I will lift my nose (dripping like the November rain) from the books for just a minute to let you know I have had a rather exciting idea. First the background.
As a little girl, I was given a Sherlock Holmes book. I do not remember which one, but the cover was very gruesome indeed. An exceedingly ill looking man, in darkness…well you can imagine the kind of thing.
Being too young at the time to have learned the importance of not judging a book by its cover, I let my fears rule me and never read the thing. And nor did I ever later.
This morning though, I was hunting through the library in my slippers for some cold-friendly reading, and stumbled on the complete works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I brought it, and a hefty cup of lapsang, to bed with me – where we are now spending the day in utmost harmony. Now we are nearing the point.
On page 24 of Penguins complete edition, you will find the following quote:
“Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He has just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his writs are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Afghanistan.”
As I read this, I thought – why, that could easily have been written today. (Because of the Afghanistan reference, you see).
And then I’ll admit I thought – why, I wish there was writing of this standard being written today.
And then for the really interesting thought – why, for all intents and purposes, for me it might as well have been written today.
You see, as we discuss the classics and so forth, we always argue from the idea that certain texts transcend time and are just as important today as when they were first written. But can this really be so? Is it from some dyed-in-the-bones quality of the text – or has the patina of a long line of loving readers and quoters added something to the experience? If the classics were new publications – would they still pack the same punch?
Now, this is one area of literary theory where we should be able to carry out scientific experimentation. Here’s how:
I will read the Study in Scarlet. I will disregard its actual date of publication, and imagine for myself it was written by, say, a friend of that god-awful Stieg Larsson we discussed a few weeks back.
Then, I will write a review – and send it to you, naturally. If the book holds up, my criticism should be fawning. If it is not fawning, we will know that, at least in this case, a percentage of the worth of Sherlock Holmes is the associations built up over time by a large readership.