DOYLE, Sir Arthur Conan (1859-1930). Autograph manuscript signed (on title, 'A. Conan Doyle') of his novel 'A Duet with an Occasional Chorus', , apparently a clean copy, with occasional emendations, title, contents and approximately 220 pages, folio (337 x 197mm), cloth-covered boards, lettered on spine 'A Duet Manuscript'.
CONAN DOYLE'S 'MOST CONTROVERSIAL WORK OF FICTION'
The manuscript of one of Conan Doyle's favourite, and most uncharacteristic, books. A Duet is 'a gesture, never repeated, in the direction of a novel of manners' (J. Symons, Conan Doyle. Portrait of an Artist, 1979). The novel recounts the courtship and early marriage of a young middle class couple: they vacillate over the date of the wedding, the banns are read, they go on honeymoon in the Metropole in Brighton, they set up house, they face a crisis and see it off, and their first child is born. There are no sensations or high adventures; but the work is lovingly observed, and direct in style, with an engaging touch of naivety.
Conan Doyle was convinced that A Duet would prove his most lasting work, and prevailed upon the publisher, Grant Richards, to print 'a large first edition of 12,500 or 15,000 copies (the exact figure is not known)' (R. Lancelyn Green and J.M. Gibson, A Bibliography of A. Conan Doyle, 1983). But the book undoubtedly differed too greatly in style from Conan Doyle's earlier works to be a success, particularly after his refusal to countenance serial publication, and the large print-run was a mistake. Nevertheless the author wrote to his mother that 'my inmost soul tells me it is not a failure', and always believed that its cool reception was influenced by attacks upon the work's perceived immorality by a single critic, Dr Robertson Nicoll, writing under different pseudonyms in a number of journals. In any case, the work is uniquely revealing for the student of Conan Doyle's character, being, as he wrote in his Memories and Adventures (1924), 'partly founded upon early experiences of my own and of friends', besides demonstrating 'a knowledge of cooking and women's clothes which is surprising' (Hesketh Pearson, Conan Doyle. His Life and Art, 1943). The hero, Frank Crosse (a significant surname), has been perceived as representing some of the cross-currents in Doyle's own character ('a touch of the savage ... unexplored recesses of his nature [where] a saint or a sinner might be lurking'); and in the heroine, Maude Crosse, A Duet boasts that comparative rarity in his work, a fully-rounded female character. It is possible to see, in this portrait of the happy early years of a young marriage, an element of wish-fulfilment, at a stage when Conan Doyle's first wife, Touie, was slowly dying of tuberculosis. There is little doubt that it was a work that meant much to Conan Doyle, and one for which he 'reserved a special and particular sort of affection he had for no other book' (Dickson Carr, The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1949).