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Sherlock Holmes Was Here? Sherlockian Maps in the Library of Congress

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The following is a guest post by David McLaughlin, Ph.D. candidate at University of Cambridge and a British Research Council Fellow at The John W. Kluge Center.

‘Dartmoor’ from Julian Wolff’s “The Sherlockian Atlas” (New York, 1952). In ‘Dartmoor’ Wolff turns away from accurate representations toward fantastical cartographies that reflect the way Doyle’s narrative plays with space.

On a recent fieldwork visit to New York City I called in at the Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca. The shop is a regular attraction for Sherlockians, as devotees of Holmes call themselves, during the Baker Street Irregulars’ annual weekend, when they gather to celebrate the Great Detective’s birthday (January 6th, if you want to know). While the back wall of the bookshop’s main floor is crowded with fan fiction and criticism about Sherlock Holmes and other mystery characters, the basement rooms are where the real magic hides. There, among an assorted pile of books and papers, I found an old Christmas card, unsigned and unsent, from 1963. On the card’s front cover was printed a color map of southern England and Wales. The inside cover claimed that this map was ‘The Sherlockian Map of England’, first drawn by Julian Wolff, long-time leader of the Baker Street Irregulars.

On my return to my desk at the Library I consulted the Geography and Maps division about my find. They directed me to a book they had published in 1999 called “The Language of the Land” which includes details and reproductions of a range of literary maps in the Library’s collection. The book’s preface says defines a ‘literary map’ as “a map that records the location and identity of geographical places and features associated with authors and their works and serves as a guide to the worlds of novelists, poets, dramatists and other authors of imaginative literature”. Wolff’s map clearly belongs to the second category, illustrating as it does the imaginative world of Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle. The book reproduces five of Wolff’s maps: ‘The Sherlockian Map of England’ which I had found on the Christmas card cover, ‘The Sherlockian Map of London’, ‘The Sherlockian Map of Europe’, ‘The Sherlockian Map of America’ and ‘The World Strictly According to Doyle’.[1]

Originally drawn to accompany Edgar W. Smith’s 1942 gazetteer “Baker Street and Beyond,” (which can be found in the Library’s general collection) Wolff’s maps provide a striking illustration of Smith’s assertion that “the map of the world must be smeared and slobbered with ink to mark the places where the foot of the master was set down, or where the length of his avenging shadow fell. In physical fact, or in the transports of his questing mind, Holmes did in truth go out to every corner of the globe”. [2] In the context of the Library’s “Language of the Land,” Wolff’s maps stand out. For unlike many (although not all) of the literary maps featured in the Library’s collections, Wolff’s maps deftly synthesise fact and fiction, real-world places and fictional locations, into one cartographical representation. In this way they contribute to the long-standing Sherlockian belief in Holmes’s reality as an historical figure, which they call ‘playing the game’.

However, our interest in Wolff does not end there. Not content with sitting idle after his collaboration with Smith, Wolff continued to produce maps based on Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and on readers’ writings about them. Over a decade later, in 1952, Wolff gathered these together into his “Sherlockian Atlas,” of which only one hundred copies were made. Intriguingly, the copy in the Library’s stacks contains the dedication, “This copy is for the Library of Congress”.[3] In addition to the five maps that illustrated Smith’s gazetteer, Wolff’s extended collection includes a map of the fictitious island of Ufa drawn to resemble a U.S. Admiralty Chart, entitled ‘The Map That Was Wanted’, in reference to the role played by a similar map in “The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez.” It also includes a plan of Holmes and Watson’s rooms at 221b Baker Street with the tongue-in-cheek title, ‘His Last Bow Window’.

