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Unpopular Opinions: Twenty-One Essays

Type of material: Hardcover Book
Author: Dorothy L. Sayers
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace and Company (New York)
Year: 1947

Review: Ms. Sayers’ essays are interesting, vivid, and humorous, presenting her solutions to a few questions raised by the Holmes canon.

Review in full: With energy and wit, mystery writer Dorothy Sayers discusses many of her "unpopular opinions" in the twenty-one essays included in this collection. The first two sections, on theology and politics, include essays on forgiveness, Christ, the free press, and the rights of women, among other subjects, while the third section is specifically concerned with Sherlock Holmes.

Titled Critical, this section contains five essays: Holmes’ College Career, Dr. Watson’s Christian Name, Dr. Watson, Widower, The Dates in The Red-Headed League, and Aristotle on Detective Fiction. The first four are critical discussion of small but interesting questions raised by the canon, while the last addresses the connection between the Poetics and detective literature.

In Holmes’ College Career, Sayers uses passages from The Gloria Scott and The Musgrave Ritual to examine which college was Holmes’ alma mater, as well as the chronology of his studies.

The two essays on Watson are interesting discussions of questions raised about Watson’s first and proposed second and third wives. Dr. Watson’s Christian Name looks into the line in The Man with the Twisted Lip when Dr. Watson, known to most people as John H. Watson, is called "James" by Mary Morstan. Rejecting the possibility of a misprint, Sayers discovers a possible solution. In Dr. Watson, Widower, Sayers examines the evidence for second and third marriages by Watson following Mary Morstan’s death.

The Dates in The Red-Headed League points out the impossibility of several dates mentioned in the story; for example, it takes place in the autumn, specifically October 1890, yet the advertisement for the Red-headed League supposedly appeared "just two months ago" on 27 April. Sayers constructs a probable chronology of the events in the story.

The essays will particularly interest those who are fascinated by Sherlockian chronologies. At the same time, they are well written, and I enjoyed them even though I’m not that intrigued by Sherlockian chronology in general. Sayers’ distinctive style is familiar to readers of her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels, and made the essays in all three sections a very pleasurable read. For Sherlockians, the essays on Holmes are clearly written, informative, and show a skill in deduction which Sayers must have learned while reading Doyle’s tales of the master detective.

Reviewed by: Nicole Morse, May 2004

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