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The Narrative of John Smith by Arthur Conan…

The Narrative of John Smith

by Arthur Conan Doyle

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"The choice of inanimate companions is to my mind only second to that of animate ones. Show me a man's chambers and I'll give you a pretty fair estimate of his intellect and capacity. What the eye rests upon, the mind will dwell upon. It is easier to think daintily in a parlor than in an attic." - The Narrative of John Smith, p. 16

So sayeth our opinionated Mr. John Smith and so we can imagine a similar perspective spouted off by none other than the infinitely recreated and remarkably popular Sherlock Holmes. I think this is what I particularly enjoyed about this work; while, on the surface, it is a collection of opinions, beliefs, and ideals of the elderly everyman, Mr. John Smith, a man laid up with gout for a week and urged to pen and ink to pass the time by his physician, it is also a remarkable wealth of semi-autobiographical information concerning the young man that would introduce Sherlock to the world only a few years later in [b:A Study in Scarlet|102868|A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes, #1)|Arthur Conan Doyle|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348362236s/102868.jpg|1997473].

Written in 1883 when Arthur Conan Doyle was 23 years old, The Narrative of John Smith was Conan Doyle's first attempt at a novel. At this time a novel was the holy grail to the Southsea physician. Having had several short stories published in popular magazines and journals, regularly and frustratingly anonymously, Conan Doyle knew he would need to set himself to writing a novel in order to gain a name for himself. While he possessed a solid education and his own practice by this time, his passion was writing and books as evidenced by both interviews and his later work [b:Through The Magic Door|1503577|Through The Magic Door|Arthur Conan Doyle|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348405412s/1503577.jpg|1495045] (1907) as an art form/form of expression, intellectual stimulant, and comfort.

While The Narrative remains unfinished after being rewritten by Conan Doyle post being lost on its way to the publisher, it possesses many perspectives that, once burgeoned and fleshed out, would appear in later works. Though he never sent this rewrite back out into the publishing world and, in an article titled 'My First Book' in The Idler in 1893, said:

"I must in all honesty confess that my shock at its disappearance would be as nothing to my horror if it were suddenly to appear again - in print."

implying he was happy to set aside this endeavor for other things and was possibly aware of its shortcomings when compared to later work, The Narrative provides a wealth of clues concerning his development as a writer as well as to the man behind the often eclipsing Sherlock. For those fans of the famous sleuth, I certainly recommend this unfinished novel as a particularly enjoyable way to sleuth and sup on those clues.

I was equally impressed by the Notes and Introduction by Jon Lellenburg, Daniel Stashower, and Rachel Foss. They have done a good job of including interesting and little known (to me) snippets of Conan Doyle's influences, experiences, and relationships.

While it is an unpolished work in progress that abruptly ends, The Narrative is an entertaining enough read. John Smith may ramble on a bit but there is humor and intellect apparent in his rambling. All said, however, those that might be most interested in this work will be those who want to learn more about author rather than subject. ( )
  lamotamant | Sep 22, 2016 |
Significant as Doyle's first novel, though it was never published until recently. The original manuscript was lost by the British Postal Service on its way to the publisher. No second copy so Doyle spent the rest of his life recreating the story from memory. He never did finish the rewrite and apparently thought that was for the best.That copy too, was thought to be lost, but recently recovered. The novel itself is not a story as much as Doyle's discourse on various subjects, religion, colonialism, etc. It is worth reading as an introduction to the young Doyle's thinking and subsequent growth as seen in his later works. ( )
  thosgpetri | Jul 13, 2016 |
This edition is all that remains of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first attempt at writing a novel; the complete manuscript being lost in the post, en route to the publishers. Having no other copy (these were the days before backup hard drives and printers of course), he resolved to re-write the novel from scratch. Which he in part did, completing the first five chapters before abandoning the project on the sixth.
In this novel, Doyle strongly adheres to the axiom “write what you know”. In what seems more akin to a biographical piece, he gives us his thoughts (albeit via the fictional character John Smith) on a wide range of subjects - be it medical, art, literature, religion or war.
The medical bits seemed a bit too bogged down in detail for my liking (but that is no doubt down to my ignorance on the subject and nothing less), but the rest was easy to follow. The conversations held between the main character, John Smith and the old campaigner who lived upstairs, proved to be a highlight for me.
Instead of completing a novel that he knew wasn’t working, Doyle instead chose to let the parts he liked slowly filter into his subsequent stories (something that Douglas Adams would come to do with his own unpublished material, nigh on a century later), with the novel ‘The Stark Munro Letters’ and the short stories that made up ‘Round The Red Lamp’ benefiting most.
Unfortunately the most damning verdict I can give on this novel is that it cut off suddenly mid-point and I did not mind in the least. If that had occurred with any of Conan Doyle's other novels, it would surely have affected me a lot more.
( )
  71psh | Mar 30, 2013 |
This is supposed to be Conan Doyle's first book, the only copy of which was lost in the post and never recovered, rewritten from memory and found upon his death. It was recently published (2011) by the British Museum which purchased it at auction.

Not a mystery or adventure story but a long rambling philosophy supposedly narrated by John Smith to his doctor and friends. I actually found it quite interesting. ( )
  GTTexas | Jun 30, 2012 |
Arthur Conan Doyle's first novel, written in 1883 and lost in the mail on its way to the publisher (the uncompleted text we have was rewritten from memory), The Narrative of John Smith was first published in 2010 by the British Library, which acquired the manuscript in 2004. The edition was edited and introduced by Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower, and Rachel Foss, who provide a very good background essay and a series of explanatory annotations to show how ideas, concepts and even specific turns of phrase first deployed here find their way into Conan Doyle's later, better-known writings.

The narrative itself is less than exciting; a middle-aged man, confined to his room for a week by gout, engages in a series of ruminations and descriptions: he provides a minute tour of his room and its furnishings, muses on the neighbors across the street and those who share his building, and discourses (mostly with himself, but occasionally with his visiting doctor) on all manner of topics. Not a whole lot happens, and the fragmentary nature of the rewritten text prevents much narrative flow from getting underway. Not to mention, of course, the fact that the novel remains unfinished.

But, there are diamonds in this rough: the style that those of us who enjoy Conan Doyle's stories know and love shines through in more than a few places. Some of those I noted particularly:

- describing the lot of a young writer: "The articles which I sent forth came back to me at times with a rapidity and accuracy which spoke well for our postal arrangements. If they had been paper boomerangs they could not have returned more infallibly to their unhappy dispatcher" (p. 29)

- on books: "There should be a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Books. I hate to see the poor patient things knocked about and disfigured. A book is a mummifed soul embalmed in morocco leather and printer's ink instead of cerecloths and unguents. It is the concentrated essence of a man. Poor Horatius Flaccus has turned to an impalpable power by this time, but there is his very sprit stuck like a fly in amber, in that brown-backed volume in the corner. A line of books should make a man subdued and reverent. If he cannot learn to treat them with becoming decency he should be forced" (p. 19)

- a tour round his flat: "And then the knick-knacks! Those are the things which give the individuality to a room - the flotsam and jetsam which a man picks up carelessly at first, but which soon drift into his heart. If it conduces to comfort to have these little keepsakes of the past before one's eyes, then what matter how inelegant they may chance to be!" (p. 17)

Certainly worth reading for the insight it offers into the author's early style. But make sure to read the notes as you go along; they're a key part of the work, and the editors have done a fine job with them.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2012/01/book-review-narrative-of-john-smith.html ( )
2 vote JBD1 | Jan 5, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0712358412, Hardcover)

Before there was the astute detective Sherlock Holmes and his capable compatriot Watson, there was the opinionated Everyman John Smith. In 1883, when he was just twenty-three, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote The Narrative of John Smith while he was living in Portsmouth and struggling to establish himself as both a doctor and a writer. He had already succeeded in having a number of short stories published in leading magazines of the day, such as Blackwood’s, All the Year Round, London Society, and the Boy’s Own Paper—but as was the accepted practice of literary journals of the time, his stories had been published anonymously. Thus, Conan Doyle knew that in order to truly establish his name as a writer, he would have to write a novel. That novel—the first he ever wrote and only now published for the first time—is The Narrative of John Smith.
Many of the themes and stylistic tropes of his later writing, including his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet—published in 1887—can be clearly seen. More a series of ruminations than a traditional novel, The Narrative of John Smith is of considerable biographical importance and provides an exceptional window into the mind of the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Through John Smith, a fifty-year-old man confined to his room by an attack of gout, Conan Doyle sets down his thoughts and opinions on a range of subjects—including literature, science, religion, war, and education—with no detectable insecurity or diffidence. His writing is full of bravado.
Though unfinished, The Narrative of John Smith stands as a fascinating record of the early work of a man on his way to being one of the best-known authors in the world. This book will be welcomed with enthusiasm by the numerous Conan Doyle devotees.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:43 -0400)

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote The Narrative of John Smith in 1883 when he was just 23, living in Portsmouth and struggling to establish himself as a doctor and a writer. By that time he had succeeded in getting a number of short stories published in leading magazines of the day, such as Blackwood's, All the Year Round, London Society and the Boy's Own Paper. But, as was the accepted practice of literary journals of the time, his stories were published anonymously and Conan Doyle realised that to make his name as a writer he would have to write a novel. That novel, the first he ever wrote, and published here for the first time, is The Narrative of John Smith. More a string of ruminations than a novel, it is however of considerable biographical importance and has exceptional value as a window into the mind of the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Many of the themes and tropes of his later writing, including his first Sherlock Holmes story A Study in Scarlet (published in 1887), can be clearly seen. Via the protagonist, John Smith, a 50-year-old man confined to his room by an attack of gout, Conan Doyle sets down his thoughts and opinions on a range of subjects - literature, science, religion, war, education - with no detectable shyness or diffidence, full of bravado in the face of little professional success at that time. Although it has little in the way of plot it stands as a fascinating record of an early attempt at writing by a man who was on his way to being one of the best-known authors in the world.… (more)

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