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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Conan Doyle and Joseph Bell. The Real Sherlock Holmes. Alan Mackaill, Dawn Kemp. The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (2007)


A short and very charming account of the connection between Arthur Conan Doyle and Joseph Bell who provided a central inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Joseph Bell was a member of a distinguished medical family in Scotland and the author of a number of significant medical textbooks. He lectured in clinical surgery and one of his students was Arthur Conan Doyle, Doyle must have impressed Joseph Bell as he appointed Doyle as his out-patient clerk.
Joseph Bell emphasised the importance of observing a patient, reading them, as part of the diagnostic process. He used to amuse and amaze his students with how he read a patients occupation and life from the details of their clothes and bearing. One of his favourite stories showed how he managed to get a reading absurdly wrong, he wanted to emphasise that it was part of the process, not a replacement for dealing directly with a patient.
Through the imaginative genius of Arthur Conan Doyle, the teaching of Joseph Bell became the deductive process of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle always freely acknowledged his debt to Joseph Bell, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was dedicated to Dr. Joseph Bell. This book gives Joseph Bell the credit he deserves for his own considerable accomplishments as a medical professional and nicely underlines Arthur Conan Doyle's own medical background. While both men are to an extent overshadowed by Sherlock Holmes and both felt a little diminished by it, this lovely book rightly gives them the limelight.