Author: Vincent Starrett
Published: 1933, revised 1960
Publisher: George Allan & Unwin Ltd.
Originally published in 1933, Private Life was one of the first pieces of Sherlockian scholarship to appear on the scene. Starrett revised his work in 1960, and this volume now sits on the shelves of many a Sherlockian. Well written, insightful and informative, Private Life is a must read for anyone interested in the field of Sherlockian research.
The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is divided into twelve sections, or chapters. A summary and review has been provided for each in turn.
1) Enter Mr. Sherlock Holmes
This chapter focuses on Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes (or literary agent, for those that play the Game). It’s an insightful chapter, and while the information provided is not new, at the time this book was first written, it likely surprised many people. Still, despite seventy-plus years of knowledge, the information is still fascinating, and provides some interesting insight into the author/agent.
2) The methods of Sherlock Holmes
This chapter touches on the various cases found throughout Canon, the central characters involved, and pays particular attention to the methods of Sherlock Holmes. It’s a fascinating character study, backed up by Canonical evidence, and made interesting by Starrett’s engaging writing style.
3) The return of Sherlock Holmes
This chapter examines the great hiatus, as seen from the characters contained within Canon, the author/agent, and the public at large. The latter is particularly interesting, as it gives great insight into the social and cultural phenomena that is Sherlock Holmes.
4) No. 221B Baker Street
This chapter would be outdated by today’s standards, and yet, when it was first conceived, it was revolutionary. Starrett talks about the famous sitting room in Baker Street, its appearance and possible location. He touches on the quest to find the real 221B and gives evidence for and against each of the theories that, at the time, had come forward.
5) The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
This is perhaps the most noteworthy chapter from the point of view of a subtextual student. Without actually acknowledging the homoerotic content, Starrett touches on Holmes and Watson’s relationship, and the deep bond between them, implying on several occasions that their relationship transcended that of a mere friendship. Starrett does all of this without clarifying his intentions, so there is room for interpretation here. Even without the subtext within the subtext, Starrett gets Holmes and Watson. He gets their relationship and acknowledges the love that bloomed between them. For that reason alone, this chapter is worth reading.
6) The Singular Adventures of Martha Hudson
As the title suggests, this chapter focuses on Mrs. Hudson, providing a very unique character study for the woman behind the scenes.
7) The Untold Tales of Dr. Watson
Here Starrett mentions the literally dozens of cases that Watson hints at, but never records in Canon. He speculates, too, on what might have been contained in that lock box hidden deep in the vaults of Cox & Co. in Charing Cross.
8) Ave Sherlock Morituri Et Cetera
This chapter examines the life and works of Sherlock Holmes, categorizing each of his published works, including his monograph on tobacco ash and the identification of footprints.
9) The Real Sherlock Holmes
This chapter again belongs to Arthur Conan Doyle, and touches on the many occasions when he assumed the role of his creation. Starrett details each of the investigations ACD assumed, following their causes, and outcomes.
10) Portrayers of Sherlock Holmes
As the title would suggest, this chapter examines the various portrayals of Sherlock Holmes, touching on artist renditions, theatre and films. Notably, the information provided is quite dated, but it still provides an interesting examination of earlier Sherlock Holmes adaptations and imitations.
11) The Baker Street Irregulars
No Sherlockian work would be complete without a section on the various societies and scions that formed in response to the popularity of Sherlock Holmes. As an added bonus, Starrett is able to give a first hand account of one of the first BSI meetings.
12) The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet
Starrett ends his book with a pastiche. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either. It’s a fascinating case, and while the characters don’t quite meet the original, it’s close enough to be of interest. Perhaps the most noteworthy detail in this final chapter is that Starrett, in writing Sherlock Holmes, still manages to include the subtext. The perfect finishing touch.
While the pastiche was lacking in authenticity (though not enough to distract the reader) overall this is quite possibly one of the best works I have read to date. So far, it is the only piece of Sherlockian scholarship to earn 5 out of 5 pipes, and I suspect it might be the last. It is highly recommended that every individual interested in Sherlockian research read this work. For myself, I plan to purchase it.