Centre for Studies in Literature (CSL)
Portsmouth is the birthplace of the most famous literary character ever invented, Sherlock Holmes. His creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle originated from Edinburgh, but worked as a doctor in Portsmouth from 1882-1890, and wrote the first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, at Elm Grove in Southsea in 1887.
In 2005 the City was bequeathed an extraordinary collection of Doyle-related memorabilia, including important books and documents, by the collector Sir Richard Lancelyn Green. The Centre for Studies in Literature and Portsmouth City Council have been working together to combine the CSL's research interests in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature and crime fiction with the City Council's commitment to ensuring material in the collection is accessible to all. A temporary exhibition of artefacts from the collection formed part of a major international conference, Crime Cultures: Figuring Criminality in Literature, Media and Film, co-organised by Bran Nicol, Patricia Pulham, and Eugene McNulty, and held at the University of Portsmouth in July 2008.
The Lancelyn Green Collection, housed in the new History Centre in Portsmouth Central Library, was opened to the public by Doyle biographer Andrew Lycett in February 2010. CSL was involved in a week-long series of events to celebrate Arthur Conan Doyle’s involvement with the city; Dr Christopher Pittard participated in a public panel discussion, Decoding Sherlock, which examined three of Doyle’s stories from a range of academic perspectives. This event drew on the research Dr Pittard conducted for his book Purity and Contamination in Late Victorian Detective Fiction (2011), launched as part of a CSL event at the Aspex Gallery in April 2012. This monograph considered a range of late Victorian writers of detective fiction, including Conan Doyle, and developed work on Doyle for which Dr Pittard had previously won the VanArsdel Prize, awarded by the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals. The Times Literary Supplement said of this book that “[There is] much to relish in a work that is both theoretically informed and rigorously grounded in primary research” (13 April 2012); the Review of English Studies called it “rich in ideas, analysis and information, offering new perspectives on familiar texts.... innovative and persuasive” (September 2012).
Dr Pittard continues to work with Portsmouth City Council as part of their 2013 project ‘Portsmouth: The Home of Great Writing’, including a public discussion in January 2013 with Maria Konnikova on her new book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (2013), and the development of a new project on Conan Doyle and ideas of fandom, both Victorian and Neo-Victorian, which will bring the holdings of the collection and Conan Doyle’s local literary heritage to a wider audience.