Friday, June 25, 2010

TNCOM, #16: Arthur Conan Doyle

This wealth of Doylean material offers opportunities for happy reappraisal, however. One is struck by the fact that, despite his reputation as a journeyman prose stylist (in 2003, John le Carré could identify “no fine turns of phrase, no clever adjectives that leap off the page”, and Conan Doyle himself once declared his writing to be “at its best but plain English”) and despite the preponderance of clichés – brows are always furrowed, hearts heavy, daylight broad and smiles wry – Conan Doyle was capable of virtuoso phrasemaking. A man’s neck in The White Company is “corded like the bark of the fir”, the ancient house in “The Japanned Box” has a smell “as from a sick animal which exhaled from the rotting plaster”, and the narrator of “The Sealed Room”, suspicious of the city, complains of “the red brick tentacles of the London octopus”. In “How It Happened”, a motor car represents “great, roaring, golden death”, in “The Parasite” the fist of a man who has struck another is “puffed up, with sponge-like knuckles” and in “When the World Screamed”, Conan Doyle’s fourth account of Professor Challenger (“Challenger the super-scientist, Challenger the arch-pioneer, Challenger the first man of all men”), the handwriting of its hero is as “a barbed wire fence”.

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