26 April 2012

Doylian Delights Book Review: 'An Entirely New Country' for an entirely worthy cause, Undershaw.

My Introduction to Sir Arthur C. Doyle: 
It was exciting to get this particular book in the mail.  I had a feeling I would enjoy it since my ever-growing Sherlockian tendencies find me reading (even re-reading) most of the canon stories over the last few years.  It did not disappoint.

My first foray into learning more about the creator of Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is through Alistair Duncan's excellent book An Entirely New Country: Arthur Conan Doyle, Undershaw, and the Resurrection of Sherlock Holmes.  Duncan's book, which focuses on the ten-year period Conan Doyle spent at his home Undershaw in Hindhead, Surrey, England, develops a tantalizing timeline of events in Conan Doyle's life in and around Undershaw that shows not only the author, but a potential politician, avid sportsman, and family man.  The years between 1897 and 1907 spent at Undershaw, we learn via Duncan, were full of  activity for both Sherlock Holmes and his creator.

As a reader of Holmes, the most insightful years on the timeline is the year of 1901 and the beginnings of The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Much like today, the phenomena that is Sherlock Holmes continued even after his "death".  The background and ultimate reaction to possibly the most famous adventure was so interesting that I found myself jotting little reactions and notations in the margins.  And it seemed that even more than 100 years later, I was finding similarities between our 21st and early 20th century societies making my read even more extraordinary.  Sherlock's eventual return soon followed in 1903 and '04, which are surely sections of equal interest to Holmes readers.

Leaving 1907 and returning to 2012 left me wanting to learn more about Sir Arthur and the times that he lived.  A recommended read for any fan of Sherlock Holmes, whether one is a recent or longtime fan.  The final pages of the book show Undershaw in its current state:  a rather sad and dilapidated shell of what it once was.  Today, it is in danger of  being torn down and rebuilt into townhouses.  For the past couple years, there has been a great effort to spread the word across England (and the world) in order to save the home.  Duncan's book is part of that effort with proceeds from the book going towards the cause.    

The Cause: Saving Undershaw-the ten-year residence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Undershaw during Conan Doyle's tenure.
This picture can be found in the book. 
One of the things I love about England (and Europe in general) is history.  There is so much to absorb and to imagine.  You could be standing in a street, cathedral/church, house, or sometimes even a pub and be in the midst of history.  Literary history is no exception.  London is filled with Dickens.  Bath has Jane Austen connections.  Undershaw should be part of that literary history.

Noteworthy information :
  • The first design drafts of Undershaw were done by Conan Doyle. 
  • Apart from the house of Thomas Hardy, Undershaw is the only literary house in England that can claim the resident's input in its design.
  • Conan Doyle came up with the name of Undershaw for his new home. 
  •  Undershaw was used a small hotel and restaurant for almost 70 years, where it was visited by many Doyle and Holmes enthusiasts.
The state of Undershaw today: broken and boarded. 
Much has been done to raise awareness over the past couple years.  The Undershaw Preservation Trust was formed and is working hard to fight the plans for development.  Awareness efforts have increased as the date for judicial review gets closer.  Fans and enthusiasts from all over the world are now doing what they can to save the site such as taking photos from various sites all over the world with a message to "Save Undershaw".  In London, local Sherlock fans gathered in Trafalgar Square to inform locals and tourists about the state of Undershaw with great success.

Despite all the efforts there still can be much more to help save this historic, literary site.  Please visit the Undershaw Preservation Trust website for more information on the Trust and Undershaw itself.