Ming Panha (PhD) is a Lecturer in English language and literature at the Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University. He is interested in 19th-century literature and culture, as well as in animal studies. E-mail: mingptu@tu.ac.th


The Early 20th-century Dutch East Indies in Sherlock Holmes’ Anthropocene Unconscious in “The Dying Detective” (1913) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Abstract: The story “The Dying Detective” (1913) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle suggests that British imperial authority, in the form of Sherlock Holmes, overcomes the contamination of British subjects in the Dutch colonies, which is represented by the character of Culverton Smith, a British planter from Sumatra. Thus, the short story reveals British and Dutch imperial rivalry. It begins with Smith’s attempt to kill Holmes with a germ of “tapanuli fever,” which he collects from his plantation and cultivates inside bottles in London. Holmes pretends to be infected, raving feverishly about coins and oysters, and deceives Smith into confessing his crime before arresting him. Even though Holmes tells Watson that the disease is highly contagious, he manages to defeat the criminal and appears to be uninfected by a germ that spreads in Malay and Chinese communities in London. Despite his victory over the highly contagious Sumatran disease and the British planter who plots against him, Holmes fails to escape from the ecological entanglement of the Dutch East Indies. Employing Mark Bould’s concept of the Anthropocene unconscious, this paper argues that Holmes’s victory shows the suppressed concern of imperial manipulation of the environment. Holmes’s defeat of the tropical disease in London contrasts with his desire for the tobacco produced by the plantations of colonial Sumatra, which are the hotbed of the epidemic.
Keywords: Anthropocene, Dutch East Indies, tropical diseases, animal studies, ecology