French Highlights from the Toronto Public Library’s Arthur Conan Doyle Collection

By Jessie Amaolo

Jessie Amaolo is the Services Specialist and curator of the Toronto Public Library’s Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. Her role is to aid in building, maintaining and promoting access to the Collection. She has been in this position since 2018 and has since been involved in tasks and duties such as collection development, tours and programming, reference work, article publication and gallery exhibits.

The Toronto Public Library’s Arthur Conan Doyle Collection is one of the world’s leading collections related to Conan Doyle and his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes. The Collection began 50 years ago when a Toronto rare book dealer sold the Library a large collection of early detective novels (many of which were by Doyle). Shortly after this initial purchase, the Library welcomed four major donations which formed the basis of the Collection. Today there are over 25,000 items in the Collection including books, manuscripts, periodicals and collectables (film stills, posters, newspaper clippings, theatre programs, memorabilia, ephemera and original art).

As for the breadth of the Collection, it includes fiction books written by Conan Doyle in genres such as adventure, mystery, horror, science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction as well as works by other authors in other forms and media such as dramatizations, pastiches and parodies of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It also holds non-fiction materials written by Conan Doyle on the topics of history, travel, true crime and spiritualism and contemporary research materials.

The Collection is supported by The Friends of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, a group of members who help the Library to maintain, enhance and raise awareness of the Collection. There is also a local interestgroup called “The Bootmakers of Toronto” which started in 1972 and meet regularly at the Library to discuss the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Our focus for collecting is primarily English content (British & American), as Conan Doyle was a British author, however, Canada is a bilingual country and as such, it is important that we collect a representative sample of French content whenever possible. A review of our holdings show that the majority of our French publications have come from France, rather than Quebec, suggesting that France is a significant publisher of Conan Doyle and Sherlockian content. 

French Language Materials

Currently there are approximately 250 French language books in the Collection, with over 100 of those being direct translations of Conan Doyle’s works involving his most popular characters (e.g. Sherlock Holmes, Professor Challenger, Brigadier Gerard), with our oldest translation being The Sign of Four from 1896.

The second largest collection area of French language materials are pastiches, of which there are approximately 100. Pastiches (and parodies) are imitation stories by other authors, using the Sherlock Holmes character (e.g. the Arsène Lupin & Herlock Sholmes stories by Maurice Leblanc). A significant portion of the pastiches in the Collection (about half) are graphic novels/comics, which suggests there is a great deal of this type of material being produced in French today (e.g. graphic novelizations of Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes stories). There are also translations of popular English pastiches such as “La Vie Privée de Sherlock Holmes” originally published as “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” by Michael & Mollie Hardwick, novelized from the film.

English Language Materials about France

Many of the English collection materials related to France are by Conan Doyle. He travelled to France on several occasions during his life to visit family, vacation, study, lecture and assist in the war efforts. He was fond of France, spoke and wrote French and even studied its history. Many of his fiction stories are set in France, make reference to France, or include French characters with popular examples including “The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard”, “The Adventures of Gerard”, “The White Company”, “Sir Nigel”, “The Refugees”, “Uncle Bernac” andThe Great Shadow”. Even many of the Sherlock Holmes stories include French locations and characters. It is worth noting that the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection also has the original manuscript for “The Marriage of the Brigadier”, included in the “Complete Brigadier Gerard.

Arthur Conan Doyle also wrote non-fiction content about France such as “A Visit to Three Fronts; Glimpses of the British, Italian and French Lines” and “The British Campaign in France and Flanders” after visiting the Western Front in France during the Great War. We also have “The Mystery of Joan of Arc”, originally written by Léon Denis as “Jeanne d’Arc, Médium” (published in 1910 in France), which Conan Doyle translated to English. He clearly was fluent enough in French to be able to translate, but acknowledges the great difficulty he faced in doing so, in the preface to the book. Conan Doyle found it an important text to translate due to his belief in Joan of Arc’s apparent spiritual nature. Most who know about Conan Doyle know that he became deeply invested in Spiritualism in the latter half of his life.

Aside from Conan Doyle’s books, the Collection holds pastiches in English set in France such as a few from the Mary Russell series by popular author Laurie R. King and a series by Carole Nelson Douglas following the adventuress Irene Adler. We also hold the English translations of the Arsène Lupin stories featuring Herlock Sholmes.

Finally, we have English “writings on the writings” about Sherlock Holmes and France such as: “France in the Blood: A Practical Handbook of French Holmesian Culture, with Some Observations” and “Sherlock Holmes in France & Switzerland” examining locations visited by Holmes in the stories.

The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection is a unique collection encompassing anything and everything related to Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. Through establishing and maintaining a collection with such a comprehensive focus, we are even able to reach international audiences and users through our extensive collection of multilingual holdings.

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