In the first story of The Manifestations of Sherlock Holmes, an exasperated Dr. Watson asks Holmes, “Would you not allow that there is at least an outside chance that something other, something ineffable and indefinable, surrounds our lives and from time to time permeates them?” Author James Lovegrove positions his new Holmes book to consider Watson’s premise: what boundaries will readers accept for the great detective?
In an undergraduate classroom, even one full of English majors, it can be hard for nineteenth-century literature to turn heads. “Achingly dull” or “overly wordy” are typical responses to the Victorians. Despite its place in our cultural imagination, Dracula doesn’t incite average readers to clamour for Bram Stoker’s foundational novel. But by the time Dracula’s three sultry vamp ladies crawl suggestively down Jonathan Harker in bed, who is insensate with fear and “languorous ecstasy,” students realise this isn’t some stuffy sermon on middle-class morality they’re dealing with. The assumed Victorian prudishness doesn’t fly, but catapults out the nearest window. This isn’t what they were expecting. Certainly not from 1897. But why not?