Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2014 Classic #3

The Mystery of Cloomber – Arthur Conan Doyle

The Mystery of Cloomber (1889) was Conan Doyle's second published novel, after A Study in Scarlet introduced Sherlock Holmes in 1887.

When the young narrator, John Fothergill West, avers “I have no wish that this narrative should degenerate into anything approaching to romance,” he’s looking down his nose at love stories. But young West is a romantic in the sense that he believes knowledge of nature should not be gained exclusively with the scientific method. He says, “Science will tell you that there are no such powers as those claimed by the Eastern mystics. I, John Fothergill West, can confidently answer that science is wrong.”

Indeed, this novel shows that Conan Doyle had a deep interest in spiritualism and the occult even early in his writing career. In this novel, General Heatherstone retires from the Indian service and takes his family to Cloomber Castle in Scotland. He discourages visitors, builds a high wooden fence around the grounds, and light up the entire house at night. He’s convinced he’s to be subject to Supernatural Retribution. I suppose one could read into the story that his guilt over his unfortunate past being a hired gun for imperialism drives him bonkers. But I find it hard to think that Conan Doyle had qualms about colonialism or would criticize The System in a short story.

Readers of Doyle’s short stories from early in his career will be reminded that characters will succumb to evil or unseen forces despite heroic efforts to avoid malign fate. Recall "The Captain of the 'Pole-star'” orThe Ring of Thoth.”

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