The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Literature and Writing Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
I walked down to the station with them, and then wandered through the streets of the little town, finally returning to the hotel, where I lay upon the sofa and tried to interest myself in a yellow-backed novel. The puny plot of the story was so thin, however, when compared to the deep mystery through which we were groping, and I found my attention wander so continually from the action to the fact, that I at last flung it across the room and gave myself up entirely to a consideration of the events of the day (Valley.106).
During "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," Watson is left to his own devices for a bit, so he turns to a novel for a good time. A "yellow-backed novel" is a cheap, generally melodramatic book often sold in railway stations in days of yore – kind of like the Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs books we find in airport bookstores now. There's a neat bit of self-marketing here: Watson's disgusted with the plot of the novel when compared to the depth of the mystery he's right in the middle of. But that mystery is, again, a piece of fiction invented and sold by one Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. So there's a lot of nod-nod-wink-wink self-referential joking going on in this passage. Does all of Conan Doyle's poking at fiction make his Holmes stories seem more realistic to you?
The story has, I believe, been told more than once in the newspapers, but, like all such narratives, its effect is much less striking when set forth en bloc in a single half-column of print than when the facts slowly evolve before your own eyes, and the mystery clears gradually away as each new discovery furnishes a step which leads on to the complete truth (Thumb.1).
Ah ha! Now here we get a neat argument from Watson about why it's important to include color and intrigue in a story. A newspaper article gives you all the facts at once, without suspense. But the process of the slow reveal is essential, says Watson, to create a "striking" effect for the reader. In other words, what makes Watson's narration memorable is that he chooses to withhold information from us until he's good and ready to let us in on the secret. That's some good suspense!
If I claim full justice for my art, it is because it is an impersonal thing – a thing beyond myself. Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell. You have degraded what should have been a course of lectures into a series of tales (Beeches.5).
So, we've had Watson make a case for his form of narration, the suspense story. Here's Holmes's rebuttal: by dwelling on the crime, Watson's ignoring what's scientifically important to Holmes's deductions. Sadly for Holmes, Watson is a first-person narrator, so the doctor gets the last word on how the story should be told. But what would a first-person Holmes story look like? Would it have suspense at all? Why might Conan Doyle choose to portray these arguments between Holmes and Watson on how their fictional adventures should be told?