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Sherlock Holmes, like James Bond, was a fictional character that made a deep impression on Anthony Burgess. And as with Bond, he wrote about Holmes in many places and in many forms, even writing his own Holmes story, ‘Murder to Music’, which was originally published in The Devil’s Mode (1989), but has subsequently appeared in two anthologies of works inspired by Conan Doyle’s detective. Burgess viewed Holmes as ‘a model of the cool brilliant intellectual, but, by a supreme paradox, he is taken also as a typical eccentric Englishman’. This intrigued Burgess, and he became a life-long fan of Conan Doyle, writing in 1982, ‘Because the Sherlock Holmes stories offer nothing for the classroom or the doctoral thesis, this does not mean that they are not great literature, for great literature need not be complex, puzzling, ambiguous. Great literature adds something to our lives. Conan Doyle added something to our lives. Ergo – ‘.
In the following article, presented here in typescript, Burgess contemplates the staying power of Sherlock Holmes, saying that ‘no character outside of Shakespeare or Cervantes has earned such immortality’. With Holmes currently undergoing a modern-day revival on television in both the UK and the USA, it’s hard to argue with Burgess’s analysis.
For more information on the Observer/Burgess Prize for Arts Journalism, click here.