A “lost” first novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, has finally been published – 128 years after it was written.
The Narrative of John Smith provides a fascinating glimpse into the young writer’s mind.
However, it also reveals that, as a young man, Conan Doyle found the creation of first-rate fiction far from elementary.
The book’s manuscript formed part of a collection of private papers that emerged at auction in 2004 and was bought by the British Library for nearly £1 million. The work has now been transcribed and typeset for worldwide release.
Many years after writing The Narrative, Conan Doyle said he would be horrified if the book appeared in print. But academics have defended the publication because of its contribution to understanding his later work.
Conan Doyle was living and working as a doctor in Portsmouth when he embarked on the novel in 1883. He had started writing short stories and submitting them to magazines to supplement his income.
But he was frustrated by the Victorian practice of omitting the author’s name – especially when one of his works in The Cornhill was hailed as being by Robert Louis Stevenson.
For that reason, he attempted a novel, which would have his name on the cover.
He then suffered a major blow when the manuscript of The Narrative got lost in the post, never to be found again.
So he rewrote it from memory – the result of which is thought to be the 130-page manuscript.
Although the novel suffers from a lack of plot, it does conjure a world of boarding houses and pipe-smoking, which fans of Holmes will recognise.
Conan Doyle called it a novel with a “personal-social-political complexion” and it hints at themes that would appear in the Holmes books. – Belfast Telegraph