This post has absolutely NOTHING to do with health and nutrition -- fair warning! :-) Whether that's a good or a bad thing, i'll leave moot.
As i was stringing tinsel-garland and colored lights up the front-staircase bannister yesterday, something popped into my mind.... This is actually one of the benefits of mindless manual labor -- your hands are busy and a very minute portion of your consciousness applied, and it seems that the BBB*-like borderline to the subconscious is made more porous. From "nowhere" come ideas and solutions to questions which are possibly years old and essentially forgotten.
The subject of this train of thought was an after-hours conversation about literature, among history-buffs....
The recent plethora of depictions of Sherlock Holmes (my first love, at the age of twelve) have taken that character in directions which would have astonished Sir Arthur. His mildly-autistic, borderline-manic-depressive, and decidedly obsessive-compulsive ICON of a character is actually nothing like some of the smirking James-Bond-wannabees that modern audiences love. Hell, even the early Rathbone films show him to be questionably urbane.
But what modern person would know? To understand period fiction, you need to have a sense of what ITS ERA is all about, and as i postulated the other day, the vast majority of living people have no clue on how their great-great-grandparents lived and THOUGHT.
You see, Doyle wasn't writing for US, he was writing for his contemporaries. When he first penned "A Study in Scarlet" he never dreamed that his serialized magazine story would be the beginning of such a popular character. Although the demand and income were nice, he soon became tired of his creation and wanted to kill him off, but his public -- and even his family -- kicked up such a fuss he backed off. He would never have dreamed in 1887 that 127 years later, Holmes would still be "alive."
And BECAUSE Doyle was writing to his contemporaries, the things that get modernity all excited ... just never occurred to him. Yes, they had homosexuality in Victorian England: but it had a code of its own (read your Oscar Wilde -- i did). Sir Arthur's characters were almost all straight. But that's just one example of what today's audience gets wrong.
Period fiction (or non-fiction, when it comes to that) is decypherable only in the context of the environment of its creation. In this case, the writer was himself an enthusiast of history as well as of science -- in his Holmes canon, he writes of the exciting forensic developments of his day but he also wrote books about the medieval period ... and he gives Holmes some of his own historical interests too.
The guy SIMPLY WOULD NOT have tried to speak to a future world, but that's exactly what a lot of "interpreters" of Holmesiana are trying to make him do.
As a reenactor, i try to get inside the heads of the people i portray -- that's how one's characters/personae LIVE for the audience. Being an ordinary modern person "dressed up funny" does not give the school-kids an idea of what the historic world was like, when we have that day before the reenactment actually begins, and they bus in the local elementary-thru-highschool students to talk to us. It's our job to depict typical people in their many roles in society, so they can get an idea of how the world has changed and what made it happen. TELL them this stuff, and it just goes out the other ear; let them carry the water with the yoke and canvas buckets, let them see and smell the period-correct recipe you're cooking for the next meal, let them feel the lye soap and try out the washboard ... they'll understand everyday life of 150 years ago MUCH better.
Any good living-historian does a LOT of reading, and knows better than to read ABOUT the past -- we have to read sources that CAME FROM the past, and even before the period of our greatest interest. The ancient past feeds into the recent past which feeds into the world of our parents, which usually influences who we are today. Though human nature hasn't changed much, the societies which influence our points of view HAVE. And the society in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was trying to establish himself as an author of popular fiction is very, VERY different from ours. HE came from the world described by Charles Dickens, who came from the world described by Jane Austen, who came from the world described by Samuel Richardson ... all the way back to the bible. The average person was also more influenced by their families, personal friends and church-teachings than anything written in the wider world. People were very circumscribed, in the days before the train, radio, movies, television, internet....
Point of view is a strong determiner in what we find significant. Modern points of view are IRRELEVANT when looking at the past.
* for the friends i'll send here who aren't regulars, this is the Blood-Brain Barrier, not the Better Business Bureau. ;-)