“Dear Sir. I venture to submit to your notice the accompanying tale ‘The actor’s duel’. I once before trespassed upon your valuable time by sending up a sketch which did not come up to your standard – I trust that this may meet with a better fate. However defective the working out maybe I am conscious that the denouement is both original and powerful, worthy, I hope, of the traditions of your magazine.”
The above excerpt is taken from a letter written by Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The British writer would have turned 160 years old this past week (May 22). On Wednesday, The National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh shared a picture of the letter on their Twitter account while appropriately hashtagging #SherlockHolmesday. Doyles’ words are indicative of a crucial period in the life of all creatives—a time when one is starving for success.
137 years ago, before knighthood, Arthur Conan Doyle found himself at the ripe age of twenty-two, (tactfully) pleading for publication. Like all young writers, Doyle was equipped only with a vague understanding of what he wanted to say to the world—it was just a matter of finding the right words. Regardless, his letter conveys obvious confidence in his ability to wow.
The “original” and “powerful” denouement Doyle refers to is the climax of his short story—after having stopped the abduction of his sister, a young actor (who had just won the role of Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet) finds out that one of the kidnappers is a colleague of his, a fellow actor playing Hamlet in the same play. In their next performance, the two use real swords in a duel, which grants the production a realness that the audience uproariously applauds. The crowd is unaware the two are actually fighting to the death. The duel plays out in a very art-imitating-life/Aronofsky-Black-Swan-esque way that makes the reader question the integrity of artistic perception.
According to an article on edinburghlive‘s website, Doyle asked Blackwood’s Magazine to consider his short story, then entitled “The Actor’s Duel.” At the beginning of the letter, Doyle reveals the publication had previously rejected another one of his short stories, “The Haunted Grange of Goresthorpe.” Despite his best efforts, Blackwood’s turned Doyle down again (idiots); however, “The Actor’s Duel” was eventually published two years later as “The Tragedians” in Bow Bells Magazine.
In 1887, A Study in Scarlett was published—the first of many stories concerning the adventures of detective Holmes and Dr. Watson. In addition to tales surrounding the famous detective, Doyle also wrote many science fiction and historical and novels, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction, yadda, and yadda. The writer was prolific and will go down in history as the man who made Benedict Cumberbatch what he is today… whatever that is, exactly.
Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t start writing until she was forty-three, and she wasn’t published until sixty-five—two full decades later. Harry Bernstein didn’t get published until he was ninety-six. Susan Boyle didn’t “dream the dream” until she was forty-seven, and Colonel Harland Sanders didn’t franchise his fried chicken business until well past forty. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s successes may not have come as late in life as those of the other icons mentioned, but this letter is an important reminder: (Yoda voice) the greatest teacher, failure is.
Featured Image Via Sherlock-Sherlockian.com