Saturday, 16 August 2014

Sherlock Holmes and the Great War

I'm currently reading Anthony Horowitz's Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk (2011). And very entertaining it is too. There are some flaws - the proof reading is poor, and there's some language I suspect is anachronistic (were people really 'gunned down' in Victorian England?) - but it's a strong, convoluted story and Horowitz has a good turn of phrase.

He also has a nice line in gently reprimanding Arthur Conan Doyle for flaws in the canon: the lack of interest in Mrs Hudson's background and circumstances, for example, or the failure to follow up what happened to various criminals after Holmes's investigations were completed.

There's something that's troubling me, though. The story's set in 1890, but Watson is writing in 1915 at a time when 'a terrible and senseless war rages on the continent'.

I don't think that Watson would have referred to the First World War as 'senseless'. Certainly not at such an early stage. I fear that's a modern perception that's colouring the narrative.

In my forthcoming book, The Last Post, I quote a passage from John Buchan's 1926 novel The Dancing Floor, in which Edward Leithen reflects on the emergence of anti-war literature. 'The vocal people were apt to be damaged sensitives, who were scarcely typical of the average man,' he observes. 'There were horrors enough, God knows, but in most people’s recollections these were overlaid by the fierce interest and excitement, even by the comedy of it.'

I suspect that, as a patriot, as an army doctor and as a veteran of the Afghan wars, Watson would have been inclined to agree with Leithen's sentiment. He would surely not have seen conflict with Germany as being 'senseless'. Unhappy and regrettable, perhaps, but necessary.

No comments: