When Sherlock Holmes Met Dorian Gray

On August 30, 1889, the American magazine editor Joseph M. Stoddart hosted a dinner at the Langham Hotel in London. His guests were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde. Stoddart had arranged this meeting in the hope of commissioning stories from the two young writers for Lippincott’s Magazine. At the time Doyle had published his first Sherlock Holmes mystery, the novel A Study in Scarlet, and Wilde was attracting attention as a poet and literary critic associated with the Aesthetic Movement.

Doyle remembered the occasion as a “golden evening.” It was his entrée into literary society.  He and Wilde got along splendidly. Wilde praised Doyle’s recent novel, Micah Clarke, and impressed him with “happy and curious” anecdotes. “He towered above us all,” Doyle wrote, “and yet had the art of seeming to be interested in all we had to say.” At the end of the evening Stoddart came away successful. Both of the writers accepted his offer to publish new works in Lippincott’s. Doyle wrote the second Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of Four, and Oscar Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Wilde left an “indelible impression” upon Doyle and it has been argued that he left an impression upon Sherlock Holmes as well. The unorthodox Sherlockian scholar Samuel Rosenberg points out that the character of Thaddeus Sholto in The Sign of Four is,

a superaesthete who talks like Oscar Wilde and who even has several physical features which clearly identify him as the man whom Conan Doyle called “the champion of aestheticism.” The obviously effeminate and effete Sholto reveals himself as a caricature of Wilde with his opening remarks: “Pray step into my sanctum. A small place…but furnished to my liking, an oasis of art in the howling desert of London.

More recently, Gyles Brandreth has conjectured that Wilde was the inspiration for another character in the Sherlock Holmes canon. He asks,

Could Wilde (brilliant, overweight and indolent) really be the model for Mycroft Holmes (brilliant, overweight and indolent)? [John] Badley told me that he and Wilde had both been members of an occasional dining society, the Socrates Club. When Conan Doyle, four years after his first meeting with Wilde, introduced his readers to Holmes’s elder bother (in “The Greek Interpreter”), he set him in an armchair in a gentlemen’s club named after another Greek philosopher, Diogenes.

Perhaps he is right, although it may require a stretch of the imagination. At the very least Wilde seems to have made an appearance in the world of Sherlock Holmes disguised as Thaddeus Sholto.

Sources:

Beckson, Karl E. (1998) The Oscar Wilde Encyclopedia. New York: AMS Press.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. (1924) Memories and Adventures. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.

Brandreth, Gyles. (May 6, 2007) “Gyles Brandreth on the mystery of Oscar Wilde and Sherlock Holmes,” The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/?xml=/arts/2007/05/06/svinsider106.xml

Pogrebin, Robin. (December 3, 1996) “When Sherlock Got His Quirks,” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/03/books/when-sherlock-got-his-quirks.html

Rosenberg, Samuel. (1974) Naked is the Best Disguise: The Death and Resurrection of Sherlock Holmes. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s