Sherlock Holmes and the Ottoman Empire

Andrew Finkel

In the late 1800s, during the Victorian era, a moderately successful doctor in Southsea created a fictional character so compelling that people wrote letters to him asking for help.

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the novel A Study in Scarlet at age 27, in less than three weeks. The book didn’t attract much interest, but he went on to write a second novel with a little nudge from Oscar Wilde.

A blizzard of short stories followed, and Sherlock Holmes — the world’s first consulting detective — became a literary sensation, in part thanks to a boom in the mass-circulation periodicals where most of the stories first appeared.

Holmes fans span the range from casual to obsessive. They included Abdulhamid II, the last sultan of the Ottoman Empire to hold absolute power. 

A description of Abdulhamid’s having Sherlock Holmes stories read to him from behind a screen at bedtime in Istanbul’s Ylidiz Palace was enough to set today’s guest off on the marvellous flight of fancy that became his first novel.

Andrew Finkel is the author of The Adventure of the Second Wife: Sherlock Holmes and the Ottoman Empire, and Turkey: What Everyone Needs to Know. His work as a Turkey-based correspondent has appeared in a wide range of print and broadcast media including The Daily TelegraphThe TimesThe EconomistTIMEThe Guardian, the Observer, and Foreign Affairs.

He is also a founding member of P24, an Istanbul-based NGO that supports press freedom and independent journalism.

You can follow his work on Twitter.

I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories as a child, and it was a great pleasure to revisit that world through Andrew’s book, and through a re-read of several volumes of Conan Doyle.

We spoke about the Sherlock Holmes craze, the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, and the nature of obsession.

These are the books we mentioned in the podcast:

We also mentioned:

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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