Monday, September 26, 2011

Arthur Conan Doyle's Lost First Novel, To Be Published For The First Time


Arthur Conan Doyle's first and until now unpublished novel, The Narrative of John Smith, is to be released by the British Library on 26 September 2011. The novel, written between 1883 and 1884, gives a fascinating insight into this early period of the author's creative development, only a few years before his creation of Sherlock Holmes would earn him an enduring place in the history of English literature.



The manuscript of The Narrative of John Smith was lost in the mail on the way to the publishers and then rewritten by Conan Doyle from memory. Although he continued to revise the text and drew on various passages from it in subsequent writings, Conan Doyle never re-submitted the novel for publication, later claiming in jest: "my shock at its disappearance would be as nothing to my horror if it were suddenly to appear again – in print." Therefore, the text has been known only to a handful of scholars up to this point, but will now be published for the first time and serve as a rare insight into the author's creative development and apprenticeship as a writer.

By the time Conan Doyle came to write the novel, he had had some success with publishing short stories in literary magazines. Increasingly frustrated, however, by the practice of many nineteenth century journals of publishing contributions anonymously, he decided that the only way to establish a literary reputation was, as he wrote to his mother, "get your name on the back of a volume".  

The Narrative of John Smith represents Conan Doyle's first attempt to make the transition from short story writer to novelist and, as such, bridges the gap between his earlier work and the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, published just a few years later.

Semi-autobiographical in nature, the story focuses on John Smith's period of confinement in his room during an attack of gout, and the work is essentially a series of reflections and conversations with his doctor, friends and other visitors concerning a range of contemporary debates on literature, science, religion, war and politics, which occupies the young Conan Doyle. Several ideas and incidents in the novel anticipate the Sherlock Holmes stories; for example Smith's garrulous landlady, Mrs Rundle, is a precursor of Martha Hudson, Sherlock Holmes's housekeeper at Baker Street.