Review of 'Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die'

Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die by Alex Werner

sherlock_holmes_man_who_never_lived.jpg The “Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die” exhibit ran at the Museum of London between 17th October 2014 and 12th April 2015 bringing together a wealth of material related to the famous fictional detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This book to accompany the exhibition consists of a series of essays highlighting various aspects of Sherlock Holmes accompanied by numerous illustrations:

  • A Case of [Mistaken?] Identity: Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes and Fin de Siècle London (by David Cannadine) - This initial article discusses the cultural and physical contexts of the Sherlock Holmes stories in late 19th century London as well as introducing us to the man behind the stories. This sets the scene for the articles to follow. An interesting point is that towards the end of his life Doyle was writing stories about Holmes set 30 or so years before so were very much anachronistic at the time they were published yet still remained popular.
  • The 'Bohemian Habits' of Sherlock Holmes: (by John Stokes) - An introduction to what is meant by “Bohemianism” in the context of the Sherlock Holmes mythos suggesting that Holmes was very much a Bohemian in that he refused to abide by societal norms of Victorian England. This covers various aspects of his personality including: “Wandering” (Holmes was never one to be confined to London), “Timing” (ignoring the pressures of time thrust upon the individual by society), “Lodging” (the life of a bachelor), “Eating and Drinking” (enjoying oneself when partaking rather than making it all formal), “Acting” (playing with identity of which Holmes was a master, taking on numerous disguises in solving the crime), “Lounging, loafing, loitering – and idling” (Holmes did a lot of this), and, finally, “Moving On” (ever moving onto something else rather than dwelling in one's present).
  • Holme's Central London in Photographs and Postcards - A series of interesting photographs and postcards of London from the period in which the stories are set.
  • Sherlock Holmes, Sidney Paget and the Strand Magazine (by Alex Werner) - A history of the Strand magazine in which many of the stories are set. The Strand was a cheap, disposable magazine suited for a city very much on the move with a readership who were interested in an easy to read, quick distraction in their busy lives. This format meant that long stories published serially were not as popular as short, self-contained stories which Doyle was only to happy to provide with Sherlock Holmes becoming the primary draw for Strand readers. This article ends with a discussion of Sidney Paget's striking art created for the stories that undeniably captured the essence of Holmes and are what we often picture when thinking of the man.
  • A Day with Sherlock Holmes (by Harry How, from the Strand magazine) - A light article from the Strand magazine from a writer who spent the day with Conan Doyle (and his wife) to see what drives him to write his famous stories.
  • The Art of Sherlock Holmes: The air of London is the sweeter for my presence (by Pat Hardy) - A rather involved article about the art created in the London of Sherlock Holmes featuring some striking images of a city on the cusp of substantial change.
  • Alvin Langdon Coburn's London - A series of artistic photographs from the period by Alvin Langdon. These are dark, moody and oddly evocative of the era.
  • Throwaway Holmes (by Clare Pettit) - An article discussing how Doyle seemed to be so obviously determined to rid himself of his most successful creation most notably with his “killing off” of Holmes at “Reichenbach Falls” in “The Final Problem”. Doyle seemed to resent the insatiable demand of the public for more Holmes stories, not wanting to be limited to a single character yet returning time and time to him.
  • Maps of Sherlock Holme's London - A series of maps from the period showing the layout and demographics of a city very much in change. This includes a series of maps from “Charles Booth” in his “Descriptive Map of London Poverty” with coloured sections indicating the relative wealth of various residents of the city.
  • Silent Sherlocks: Holmes and Early Cinema (by Nathalie Morris) - This tells the story of the early Sherlock Holmes films as Doyle's work was transferred to the screen following initial appearances in various plays. What is evident is that there have always been two ways Holmes appeared in the media: As an adoption of one of the Doyle's stories or as a completely new story invented for the character. It always seems to be the character that is the primary focus appearing in both Victorian and contemporary guise.
  • Holmes at the Cinema and on TV - A final pictorial section covering the various appearances of Holmes on the silver screen ending with the contemporary “Sherlock” BBC series, the American “Elementary” series, and the films staring Robert Downey Jr.

This book is a great overview of “Sherlock Holmes” covering many aspects of the character and the author behind it. It contains exhaustive details but also copious amounts of illustrations to keep the reader engaged. Articles are of a reasonable length that they can be taken in quite easily.

I picked this book up having attended the rather crowded exhibition at the Museum of London and feeling that I had not really been able to absorb what I had seen. This book really brought the character to life for me and helped me better appreciate the oeuvre of Sherlock Holmes including the context in which it was written. Most definitely recommended for fans of the stories, plays or films…

Rating: “Nearly perfect, but not quite”

Review Date: 2021-05-03

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Ebury Publishing

Publication Date: 2014

ISBN: 9780091958725