The manuscript became part of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection Lancelyn Green Bequest, a world-class collection bringing together books, photographs, objects, documents and memorabilia chronicling the life of Conan Doyle, in April 2009 having been bequeathed by the author's daughter Dame Jean Conan Doyle.
Now it has been made publicly available today - the 90th anniversary of The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes
' release - for the first time through a partnership between Portsmouth City Council, the custodian of Lancelyn Green's collection, and Winchester University Press
The story itself is Holmes's last official case as a consulting detective before his retirement to the Sussex Downs to keep bees. It sees the Great Detective trying to solve the case of the puzzling, eccentric behaviour of the internationally-renowned scholar, Professor Presbury.
The volume, edited by Winchester University Press Commissioning Editor Professor Neil McCaw
, features the facsimile manuscript and a transcribed, annotated version of the story. There is also a new introductory essay that examines the critical history of the tale and the details of the handwritten manuscript, as well as a history of Conan Doyle's time in Portsmouth, during which he created Sherlock Holmes.
"This is the first time ever that this manuscript has been made publicly available in published form - no-one other than the Conan Doyle family will have seen it - and we anticipate this is going to create a huge amount of interest from the massive worldwide Sherlock Holmes fan base," Professor McCaw said.
"There are over 60,000 items in Lancelyn Green's collection but this original manuscript is arguably one of the finest. There are a limited number of original Holmes manuscripts available in the world and we don't know where many of them are - largely because they are likely to be held in private collections in the USA, so are not accessible to UK, European and African scholars. Our volume provides that public accessibility to this book in a user-friendly form."
The introductory essay to the volume considers the varied reputation of The Adventure of the Creeping Man. It re-examines criticisms regarding the quality of Conan Doyle's writing in his later career; his love-hate relationship with his character Sherlock Holmes; the impact of World War I on Doyle's view of the world by the time of the 1920s; the link between the later Holmes stories and the supposed charm of the earlier, Victorian, tales; as well as the question on whether or not the story moves more into science fiction than detective fiction.
"The later Holmes stories are often overlooked because the perception is that Conan Doyle's work was on the wane - but, in my analysis of the manuscript, it is clear that this criticism is inaccurate," Professor McCaw said. "As a writer he is still evidently able to revise and build a dramatic narrative, changing little details in order to best sharpen the drama and engage the reader. There is evidence of writerly flourishes and an attention to detail that compares favourably with any of the earlier Holmes material.
"The Adventure of the Creeping Man also shows Conan Doyle at his most imaginative and inventive, reworking what was some pretty outlandish science in the 1920s, in particularly scientific experimentation into youth regenerative procedures that have much in common with the twenty-first century world of botox and facelifts. The science at the heart of the story involves the grafting of monkey glands into male humans to give them greater youth and vitality, a procedure which could be dismissed as absurd were it not for the fact that thousands of men of the age, supposedly including Freud and Yeats, had resorted to such measures in order to try to restore their youthful vitality."
Professor McCaw's study of the manuscript also raises some unanswered questions. "For instance, on the opening page of Conan Doyle's handwritten manuscript the narrator tells that the events commenced 'One Sunday evening early in September of the year 1902' - yet this was changed to 1903 in the published version," he explained.
"It sounds like a minor detail, but the consequences are significant for the many scholars who have, over the years, carefully constructed biographical timelines of the Great Detective's life. What makes this change all the more puzzling is that in those days Conan Doyle would have sent the manuscript to the publishers and probably never seen it again, which means that someone else changed the date, for whatever reason, probably without authorial permission. This is all the more significant because The Adventure of the Creeping Man is the gateway to Sherlock Holmes' retirement and all of the thousands of subsequent adaptations and reworkings that have followed and which imagine Holmes post-retirement. That a textual change with so many potential implications could have been made by someone other than Conan Doyle is a matter of significant interest to all Sherlockian scholars."
A launch event will take place at Portsmouth City Museum at 6.30pm on Monday 10 July 2017. Anyone interested in attending should email Claire.Looney@portsmouthcc.gov.uk