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Possessions and obsessions: fandom and the case of Arthur Conan Doyle

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

This thesis focuses on the legacy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous literary creation: Sherlock Holmes. This thesis examines the historical, literary, and cultural context that caused a Sherlock Holmes fandom to emerge in the 1890s-1930s. Drawing on a range of resources, including previously unworked material from the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, Richard Lancelyn Green Bequest (Portsmouth, UK), this thesis furthers the current research being carried out on Sherlock Holmes fandom. The special edition ‘Sherlock Holmes Fandom, Sherlockiana, and the Great Game’ of Transformative Works and Cultures (2017) offers original research that traces the roots of participatory fandom to the 1890s, but there are still large gaps to be explored. This thesis therefore aims to engage with Sherlockian fandom as an 1890s phenomenon that progressed and grew from Holmes’ first appearance in the Strand. It also examines the previously ignored role of the Strand in cultivating a Sherlock Holmes fandom. It does this by looking at the commercialisation of Holmes, as well as the concepts of authorship, canon, paratexts, and collections. It combines existing approaches, such as literary theory, fan studies, and thing theory, and applies it to Victorian and Edwardian culture.
This thesis argues that the Strand had a contradictory relationship with Sherlock Holmes fanfiction. On the one hand, the Strand used the idea of self-improvement to actively encourage readers to participate in authorship; on the other, they also rigorously enforced a literary hierarchy. Instead, Tit-Bits became the place for fans’ creative output, including Sherlock Holmes pastiches and parodies. This dual approach to fan behaviours was also present in the Strand’s attitude to collecting. They produced Sherlock Holmes postcards to be collected, yet also pathologised collectors in the magazine’s content. This thesis also argues that the Sherlock Holmes Canon itself offers a self-reflexive and dual portrayal of fans and collectors.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award dateJun 2018

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