Vera Tobin

Elements of Surprise / Publications / Teaching / CV

“Ways of Reading Sherlock Holmes.” Language and Literature, vol. 15, no. 1

Current work on conceptual integration and literary texts often features detailed analysis of a single reading of a text in terms of the conceptual integration networks involved in constructing that interpretation. However, a single linguistic form can inspire manifold readings. This article takes a historical view of the conceptual blends involved in a range of different literary interpretations generated by different groups of readers of a single set of texts, the Sherlock Holmes detective stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. First, it examines the case of the numerous and diverse historical readers who took these fictional texts to be non-fiction, and how their conceptions mirror and diverge from the ways readers become immersed in texts they know to be fiction. This is followed by an analysis of the early ‘Sherlockian’ essays, criticism operating under the pretense of a historical Holmes and a historical Watson who recorded his adventures with varying accuracy. In the Sherlockian tradition, something very like the naïve believer stance independently emerges from this playful and parodic novel blend. The history of this stance among its practitioners is then shown to be an example of the routinization of a blend within a discourse community. These complex discourse blends turn out to have much the same capacity for entrenchment and semantic change as any grammatical construction.