The Sign of the Four and the Picture of Dorian Gray were commissioned at same lunch

As Stephen Fry – who turns out to be a member of the Sherlock Holmes society – explained in an interview for STV:

Talking about the dinner that took place at the very hotel they were speaking in, Fry said: “Well, there was an American literary magazine called Lippincott’s Magazine, which I think was in Philadelphia.

Fry added: “In fact, he invited to dinner in this very hotel two men who had never met. The young writer – both actually young, in their thirties – Arthur Conan Doyle, who had written A Study in Scarlet, one story of this detective.

“But this man, Conan Doyle, was a failed eye surgeon essentially. Round the corner is Harley Street from exactly where we are, literally runs straight down there, and he’d had a little place there and it hadn’t really taken off – it was obviously in the days of private practise – and he’d turned his hand to penmanship instead.

“So he’d written reasonably successfully, people knew who he was, he was going to be perhaps a significant writer – though no-one knew quite how significant – and then there was this blazing talent Oscar Wilde, who had gone to Oxford and established a reputation for himself, even as an undergraduate there were cartoons of him in Punch.

“And at that dinner two stories arose in the minds, or two commissions were made and a large sum of money was proposed by Stoddart to each, and each met for the first time and really liked each other – and that’s a surprise. It tells you a lot about Conan Doyle, and it tells you a lot about Wilde.”

Fry says he thinks the approval of a true literary man like Wilde emboldened Conan Doyle to write again.

Indeed, he thinks the influence may have been mutual, and that Conan Doyle may have reminded Wilde of 19th century writer Robert Louis Stevenson and made him think that he could write a novel with a hint of the supernatural, one which would allow him to tell a parable about good and evil and about decadence – which would have led him to penThe Picture of Dorian Gray.

Fry explained: “So they each came away having been commissioned to write books, and each then went on to pursue paths of enormous and illustrious literary fame.

Hat tip: Great Lives and this post on Interesting Literature which contains other interesting Sherlock facts including that he is NOT the most filmed fictional character after all. That’s apparently Dracula.


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