Saturday 21 May 2016

Conan Doyle kicks ass

Arthur Conan Doyle was intensely irritated by readers who thought he had the same deductive powers as his most famous creation, and even more irritated by those who claimed that he'd ripped off the idea for the Baker Street sleuth from Edgar Allen Poe's investigator Dupin. On 28 December 1912, prompted by an American critic who accused him of plagiarism he wrote the following poem in his defence:

To an Undiscerning Critic

Sure there are times when one cries with acidity,
'Where are the limits of human stupidity?'
Here is a critic who says as a platitude
That I am guilty because 'in ingratitude
Sherlock, the sleuth-hound, with motives ulterior,
Sneers at Poe's Dupin as very "inferior".'
Have you not learned, my esteemed commentator,
That the created is not the creator?
As the creator I've praised to satiety
Poe's Monsieur Dupin, his skill and variety,
And have admitted that in my detective work
I owe to my model a deal of selective work.
But it is not on the verge of inanity
To put down to me my creation's crude vanity?
He, the created, would scoff and would sneer,
Where I, the creator, would bow and revere.
So please grip this fact with your cerebral tentacle:
The doll and its maker are never identical.

It's not much of a poem, but the last couplet makes a good point well. I like the idea of a 'cerebral tentacle'. Very Cronenberg. 

I write this blog after attending a literary shindig last night in which a member of the audience asked the celebrated guest author (in effect): "how come you're so well-adjsuted when your characters are so unhappy?" This got the brisk dismissal it deserved but set me to thinking that there's an implicit sexism in the assumption that women writers necessarily write about themselves while male writers are expected to make it all up. Nobody (for instance) expects Martin Amis to be like John Self. "Which one is you?" somebody once asked a distinguished female historical novelist about the characters in her latest novel, all of whom were male.

To be sure many writers, male and female, draw on events and people in their own lives - but that is no reason for readers to assume that they resemble their fictions. Novelists are not documentarists. 

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