?

Log in

Le Salon des Internautes
home of the perpetually doubtful and those that are sure of their ground
Elémentaire mon cher Watson ! 
27th-Feb-2008 03:07 pm [tea scones and madeleines]
 I've just finished an entertaining book by Pierre Bayard whom I already mentionned last year for his brilliant Comment parler des livres qu'on a pas lus. By the way there's a good article on Pierre Bayard here (it's from the French newspaper, Libération).

Well, entertaining might not be the most accurate word here. It's very clever, recreational and intellectual at once. The tittle is L'affaire du chien des Baskerville. Bayard's idea is that Sherlock Holmes got it all wrong (he isn't the first to think so, the Holmesians had alreay pointed out many anomalies and Christopher Gelly or François Hoff also wrote articles on a possible miscarriage of justice) . Basically Pierre Bayard leads a counter-investigation (and does find/reveal another guilty party) while writing an essay on literature (he teaches Literature in a Parisian University but he's also a psychoanalyst) . 

Bayard has started what he called himself  "une critique policière" which is literary critic applied to detective novels. He has already done it with Agatha Christie (Qui a  tué Roger Ackroyd ?) and Shakespeare's Hamlet (he proved Claudius innocent of the murder of Hamlet's father)

I must say that I am not completely convinced by his solution here, and the final truth he gives us when he unmasks the murderer left me sceptical. However it's quite playful and all the work he does- about Holmes' method and his obvious mistakes, about the hound's innocence(the chapter "Plaidoyer pour le chien" is hilarious), about Stapleton's doubtful guilt and finally about Conan Doyle's ambivalence when it comes to his famous detective- before pointing out the true killer, well that work of his is SO smart and just fun. 

It's an exercice in style of exegesis and critic brilliantly accomplished by an Academic who fights with the text so it could be boring and could seem pointless but Bayard's tongue-in-cheek humour is simply priceless.  

It's even more priceless if you have enjoyed Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, if you have seen the BBC's programme Reichenbach Falls based on an idea by Ian Rankin and  if you think of that recent poll done in the UK wherein it turned out that 25% of British teenagers thought that Winston Churchill was a fictional character but more than 50% believed that Sherlock Holmes did exist and used to live in Baker Street!

See, everything is connected in my world, again...Now you may follow me under the cut into the rabbit's hole.

At the beginning of his book, Bayard quotes Jasper Fforde, then in the preface, after recalling the origin of the legendary hound of Baskerville, he writes(my own comments being in italics):

"Comment Conan Doyle a-t-il pu se tromper à ce point? Il lui manquait sans doute, pour résoudre une énigme aussi complexe, les outils de la réflexion contemporaine sur les personnages littéraires. [note here that Bayard ironically used some of the tricks that Conan Doyle or Holmes himself wouldn't have disowned !] Ceux-ci ne sont pas, comme one le croit trop souvent, des êtres de papier , mais des créatures vivantes, qui mènent dans les livres une existence autonome, allant parfois jusqu'à commettre des meurtres à l'insu de l'auteur. Faute de mesurer cette indépendance, Conan Doyle ne s'est pas aperçu que l'un de ses personnages avait définitevement échappé à son contrôle et s'amusait à induire son détective en erreur.

Cet essai, en engageant une véritable réflexion théorique sur la nature des personnages littéraires , leurs compétences insoupçonnées et les droits qu'ils peuvent revendiquer, se propose donc de rouvrir le dossier du Chien des Baskerville et de résoudre enfin l'enquête inachevée de Sherlock Holmes, permettant par là à la jeune morte de la lande de Dartmoor, errante depuis des siècles dans l'un de ces mondes intermédiaires qui environnent la littérature, de trouver le repos."

The theory of autonomous fictional characters is funny even though it isn't the most interesting side of the book actually and don't worry I won't spoil you about who did what crime-wise.

The core of Bayard's essay, its morceau de bravoure, is how he connects The Hound of the Baskervilles, and all the anomalies that the author allowed, to the relationship between Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. Because that case is the case of Holmes' resurrection even though it is supposed to have taken place before Holmes ' death.

"Ayant, dans des circonstances sur lesquelles nous allons revenir, mis à mort son détective, Conan Doyle, sous la pression du public, est contraint quelques années plus tard, la mort dans l'âme, de le ressusciter. Et c'est cette résurrection qui donne lieu au Chien des Baskerville.(...)
Curieusement, personne à ma connaissance n'a jamais tenté d'établir un lien entre la mise à mort de Sherlock Holmes, sa réapparition et l'affaire du chien des Baskerville, alors que ces événements sont concomitants. Tout indique pourtant, non seulement que le roman en porte les traces, mais que l'analyse de celles-ci est déterminante si l'on entend ne pas s'en tenir à la vérité officelle et reconsituter ce qui s'est réellement passé sur la lande de Dartmoor."


By the way I learned on this book that Conan Doyle wanted to get rid of Holmes for a while but his own mother loved Holmes and whispered ideas and plots to Arthur's ear in order to prolonge the detective's life! And it worked during a few years until he couldn't take it anymore and killed off his hero. Bayard doesn't say it explicitly but the detail is significant and may colour the death of Sherlock Holmes in the Reichenbach Falls as a oedipean crime committed by Conan Doyle!