What is most noticeable about these later Wolffian maps is how readily they turn away from representations of real-world geographies in favour of more fantastical cartographies. Wolff’s map of Dartmoor, for instance, contains standardised cartographic markers for towns and natural features alongside more imaginative illustrations of family crests and quotes from “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” such as the famous note delivered to Sir Henry Baskerville which says, “As you value your life or your reason, keep away from the moor”. [4] Most interestingly, in a departure from the sober representations of real-world locations such as London or England of Wolff’s earlier maps, this map of Dartmoor warps part of the space in the upper left-hand corner, by the conceit of a magnifying glass shown resting on the map, to enlarge the area around Baskerville Hall. This unusual mode of representation illustrates the importance of Baskerville Hall and its immediate surroundings to the narrative of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and reflects the ways in which literary representations of space often distort and warp ‘absolute space’ for narrative ends.

‘England’ from Julian Wolff’s “The Sherlockian Atlas (New York, 1952). This copy of Wolff’s ‘England’ adorned a Christmas Card, one of a series produced by The Sherlock Holmes Society of London in the 1950s and 1960s, now in the author’s possession.

Wolff’s Map of ‘A Portion of Dartmoor in Devonshire’ can be contextualized within a broader trend of Sherlockian geographical thinking that seeks to read geographical meanings of the ‘real’ world through meanings gleaned from Sherlockian writings. David Hammer, for instance, has written a series of travel guides to the ‘world of Sherlock Holmes’, of which copies are held in the Library’s collections. In his guide to Europe, as in the others, Hammer writes about his efforts to pinpoint the various sites visited by Sherlock Holmes, particularly those on the edge of Doyle’s stories, such as hotels he might have stayed at or events he might have been involved in. [5] In doing so, Hammer overlays real-world places, from Paris to Chicago, via Norwood and the Strand, with Sherlockian meanings, reinterpreting and shaping real-world locations so as to imaginatively fit them into a Sherlockian frame.

I want to end this piece by drawing attention to another, as yet unsolved, mystery. I noted earlier that the Library’s copy of “The Sherlockian Atlas” proclaims that it is intended specifically for the Library’s collections. Wolff likely did this ensure the Library’s protection of his copyright. However, seen in the light of his dedication on the back page, this offering suggests something more. On the back page, Wolff noted that “Approximately one hundred copies of this small brochure have been produced for friends of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson”.[6] By gifting one copy to the Library, Wolff apparently listed this institution among those friends. What could have sparked this friendship on the Library’s part? Another book in the Library’s collection, Michael Harrison’s “The World of Sherlock Holmes,” suggests a possible answer. In 1902, Harrison writes, the British Government presented the American Government with a genealogical and historical account of the Washington and Ferrer families of England, ancestors of George Washington, in honor of the centenary of the President’s death. Harrison, writing in 1973, claims to have found “a pencilled note, in the Washington copy, [which] remarks that ‘The author is known to be the famous Mr. Sherlock Holmes'”. [7]

David McLaughlin is a Ph.D. candidate at University of Cambridge and a British Research Council Fellow at The John W. Kluge Center. His project at the Center is titled “Sherlock Holmes as Travel Writing: The Role of Fandom in Constructing Geographical Imaginations.”


[1] Martha Hopkins and Michael Buscher, “Language of the Land: The Library of Congress Book of Literary Maps,” (Washington: Library of Congress, 1999), pp.203-209

[2] Edgar W. Smith, “Baker Street and Beyond,” (New York: The Pamphlet House, 1940), p.11

[3] Julian Wolff, “The Sherlockian Atlas,” (New York: Private publisher, 1952), n.p.

[4] ibid. n.p.

[5] David Hammer, “A Dangerous Game: Being a Guide to the Europe of Sherlock Holmes,” (Indianapolis: Gasogene Books, 1997). Cf. pp.31-46 where he follows in Holmes and Watson’s footpaths through France and Switzerland imagining where they walked and where they stayed.

[6] Wolff, “Sherlockian Atlas,” n.p.

[7] Michael Harrison, “The World of Sherlock Holmes,” (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1975), p.194.

Comments (3)

  1. Nothing like a good mysterious adventure to follow…
    Thank you for posting this!

  2. Thank you for deft focus and respect for Sherlock. Your work is appreciated and valued.

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