The ‘VICTORIANS at Edge Hill’ seminar was pleased to welcome its third distinguished speaker, Dr Christopher Pittard, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Portsmouth. Dr Pittard spoke to students, staff and visitors about his latest research on Sidney Paget, illustrator and creator of some of the most iconic images of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s move to the Strand Magazine in 1891 proved the catalyst for the detective’s popular success. Part of this success was Doyle’s collaboration with the artist Sidney Paget, and the manner in which Paget’s images provided a striking new visual identity for Holmes. Indeed, when Strand readers browsed their copies, the competing narratives presented by the sequence of Paget’s illustrations would have been their initial experience of the stories, later displaced or supplemented by Doyle’s words, a displacement that goes unquestioned in much Holmesian criticism.

Dr Pittard argues that rather than being addenda to Doyle’s texts, Paget’s illustrations play a crucial role in the narratives’ creation of meaning. In a periodical setting which emphasised continuity and resolution, the illustrations set up complex chains of visual repetition between themselves and previous episodes, creating a sense of continuity that helped in turn consolidate a reading community.