Conan Doyle's Hard Luck as a Playwright

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Conan Doyle's Hard Luck as a Playwright is an interview of Arthur Conan Doyle published as an article in The New-York Times on 19 november 1905.

Conan Doyle about his difficulties to place his Brigadier Gerard's play to the London theatre managers. The play will be actually performed at the Imperial Theatre and the Lyric Theatre in march-june 1906.

Conan Doyle's Hard Luck as a Playwright

The New-York Times (19 november 1905)

Never has the complaint of theatrical managers in London been more insistent than it is at present with regard to the difficulty of obtaining good plays. The shortness of the runs of some pieces produced in London goes to show that they have some cause for complaint. Yet a famous author like Sir A. Conan Doyle has failed to place a play after months of constant attempts to do so. Many people will ask on hearing this: "How can an unknown playwright succeed where a man who has already achieved one big success has failed?"

Sir Conan's failure to induce some London manager to stage his new play, which is a dramatised version of one of the episodes in the life of "Brigadier Gerard," is the more surprising because William Gillette is playing in "Sherlock Holmes" seven times a week at the present time to crowded houses at the Duke of York's Theatre, London. When the play was first produced some years ago it was one of the biggest successes of that season.

"I have found a difficulty in placing 'Gerard,'" was Sir Conan's own phrase to an interviewer who found him at his house at Hindhead, in the Surrey hills.

"I have offered it to nearly every London manager, but without success. They all seem to fight shy of it. Why, I cannot say. I am still confident, however, that it is a good play, and they," he added with a laugh, "are equally certain that it is not. There was one manager, though, who I thought might have accepted it at one time, and he was Mr. Martin Harvey. He found his plans, however, were so indefinite for some years to come that he could not undertake to appear in that rôle in London. He is the actor whom I would like to see in the part. I have the greatest admiration for his genius, and the character is one which is just suited to him."

A further interest attaches to this play as Sir Conan has prepared it for the stage himself without any aid. "In the case of 'Sherlock,'" he said, "the dramatisation was done almost entirely by Mr. William Gillette. He took my story and used it, as it seemed to him, to the best effect. I must say I think he was very successful. In fact, I have a very high opinion of his idea for situations. I do not know any actor who has this gift so highly developed."

"At present I have not dramatised any of my other stories. It will be time enough to do this when I have 'Gerard' off my hands."

The conversation then turned toward Sir Conan Doyle's novels and magazine work. "For my next book." he said, "I am going back to the days of the 'White Company.' Of all my books or stories this is the one which I like best. Before I wrote it I did a lot of reading so as to get the atmosphere of the period. And I have done the same before commencing my new novel. The period — the reign of Edward III. — lends itself so to the novelist.

"The same characters as appeared in 'The White Company' will largely appear in my new book, which I am calling after one of them, Sir Nigel. It will hardly, however, be in the nature of a sequel. Sir Nigel and Aylward were both middle-eged men in the first book, so I am going back to earlier times to show what manner of men they were in their younger days. It would be more correct to speak of 'Sir Nigel' as a prelude to 'The White Company.' To write two novels in this way is one which I have never heard of anybody else adopting.

"Why am I going back in this way? Because I am tired of 'Sherlock Holmes,' I want to do some more solid work again. 'Sherlock' and 'Gerard' are all right in their way, but, after all, one gets very little satisfaction from such work afterward. Nor do I think I shall write any more short stories for some time to come. One must listen, of course, to what the editors have to say.

"'Sir Nigel' will appear in serial form first. It is an unsatisfactory method of publishing a novel. I would sooner see it appear in book form, but as an author receives probably four times as much money for the serial rights as be does for the book rights it is not wholly to be condemned. One must live after all.

"One of the disadvantages is that, knowing that the story is going to appear in this form first, one is apt to write it too much in instalements, ending each with an exciting incident. In 'Sir Nigel' I believe I have avoided doing this, although there is plenty of movement to keep the reader's interest.

"My methods of work are not made out to any particular plan. I write when the mood is on me. I never dictate a single word, but write the entire story with my pen. I write slowly and very seldom make any corrections afterward. Often when I have done so I have found the result so unsatisfactory that I have restored what I had originally written. If I do make an alteration it usually entails reconstruction of part of the story. First impressions always seem to me the best."

Sir Conan Doyle will be one of the candidates for Parliament at the impending general election. He hopes to represent one of the Scotch boroughs eventually and much of his time is at present devoted to forwarding his candidature in his constituency. He is an ardent tariff reformer.

A land flowing with milk and honey wouldn't appeal so much to some people as a land flowing with beer and pretzels.