Indiana University

“Sherlock Holmes is an interesting character,” said Cape, “but, he is not the only character Conan Doyle created.” 

Watson and Holmes discuss a case in, "Silver Blaze".

Learn more about this exhibition and others at the Lilly Library


The many faces and characters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A man of logic, intuition, and deductive reasoning, the character of Sherlock Holmes has become the face of mystery novels.  Yet, it was not Holmes that penned his own novel, but author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who is the inspiration for the latest exhibit at the Lilly Library, The Remarkable Characters of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Library’s most recent exhibition features information on Conan Doyle’s life, Sherlock Holmes, and lesser known characters created by the author. The exhibit has a vast amount of items on display, such as a note in Conan Doyle’s handwriting, the Holmes canon, andConan Doyle’s spiritual side.

The 40th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, being held in Indianapolis, IN this year, was the driving force behind the exhibit, according to Rebecca Cape, Head of Reference and Public Services at the Lilly. The Bouchercon celebrates the mystery genre and is the largest annual meeting space for mystery novel lovers, and should attract around 2000 people during the October convention, according to the Bouchercon 2009 convention website.

“We like to show the depth of our collection,” said Cape.  And, with such a strong Sherlock Holmes collection, Cape had numerous items to work with for the exhibit.  Along with Cape, the exhibit was created by Gabriel Swift, Reference Associate and Madeleine Thompson, School of Library and Information Sciences student.

The exhibit features the first Holmes story ever published, “A Study in Scarlet”, which appeared in “Beeton’s Annual Christmas” magazine in 1887.  “A Scandal in Bohemia”, which appeared in “Strand Magazine” in 1891, is also featured in the display and is the pivotal story where the Holmes phenomena truly began.

To view the extent of the Holmes popularity a “Sherlockiana” display case showcases odds and ends related to the infamous detective, such as “The Sherlock Holmes Crossword” and “The Sherlock Holmes Cookbook”.

Professor Challenger just may be the most popular character after Holmes and side kick Dr. John Watson, according to the Conan Doyle exhibit.  Professor Challenger is featured in five stories, including “The Lost World”, a book many may have heard of, but not realized was written by Conan Doyle. 

Conan Doyle “created the ultimate in rational detectives,” said Cape, yet was also was quite the character himself.  The exhibit states that “Conan Doyle’s most infamous “characters” were ones that were not, to his mind, fictional at all; these were the fairies, ghosts, and other spirit presences that appeared in much of his later writing.” 

With titles such as, “The Coming of the Fairies” and “The Edge of the Unknown”, Conan Doyle spent the last years of his life promoting spiritualism around the world.  “Although he is best known today for his Sherlock Holmes stories, it was his historical fiction and his works promoting spiritualism of which he was proudest,” according to the exhibit.