Saturday, September 1, 2007

Dr. John Thorndyke

Having been reminded of The Hardy Boys and of other books I enjoyed when young, I decided to re-visit an author I discovered a little later. Dr. John Thorndyke was the CSI of the first half of the 20th century — solving crimes using science. Most of these books, by R. Austin Freeman, were what was known as an "inverted" detective story: the book started with the crime, from the criminal's point of view, and then you observed Dr. Thorndyke, as he inexorably moved toward discovering the criminal (although not always exposing him). I'm reading Mr. Pottermack's Oversight, first published in 1930, and came across the following, reminding me that plot is not the only reason I find Freeman so enjoyable:
Temperamentally, Dr. John Thorndyke presented a peculiarity which, at the first glance, seemed to involve a contradiction. He was an eminently friendly man; courteous, kindly and even genial in his intercourse with his fellow creatures. Nor was his suave, amicable manner in any way artificial or consciously assumed. To every man his attitude of mind was instinctively friendly; and if he did not suffer fools gladly, he could, on occasion endure them with almost inexhaustible patience.

And yet, with all his pleasant exterior and his really kindly nature, he was at heart a confirmed solitary. Of all company, his own thoughts were to him the most acceptable. After all, his case was not singular. To every intellectual man, solitude is not only a necessity, it is the condition to which his mental qualities are subject; and the man who cannot endure his own sole society has usually excellent reasons for his objection to it. (p. 105)
Apart from the reference to the "intellectual man" — which I would not claim — that seems to me a pretty good description of me, or, no doubt more accurately, how I would like to be.

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