A Lucky Literary Encounter
Jen Pedler looks at another Literary connection in London
The Langham Hotel, at the bottom of Portland Place, opened in 1865 and was Europe’s first ‘grand hotel’. Its seven floors were served by the first hydraulically powered lifts in the world and each of its 600 rooms had air conditioning, hot and cold running water and a WC – the height of luxury in those days.
Here in 1889 an event occurred that has been described as “Literary London’s equivalent of the meeting between Stanley and Livingstone” – a meeting between Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde. Both were in their 30s and regarded as up and coming young writers although their styles could not have been more different; solid, down-to-earth Doyle regarded himself as a writer of good old fashioned adventure stories whereas flamboyant Wilde was an aesthetic who saw his writing very much as ‘art for art’s sake.’
They were just the sort of writers J M Stoddart, editor of the Philadelphia literary magazine Lippincott’s, was after when he came to London looking for new literary talent. He hosted a dinner at the Langham and invited them. Surprisingly, despite their differences, the two men got on well together; Wilde complimented Doyle on his recently published historical novel Micah Clarke which he said he had read and enjoyed and Doyle described the occasion as “a golden evening for me.”
At the end of the evening, Stoddard commissioned books from both of them. The result was Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey, and Doyle’s second outing for Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of Four.
The encounter inspired Gyles Brandreth’s series of six Victorian murder mysteries featuring Oscar Wilde and Conan Doyle (the first of these is Oscar Wilde and the Candlelit Murders). He also proposed and unveiled the plaque commemorating the meeting which can be seen on the wall of the hotel. It’s appropriate that he should have used the analogy with Stanley and Livingstone as Stanley had stayed at the Langham when preparing for his journey to Africa to search for Livingstone and Livingstone’s great-grandson set off from the steps of the Langham in 1993 to retrace his ancestor’s journey.
You can hear more about these and other writers who have found their muse in Marylebone over the years in Jen’s Marylebone Muses walk on the 3rd of October, part of the Literary Footprints Festival.