Recent Fiction

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Recent Fiction is an article published in the New-York Tribune on 27 august 1893.

Report of the lecture "Fiction as a Part of Literature" given by Arthur Conan Doyle on 10 august 1893 in Christ Church, Lucerne.

Recent Fiction

New-York Tribune (27 august 1893, p. 14)


The Lucerne correspondent of "The London Chronicle" sends to that journal on account of Dr. Conan Doyle's lecture on "Fiction as a Part of Literature," just delivered at one of Dr. Lunn's conferences in Christ Church.

Dr. Doyle came down heavily on the critics who whine forth pessimistic lamentations over the decay of literature. The proneness of the critic, the doctor held, was always to depreciate the literary talent of the days in which he lived; but as a fact he maintained that the fiction of the present century was the most certain and permanent part of England's glory, and would last in the memory and appreciation of the people after the labors of the statesman and the soldier had crumbled away. One very striking feature in regard to the present century fiction was its breadth of view. The novelist was growing ever more cosmopolitan, and in this sense literary federation of the empire. As examples of this thought, Dr. Doyle instanced Kipling, whose volcanic style of writing showed traits of the glow of the East; Stevenson, who was gradually unfolding the literature of the South Seas, in which the beat of the waves and the rustle of the palm leaves were distinctly recognizable; Rider Haggard, who had shown a romance which overhung the frontier line of civilization, and revealed something of the debatable land where the white impinged on the black human subject; Olive Schreiner, and others. And on these grounds the doctor ventured the reasonable hope that the light literature of the future would not be less brilliant, if it did not exceed, the literature of the past. Indeed, his personal expectations went further, for he hoped the present day talent would develop as the tropical tree whose branches curve downward, till, reaching the ground, they take fresh root and unite the parent stem with many others as strong and as thick as itself.

Narrowing the view to fiction writers of very recent times, Dr. Doyle held that the present generation of authors are largely tinged with Robert Louis Stevenson — a man who ranked high among the few English writers who possessed the dual capacity of writing a book and a taking short story. These arts the doctor held to be quite distinct — Thackeray, Scott, Reade and George Eliot to wit, none of whom had made any mark with the short story order of literature. And while so many writers were thus tinged with Stevenson. Stevenson himself was in the genesis of the authorship largely influenced by George Meredith. By the way, in the outset of the lecture, Dr. Doyle had remarked that George Meredith and Thomas Hardy were both instances of men possessed of great powers, who, notwithstanding, had failed to hold the public like some of their predecessors. Returning to Stevenson, the doctor remarked that no one had shown a greater power of selecting exact language for the expression of exact ideas. For example, "His eyes clung coasting round to me" showed admirably the furtive glance of the guilty man, the expression "coasting" being there invested with quite a new and most exact meaning. "His voice shook like a taut rope" and "his blows resounded on the grave as thick as sobs" were other instances of the same characteristic of this author. Olive Schreiner, J. M. Barrie (whom Dr. Doyle thought was destined to live in the memories of Scotsmen, like Robert Burns). "Q." and other authors were all given their meed of panegyric, and then Dr. Doyle came down to Rudyard Kipling — a man whose faults it would be easy for any one to enumerate, who evidently lacked the faculty of judging his own work, but who, notwithstanding all this, stood out as a vivid Indian orchid among English roses; who had made himself a great political power; whose literary imagination had done more to unite England and India than the Suez Canal, and whose literary triumphs so early in life were equal to those of Scott, Thackeray, and others at nearly double his age. At the close there was probably not a single person present who would disagree with Dr. Doyle's own deduction that the literature of a nation being what the people read, it influences what they think, and what they think is embodied in what they do.