Wednesday, May 29, 2013

51. Something Borrowed


“You can understand that, with my routine of work, I should find myself on familiar terms with half the rogues' gallery.”
“The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone”

The war years were particularly hard for Conan Doyle. The death of his son Kingsley, his brother Innes, two of his brothers-in-law and his two nephews shortly after the war had left him paralyzed with grief and depression and reduced his normally voluminous output to just a few scattered poems and stories, with the most substantial output reserved for non-fiction works (such as 1918’s The New Revelation and 1919’s The Vital Message) devoted to the Spiritualist movement, which had grown from a passing interest to something of an obsession, no doubt fueled by his grief. By 1921, Conan Doyle was back at his usual pace and back with new ideas for Holmes. In October, “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” appeared in the Strand, the first new tale of Holmes since “His Last Bow” appeared in 1917.

“Mazarin Stone,” for those who followed the canon or Conan Doyle’s prolific writings at the time, was something of a curiosity. For it was in fact not the first new tale of Holmes since “His Last Bow”—that distinction belonged to a one-act play, The Crown Diamond, which debuted at the Bristol Hippodrome the previous May. Motivated, perhaps, by William Gillette’s recent successes with a revival of Sherlock Holmes on English stages in 1915, Conan Doyle had quickly written and arranged for the production. It had closed by October, when “Mazarin Stone,” nearly identical to The Crown Diamond, appeared in published form, its stage directions now appearing as third-person narration, linking it, narratively anyway, to “His Last Bow.”

While it is unknown whether Conan Doyle was unsatisfied with the production or had a change-of-heart regarding the genre or how he would prefer his new Holmes material to appear to the public, the idea of “recycling” elements was nothing new for the author. In fact, in one of the more rigorous examinations of the canon which appeared in Modern Language Quarterly in 1947, John Robert Moore noted:

As he grew “weary of inventing plots,” [Conan Doyle] made excursions into journalism and history, and into fiction based on history or autobiography or medical case history, spiritualism or psychology or scientific fantasy, character analysis or domestic manners, political allegory or athletic sports. But again and again he came back to Sherlock Holmes, and it is as an artist in the handling of plots that he is remembered […] For his own stories the commonest source was his personal experiences-as a medical student, as a young physician in England or on an Arctic whaler or a ship for the Guinea Coast, as a newspaper correspondent in Africa, or as a spiritualist. Occasionally an event was so slackly transformed into fiction that the autobiographical record makes better reading. Sometimes he reworked an incident from one of his earlier stories…the gramophone which is mistaken for a human voice in “The Japanned Box” becomes the gramophone which substitutes for the violin of Holmes in “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone”; and the wax dummy of Holmes does double duty in "The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone" and “The Adventure of the Empty House.”

Indeed, these particular borrowings and the most interesting twists of “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” are those best suited for the stage and one can picture oneself quite easily amid the gasping audience. 

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