
The content of the first page had not seemed to interest her, even though it contained a line which still shocks me however many times I read it. It was the same with the other pages. She scanned them swiftly, whispered a quiet âWow!â and let the letter slip off her palm on to the table. Her reverence for this piece of paper was palpable.
We were in a Victorian-era country house hotel on the edge of the New Forest in England. I was about to be interviewed by historian Lucy Worsley for a three-hour, three-episode BBC television documentary on Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes.*Â
The producer wanted me to talk about Doyleâs relationship with his mother, Mary, focusing on the letters about his Sherlock Holmes stories that he wrote to her between October 1891 and April 1893. Even though âA Scandal in Bohemiaâ, the first of these stories, had, unlike two previous Holmes novels, brought him instant fame and much-needed fortune in July 1891, he was telling her just three months later that: âI think of slaying Holmes...& winding him up for good & all. He takes my mind from better things.âÂ
On 6 January 1892 he wrote: âSo now a long farewell to Sherlock...He still lives however, thanks to your entreaties.â Clearly, she had kept begging him not to kill off Holmes. She must have seen what her son could not: that he had created someone and something totally new and fascinating. So much more enthralling to Victorian readers than his painstakingly-researched historical novels. We donât know exactly what her arguments were (though we can be sure that one was financial); whilst she kept all his letters to her, he only kept a few from her to him. It is largely thanks to her âentreatiesâ that it took almost another two years and twelve more Holmes stories before Doyle sent Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, plummeting to their (apparent) deaths at the Reichenbach Falls in âThe Final Problem.â
But none of that seemed to have been of great interest to the member of the film crew. I am sure she appreciated that the letterâs contents made it both financially and historically valuable. But her reverential âWow!â came from somewhere else.
Why do we so value, worship even, the original? The BBC producer had insisted that Worsley and I have Doyleâs original letters in front of us; that I read from the originals or handed them over for her to read. You donât need to have the original in your hands to make the same observations I made to Worsley and to the member of her film crew. A good copy would have sufficed. Itâs true that it makes a difference when you can see how someone writes. You donât need to be a graphologist to make a few shrewd guesses about the writerâs personality. But you donât have to see the original to make those guessesâŚ
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