By Zoe Louca-Richards, Curator Modern Archives and Manuscripts, and Dr Christine Ferguson, Chair in English Studies at the University of Stirling.
In 2019, the British Library acquired a rather remarkable piece of Arthur Conan Doyle history – an unpublished chapter from his final Professor Challenger novel The Land of Mist. The ‘lost’ chapter, as it was dubbed, comprises nine pages in Conan Doyle’s hand and is titled ‘Chapter XIII/ The Darker Side’ (Add MS 89427).
Previously, the chapter is believed to have remained in the possession of Doyle’s family until the death of his eldest son Denis Conan Doyle in 1955, whereupon the manuscript was auctioned in New York on November 22, 1955 and then again in March, 1966. The manuscript was sent to auction in 2019 by Meisei Iwaki University, Japan, where it was purchased by the British Library and is now available to be consulted by researchers.
The Land of Mist deals heavily with both spiritualism, a movement and belief in which Conan Doyle had become active following the death of his son and brother in WW1, and Christianity, the faith in which he had been raised. It follows several of the characters from Conan Doyle’s earlier Professor Challenger novels as they investigate the spirit world. At first largely sceptical, approaching with purely professional interest, they soon become enthralled by the individuals they encounter and their other worldly experiences.
Conan Doyle drafted the narrative over a few months between late 1924 and early 1925. It appeared in The Strand Magazine from July 1925 to March 1926 before publication by Hutchinson and Co in 1926.
This draft chapter, Chapter XIII, which contains numerous corrections and additions throughout, is believed to have been written whilst Conan Doyle was travelling in Switzerland. Conan Doyle’s close connection with the country is well documented, and it is believed several other chapters from Land of Mist were also drafted there.
Professor Christine Ferguson, Chair in English Studies at the University of Stirling, is currently working on a new scholarly edition of The Land of Mist, due for publication in 2024. Ferguson’s research focuses on nineteenth and twentieth-century British literature, and in particular on the impact of occult beliefs and new religious movements on the popular fiction of these periods. During the course of her research into the Land of Mist, she has looked closely at the ‘Lost’ chapter and its significance to the rest of the novel, as well as its broader significance to Arthur Conan Doyle’s work and personal beliefs. She notes of the chapter:
“‘The Darker Side’ arguably represents the most sensational and prurient episode within The Land of Mist, detailing the seduction and financial entrapment of a young French man named La Paix by a beautiful spirit named Sylvia who demands that he pay increasingly large sums of money to advertise her name in the French press. If he does not, she threatens, he will soon die.
Alongside the chapter it was originally intended to precede (‘There are Heights and Depths’), it seems to have been designed to dramatize the distinctions between the pious British spiritualists for whom Doyle had in the 1920s become a figurehead, and the more scientifically aligned psychical researchers at work in Europe. While the former, represented by the high-minded Christian spiritualist Algernon Mailey, are given purely religious motivations for exploring the other world, the latter are presented as agnostic materialists, disinterested in the moral aspects of the question. Ever the patriot, Doyle presents only pure-hearted British spiritualism as proof and protection against the type of metaphysical threat posed by Sylvia and her ilk: ‘unless you get the religious bearing of this thing’, Mailey insists, ‘it is always a danger’”.
A small note believed to be in Conan Doyle’s hand at the top of folio 1 states that ‘this Chapter was lost in some strange way & never appeared in the book.’ It seems that Doyle had intended for the chapter to be included. Although the Chapter is labelled chapter XIII, Professor Ferguson believes the chapter should in fact be situated narratively between what were published as chapter XI ‘Where Silas Linden Comes Into His Own’ and Chapter XII ‘There are Heights and there are Depths.’
Like Doyle, we cannot be certain as to why the chapter was omitted. However, the subject matter that the chapter deals with is somewhat challenging in its nature touching on issues of nationalism and gender politics. Christine notes:
“British nationalism is not the only ideological position or indeed, form of bias, on display in “The Darker Side.” This chapter also compounds the deep sexism embedded within The Land of Mist, most evident hitherto in the novel’s side lining of Enid Challenger, daughter of The Lost World’s Professor George Edward Challenger, within its male conversion quest. While Professor Challenger, Edward Malone, and Lord John Roxton test, explore, and ultimately push to achieve a fully rationalist form of spiritualist belief, Enid remains largely silent, seeming to automatically assent to the truth of spiritualism with no great struggle and proving most—perhaps only ever— instrumental to the plot when channelling the words of dead men.
This chapter implies that there may be good reasons for limiting women’s power both in and beyond the séance room. When La Paix asks Mailey if Sylvia is a demon, the older man gestures to the Paris streets outside and says, ‘You’ll find dozens of Sylvias there. . . You do not call them demons. . . No. I do not call her a demon, but the unchanged spirit of woman. Living or dead, he suggests, women are always already demonic, a threat to the men from whom they seek power’. These powerfully misogynistic sentiments will render ‘The Darker Side’ a key document for scholars of Doyle’s gender politics in years to come.
In light of such controversial content, it might be tempting to view the omission of ‘The Darker Side’ from the published version of The Land of Mist as deliberate, perhaps a last-minute retraction by a jittery publisher. But there is no evidence for doing so. On the contrary, it seems clear that both Doyle and Hutchinson & Co. fully intended it to appear in the first edition, which includes an appendix item about the chapter (‘Note on Chapter XII’), but not the actual chapter itself. More likely, the chapter simply fell victim to a slip in the proof and production process.”
The acquisition of the chapter by the British Library will open its contents up to broader research and offers both enthusiasts and scholars alike further material documenting Conan Doyle’s own spiritual beliefs.
The Arthur Conan Doyle Papers (Add MS 88924), include extensive correspondence to and from Conan Doyle and his family, literary manuscripts, lectures and essays, diaries, papers relating to Arthur Conan Doyle's education, and a significant cache of papers related to his involvement with spiritualism.
Arthur Conan Doyle: Brigadier Gerard stories (Add MS 89337)
Several of Conan Doyle’s plays can also be found in the Lord Chamberlains Plays collection.