Monday, September 07, 2015

Arthur Conan Doyle's platonic relationship with woman he loved

A fan of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories since reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes for English class in the seventh grade and a fan of Martin Clunes' work on Doc Martin, I was interested in watching the premier of Arthur and George, starring Clunes, last night. I enjoyed the first episode.

I knew a little about Doyle. I knew that while he patterned Holmes after a diagnostician under whom he studied while in medical school, Holmes was more of an alter ego to the keenly observant Doyle than of the fictional doctor who narrates the Holmes corpus, Watson. I knew that Doyle was devoted to spiritualism. I also knew that he became an acquaintance with Agatha Christie, after the latter, who boldly stole the basic ideas for the main characters in her early Poirot stories--Holmes=Poirot, Watson=Hastings, Lestrade=Japp, Mrs. Hudson=Miss Lemon--had risen to fame. And I knew that after Christie's first husband had betrayed her and she had, deeply depressed, disappeared, a concerned Doyle offered a substantial sum of money to anyone who could help materially in finding her.

But having never delved into Doyle's life very much, I wondered whether his life was being significantly fictionalized in Arthur and George. I wondered about two things, in particular. First, had Doyle become involved in sleuthing himself for the purpose of exonerating a man he thought wrongly convicted of a crime? (It turns out that Doyle had done just this.)

The other thing I wondered about was a character in last night's episode, Jean Leckie. According to the show, while Doyle was married, he had conducted an ongoing and unconsummated relationship with Leckie. Last night, Clune's Doyle, following the death of his wife, makes understated Victorian overtures to Jean about getting married and the Leckie character tells him that they must wait for a period of time to pass before that happens. Were they juicing up Arthur and George's story line for twenty-first century TV audiences?

So, I went to that font of all knowledge Wikipedia and found this about Doyle's personal life:
In 1885 Doyle married Mary Louise (sometimes called "Louisa") Hawkins, the youngest daughter of J. Hawkins, of Minsterworth, Gloucestershire, and sister of one of Doyle's patients. She suffered from tuberculosis and died on 4 July 1906.[39] The following year he married Jean Elizabeth Leckie, whom he had first met and fallen in love with in 1897. He had maintained a platonic relationship with Jean while his first wife was still alive, out of loyalty to her.[40] Jean died in London on 27 June 1940.[41]
(Note the citations.)

Apparently, Arthur and George has it right about Doyle and Leckie. And that impresses me for several reasons. One is that so many screen dramatizations of real people's lives play fast and loose with the facts.

The other is to consider how remarkable the real life Doyle and Leckie were. Here were two people deeply in love with each other who refrained from intimacy when they could have been together--even in the Victorian Era, the high and mighty, which Doyle was, could get away with behavior that would otherwise be considered scandalous--all because Doyle remained loyal to his wife.

The Victorian Age may not have been as primitive as it's often portrayed as being.

1 comment:

Bren + Lucy said...
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