Having successfully depressed myself in conducting a close reading of my favourite Sherlock Holmes short story and realising how badly written it was, it occurred to me that the quality of one’s writing is clearly no barrier to literary success. Basically, if you can spin a good yarn and the reading public like the stories you tell, you’ll make a very good living indeed.
For example, I went through A Scandal in Bohemia – possibly my favourite of all the Holmes stories – with a fine toothed comb and found some fairly startling mistakes that, frankly, Conan Doyle should never have made but do not seem to have stood in the way of his success one jolt. For example, as a doctor, Conan Doyle should have known that cocaine is not sedative – quite the opposite, in fact, although it was used as a local anaesthetic at the time he was writing. It is a stimulant, so Holmes taking it and then drifting off to sleep for a few hours is not possible. He would have been agitated, pacing and possibly exceedingly irritating.
Secondly, Irene Adler’s wedding in the second part of the story is so nonsensical as to border on farce. It is apparent that she and Norton are marrying under a special licence; but no marriage licence in the land (now or in 1888, when the story was set) would have expired at noon. Moreover, no marriage was legal unless it was conducted in the presence of at least two witnesses – even under a special licence. So Adler and Norton marrying with only Holmes in disguise as a witness is not a valid marriage.
I also don’t understand why the King of Bohemia – who is a boorish, arrogant barbarian if ever Conan Doyle wrote one – swears Holmes and Watson to secrecy for two years, as “after that it will not matter”. Why not? What’s going to happen in two years that will render the threat of blackmail pointless? He’s already inherited his title, he will have married well before then (and probably produced an heir) – I don’t understand. I’ll gloss over the fact that the King seems to think Irene should have been grateful to have known him, in whatever capacity. Such a charmer.
Anyway, back to the point. Now that I’ve read through the story very carefully indeed, I find it difficult to call Conan Doyle a GOOD writer. However, it is undeniable that he was an extremely successful writer, which I suppose is more important. The same also applies to Dan Brown and EL James, both of whom have written shockingly bad novels that sold by the truckload and made their fortunes.
And for what it’s worth, I’ve read “A Scandal in Bohemia” a good dozen times and I’ve only just got round to doing this. I’ll probably never be able to read it again, now. Serves me right.