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In the Dark

Detecting the Personal Beyond

Mr. Holmes
Produced by BBC Films and See-Saw Films
Directed by Bill Condon
Screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher from Mitch Cullin’s novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind
Distributed by The Weinstein Company 

Mr. Holmes is the film adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s curious 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind.  Reading the novel, I was reminded of another curious work, Mary Cowden Clarke’s invaluable study The Girlhood of Shakespeare’s Heroines, first published in 1850 and occasionally reprinted by those who care.  Both works endeavor to imagine the lives of literary characters existing beyond the boundaries of their original tales.  In Girlhood we learn of Ophelia and Desdemona, among others, in the years before their tragic fates; in Slight Trick we learn how Sherlock Holmes passed his declining years in Sussex tending to his bees.  Of course, such works raise a question: Can a character in a play or novel be said to have any meaningful existence before or after the period she or he fictionally inhabits?  The standard critical reply is no.  Characters are imaginative constructs designed to function within an author’s artifice, no more, no less.  What happens, for instance, to Nick Caraway when he returns to the Midwest after Gatsby dies?  It’s an unanswerable question,...

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