It is amazing how writing absorbs one’s time – it is quite a few months since my last post but the new book seems to have taken up all my every spare moment. I have just finished a chapter containing a textual analysis of M. R. James’s ‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’ and Conan Doyle’s ‘The Musgrave Ritual’, the latter being one of my favourite Holmes stories. Both concern the search for treasure and the consequences; both are steeped in the ritual of the puzzle and both have consequences for the curious. In the James we might invoke Freud’s idea of the ghost as ‘The Uncanny’ (the unfamiliar), when the scholar’s familiar world of the antiquarian text becomes distinctly unfamiliar, as the pursuit of the Abbot’s treasure leads to a terrifying encounter with ‘the guardian’ of the treasure. Conan Doyle’s story, written some years earlier story, sees Brunton the butler entombed with the Musgrave treasure – a punishment visited on all who would steal for pecuniary gain. I see Brunton as a prototype for Stapleton in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ – both are highly intelligent, ex-schoolmasters, womanizers and with considerable criminal minds. Interestingly, the Musgrave treasure is the lost crown of the Stuarts invoking a whole sup plot about Royalty and the crown of England. This we might compare with the three Saxon crowns which are the subject of James’s ‘A Warning to the Curious’.
At the moment I am working on the next chapter looking at how the past returns to haunt the present in both detective fiction and the ghost story. This is particularly prevalent in the long Sherlock Holmes stories where past events are the root cause of present disturbances. ‘A Study in Scarlet’ and ‘The Valley of Fear’ are formally divided into two narratives with separate sub-titles; these two threads are temporally inverted so that the underlying story of the past returns throughout the present narrative to haunt it in the manner of a spectre from the past. This metaphorical haunting by one text on another is a recurring theme in all the Holmes series and manifests itself as the way of underlining how the ordered context of the conventional detective story overcomes the chaos of an anterior world. In ‘The Valley of Fear’ for instance, what returns from the past is the lawless, anarchic world of the Molly Maguires in the Pennsylvanian coalfields in the 1870s to intrude on the apparently tranquil environment of rural England.
I hope my latest book will be published by this time next year.