There’s nothing elementary about Hill Memorial Library’s new exhibition, “Investigating Sherlock: Selections from the Russell Mann Sherlock Holmes Research Collection.”
The exhibition explores the world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s crime fiction phenomenon, “Sherlock Holmes,” through a collection of derivative and anthology works inspired by the original canon. The collection was donated by retired University of Louisiana at Lafayette journalism professor Russell Mann, who started building the collection in the ’90s.
Exhibitions coordinator Leah Wood Jewett said the exhibition highlights a breadth of non-canonical works, including graphic novels, figurines, modern pastiche versions and conference materials.
Selections include enlarged reproductions of the original Sherlock Holmes illustrations by Sidney Paget and exploratory works such as “Sherlock Holmes: Rare-Book Collector” by Madeleine Stern, which constructs Holmes’ personal library from references in the original canon, Jewett said.
Residential colleges faculty tutor Kristopher Mecholsky, whose research focuses on crime fiction, said adaptations allow fans to explore nuances of the original canon and bring their own imaginings to life. Each adaptation adds a new layer to our understanding of Holmes, he said.
Jewett said the Holmes exhibition is a great opportunity for students to delve into the library’s resources because of Holmes’ broad pop culture appeal.
Holmes is the inspiration for a variety of fictional figures, and fans of popular crime dramas can credit Holmes as the inspiration for many of their favorite characters. Exploring the history of Holmes is important for understanding culture today, she said.
“We don’t live in a vacuum,” Jewett said. “I think it’s a mistake not to look at past accomplishments, and if you want to fully understand something, you need to look at it over the long view.”
Mecholsky said no literary figure has been adapted on film more than Holmes. Holmes’ appeal extends beyond the character and has influenced the personalities and problem-solving abilities of characters in shows like “The Mentalist,” “Psych” and “House.”
The popularity of Sherlock Holmes is truly astonishing, Mecholsky said.
Doyle’s eccentric detective first appeared in serial magazines in 1887. Despite the fact that film studios and television networks struggle to draw viewers, there are three popular film and television versions of Sherlock Holmes drawing fans today, he said.
The reasons for Holmes’ longevity are difficult to pinpoint.
Doyle mastered a new approach to the crime drama, bringing in modern scientific concepts and processes of deduction at a time when science fiction was just beginning to emerge as a distinct genre. Holmes’ confidence in his intelligence and mastery of modern advancements in science and technology was, and still is, attractive to fans, Mecholsky said.
“Some of the locked room mysteries that came out right around the time that he was writing relied a lot on coincidence, chance and luck, and Holmes was one of the first characters where chance and luck had little to do with it,” Mecholsky said. “It was his astounding knowledge that he brought that really resonated with people.”
Fans also like Holmes because of his blunt honesty, Mecholsky said. Holmes was an unlikeable and unapproachable figure, but fans still flock to him because he didn’t care. Holmes’ focus was on solving the mystery, not pleasing others, Mecholsky said.