Charles Dickens: Ghost Hunter

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Victorians were big on clubs.  Gentlemen’s Clubs.  No, the Brontes were not wearing pasties and stripping to “Oh, Mother Take the Wheel Away!” These were exclusive gatherings of writers and artists who came together to chill, drink, and probably scratch-and-spit.  No “damned scribbling women allowed.”  (Such a fun guy, that Hawthorne…) .

ANYWAY, Charles Dickens was one of those writers who was a high-profile member of a hoity-toity club called “The Garrick Club” until he got into a fight with William Makepeace Thackery.  Apparently a journalist was talking smack about Thackery, and what he knew could have only been found out through club connections.  (First Rule of Garrick Club:  Don’t Talk About Garrick Club.)

SO, Dickens says, basically, “Screw you, Thackery. I’m the biggest star you’ve got and I’m taking my fame elsewhere.” Plus, the journalist, Edward Yates, was a very close friend and the godfather of Dickens’ children.

Dickens would eventually join the still-in-existence “Arts Club” (actress Gwyneth Paltrow is now its Creative Director). But before that, in 1862, Dickens became one of the founding members of “The Ghost Club. ”  Until he joined and brought some legitimacy to the off-beat club, the press was not very complimentary, but his presence gave the organization a modicum of credibility.

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Arthur Conan Doyle Can’t Be Bothered with Your Questions

Ever heard of the Proust Questionnaire? It’s a list of questions about one’s personality, named not because Marcel Proust, the French writer, wrote the questionnaire, but because he took it. (You can see a full list of the questions and Proust’s response at this Wikipedia page.)

The idea is that the person sitting down to answer the questions does so in the spirit of playfulness and generosity of personality. Think the ending of “Inside the Actors Studio,” or two schoolkids huddled over a magazine questionnaire. Not so with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the late author of the Sherlock Holmes series and, apparently, very taciturn old grump. In his day, the questionnaire was a bit of fun, a parlor game. Seemingly, though, not one Doyle was keen to be roped into.

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At every turn, Doyle seems to be scoffing at the pretense of it all. Asked what he likes most in a man, it’s “Manliness.” And his favorite qualities in a woman? “Womanliness.” (Funnily enough, those are the exact opposite responses Proust provided in his own questionnaire.) He is “Quite impartial” to your query on his favorite color, thank you very much. But best of all is the totally tongue in cheek response to the question, “If not yourself, who would you be?” Doyle scribbles something, we don’t know what, completely illegibly, only to top it off with the taunting side note, “(Hope this is clear).”

All in all it’s an amusingly annoying response, and an insight into Arthur Conan Doyle, the man. Probably the only kind of answer to be expected of the man who joined an Arctic whaling expedition at the age of twenty, the journal of which can be seen here. A Kipling-loving, manliness-embodying Hemingway figure before Hemingway ever existed.

What do you think of Doyle’s answers? Know of any other authors’ responses to the Proust Questionnaire? Tell us in a comment!


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