Bertram Fletcher Robinson: A Footnote to The Hound of the Baskervilles by Brian W Pugh and Paul R Spiring
|Bertram Fletcher Robinson: A Footnote to The Hound of the Baskervilles by Brian W Pugh and Paul R Spiring|
|Reviewer: Ruth Price|
|Summary: A detailed exploration of the life and work of writer Bertram Fletcher Robinson, along with a study of BFR's contribution to The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous story. Meticulously researched, but more a reference than a readable biography. One for Sherlock Holmes completists and researchers.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 248||Date: October 2008|
|Publisher: MX Publishing|
Bertram Fletcher Robinson was a great friend of Arthur Conan Doyle and a prolific writer, who tragically died aged just thirty-six in 1907. His collaboration was crucial to the revival of Sherlock Holmes in ACD's best-known tale, The Hound of the Baskervilles. This volume is described as a 'footnote' to that story and while there is much of value to Sherlock Holmes fans, I got little impression of BFR the man, despite the meticulously recorded details which the authors have painstakingly uncovered.
I had never heard of BFR until recently, when I reviewed the authors' On the Trail of Arthur Conan Doyle: An Illustrated Devon Tour for Bookbag. BFR was a highly prolific author, whose life was sadly cut short. However, despite all the painstaking details provided by the authors, I am left with little more than the skeleton of his life-history. I suspect the authors wanted to be entirely objective and to base their book entirely on factual, verifiable evidence, but sadly, this makes for pretty dry reading especially when the subject of the biography is not well-known.
It appears one of the reasons this book was written was to clear up scurrilous speculation about the relationship between BFR and ACD. The authors certainly convinced me that the pair were on cordial terms, BFR wasn't plagiarised and resentful of ACD's success, and ACD had no hand in BFR's death, and other rampant speculations. However, perhaps in their efforts to quash lurid rumours, they hardly mention any of this in the text. I felt a chapter could have been devoted to this subject, especially as Paul Spiring was active in quashing a 2008 application to have BFR's body exhumed to check if he'd been poisoned by ACD (which again isn't mentioned in this text).
BFR's literary output seemed to be in a popular style and the extracts of his work included in this book bring vibrancy to its pages. A complete article by BFR on Historic Monuments of Britain proves that BFR was not certainly afraid to speculate or use his imagination, but the careful, scholarly approach used by the authors fails to bring him to life. Sadly, the authors over-use of the phrase it is interesting to note made me think It could be, but not written by you. For example – when BFR marries a 22 year-old self-proclaimed 'actress' called Gladys Hill Morris – that is the first time we meet Gladys. I wanted to know why actress was apostrophised. I wanted to know where they met and fell in love and what she was like. I ended up learning more about her brother, who joined the Royal Navy… A bit of speculation here and there would have made this more readable – BFR was a popular, accessible writer in his times, and I imagine his autobiography would have been an enjoyable page-turner.
I preferred the authors' previous book, as despite it sharing a similar style, it did include detailed directions for a tour of Devon, so its style was less important as it felt appropriate in a reference/travel guide. There are also a few annoying editing boo-boos – such as principle contributor. Elementary - never use principle an adjective, my dear Watson.
I therefore feel that this work is more suitable for the serious Holmesian, or someone doing research into Victoriana, Devon folklore, and the like. Bearing that in mind, this volume would be improved by the provision of an index for reference purposes. I did enjoy the extracts from BFR's works, the numerous illustrations from contemporary sources; I loved the cover, a homage to the first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles. There's a lot packed in this volume, and I sincerely admire the hard work put in by the authors.
Thanks to the publisher, MX Publishing, for sending this book to Bookbag. It will be a great reference for ACD fans – but there's another book in there somewhere!
Further reading: For further reading, as mentioned above, On the Trail of Arthur Conan Doyle: An Illustrated Devon Tour by Brian W Pugh and Paul R Spiring is ideal for anyone thinking of retracing the literary steps of ACD and BFR. The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle by Russell Miller was described by Bookbag's reviewer as compulsively readable.
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