Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Alabama Joe"

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [1859-1930] is best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. However, Doyle wrote a vast amount of material unrelated to the great detective. His Professor Challenger tales enter the realms of fantasy and science fiction. The Lost Worldfirst published in 1912, features the discovery of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals living in South America. He wrote numerous other novels and short stories. Doyle was a physician by training and that background appears in a collection of stories, Round the Red Lamp.  

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Source: Wikipedia
Scottsman Doyle used America, specifically Utah, prominently in the very first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, published in 1887. He would finally visit the United States in 1914.

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Source: Wikipedia

Much earlier in his career Doyle wrote a short story featuring a character named after Alabama. In 1880 his second published story, "The American's Story", appeared anonymously in the journal London Society. Narrated by Jefferson Adams, the story describes the death of Joe Hawkins in Montana. "Alabama Joe as he was called thereabouts. A regular out and outer he was, 'bout the darndest Skunk as ever man clapt eyes on", Adams tells us. You can read the entire story here.

Like so many in Great Britain at that time, Doyle was probably fascinated with that brash young country across the ocean that had such close ties to his own yet appeared so different. "Alabama" may have seemed just the right nickname for his "Skunk" of a character. Note that the narrator is named after two early U.S. presidents.

Doyle wrote the story in one of the medical notebooks he used during his training in 1879 and 1880. That notebook is held by the Library and Archive of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

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