THE CORRESPONDENCE OF LADY [JEAN] CONAN DOYLE
A collection of approximately 312 letters to Lady [Jean] Conan Doyle, approximately 1889-1936 (the majority after 1930).
Among the correspondents are Sidney Paget (two letters addressed to 'Miss Lecky', 1897), Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Clementine Churchill (2, referring to invitations), Douglas Fairbanks (1934, 'am right up to my neck with the work in connection with my new picture'), Arthur Wontner (1935, 'I have now finished my fourth film as Holmes and I would like to appear on the stage in the same character', asking if rights are available) and Sir Oliver Lodge (four).
A considerable number of the letters refer to the Spiritualist movement: a number of letters are kept as a specimen of the 'ungrateful behaviour' of London spiritualist societies after Conan Doyle's death which led her to cease her subscriptions to them (annotation by Lady Conan Doyle to envelope and retained typed letter signed, 1934); another autograph note by Lady Conan Doyle, apparently on the same subject, refers to 'the class of sneering critics who for ever snarl at the heels of great pioneers'. But the majority of the letters are more laudatory, with one correspondent of 1935 feeling that 'during Sir Arthur's regime, there was more intellectuality, more sincerity, more tone and more heart in our Movement'; another correspondent even goes so far as to suggest a 'Conan Doyle Memorial Spiritualist Church with yourself as President'. A group of letters forward psychic messages from Sir Arthur after his death -- one specimen of spirit-writing sent by Dr Crandon in Boston reads, cryptically, 'May I be recognised A.C.D.'. A number of letters from the bereaved call on Lady Conan Doyle's help in making contact with the spirit world; one letter from a Genoese asks her to convince the correspondent's grieving mother of the truth of spiritualism so that she can communicate with her late husband.
A related group of letters, robustly labelled 'Funny letters' by Lady Conan Doyle, involve evidently spurious or fraudulent spirit sightings and include a letter from a New York clairvoyant offering to put her in touch with Sir Arthur's spirit, a letter from Malta describing a sighting of the writer's spirit at a seance, a letter from Wichita, Kansas, claiming that Sir Arthur's spirit is at 211½ North Main Street and is in need of $5,000 (also including 'signatures' of Shakespeare, Jesus and Mary); a message from a 'medium' representing Sir Arthur in Swansea more reasonably asks for £7. A less pointed letter is annotated by the recipient 'From an Australian cowboy, probably half-witted but kindly'; another correspondent asks, rather disarmingly, to borrow a typewriter to write up a detective story.
A frequent subject is the virtues of Sir Arthur, with a number of letters complimenting his character and behaviour, both before and after his death: 'He was being Christ-like and his gesture was more than courteous. It was sublime'; 'he must have been a wonderfully potent living force'; 'His passing was a tremendous, irreparable loss to mankind'; a more disarming tribute passes on a message from a younger admirer, 'I wish Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was my father he plays Indians splendidly'. One letter (to Sir Arthur) pays tribute to Jean: 'She has all the grace of an Irishwoman with the verve of a French lady'. A number of further letters contain thanks for subscriptions and donations, predominantly to spiritualist societies (including to a fighting fund of the International Psychic Gazette for helping any medium who is attacked or slandered), but also including the National Council of Women of Great Britain and Ireland; there are also grateful letters from the tradesmen of Crowborough.
A last group separated by Lady Conan Doyle are letters from grateful domestics, usually thanks for financial support, holidays, gifts and references, but also sending compliments on family events, including Denis's marriage; the largest number of letters are from Mary Jakeman, a nurserymaid who had, according to a note by Lady Conan Doyle left 'suddenly… without notice because of row she had with John Matthews (the parlourman) the night before when he tried to push her into the river'; the group also includes three letters (two fragmentary) from Lady Conan Doyle to Jakeman, who is looking after the children in the Conan Doyles' absence, reporting 'Sir Arthur's Addresses have been a tremendous success', giving instructions for the children's supper and referring apparently to Innes Doyle's health.