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The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1933)

by Vincent Starrett

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211755,323 (3.8)11
Recently added byMsPossibility, Jon_Terry, Dan_Hannay, jhicks62, nyce, bks1953, private library
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  1. 00
    "A remarkable mixture" : award-winning articles from The Baker Street Journal / edited, with an introduction and comment by Steven Rothman (longreader)
    longreader: Starrett's book to me has always been the most entertaining development of what might truly be a life of the world's greatest detective.
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The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
It seems that nowadays one cannot turn a street corner without coming across an advert for Sherlock Holmes themed events. Whether it is the numerous films and TV shows currently doing the rounds or shop mannequins wearing Baker Street orientated attire with required pipe (I have seen this!) the man, quite frankly, is everywhere. There are no complaints here however. To have anything which brings the canon into conversation and the public eye is excellent and long may it continue. I do hope though that these televisual and other delights have inspired people to pick up the works of Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle to perhaps see where the legend began.
For those that have read the stories we will all have our favourites (and for those that haven’t had the pleasure please, please, please pick up a copy of a Study in Scarlet) but it is something a little different that I would like to recommend.
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Vincent Starrett was written in 1933 and has become one the essential critiques for all Sherlockians. The book itself is a series of essays dealing with a myriad of topics starting with the origins of Holmes (including some rather lovely reminisces about Dr. Joseph Bell, Doyles’ mentor and the inspiration for Holmes), his methods, his interests and relationship with John Watson (the “private life” of the title), the rooms at 221B Baker Street to the plunge from the Reichenbach Falls and his infamous return. The book also includes an excellent chapter on the stalwart Mrs. Hudson, a character often overlooked but an ever present feature in the life of both Holmes and Watson and also lists the untold tales or rather those adventures and crimes that are mentioned but are never elaborated on. It turns out that there are dozens of memoirs that we will never hear about including the mythical Giant Rat of Sumatra! Starrett also has a look at the portrayals of Holmes through the years from the stage and screen to the Sidney Paget illustrations. Included is a fantastic photo of one William Gillette, an American actor who had obtained permission from Doyle to write a play based upon Holmes (in which one Charles Chaplin played the part of Holmes’ page, Billy) who I must say really does look the part; tall, square of chin, hawk-like nose and deep set eyes. There is even a small chapter entitled The Real Life Sherlock Holmes in which the author concentrates on the crimes that Doyle investigated himself. These were crimes that Doyle had thought the outcome rather spurious and had decided to use his own skills to fathom out a solution and, as it turns out, with a modicum of success. The book ends with chapters about The Baker Street Irregulars, the enthusiasts club that Starrett belonged to and a pastiche, The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet.

“But there can be no grave for Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Watson….Shall they not always live in Baker Street? Are they not there this moment, as one writes?...Outside, the hansoms rattle through the rain, and Moriarty plans his latest devilry. Within, the sea coal flames upon the hearth and Holmes and Watson make their well-won ease….So they still live for all that loves them well: in a romantic chamber of the heart, in a nostalgic country of the mind, where it is always 1895.”

What is remarkable and admirable about this book is that although it is essentially a literary critique not once does it become too bogged down in its own importance nor does it feel that the author is speaking to us as a superior authority. There is no doubt that Starrett has an immense knowledge and respect for the canon but what really comes across is his love and admiration for the character. The book mentions the fact that sometimes the timeline of the stories is a little askew and Dr Watsons’ memory seems to be a touch hazy at times but Starrett doesn’t use this as a method to score points or to prove his palpable knowledge but to generate debate and make us think. There are sections on matters that that have been talked about and discussed by the experts (and are still being dissected today!) such as the question of the university Holmes attended and the relationship between Holmes and Watson but Starretts opinions are not thrust upon us as the last word but instead he speaks eloquently and fluently and leads us to make our own minds up with the evidence he has presented. There is the sense that the book is one long conversation between old friends with a common interest, this being Starretts contribution, and any response or counter argument would be most welcomed. We have no long convoluted diatribes, the writing is often humorous and Starrett is always happy to defer to others who have made important discoveries concerning Holmes. Indeed, in the chapter about the rooms at 221B Starrett writes a great deal about the excellent work done by a Dr. Gray Briggs in tracking down what he felt was the exact location of 221B and includes the original diagram drawn by Briggs upon his discovery. Throughout the book the author always backs up his ideas and theories with evidence from the stories and on every page there is something fresh to learn, a new fact to be digested or just a different viewpoint for us to contemplate. Did you know, for instance that Sherlock was originally to be named Sherrinford (heaven forbid and thank god Doyle refrained but I think a rather marvellous name for the library cat…) or that the reason that one of the stories (The Cardboard Box) was originally pulled from the publication of the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes was that the authors “chivalrous regret that he had allowed a women’s reputation to be smirched, a literary practice which he deplored” or that Doyles’ father was one of the early illustrators for the books.
There is something for everyone in this book, from the serious student of all things Sherlockian, who is keen to investigate the minutiae of the times and dates of the adventures, to the reader with a mere passing interest who would like to know a trifle more about the world that Doyle created. ( )
  Dan_Hannay | Nov 26, 2014 |
First, a warning: if you aren't a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast*, you might wish to give this a miss. The book is predicated on a basic familiarity/fascination with the canon, the characters, and the author. If you are a fan of the great detective, however, I predict you'll thoroughly enjoy this opportunity to engage in a leisurely discourse with one of the most noted of Sherlockian scholars and admirers. (I say discourse, because this is the kind of book you talk back to - read it with pencil in hand so you can underline, star, and annotate at will!)

