Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s most celebrated character, exists in his own right. He’s a fictional character who’s taken on a life of his own. So much so that there is a museum dedicated to him on Baker Street (his fictional address) in London.
It’s a cute little museum showcasing what Holmes and Watson’s rooms may have looked like. Entirely touristy yes, but still worth a trip for any Sherlock Holmes fan.
221B Baker Street
I visited the museum years ago, but Holmes has an increased significance for me now, as I am doing my MA dissertation on Conan Doyle. The author and his hero were both incredibly fascinating, and the fact that Sherlock Holmes continues to be one of the most reincarnated and celebrated character is a testament to Conan Doyle’s writing and imagination.
26 January 1930
When we made up our six months accounts, we found I had made about £3020 last year – the salary of a civil servant; a surprise to me, who was content with £200 for so many years. But I shall drop very heavily I think. The Waves won’t sell more than 2,000 copies.
– Virginia Woolf
13 February 1951
It must be told that my second work day is a bust as far as getting into the writing. I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straightening shyness that assails one. It is as though the words were not only indelible but that they spread out like dye in water and colour everything around them. A strange and mystic business, writing. Almost no progress has taken place since it was invented. The Book of the Dead is as good and as highly developed as anything in the 20th century and much better than most. And yet in spite of this lack of a continuing excellence, hundreds of thousands of people are in my shoes – praying feverishly for relief from their word pangs. And one thing we have lost – the courage to make new words or combinations. Somewhere the old bravado has slipped off into a gangrened scholarship. Oh! you can make words if you enclose them in quotation marks. This indicates that it is dialect and cute.
– John Steinbeck
24 November 1813
I do think the mighty stir made about scribbling and scribes, by themselves and others – a sign of effeminacy, degeneracy, and weakness. Who would write, who had any thing better to do?
– Lord Byron
1 August 1950
It is hot, steamy and wet. It is raining. I am tempted to write a poem. But I remember what it said on one rejection slip: After a heavy rainfall, poems titled ‘Rain’ pour in from across the nation.
– Sylvia Plath
25 February 1957
Ted’s book of poems – The Hawk in the Rain – has won the first Harper’s publication contest under the 3 judges: W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender & Marianne Moore! Even as I write this, I am incredulous. The little scared people reject. The big unscared practising poets accept. I knew there would be something like this to welcome us to New York! We will publish a bookshelf of books between us before we perish! And a batch of brilliant healthy children! I can hardly wait to see the letter of award (which has not yet come) & learn details of publication. To smell the print off the pages!
– Sylvia Plath
Originally published on my old writing blog, Writer Revealed (March 2009)
Countless times, I have read advice from professional authors, agents and publishers about sticking to one POV in one scene, about keeping a straight enough narrative that the reader doesn’t get confused. Currently, I am reading Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. It’s considered a classic. It’s a wonderful story, no doubt about that. However, with regards to the writing style, it jumps from one person to another in a heartbeat. Mrs Dalloway is not alone in this. Majority of what we consider all-time classics are written in a pretty haphazard manner that an agent wouldn’t touch today.
Is it a sign of evolving times? Or merely a sign that we – as readers – prefer less complicated things? Is that because we can’t be bothered to spend effort on following a story with care? Or because we are incapable of it, going after instant gratifications and becoming less intelligence as a race?
These questions could be debated for a long while, and we still won’t come to a conclusion. But the fact remains that the publishing industry has changed a lot since the days of Virginia Woolf. Perhaps, it’s just as well – we don’t see many writers – even the novice ones – living in squalid, dark rooms and starving these days. There is poetic value in that image, but I prefer my comfortable sofa with electricity, Internet, and DVD player.