Thursday, February 08, 2007

Elementary, My Dear Watson

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport, you know, the outfit that is busily spawning casinos all over Britain to improve the culture of the nation, has just rejected pleas from the Victorian Society and the Sherlock Holmes aficionados to safeguard the future of Undershaw, the house that Conan Doyle built near Hindhead in Surrey. The place is falling apart at the seams and is badly in need of funds to preserve it. It was from here that he wrote the Hound of the Baskervilles, resurrected Sherlock Holmes from the Reichenbach Falls; campaigned for justice for the falsely accused solicitor George Edalji, and apparently attempted to learn the banjo. Whilst I can’t really approve of the latter, I heartily approve of his writing, of which there was much of significance besides Sherlock Holmes.

The rather odd reason for rejecting the request that the house be granted Grade One status and thus earmarked for preservation, is that, unlike Dickens or Jane Austen, he is not considered, by the committee for granting licences to casinos, as being of sufficient literary merit. And, of course, they should know how to hit a jackpot.

‘Literary Merit’ is, of course, very much a matter for individual perception. Personally I love Dickens and am bored to death by Austen. Recently she has been resuscitated by some excellent BBC adaptations of her work but for years, Sir Arthur’s output has required no such aid. His best known character, Holmes, has never been out of favour with readers and I am tempted to think that the museum at 221b Baker Street does a roaring trade compared with the Dickens Museum and Jane Austen’s in far-off Bath, probably exceeding their combined number of visitors.

And from a quality of writing standpoint, it would be hard to find anything to grizzle about with Doyle’s efforts. His handling of the short story in the Holmes genre is an object lesson to any writer, they can be read and re-read with pleasure and are never boring. Austen? Well, yawn……, I suppose so!

Clearly the government can’t go around rebuilding the house of every author, it’s the reason for rejection that struck me as being odd.

But no doubt Geoffrey Archer will be eager to get his name on the list or perhaps David Irving, just in case they get tired of building casinos and turn to writers to get rid of some public money.

I’m a little concerned about Sir Arthur and the banjo playing however. I always thought he was a spiritualist.


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