(*While Holmes enthusiasts are often eccentric, it is inaccurate to characterize them as "crackpots". Famous members of the most esteemed Sherlock Club - the Baker Street Irregulars - include Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Isaac Asimov, and an array of scientists, scholars, and businessmen. No shame in numbering oneself among such company!)

Vincent Starett is one of the original "Sherlockians" and this book one of the first to establish the boundaries of "Sherlockian studies". Originally published in the 1940s, this collection of essays includes discussions on the origins of the character, his methods, his (in)famous plummet from Reichenbach Falls & triumphant return, 221B Baker Street (its location and contents), and an especially interesting exploration of Sherlock in books/art/stage. The essays whimsically wander between acknowledging the stories as fiction and treating them as actual historical documents, recording the adventures of an authentic historical personage. Thus we are treated to factual explorations of Conan Doyle's career, Victorian London, and publication details, interspersed with passionate debates about inconsistencies in the stories, lists of monographs purportedly published by Holmes, a discussion of Holmes' biography, an exploration of the nature of the friendship between he and Watson, and speculative lists of "unpublished cases". Starett, a noted journalist, author, and bibliophile back in the day, manages to maintain a reverent, erudite tone without lapsing into campiness. And his knowledge of the canon is wonderfully thorough: every page contained some new insight or item of information that enriched my appreciation of the canon, the gentleman who created them, and - yes - even the people who continue to revere Sherlock and his gaslamp-lit world, "where it is always 1895".

And because this is a 75th anniversary edition, we also get an extensive forward by Ray Betzner exploring the life and adventures of Starrett - a fascinating fellow in his own right - as well as an overview of the evolution of Sherlockian studies.

The book is some 200 pages but a quick, engaging read (depending, that is, on how much time you spend annotating), with a great bibliography of Sherlock-related texts at the end; and don't miss out on an opportunity to assess your own Sherlock cred by tackling the "Final Examination Paper" at the end ... sure to humble even the most avid and well-read Sherlock fans! ( )
  Dorritt | Jul 10, 2013 |
Expanded edition of the 1933 magnum opus of the best-loved student of Sherlock Holmes.
A series of essays by Starrett, regarded as a classic in the field. Review: Possibly the finest book of Sherlockiana written and one every Holmes fan should own. One of the cornerstone books in any serious Sherlockian bookshelf, this is one of the books in Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library, a reissue of eight previously hard to find classics from the earlier age of Sherlockiana, it was originally published in 1933.
Starrettt had a wonderful writing style. That he was a scholar on the subject of Sherlock Holmes is indisputable. But he never “writes down€? to the reader. Instead, he is intent on sharing something he truly loves. I have yet to encounter an author of Sherlockiana that has as perfectly captured this trait as Starrett.
At 214 pages, this is the second longest book of the series (Starrett’s 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes comes in at 247). I would also venture to say that seventy years after its publication, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is one of the finest pieces of Sherlockiana ever written.
Reviewed by: Bob Byrne, July 2003
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  mmckay | Apr 11, 2006 |
Expanded edition of the 1933 magnum opus of the best-loved student of Sherlock Holmes.
A series of essays by Starrett, regarded as a classic in the field. Review: Possibly the finest book of Sherlockiana written and one every Holmes fan should own. One of the cornerstone books in any serious Sherlockian bookshelf, this is one of the books in Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library, a reissue of eight previously hard to find classics from the earlier age of Sherlockiana, it was originally published in 1933.
Starrettt had a wonderful writing style. That he was a scholar on the subject of Sherlock Holmes is indisputable. But he never “writes down€? to the reader. Instead, he is intent on sharing something he truly loves. I have yet to encounter an author of Sherlockiana that has as perfectly captured this trait as Starrett.
At 214 pages, this is the second longest book of the series (Starrett’s 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes comes in at 247). I would also venture to say that seventy years after its publication, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is one of the finest pieces of Sherlockiana ever written.
Reviewed by: Bob Byrne, July 2003
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  mmckay | Oct 26, 2005 |
LK: Another seminal work from the beginning of the “Golden Age." This is actually a series of untitled essays and contains many gems of original thought.
Review: Possibly the finest book of Sherlockiana written and one every Holmes fan should own. One of the cornerstone books in any serious Sherlockian bookshelf, this is one of the books in Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library, a reissue of eight previously hard to find classics from the earlier age of Sherlockiana, it was originally published in 1933.
Starrettt had a wonderful writing style. That he was a scholar on the subject of Sherlock Holmes is indisputable. But he never “writes down€? to the reader. Instead, he is intent on sharing something he truly loves. I have yet to encounter an author of Sherlockiana that has as perfectly captured this trait as Starrett.
At 214 pages, this is the second longest book of the series (Starrett’s 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes comes in at 247). I would also venture to say that seventy years after its publication, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is one of the finest pieces of Sherlockiana ever written.
Reviewed by: Bob Byrne, July 2003
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  mmckay | Oct 25, 2005 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0523006950, Paperback)

Interesting sidelight of the Sherlock Holmes stories. This is a basic book for all afficionados of the great detective. illus.

THIS TITLE IS CITED AND RECOMMENDED BY: Books for College Libraries; Catalogue of the Lamont Library, Harvard College.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:56:02 -0400)

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