Some Facts about Fiction

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

On wednesday 4 october 1893, Arthur Conan Doyle gave a lecture "Some Facts about Fiction" at the Upper Norwood Literary and Scientific Society (UNLSS) meeting held at Norwood.

Conan Doyle's lecture

It is not a history of fiction, nor a comparative analysis of past and present writers, nor an award in an international arbitration on the claims of the French, the American and the English schools, that Dr. Doyle attempts. With as much modesty of aim as of manner, he limits himself to half-a-dozen contemporary writers, and endeavours to convince his audience, by exposition and by extract, that these are not days of decline in the department of imaginative literature, but are at once days of remarkable achievement and of extraordinary promise. If we have now no Dickens or Thackeray — as he allows — and their position is practically undisputed, it is still true that the art of fiction has improved since their day, and that the present average production is of high quality. Not England only, but the English colonies are fertile of genius, and the political Federation of the Empire has been anticipated by literary enterprise. Canada and Australia have asserted their claims to recognition; India, with Mr. Kipling as its representative, has won universal consideration; and in the person of Olive Schreiner, Africa has made herself heard. At home Thomas Hardy, George Meredith and R. L. Stevenson are the foremost amongst a band of writers who are worthy of there leaders. Mr. Barrie, Mr. Quiller Couch, and Mr. Jerome maintain the claims of the novel, and particularly of the short story, to be the most vital things in the world. "The novel," said Dr. Doyle finely, "is the philanthropist of literature." It is not a concession to evil and luxury, or a mere pastime, for what men read they think, and what they think they do. Nor is there any higher aim in life than that of lightening by a feather's weight the load of care which lies upon so many lives.

Dr. Doyle would evidently be ready to do battle for his art as a story teller if need were, but in this lecture his method is that of persuasion. His critical scalpel is used with much precision, and his clinical discourse is most intelligent and edifying. The total effect is much heightened by his habit of making his patients speak for themselves, for in every case they bear witness to the accuracy of his diagnosis. The extracts which he reads from the works under review never conflict with his judgment of their merits.

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