Saturday, February 13, 2010

Arthur and George

Arthur was of Irish descent, but born in Scotland.  He trained as a doctor, specialized as an oculist, and became famous as a writer, though the fictional creation he was (and is) most famous for was one he didn't much care for.

George was the son of a vicar.  His mother too was Scottish.  He never seemed to have many friends, but didn't seem to feel the lack of them.  He studied to be a lawyer, and while still quite young wrote a guide to railway law, not for the man on the street, but the man on the train.

Their paths crossed after the half-Indian George Edalji (pronounced Aydlji, not Ee-dal-ji) was convicted of a series of livestock mutilations near his home.  He served three years of a seven-year sentence, but was unable to return to his profession, the law.  He wrote to Arthur Conan Doyle in the hope that the famous author might be able to bring some attention to his attempts to gain a pardon from the Home Office.

I knew the basic outlines of this story, but Julian Barnes' new novel Arthur and George goes into great detail, following both characters from childhood up to their meeting and on from there.  It explores Conan Doyle's growing interest in Spiritualism, and his relationships with both his first wife and his second.  The Edalji family dynamics also come in for some scrutiny.  Very well written, fascinating novel.

Originally posted at MySpace on 1/24/06

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