My question regards the belief that the character Thaddeus Sholto was based upon Oscar Wilde. I've just read Richard Ellman's biography of Wilde, and I don't understand how Sherlockians came up with the identification of the two men? Do we know who first asserted that Sholto was based on Wilde?
The two figures could not be more dissimilar: Wilde was a towering, charismatic, charming figure -- not so poor Thaddeus. Is there a primary source linking Thaddeus's character with the imposing playwright, such as a letter by ACD? I hope that the only evidence offered is not just the dinner shared by ACD,Wilde, and Stoddart of Lippincott's.
Interestingly enough, Sherlockian and Wilde scholar, Gyles Brandreth
has a scene in "Oscar Wilde and the Dead Man's Smile" that suggests that Wilde was a model for Mycroft. Certainly--Oscar Wilde was more Mycroft than Thaddeus ;-)
~Ron Kritter // firstname.lastname@example.org
What an interesting question and I thought that I would be able to find the answer to in my small personal Sherlockian library, since the identification of Sholto and Wilde has been around since the '80's, I believe. The relationship between the two was not physical but psychic. Doyle's meeting with Wilde "left and indelible impression upon my mind" (Stashower p. 104). Both Wilde and Sholto were members of the school of aestheticism and both had a habit of hiding their bad teeth behind their hands while they spoke. (Stashower also points out Bunthorne in Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience was a "thinly disguised parody of Wilde". Wilde's large-than-life personality made him an inspiration for writers and artists, and perhaps a Rorschach figure we see when he isn't there.) Doyle indeed may have used elements of Wilde in Sholto, especially while the impressions of him were still fresh in his mind.
I've just remembered Samuel Rosenberg's Naked Is the Best Disguise (1974). While it didn't get a lot of love in the Sherlockian press at the time of publication, it is a very good and fascinating book. In Doyle biographies, one comes away with the knowledge that Doyle is smart, but Naked convinced me he was a Mensa level genius. You don't have to be convinced of Rosenberg's suppositions, but you never doubt for a minute that Doyle was capable of them.
Rosenberg sees Wildean influences in "The Red-Headed League", The Sign of Four (p. 132-4), and "The Empty House". Whether this is the earliest Wilde/Sholto connection, I don't know. Rosenberg's Conan Doyle Sin-Drome may not be universally accepted, the Wilde/Sholto identification is. Lycett writes of the "Wildean Thaddeus Sholto" (p. 229)
Sorry I can't be of more help. Hope this is a starting point. I feel it is always a good idea reexamine one's preconceived notions and accepted wisdoms. "Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing," answered Holmes, thoughtfully. "It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different." Notions maybe confirmed or wisdoms overturned.
Thank you, James, for your research and reply.
You've now piqued my interest in the Rosenberg book
which I only skimmed years ago.
I better take and second, and more careful, look.
Ron Kritter // Milwaukee // email@example.com
Donald A. Redmond in Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Sources (1982) had this to say:
The most notorious name problem in The Sign is Sholto. The immediate and almost only thought is the clan Douglas of Douglas, in which family the middle name Sholto recurs many times in the nineteenth century. Identifications of Thaddeus Sholto as Oscar Wilde or Swinburne, which have been made on good ground, are irrelevant to the problem of the name itself. Here most importantly the multiple nature of so may of Doyle's references must be kept in mind. The name and character may well come from several sources; or again. on may lead to the other but not be identical with it. The usual explanation, reached independently by Rosenberg and Roberts [Randy Roberts, "Oscar Wilde and Sherlock Holmes: a literary mystery" Clues, a Journal of Detection 1 no1 (Spring 1980)], is that Thaddeus is a caricature of Oscar Wild, who was well known to Doyle through their lunch with Stoddart, publisher of Lippencott's Magazine,which resulted in both writing novels for the firm.
There is more Redmond had to say, but the point being that there maybe no smoking gun (or letter) from Doyle saying that Sholto is Wilde (in fact it seems most probable that Doyle, gentleman that he was, wouldn't commit that to paper; it probably would have been seen as a complement like saying Bell was Holmes). Rosenberg may well be the first to link the two. A Study in Sources is a very good book on a fascinating subject: where did Doyle get the names of his characters? The amount of research that Redmond did make this book invaluable.
Christopher Morley describes the similarities between Sholto and Oscar Wilde in his book Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson: A Textbook of Friendship in 1944. There may be earlier references linking the two, but Rosenberg was not the first by at least 30 years.
Thanks, Barbara! As I said, I have a limited Sherlockian library. That's what's great about the SHSN. So many wonderful and giving-of-their-time Sherlockians. Ronald came to the right place.
In SIGN (Sherlock Holmes Reference Library) Leslie Klinger's footnote states
"Students will immediately think of one Lord Alfred Douglas whose father
was the eighth Marquess of Queensberry, John Sholto Douglas."
The first British edition of SIGN was published in October of 1890 by Spencer
Blackett. Wilde sued John Sholto Douglas in 1895. It seems unlikely that
the use of the Sholto name in association with Oscar Wilde would be connected
by ACD before SIGN was even written and published. Perhaps the connection
was retroactively interjected after the facts and years later by scholars.
I don't think that Mr. Klinger is correct in writing that readers
"immediately think of Lord Alfred Douglas" even today.
Sholto in origin means 'sower of seeds'. About this topic the only
seeds sown are seeds of doubt.
Ronald Kritter/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Redmond mention those very points in A Study in Sources. However, there are other things beside Sholto/Douglas to link Oscar to Thaddeus.