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Reviewed by:
Alvin E. Rodin and Jack D. Key. Medical Casebook of Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle: From Practitioner to Sherlock Holmes and Beyond. Malabar: Krieger, 1984. 494 pp. $28.50.
Umberto Eco and Thomas A. Sebeok, eds. The Sign of Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce. Bloomington: Indiana U, 1983. 247 pp. $22.50.
Philip A. Shreffler, ed. The Baker Street Reader: Cornerstone Writings about Sherlock Holmes. Contributions to the Study of Popular Culture 8. Westport: Greenwood, 1984. 228 pp. $27.50.
Isaac Asimov, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh, eds. Sherlock Holmes through Time and Space. New York: Bluejay, 1984. 363 pp. $14.95.
Audrey Peterson. Victorian Masters of Mystery: From Wilkie Collins to Conan Doyle. New York: Ungar, 1984. 243 pp. $11.95 cloth; pb $6.95.
Dennis Sanders and Len Lovallo. The Agatha Christie Companion: The Complete Guide to Agatha Christie's Life and Work. New York: Delacorte, 1984. 550 pp. $19.95.
Earl F. Bargainnier, ed. Twelve Englishmen of Mystery. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State U Popular P, 1984. 331 pp. $22.95 cloth; pb $11.95.

Two problems have always made an objective, overall evaluation of the life of [End Page 382] Arthur Conan Doyle difficult. The immense popularity of Sherlock Holmes has not only overshadowed Doyle's other fiction but also dimmed Doyle's achievements as a physician, a medical thinker, and a social reformer. Second, it has usually been assumed that Doyle was an unsuccessful doctor and therefore turned to writing. In the Medical Casebook of Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle Dr. Alvin E. Rodin and Jack D. Key, both active professionally in the field of medicine, examine in detail Doyle's medical career and the influence of medicine on Doyle's fiction. Not the usual literary specialists, Rodin and Key focus narrowly on their subject of Conan Doyle and medicine. With only a minimum of biographical detail, Rodin and Key first concentrate on Doyle as a medical student at Edinburgh University and then as a practicing physician, evaluating his work in terms of contemporary nineteenth-century medical capabilities. They find that in Doyle's medical writing (a few articles and published letters) and in his thesis for his medical degree, Doyle was knowledgeable and at times foresighted, especially in regard to infectious diseases, the vaccine for TB (Doyle had reservations), and bacteriology. Doyle's medical writing shows a pleasant style, and Doyle's humane concern for patients is evident. Rodin and Key conclude that Doyle was a successful physician who sold his practice to be able to write and not, as has been suggested too often, to keep from starving. Doyle had shown an impulse to write even as a student and had sold a few stories during his early years as a doctor, yet his practice had been so good that it interfered with these efforts. Rodin and Key stress Doyle's humanity throughout his life. After giving up his regular practice, Doyle's great-heartedness continued to be evident in his work in hospitals during the Boer War, his vigorous defense of wrongly accused men such as George Edalji and Oscar Slater, and his efforts toward reforming divorce laws. He recognized the mental as well as physical suffering caused by unhappy marriages.

Next, Rodin and Key analyze Doyle's fiction from the medical point of view. No other critics have examined Doyle's non-Holmesian fiction in such detail. He probably made more use of medicine than any other writer. He cast many characters as doctors, his plots turned frequently on disease, accident, and death, and his style often relied on medical metaphors. Rodin and Key view Doyle's fiction objectively, pointing out his strengths and weaknesses, especially places where his medical references or medical plot devices do not function effectively. The last third of this study specifically considers medicine and Holmes. Apart from the obvious use of Dr. Watson, there are many other physicians; medical problems, accurately described by Doyle, are more important to the Holmes stories than most readers realize; often Doyle uses the description of disease or physical deformity to create a mood of horror. Rodin and Key also discuss the problem of Holmes's drug...


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