Friday, June 29, 2012

The Great Hiatus (1) - Stranded Holmesless.

The Classic Holmes by  Paget, 1891.

Readers of the December, 1893, issue of The Strand Magazine were abandoned at the close of The Final Problem, left perhaps to recall nostalgically that classic pose Sidney Paget had drawn for The Man With The Twisted Lip but two years before - an image of the now dead detective in apotheosis, clad in his trademark dressing gown, musing perhaps prophetically on the congenial, if fatal, conclusion to his career.

Conan Doyle's last story had of course been handed to the editor, H. Greenhough Smith, months earlier. On April 6, having returned to Norwood from a visit to Switzerland (and Reichenbach) he sat in his study, with a head cold, vaguely reading Pride and Prejudice as painters erected ladders outside. Abandoning the Austen, he wrote to the Ma'am:

"All is very well down here. I am in the middle of the last Holmes story after which the gentleman vanishes, never to return! I am weary of his name."

The day before Robert Louis Stevenson had written from Samoa, ironically to compliment Doyle on his creation. Doyle replied:

"I trust that I may never write a word about him again."

(Of course, he would: the story would be revised after his visit to the Reichenbach Falls that Summer.)

From the point of view of The Strand, Doyle's decision was alarming. Holmes and his creator had been with the magazine since its inception in July, 1891 and, thus far, the partnership had rewarded both sides handsomely.
H. Greenhough Smth.

Doyle's motivation is revealed in his 1924 Memories and Adventures:
"A number of monthly magazines were coming out at that time, notable among which was the Strand, under the very capable editorship of Greenhough Smith. Considering these various journals with their disconnected stories it had struck me that a single character running through a series, if it only engaged the attention of the reader, would bind that reader to that particular magazine ... Looking around for my central character, I felt that Sherlock Holmes, who I had already handled in two little books, would easily lend himself to a succession of short stories".

For A Scandal in Bohemia and the five succeeding stories (written between April and August, 1891) Doyle was paid an average of £35 each, less agent's fee. He had not intended to write more.

By October, seeing the popularity of Sherlock Holmes and his positive impact on circulation, The Strand was in a flat panic for more so that the series might continue into 1892, uninterrupted. He writes to the Ma'am on 14 October:

"The Strand are simply imploring me to continue Holmes...I will write by this post to say that if they offer me £50 each irrespective of length , I may be induced to reconsider my refusal. Seems rather high-handed, does it not?"

Not to The Strand who replied by return of post and asked when they could have the new stories.

If the magazine felt Holmes had thus been secured for the long-term, Doyle had no such intention.By 11 November, having written five of the second set of six, he confided to the Ma'am:

"I think of slaying Holmes in the last and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things."

"You won't! You can't! You mustn't!" she scolded.

And, of course, Doyle proceeded to write The Copper Beeches based on an idea first suggested by the Ma'am.

February, 1892: "They have been bothering me for more Sherlock Holmes tales. Under pressure I offered to do a dozen for a thousand pounds, but I sincerely hope they won't accept it now."

By Summer he had completed only the first three Memoirs. Silver Blaze headed the second series of twelve adventures in December and (with The Naval Treaty divided between October and November) exactly a year later, Holmes's death was sprung on an unsuspecting public. 

The Strand lost 20,000 subscriptions.

Seven and a half years (or 91 issues) issues later, 30,000 new subscriptions were taken out as a result of the serialization of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

In 1903, ten years to the month since Doyle wrote The Final Problem, he completed The Empty House, acknowledging his debt to Jean for the idea. In early Spring, an offer too tempting to refuse had come from America:- $5000 for each of 6 stories (or as many as he was prepared to write). And George Newnes, owner of The Strand bought the English rights with a similarly lavish advance.

For Holmes what has been termed "The Great Hiatus" had ended. For The Strand, it meant instant release from the pressure of finding stories that might appeal to fill each monthly issue.

An examination of the contents of the magazine over the 91 'Holmesless' issues shows a continuing reliance on the name of Conan Doyle and illustrator, Sidney Paget.


 Brigadier Gerard, Rodney Stone,Tragedy of the Korosko, non-Canonical short stories and non-fictional articles bridge the hiatus...but the subscription figures quoted speak for themselves. These were no substitute for  what today we should term the "cash cow" that is Sherlock Holmes.

Nor were contributions from other authors enough to quell the decade-long clamour to bring back Holmes. Hornung and Wells (including The First Men in the Moon) join The Strand stable to little appreciable effect.

Greatest sympathy must surely go to those writers who attempted directly to fill the yawning gap left in detective fiction. Pity especially the best of Doyle's imitators during the fallow years - Arthur Morrison, who had the unenviable honour of launching his new detective, Martin Hewitt, but three months after The Final Problem.

Morrison's detective was ordinary, short, good-tempered and got on well with the police. His novel characteristic was to operate in a grey area where he sometimes bordered on the criminal himself. Three volumes of Hewitt stories were published. The first (The Lenton Croft Robberies) may be read on-line with Sidney Paget's illustrations.


It must have been a strange experience indeed for the illustrator to turn his imagination from Holmes to Hewitt so abruptly and one would dearly love to know just what were his private thoughts.

The works of Arthur Morrison are available to read on line:


His best work is the novel A Child of the Jago, a graphic account of life in the East End, largely based on the true story of Old Nichol Street Rookery.
As his portrait above perhaps shows, Morrison was of a shy, reticent nature (the opposite of Conan Doyle). In 1914, he retired  from writing into 30 years of obscurity, having sold his astounding art collection of Japanese prints for £4000 to the British Museum.

Though he is now remembered for his collection and two-volume work, The Painters of Japan, he failed, even in dying, to imitate Conan Doyle with any success - for it is said that when he died in 1945 the World was more astonished to learn that he was still living than that he was dead.

Perhaps Arthur Morrison was destined just to keep a candle burning in the dead of night pending a new Sherlockian Dawn.

                    The BBC produced an excellent collection of The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes from 1971. All episodes of Series 1 may be viewed on Youtube. Here is a link to one of the Martin Hewitt stories dramatised; the others may easily be found once you are at this linkpage THE RIVALS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

"It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but that you are a conductor of light".  (Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles).