The Adventures of “The Adventure of the Empty House”

If you haven’t been on our “Sleuths and Spies” hands-on-tour, you may not know that the Rosenbach owns Arthur Conan Doyle’s manuscript for the 1903 Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Empty House.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The adventure of the empty house: autograph manuscript. 1903. EL4 .D754e 903. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

The Empty House is famous as the story that brought back Sherlock Homes from the dead. Six years after publishing his first Holmes tale, A Study in Scarlet, Doyle felt that Holmes was a distraction from other writing
projects and so in 1893 he killed off the popular detective in a struggle
at Reichenbach falls. The public was quite disappointed, but they would have to go for nearly a decade without Sherlock. In 1901, faced with financial encouragement from his
publishers, Doyle began serializing The Hound of the Baskervilles, but
this story was set prior to Holmes’s death. It was The Adventure of the Empty
, published in 1903, that truly revived Holmes; it picks up 2 years after Holmes’s supposed death and explains that he did not in fact die, but escaped and spent the interim
time traveling.

Doyle was handsomely recompensed for resurrecting the
detective. As The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle explains, for the thirteen stories (beginning with Empty House) that make up The Return of Sherlock
, Doyle received £100 per thousand words from The Strand magazine
for the British rights and the American magazine Collier’s offered
$45,000 for the American rights.

The manuscript for The Adventure of the Empty House is written in a series of composition books, which are bound together in a white vellum cover, signed by Doyle at the upper left.

Arthur Conan Doyle, The adventure of the empty house: autograph manuscript. 1903. EL4 .D754e 903. The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia

Given the story’s significance in the “life” of Sherlock Holmes, The Museum of London asked to borrow the manuscript for their major exhibition Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die, which opened last Friday. Here’s the super-cool logo for the show.

Three weeks ago I escorted the little book across the Atlantic  and supervised its installation in London. I was accompanied by Janine Pollock of the Free Library, who was couriering the manuscript of Edgar Allen Poe’s
Murders in the Rue Morgue from the FLP Rare Book Department. Our manuscript joins a number of other Doyle manuscripts in the exhibition, including notes for A Study in Scarlet in which the dynamic detecting duo are tentatively named J. Sherringford Holmes and Ormond Sacker.  The website has pictures of this and the other manuscripts in the exhibit and a handy page comparing the Study In Scarlet notes with the final version and with Rue Morgue.

When I was there in early October much of the exhibit was not yet installed, but what I could see looked great. I was interested to see that other Doyle manuscripts were bound in vellum covers like ours. The show includes much more than just manuscripts: it includes homage to film and television versions (including some Benedict Cumberbatch items) and a fantastic section showcasing artifacts of London of the period, drawn from the Museum of London’s outstanding holdings. The exhibit has been getting great reviews from both the press and Holmes enthusiasts (I like the fact that both of these reviews mention or show our manuscript.) So if you’re in London between now and April  12 you might want to stop by and check it out!

If you are in Philadelphia, you might want to check out our Sleuths and Spies tour. Even before the manuscript returns in April the tour is chock full of goodies from Poe to Dickens to Conrad–did you know that Dr. Rosenbach bought Doyle’s crime library in 1930 and that we still have one of his books? Don’t go to 221B Baker Street but 2008 Delancey Place!

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia
and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog.