The Hound of the Baskervilles


A Question of Authorship


The Hound of the Baskervilles.1 may be the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Yet lingering doubt remains over Conan Doyle's authorial contribution to it. My own work in progress grows out this question and this blog post is what I've learned about this real-life mystery.


Over the years, there has been a question of the authorship of The Hound of the Baskervilles published in 1901. Was this most famous of Sherlock Holmes stories actually written by Arthur Conan Doyle? Or, did he coauthor it with Bertram Fletcher Robinson?2 Or, as some believe, was Robinson the author of the original story?


Whatever the case, my own WIP borrows on a 2013 news article by Richard Savill.3 An investigative team that included a pathologist, a toxicologist, and a former policeman pursued a "follow-the-money" murder theory. The team reasoned Doyle had poisoned Robinson who died in 1907 rather than let his plagiarism be discovered. "We have got what we believe is irrefutable evidence that Fletcher Robinson was cheated out of a considerable sum of royalties because he was much more actively engaged in The Hound of the Baskervilles than was acknowledged by Conan Doyle."


To this point, just three years after the Hound story was published, Robinson included as a byline in one of his own works: “Joint author with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his Best Sherlock Holmes Story The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Moreover, Robinson said he “wrote most of the first installment for The Strand” [the publisher] and there is no record that Doyle objected to this claim."


There is good reason to believe Conan Doyle wanted the book to be published with their joint names.4 His words to this fact are reported in the link to the Conan Doyle's Account. In it, he offers an explanation of the creation of the Hound story and his intention to credit Robinson's contribution to it. Doyle even instructed his publisher to do so. But, reportedly, the publisher didn't like that idea because the name Conan Doyle as author was the selling point.


Still, the question of authorship has continued over the years. Such doubt was the subject of a London Daily Express article by Peter Evans in March 16, 1959. Evans had interviewed the elderly William Henry Baskerville in a village in the shadow of the bleak Dartmoor landscape. Locally known as "Harry Baskerville,” the eighty-eight year old said he personally drove Doyle and Robinson on their research trips about the moors. Harry even possessed an inscription from Robinson, which read, "To Harry Baskerville from Fletcher Robinson. With apologies for using the name Baskerville.


"Baskerville told Evans "Doyle didn't write the story himself. A lot of the story was written by Fletcher Robinson. But he never got the credit he deserved." The noted Sherlockian scholar, Philip Weller followed up on Baskerville’s assertion of authorship. To mark the centenary of the book's publication, Weller went on the trail of the Hound in 2001. He conducted an in-depth study of the story's origination and wrote a monograph, The Dartmoor Locations of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Weller wrote teenager, Harry Baskerville in 1901 drove Fletcher Robinson and Arthur Conan Doyle across the length of the foggy Dartmoor landscape during their excursions for inspiration from real-life people, places, and folklore for their planned book. A successful author in his own right, Robinson was a talented journalist, and a capable writer of mystery fiction.


In fact, in July, 1900, while both men were on a voyage together, "Fletcher Robinson told Doyle the plot of the story he intended writing about Dartmoor, and Conan Doyle was so intrigued by it that he asked Fletcher Robinson if he would object to their writing it together.5



Thus, it was on a Sunday in March 1901 the idea of The Hound of the Baskervilles took shape. Doyle and Robinson were together in the early stages of the planning and writing of the book when Robinson spoke of an old Dartmoor legend.6 It was a version of one of the many Dartmoor Hound legends of a black hound on the moor and a local squire, Richard Cabell, who lived at Brook Manor, north of Buckfastleigh. He had an evil reputation and according to legend, when he died in the 1670s, howling black dogs breathing fire raced across Dartmoor.7 This tale may have served as the basis for the Hound in the story because after a few hours work, the plot of a sensational story was conceived and it was agreed that Doyle should write it in collaboration with Robinson and the storyline was not to include Sherlock Holmes.



