"The whole Sherlock Holmes saga is a triumphant illustration of art's supremacy over life."
It was the spring of 1893, and Arthur Conan Doyle was plotting murder. "I am in the middle of the last Holmes story," Doyle wrote to his mother, "after which the gentleman vanishes, never to return. I am weary of his name." Six years earlier, Doyle was an unknown young doctor in Southsea struggling to make ends meet. lie had created Sherlock Holmes to while away the time, to earn a bit of money, and to hone his writing skills for more "serious" literature, meaning historical fiction written in the fashion of Iris idol, Sir Walter Scott. Two novellas, 24 short stories, and six years later, Doyle is famous, and toward the beak-nosed, hawk-faced, thinking machine that had brought him riches and international acclaim, he can feel only disgust. "I feel towards him as I do towards pâté de foie gras, of which I once ate too much, so that the name of it gives me a sickly feeling to this day."
This cavalier dismissal of one of the most enduring characters in modern fiction did not wash well with the English-reading public. For if "the spectators are always in their senses, and know, from the first act to the last, that the stage is only a stage, and that the players are only players,"...