Chapter 11: The quintessentially British character
In her book England’s Secret Weapon: The Wartime Films of Sherlock Holmes, author Amanda J. Field begins her study of the Rathbone/Bruce films by publishing “221B” as the books frontispiece. She explains the sonnet thus:
The lines encapsulate three interrated ideas: unimaginable world change, Holmes’ and Watson’s immortality, and their imperviousness to these changes. Their survival is clearly positioned as desirable or even necessary, as is their tie to a particular part of the nineteenth century, viewed nostalgically as a time when the world was ‘safe’ or knowable.
(Amanda J. Field, England’s Secret Weapon: The Wartime Films of Sherlock Holmes, published in 2009 by Middlesex University Press, London.)
In a footnote, Field adds that the sonnet “introduces an American viewpoint of what this quintessentially British character symbolizes.” Field, who volunteers at the Portsmouth Museum where the late Richard Lancelyn Green’s collection is housed, notes that “Holmes has been ‘appropriated’ early on in his transmedia career by the U.S.”
Finally, she says that
“If ‘1895’ is evoked as a period of stability in contrast to ‘today’, and if one of Holmes’ key characteristics is his infallibility, then it could be argued that the quality he symbolizes is ‘certainty in a time of uncertainty.’ “
What is certain is this: '“221B” retains its power after all these decades and will continue to be read and cherished as long as people read about Sherlock Holmes and dream about his life and times.
A project like this, conducted over the better part of a decade, combines a lot of time, and research with the help, contributions and advice of many others. I’ve tried to keep track of all those who have made a contribution and want to give them credit here, if it has not already been noted in each chapter.
Tim Johnson, Curator of Special Collections & Rare Books / E. W. McDiarmid Curator of the Sherlock Holmes Collections at the University of Minnesota, for the recording of Basil Rathbone reading “221B”
Julie McKuras for hunting through the University of Minnesota library for lots of good stuff for this project and many others over the years.
Steven Rothman for use of original Christopher Morley material from his collection.
The Baker Street Irregulars for permission to reprint past Baker Street Journal tributes to Starrett and “221B”.
The late Don Yates, for a photo he took of Starrett and his manuscript of “221B,” done at Don’s request by Starrett. Don was a big fan of Starrett and shared a few stories of having met the bookman when they were both in Chicago.
Steve Doyle and Mark Gagen, for use of the recording of Vincent Starrett reading “221B” from their Starrett Speaks CD, which is now sadly out of print.
Les Klinger and Sue Dahlinger for their book Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle & The Bookman which is fun.
Jon Lellenberg, editor of Irregular Records of the Early Forties, published by the Baker Street Irregulars.
“Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon” was produced by Universal films and released in December 1942, although some reference guides attribute it to January 1943. The film appears to be out of copyright.
Audio of Edward R. Murrow originally came from the book and CD, World War II on the air : Edward R. Murrow and the broadcasts that riveted a nation by Mark Bernstein & Alex Lubertozzi, but is now available at several websites.
In and Out of Character: an autobiography, by Basil Rathbone was published in 1962 by Doubleday & Company of Garden City New York.
Arizona State University for their use of the Edwin Bliss Hill/ Vincent Starrett page proofs.
And finally, all thanks to Vincent Starrett, for everything else.
Earlier in this series of essays you had the opportunity to hear an elderly Vincent Starrett read “221B.” Here’s a recording from 1958, when Starrett was was a mere 72 years old. The recording was most recently produced in 2009 by Wessex Press and is entitled “Voices from Baker Street.” The two-CD set reproduced some of Bill Rabe’s ˆ LPs, with additional material.
The introduction to this recording comes from one-half of the Wessex Press team, Mark Gagen.
‘221B’ Chapter Index
Chapter 1: Introduction and Prologue: ‘Where it is always 1895’
Chapter 2: 'So they still live for all that love them well'
Chapter 3: ‘Some of the most dramatic months… of contemporary history’
Chapter 4: ‘Here dwell together still’
Chapter 5: ‘He has done many little things for me’
Chapter 6: ‘A wider circulation’
Chapter 7: ‘Part of a slim volume’
Chapter 8: ‘This poem by my good friend’
Chapter 9: ‘Something remains of London in 1895’
Chapter 10: What is it we love about ‘221B’?
Chapter 11: Afterthoughts and Acknowledgments
Want to chat about this blogpost? Join us at the Studies in Starrett Facebook page: