Sir Arthur Just Ain't Good Enough For Tess

Apparently Tessa Jowell, or her underlings at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, don't think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was an important enough writer to warrant the upgrading of his country mansion's listed status. Acting on advice from English Heritage that the creator of my mother's hero Sherlock Holmes "cannot be said to be an author of the standing of...Charles Dickens or Jane Austen," the Department has turned down the application from the Victorian Society to have Undershaw elevated to Grade I listed status as a means of protecting it against future development, and securing funding for its preservation.

My God, can these idiots get anything right? The newspapers today are condemning English Heritage and the Government for their snobbery, but in one sense it's quite the reverse; Ms. Jowell's Solomon-like judgement actually gives off a pungent odour of philistinism. Conan Doyle may not be a writer of the Dickensian order, though personally I don't like Dickens and believe strongly that his social impact blinds people to his shortcomings as a writer. But is any British author better known in the world than Conan Doyle, with the obvious exception of Shakespeare? Sherlock Holmes defines our country in a way that is simultaneously more quaint, and yet hipper, than any character Dickens ever produced: Oliver Twist was really just a poster boy for British Socialism.

How perfectly in keeping with the general intellectual and cultural crudity of New Labour's agenda since 1997 it would be to watch the home where Holmes was conceived be redeveloped into executive flats because Labour wasn't clever enough to manouevre in its defence. But who on earth could we have voted for back then who would have looked at such issues any differently? And who now?

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