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Telegraphing Literature in Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four

  • Laura Rotunno
Chapter
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Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)

Abstract

It may be well doubted whether upon the whole the telegraph has not added more to the annoyance than to the comforts of life, and whether the gentlemen who spent all the public money without authority ought not to have been punished with special severity in that they had injured humanity, rather than pardoned because of the good they had produced. Who is benefited by telegrams? The newspapers are robbed of their old interest, and the very soul of intrigue is destroyed.1

Keywords

Electronic Tongue Literary Professional Model Reader Social Balance Postal Plot 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
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    W. J. Johnston’s Lightning Flashes and Electric Dashes (1877) — a collection of fiction written by American and British telegraph operators — concludes with numerous pages of advertisements for similar book collections and journals carrying tales of and by telegraphists; W. J. Johnston, ed., Lightning Flashes and Electric Dashes: A Volume of Choice Telegraphic Literature, Humor, Fun, Wit, and Wisdom (New York: Johnston, 1877).Google Scholar
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  20. 40.
    On first glance, KyoungMin Han appears to counter my claim. Han’s article, like my discussion here, focuses on Holmes’s refusal of emotional and ideological involvement in the Morstan case; it turns at the end to assert that ‘in spite of the inhuman aspect of his “scientific” methods and his utter contempt for any kind of emotional attachment Holmes himself can be seen as an object of emotional engagement’; KyoungMin Han, ‘Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four: More than a Story about a Machine?’, Nineteenth-Century Literature in English 12.2 (2008): 155–69Google Scholar
  21. 41.
    See Robinson, British Post Office, 425–6, and Daunton, Royal Mail, 259–68, for discussions of an 1890 postal strike, the issues precipitating it, and its consequences. H. G. Swift devotes three chapters to the discontent among telegraph workers during the 1870s through the early 1890s when they suffered from low and unevenly distributed salaries, long work hours, and excessive punishment for menial errors; see chs 12, 13, and 17 in H. G. Swift, A History of Postal Agitation: From Eighty Years Ago Till the Present Day, Book 1, new, rev. edn (Manchester: Percy Brothers, 1929).Google Scholar
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  33. 87.
    Recognizing interconnections between domestic and international issues but failing to put that knowledge to use is the problem that Caroline Reitz asserts that detective fiction, like that of Doyle, was attempting to overcome. Claiming that Holmes’s entries into foreign territories are not the aberrations most critics deem them, Reitz posits that these tales forward ‘an argument for the necessity of better authority through a centralized system of local knowledge. The systematization of knowledge requires constant forays into the domain of the local and peripheral, not an insulated surveillance from the center’; Caroline Reitz, Detecting the Nation: Fictions of Detection and the Imperial Venture (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2004), 76.Google Scholar
  34. 88.
    Considering Doyle’s exploration of political issues, see John McBratney, especially 153 and 157–8, who suggests Doyle’s language mimics many contemporary imperial narratives based on nineteenth-century work on the ‘criminal type’, census materials, and ‘Indian gazetteers [that] were vast, alphabetized summaries of geographical, historical, and ethnographic information about the subcontinent’; John McBratney, ‘Racial and Criminal Types: Indian Ethnography and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four’, Victorian Literature and Culture 33 (2005): 149–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 90.
    Arthur Conan Doyle, The White Company (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1903), vii–ix.Google Scholar
  36. 98.
    John Michael Gibson and Richard Lancelyn Green have edited a collection of Doyle’s 1879 to 1930 ‘Letters to the Press’. Their categorized index of the letters includes Home Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Literary, Military, Religion and Spiritualism — hardly the subjects of one who has lost faith in epistolary power in moral, social, and political debate; Arthur Conan Doyle, Letters to the Press, ed. John Michael Gibson and Richard Lancelyn Green (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  37. Jon Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower, and Charles Foley’s Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters (New York: Penguin, 2007)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Laura Rotunno 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura Rotunno
    • 1
  1. 1.Penn State AltoonaUSA

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