- Twentieth-Century Victorian: Arthur Conan Doyle and the Strand Magazine, 1891–1930 by Jonathan Cranfield
As the author of the perennially popular Sherlock Holmes stories, Arthur Conan Doyle has generated a buoyant critical industry lauding him as one of the masters of Victorian crime fiction. What is often missing from this account is the breadth and variety of the material he produced and, perhaps more importantly, the periodical contexts in which his fictions first appeared. Though he wrote for a number of key magazines of the fin de siècle, including the Windsor Magazine, Conan Doyle's story is inextricable from the story of the Strand Magazine (1891–1949), the middlebrow illustrated monthly that established his reputation. As Jonathan Cranfield claims in the introduction to his timely new study, "The interdependence of Conan Doyle and the Strand's reputations was not an arbitrary occurrence, but instead the symptom of a series of shifts in the production and consumption of popular culture," changes which can explain "how author and publication sought to shepherd a determinedly Victorian audience through the turbulence of the early twentieth century" (1).
Cranfield's careful consideration of the development of the Strand between the 1890s and Conan Doyle's death in 1930 allows for a nuanced analysis of "slow transformations in literary form, ideology, cultural attitudes and social values" (2). Chapters are structured primarily around specific decades of the magazine's publication, mapping the author's popularity in different eras and relating this to the genres and materials he produced during his forty-year involvement. Cranfield attends to issues of readership and editor-contributor interchanges as he examines Conan Doyle's evolving relationship with prolific publisher George Newnes and editor H. Greenhough Smith. This builds upon Kate Jackson's important work on Newnes and on the 1890s issues of the Strand. Cranfield's study also places Conan Doyle in relation to key debates about science and modernity, the Boer War, imperialism, spiritualism, and the transformation of the periodical after 1914 into "a vehicle for propaganda" (105). One of the strengths of a broader approach is that due consideration is given to the significant twentieth-century life of the periodical. As recent work on Richard Marsh by Minna Vuohelainen and others has shown, the issues published shortly before, during, and after the First World War have been overshadowed by the Holmes years of the 1890s. Cranfield's parameters allow for a sustained critique of the "Victorianisation" of the Strand and the uneven process by which "its Victorian readers became its Edwardian readers" before having to adapt to the cultural upheaval of the war years and their aftermath (5). [End Page 752]
Cranfield adeptly captures the contradictions and complexities of writing for a magazine with an agenda of mass entertainment in uncertain times. His engaging, fluent writing style provides its own form of entertainment, making his analysis both accessible and erudite: like the Strand Magazine, the book includes lots of snippets, strange images, and comic moments set alongside serious intellectual endeavour. Reflecting recent interest in the image/text dynamics of the periodical press, Cranfield pays welcome attention to the magazine's illustrations, which were a key element of its appeal. The excellent introduction, "Periodicals, Popular Writing and Modernism," offers an extended meditation on the meanings of the "popular," popular modernism, and the boundaries between periods, which respond to ongoing debates about radicalism and middlebrow print culture. The third chapter begins to examine Conan Doyle's construction of himself as "post-Victorian" after 1903, a period of experimentation as he considered "which admixture of old and new might best fit the twentieth century" (93). The serialisation of historical fiction such as Sir Nigel (1905–6) is then shown to be "out of place" or "leaden and slow" for Edwardian readers when published alongside articles such as "Across America by Motor-Car" and "Boomerangs and Boomerang Throwing" (94). The chapter focused on the uneasy period leading up to and during the First World War argues that many...