One of my Sherlockian maxims is, “You can’t have too many copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
That’s obvious, I know. Although I’m not a collector, I own about 90 copies of that masterpiece, each bought for a specific reason. I’ve written about this too often to provide the links. Until recently, however, I didn’t have the bookpublished by the Baker Street Irregulars. I filled that lacuna during the Baker Street Irregulars & Friends Weekend in New York. And high time, too!
In 2001, as part of its wonderful Manuscript Series, the BSI published a volume containing a facsimile of the handwritten manuscript of Chapter XI of The Hound, along with the typescript of the chapter and nine often-insightful essays.
As a mystery writer myself, I was fascinated to see how few changes the author (Arthur Conan Doyle? Dr. Watson?) made in the manuscript, and what those changes were. Many of the alterations showed a careful writer in search of the precise word – “keen” becomes “eager” near the bottom of the first page, for example. In other kind of change, the real village of Newton Abbot in Devon becomes the “Combe Tracey” familiar to readers in the revisions.
Like Sherlock Holmes with magnifying glass in hand, the essayists in this volume examine The Hound as a work of literature from many different angles – the plot, the atmosphere, the many hypothesized sources. Richard Lancelyn Green makes a strong argument, but to me ultimately unconvincing, that the story was suggested by a tale about a snake in The Strand magazine.
Michael Dirda’s “The Spell of The Hound” closes out the book with a charming reminiscence of his own first reading of the work which introduced him to Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
A special treat of this volume is a reprint of an ad for the American edition of The Hound. It ran in the May 10, 1902 issue of The Publisher’s Weekly. The three paragraphs of text, unillustrated, contains this startling statement: “The new Sherlock Holmes novel may be dead one hundred years from now, but it’s very much alive today.”
Dead one hundred years from now? How wrong could a publisher get?!