FORENSIC EVIDENCE FOR DR. THORNDYKE: AN R. Austin Freeman Archive
Freeman, R. Austin (1862-1943). An extensive composite archive, literary and biographical, 1902-1963. Housed in two archival boxes, 1.0 linear feet.
A densely packed archive of material by and about the British author R. Austin Freeman (1862-1943), whose series character, Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke, is Sherlock Holmes’s greatest fictional heir. Appearing in 22 novels and 40 short stories, Dr. Thorndyke specialized in “medical jurisprudence” – or forensic science. To showcase Thorndyke’s talents, Freeman invented a new narrative form, the inverted detective story, the opposite of a whodunit.
Although fascinating in its own right, Freeman’s work has long appealed particularly to aficionados of Arthur Conan Doyle, who appreciate Thorndyke’s rigorous scientific method and his acute attention to detail, not to mention his considerable wit and charm. Indeed, Baker Street Irregulars have long embraced the premise – first propounded by P. M. Stone -- that Thorndyke and Holmes actually met. “[I]t is not unlikely,” agreed Edgar W. Smith, “that Sherlock Holmes … was inclined to seek variety – shall we say relief? – in intellectual converse on the higher plane with someone whose capacities and inclinations were just a little closer to his own.”
The present material comes from several sources, but much of it was gathered by Percival Mason Stone (1886-1965), an avid mystery collector and a charter member of the BSI. He is credited with unraveling the mystery of Freeman’s early pseudonymous works (co-authored with John Pitcairn) published as “Clifford Ashdown.” He edited the omnibus collection, Dr. Thorndyke's Crime File (1941), to which he contributed an appreciative essay, “5A King's Bench Walk.” Freeman dedicated to Stone his last novel, The Jacob Street Mystery (1940), calling him the “Best and Kindest of my Many Kind and Generous American Friends.”
Highlights of the collection include:
o 21 letters from Freeman to various correspondence, 1902-1939. including an extensive group of letters from the period 1902-1906 to his literary agent, the model for Romney Pringle.
o 50 letters from Freeman’s daughter and the daughter of his early collaborator John Pitcairn, 1943-1963, rich with biographical information.
o 52 letters, telegrams, and statements from the files of Dodd, Mead, 1922-1967. Much of the correspondence is with Freeman’s literary agent, A. P. Watt. Of particular interest are 6 letters between Maxwell Perkins and Frank Dodd regarding the publication of The Eye of Osiris in the S. S. Van Dine Detective Library in 1928.
o 26 contracts signed by R. Austin Freeman, 1912-1940, comprising a complete series for every book he published with Dodd, Mead, from his first, The Vanishing Man (= The Eye of Osiris) to his last, Dr. Thorndyke's Crime File. This comprises a complete run of Dr. Thorndyke’s appearances in the United States, several of which preceded the British. Also included are 7 other legal documents, 1923-1947, including two contracts for reprints (including one for a paperback that was never published), three documents transferring the rights for Dr. Thorndyke stories published in pulp magazines, and two certificates of copyright.
o 4 original photographs, including a large studio portrait, and a photograph by Freeman of his collaborator John Pitcairn.
o 3 small works of art by Freeman, including two sketchbook drawings and a watercolor of the view from his house in Gravesend.
There is no other institutionally-held R. Austin Freeman archive in the US or UK, save for a small group of letters at Kent State. This collection will be foundational for all further work on Freeman, and will be complement institutional holdings in mystery fiction, popular literature, and history of Anglo-American publishing.
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