Here I couldn't not think of the tv film The Reichenbach Falls and how the author (Harvey)and his detective (Buchan) were old pals who had become rivals. According to Bayard there was a love/hate relationship between the author and his creature. At some point hatred won, devoured Conan Doyle and Moriarty was made to do the dirty job.

Anyway Conan Doyle had to ressurect Holmes. Looks like his readership's reactions were extreme, people mourned Holmes, were agressive (Conan Doyle even recieved death threats). 

"Il y a bien quelque chose de fantastique dans la manière dont les admirateurs de Sherlock Holmes d'une part, Conan Doyle de l'autre, considèrent le détective à l'instar d'une personne vivante, dont ils souhaitaient, selon les cas, la résurrection ou la mort. C'est que dans ce monde intermédiaire qu'ils habitent en commun avec les créatures de la fiction il n' y a plus guère de différence entre les modalités d'existence des uns et des autres.(...) Cette autonomie du personnage atteint son apogée lorsqu'il refuse de se faire exécuter. Du combat entre Conan Doyle et Holmes, ce dernier sort en effet vainqueur. L'écrivain doit accepter en un premier temps de le faire revivre, probablement sous la pressin de sa victime, puis doit renoncer définitevement- après Le Chien des Baskerville où il le ressuscite- à le mettre à mort, contraint de le laisser vivre d'autres aventures où il apparaît de nouveau au premier plan."

From there, Bayard says that Conan Doyle suffered from "le complexe de Holmes" and carries out a brilliant study of The Hound of the Baskervilles, demonstrating how the author deliberately, although probably unconsciously, undermined the investigation, left Holmes in the background and portrayed the famous detective in an unflattering, or at least ambiguous, way. I mostly loved the moment he shows the parallel between the detective and the Hound, pointing out that Sherlock Holmes had often been compared to a dog in previous works but that the analogy reached a peak there, on several moments, including the last scene wherein the hound dies.

"Que Holmes ait une tête de loup et que le chien évoque le détective montre l'importance des brouillages identificatoires à l'oeuvre dans cette dernière scène et marque combien le fantasme de mise à mort de Holmes reste prégnant dans l'imaginaire de Conan Doyle, au point d'infiltrer le dénouement du livre.

Il suffirait d'ailleurs pour s'en convaincre de noter l'étrange ressemblance entre le nom de Baskerville et celui de la célèbre rue où habite Holmes- Baker Street-, une ressemblance encore accentuée par la symétrie entre les deux noms de lieu, "ville" et "street", comme si Conan Doyle avait voulu inconsciemment, dès le titre du livre, qualifier Holmes de chien de Baker Street."

So Conan Doyle still wanted Holmes dead but couldn't kill him apart from a symbolical death so transfered onto the hound which, according to Bayard, screwed up the whole investigation and consequently hid an unsuspected kill and the real murderer in the book.

The most intriguing part of the essay might be that Bayard actually keeps behaving like Holmes, spotting unsuspected clues, using deduction and logic, but also disregarding certain facts or making statements that are rather doubtful (about the size of mysterious character who followed Holmes in London or about the reason Stapleton went to the marsh). By leading the counter-inquiry, Bayard turned himself into Sherlock Holmes and seetled the score with Conan Doyle. But he also behaves like Conan Doyle himself, telling a tale like a narrator, knowing out to make the most of his effects:

"Absorbé par sa rivalité avec Holmes et ne cessant jamais de lui nuire à son insu, Conan Doyle n'a pas pris conscience que celui-ci ne disposait pas de forces suffisantes pour mener efficacement l'enquête et s'opposer à la volonté meurtirère d'un autre personnage. Dévoré par sa haine pour sa créature, il n'a pas prêté attention à la seconde histoire de haine que le livre raconte à l'insu du lecteur, et a ainsi laissé le champ libre aux activités criminelles d'un golem plus discret, mais beaucoup plus terrifiant que son détective."

I'm sure he did it on purpose to give a new layer to his little game and to please/fool the readership!


At the end of the day Pierre Bayard shows us that when you really want to find something in a book you can and the connections you draw will work because there's a sweet insanity and a real freedom in the process of reading, and a reader is just as part of a book as its writer and its characters. 

It's something that we, Buffy fans, already knew, didn't we?
Vermeer, woman in yellow
Comments 
27th-Feb-2008 06:26 pm (UTC)

Oh, yes, I remember that post - I'm all for books talking to each other and so on. I just threw my comment out there, because there are so many people who say: "Yes, but that's not how the author meant it" as if the meaning of a text was set out in stone. (Which would mean that after someone has written the definitive interpretation/analysis, no one would have to bother analysing a text again, which would leave a lot of scholars without a job....).

On the other hand (and I just mistyped that as on the author hand, there are the people who come up with an interpretation that goes against what the author said (which is totally fine in itself) and say it's the only possible reading of a text. And then you get a shipping war.
27th-Feb-2008 06:32 pm (UTC)
On the other hand (and I just mistyped that as "on the author hand",

What a wonderful typo!!!!!

:- )
Le Salon des Internautes: home of the perpetually doubtful and those that are sure of their ground.