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On Conan Doyle: Or the Whole Art of Storytelling (Writers on Writers)by Michael Dirda
Synopses & Reviews
In 1880 a young medical student named Arthur Conan Doyle embarked upon the and#8220;first real outstanding adventureand#8221; of his life, taking a berth as shipand#8217;s surgeon on an Arctic whaler, the Hope. The voyage took him to unknown regions, showered him with dramatic and unexpected experiences, and plunged him into dangerous work on the ice floes of the Arctic seas. He tested himself, overcame the hardships, and, as he wrote later, and#8220;came of age at 80 degrees north latitude.and#8221;
Conan Doyleand#8217;s time in the Arctic provided powerful fuel for his growing ambitions as a writer. With a ghost story set in the Arctic wastes that he wrote shortly after his return, he established himself as a promising young writer. A subsequent magazine article laying out possible routes to the North Pole won him the respect of Arctic explorers. And he would call upon his shipboard experiences many times in the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, who was introduced in 1887and#8217;s A Study in Scarlet.
Out of sight for more than a century was a diary that Conan Doyle kept while aboard the whaler. Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure makes this account available for the first time in a beautiful facsimile edition that reproduces Conan Doyleand#8217;s notebook pages in his own elegant hand, accompanied by his copious illustrations. With humor and grace, Conan Doyle provides a vivid account of a long-vanished way of life at sea. His careful detailing of the experience of arctic whaling is equal parts fascinating and alarming, revealing the dark workings of the later days of the British whaling industry. In addition to the facsimile and annotated transcript of the diary, the volume contains photographs of the Hope, its captain, and a young Conan Doyle on deck with its officers; two nonfiction pieces by Doyle about his experiences; and two of his tales inspired by the journey.
To the end of his life, Conan Doyle would look back on this experience with awe: and#8220;You stand on the very brink of the unknown,and#8221; he declared, and#8220;and every duck that you shoot bears pebbles in its gizzard which come from a land which the maps know not. It was a strange and fascinating chapter of my life.and#8221; Only now can the legion of Conan Doyle fans read and enjoy that chapter.
A special limited, numbered edition of the clothbound book is also available. In addition, a text-only e-book edition isand#160;published as Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure, Text-only Edition.
"In light but authoritative fashion, Dirda expands on this lifelong bibliophilic affair, from the pleasures of seeking out the master's extra-Sherlockian adventure stories to his induction into the Baker Street Irregulars." --Andrew Lycett, The Telegraph
"In remembering and reflecting upon his own first excitements as a reader, Dirda is infectious." --Larry McMurty, Harper's Magazine
"Why do so many people have such an undying fondness for the gaslit world of Holmes and Watson? Dirda offers many reasons: One is that Conan Doyle's writing possesses a quality he calls "compulsive readability." --Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times
"Throughout the book, Dirda shares his joy and excitement throughout his life at discovering new Doyle facts. Dirda has been such an outspoken fan that in 2002 he was inducted into the exclusive Sherlock society, The Baker Street Irregulars. If you aren’t already a Doyle fan, this book will turn you into one." --Diane Prokop, Portland Book Review
"Imagine having a really unbelievably well-read friend, who likes the same stuff that you do but is able to articulate why he loves it so much better than you can. And while explaining it points you at a hundred books and authors you'd love but haven't heard of or have never got around to reading. And who makes you feel, by the end of his explanation, as if you've been inaugurated into a secret society of people who love what can be done with words. And somewhere on the way he will teach you everything you need to know about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Sherlock Holmes, and the mysteries of The Baker Street Irregulars. That's who Michael Dirda is, and that's what this book does."--Neil Gaiman
"Michael Dirda is a very dangerous man. His delight--his life's work--is to declare his adoration for some literary gem with such passion, and such precision, we cannot help being infected. On Conan Doyle traces the arc of one such love affair, from a childhood flashlit encounter with A Gigantic Hound to black-tie dinners with The Baker Street Irregulars. The danger, of course, is that once we read this seductive love letter, we'll end up enthralled not just with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but also with Michael Dirda."--Laurie R. King
"It isn't often that I have sat and read 45,000 words nonstop. But like an old-style bookman, Michael Dirda is both erudite and deeply entertaining. He reminds us that Arthur Conan Doyle was not just the creator of the most famous character in modern literature, but also one of the finest writers of the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Packed with critical insights and personal observations, On Conan Doyle may be a small book but it deserves a very large audience."--Michael F. Whelan, head of The Baker Street Irregulars
"This is a much-needed guide to the life and works of Arthur Conan Doyle. He has long been regarded as little more than the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but Michael Dirda's book proves that he was a far more important literary figure than that. Dirda brings considerable Sherlockian and Doylean experience to the table and, as a Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic, he also draws on a lifetime of diverse reading."--Christopher Roden, founder of The Arthur Conan Doyle Society
A passionate lifelong fan of the Sherlock Holmes adventures, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda is a member of The Baker Street Irregulars--the most famous and romantic of all Sherlockian groups. Combining memoir and appreciation, On Conan Doyle is a highly engaging personal introduction to Holmes's creator, as well as a rare insider's account of the curiously delightful activities and playful scholarship of The Baker Street Irregulars.
Because Arthur Conan Doyle wrote far more than the mysteries involving Holmes, this book also introduces readers to the author's lesser-known but fascinating writings in an astounding range of other genres. A prolific professional writer, Conan Doyle was among the most important Victorian masters of the supernatural short story, an early practitioner of science fiction, a major exponent of historical fiction, a charming essayist and memoirist, and an outspoken public figure who attacked racial injustice in the Congo, campaigned for more liberal divorce laws, and defended wrongly convicted prisoners. He also wrote novels about both domestic life and contemporary events (including one set in the Middle East during an Islamic uprising), as well as a history of World War I, and, in his final years, controversial tracts in defense of spiritualism.
On Conan Doyle describes all of these achievements and activities, uniquely combining skillful criticism with the story of Dirda's deep and enduring affection for Conan Doyle and his work. This is a book for everyone who already loves Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and the world of 221B Baker Street, or for anyone who would like to know more about them, but it is also a much-needed celebration of Arthur Conan Doyle's genius for every kind of storytelling.
About the Author
Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic and longtime book columnist for the "Washington Post". He is the author of four collections of essays, "Readings", "Bound to Please", "Book by Book", and "Classics for Pleasure", as well as the memoir "An Open Book". A lifelong Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle fan, he was inducted into The Baker Street Irregulars in 2002.
Table of Contents
Preface "You Know My Methods, Watson" ix
"A Hound It Was" 1
"A Most Dark and Sinister Business" 16
"The Lost World" 32
"Twilight Tales" 50
"Steel True, Blade Straight" 74
"I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere" 98
"It Is the Unofficial Force" 126
"I Play the Game for the Game's Own Sake" 140
"A Case for Langdale Pike" 149
"A Series of Tales" 169
"Good Night, Mister Sherlock Holmes" 188
Appendix "Education Never Ends, Watson" 203
Biographical Note 210
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