- Conan Doyle & The Strand
ONE CANNOT THINK of Sherlock Holmes without Dr. Watson. Equally, one cannot think of Sherlock Holmes without the Strand magazine. Except for the first two Holmes novels, every word of “the canon” published between 1891 and 1927 first appeared in the Strand, a run that began with “A Scandal in Bohemia,” reached its zenith with The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1901, and culminated quietly with “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place,” the fifty-sixth and final tale in the great consulting detective’s career. As Jonathan Cranfield notes in the opening pages of his much-needed study, Holmes and the Strand came of age together, with Conan Doyle’s first contribution appearing a mere sixth months after the magazine’s launch. For Cranfield, the sustained partnership between aspiring writer and aspirational magazine was “not an arbitrary occurrence.” Approaching the Strand as a “single text” spanning four decades, one that was “guided by the same editorial hands and often written for long-term readers,” Cranfield reanimates Conan Doyle’s relationship to the magazine, reminding us that the Holmes stories were only one aspect of that relationship and asking us to consider the full body of his work for the magazine over time. When we hold “the two career arcs of author and magazine alongside each other,” we understand better how both writer and publication strived to “shepherd a determinedly Victorian audience through the turbulence of the early twentieth century.” Cranfield’s approach has many merits, chief among them revealing how “slow changes” in the content of popular periodical literature can illuminate the ways that large groups of people adapt to the “creeping, cumulative … [and] geological shifts” that threaten their ideological complacencies. In this way, he provides a valuable contribution to our understanding of British periodical literature and reminds us again of Conan Doyle’s seminal and fraught engagement with the emergence of modernity.
Cranfield opens by charting the early success of the Strand, noting that it quickly established a clear ideological vision and achieved popular [End Page 530] success before the first Holmes story appeared in July 1891. This popular ideological vision, driven by founder George Newnes, sought “to build and maintain a comfortable consensus” among its middle-brow readers and, not surprisingly, the first stories in the magazine “operated within tight moral and artistic constraints, determinedly defined against the destabilizing tendencies of naturalism and early modernism.” Conan Doyle’s first Strand story, March 1891’s “The Voice of Science,” was one such tale. An otherwise “unremarkable story” when lifted out of its context in the Strand, “The Voice of Science” is, in Cranfield’s assessment, made interesting “by the way in which it helped to establish many tropes that would become Strand archetypes in the years to come.” In particular, the tale identifies an “ideological and ethical menace” (a lustful suitor with a shady past) and banishes that menace through “the new auspices of scientific surveillance” (in this case, a phonograph that surreptitiously records a “confession” by the suitor, who, upon exposure, flees from the house). In this tale, the middle-class home, which Cranfield identifies as “the ideological fortress at the heart of the Strand,” is “secured by the expulsion of the unwelcomed intruder.” Similarly, in the Holmes stories that would begin to appear in the magazine a few months later, Conan Doyle depicted “an ordered society … subject to interference and assailment from outsiders who seek to distort the tightly woven economies that regulate it.” Acknowledging that there is some debate “as to how well the [first] Holmes stories and Conan Doyle’s values more generally fitted in to the Strand as a whole,” Cranfield concludes that author and magazine “marched through the early 1890s more or less in ideological lockstep.”
With the Boer War and “the rise of a new and challenging scientific culture” at the turn of the century, the “core values and assumptions” of the Strand would come under assault. In response to these “fundamental shifts,” the magazine began to see its readers “as transitional subjects...