But, five months later, in August 1901, the tale appeared in the Strand Magazine as a Sherlock Holmes story. The Strand published it in installments but it was published in book form as well. Yet, as can be read in the First Edition of the story, Holmes presence in the story was in a somewhat different manner than usual. From a writer's perspective of a Three-Act Story, Holmes presence was limited to Acts 1 and 3, some 40% of the story. He was missing in action for 104 of the of the book's 249 pages. On page 77, Holmes accompanied Henry Baskerville and Watson to the London railway station and saw them off. In the words of Dr. Watson, "I looked back at the platform when we had left it far behind, and saw the tall austere figure of Holmes standing motionless and gazing after us." Holmes remained absent until his reappearance in page 181, after Dr. Watson et al had conducted the bulk of the sleuthing.


Other issues have touched on the question of Doyle’s sole authorship of the Hound story. For example, the story narrative is suspect in terms of compliance with the Sherlockian Canon. The Canon is the very pattern of actions and behavior of Sherlock Holmes in the short stories and novels. The canon is addressed in the link to The Ten Step Formula.


Still another issue of non-compliance with the canon was discussed in an article by Camilla Ulleland Hoel. She addressed the Hound story in terms of unsubstantiated coherence with the canon. Referring to a discussion using pseudo-religious vocabulary, Hoel presented a view of the Hound story as “apocrypha."8


But, then, at the time of crafting the Hound story, Doyle had not written a Sherlock Holmes tale for over seven years. Doyle had killed off Holmes in a death battle scene in the story The Adventure of the Final Problem published in the Strand Magazine in December 1893. It was only become of reader clamor and financial incentive that persuaded Doyle to reintroduce Holmes, which he presented in The Hound of the Baskervilles as a retrospective story having taken place before Holmes’ death.


Links to Reference Sources.


So, thus far these points stand out:


  1. Harry Baskerville’s account of what he heard from Doyle and Robinson about their crafting the Hound story while he drove them around Dartmoor.

  2. What noted Sherlockian scholar, Phillip Weller, confirmed about Fletcher Robinson recounting of a Dartmoor Hound legend to Doyle, which became the basis for the planned Hound story.

  3. Conan Doyle’s account and his own instructions to his publisher that Fletcher Robinson’s name must appear with his as Robinson gave him “the central idea and the local colour.” and Robinson's supporting claim in his byline.

  4. The line of thinking which holds the canonicity of the Hound story remains unsubstantiated.

Given this information, reason remains to explore the degree of Conan Doyle’s contribution to the tale of The Hound of the Baskervilles. I plan to share on this blog additional information learned or received.



An aside that may be revealing in itself occurred in 1927. The Strand Magazine, which published the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Conan Doyle, launched a reader competition to select the twelve best of the stories. Doyle himself was also asked to make his selection and surprisingly, The Hound of the Baskervilles did not appear on his list. Yet, this famous story was a popular favorite among readers then and remains so to this day.


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1Doyle, Arthur Conon, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Publication date 1902 Publisher Grosset & Dunlap. Free downloaded at https://archive.org/details/houndbaskervill02doylgoog

2Spiring, Paul and Brian Pugh, Bertram Fletcher Robinson: A Footnote to the Hound of the Baskervilles, MX Publishing, 2008. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0052O3IPS/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

3Savill, Richard, Did Conan Doyle poison his friend to cheat him out of The Hound of the Baskervilles? The Telegraph, 26 Jul 2005. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1494820/Did-Conan-Doyle-poison-his-friend-to-cheat-him-out- of-The-Hound-of-the-Baskervilles.html

4 Koczela, Andrea, The Scandal Haunting 'The Hound of the Baskervilles,'Oct. 30, 2013 https://blog.bookstellyouwhy.com/the-scandal-haunting-the-hound-of-the-baskervilles

5Spiring, Paul. Bertram Fletcher Robinson: A Footnote to the Hound of the Baskervilles (Kindle Location 834). MX Publishing. Kindle Edition.

6J. G. Hodder Williams, in an article for the Bookman ( April 1902)

7BBC, Devon, The story behind the hound Feature Articles, 24 September 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/devon/outdoors/moors/hound_baskervilles.shtml

8Hoel, Camilla Ulleland, The Final Problem: Constructing Coherence in the Holmesian Canon, http://dx.doi.org/10.21825/aj.v6i1.4836

Scroll Map of Dartmoor

Comments and additional information from Sherlockians on the matter would be appreciated

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