‘Your Picturesque Account of the Matter’: Bitextuality in Sherlock Holmes

Elinor Hickey
Queen Mary University of London

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle began publishing his Sherlock Holmes short
stories in the 1890s in The Strand Magazine, each was accompanied by
illustrations that enhanced the story and furthered the readers’
understanding and interpretation of the text. Although the Sherlock
Holmes stories have never been out of print since their first
publication, they are more often than not republished without their
original illustrations. With even more recent adaptations resulting in
a renewed surge in interest in Sherlock Holmes, a return to the source
material is always worth the effort, but it ought to be done
correctly. Because the illustrations by Sidney Paget and his
successors were integral to the original text, lending meaning to the
stories as they were published, they should always be included in a
reading of the canon.

The study of bitextuality incorporates the strategies of both visual
and verbal interpretation in order to understand how the dialogue
between picture and word produces meaning within a network of cultural
discourses. Specifically, in literature with bitextual significance,
both the text itself and its accompanying illustrations are used to
create meaning for the reader/viewer. This connection must be studied
deliberately, however, as oftentimes text and image are separated: the
image is perceived to have no individual significance, only gaining
meaning in relation to the written word, and can therefore be ignored
or omitted without loss.

Using examples from both the text and the accompanying illustrations,
I demonstrate the way that the bitextual strategies of Doyle’s stories
and Paget’s art create a multilayered narrative which results in a
holistic reading and viewing experience. I attempt to impress upon
readers that illustrated books are books of conversations, the result
of both writer and artist, and the removal of images from illustrated
text truncates the meaning of the literature.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900