School bans 'anti-Mormon' Sherlock Holmes book

Albermarle County school board in Virginia withdraws A Study in Scarlet for young readers

Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, has been removed from reading lists in Virginia schools after a parent complained about its anti-Mormon sentiments.

The decision to pull the classic novel from sixth-grade reading lists in Albemarle County, Virginia, was made by the school board, local paper the Daily Progress reports, following a complaint from local parent Brette Stevenson, who said the novel was "our young students' first inaccurate introduction to an American religion".

A Study in Scarlet includes a lengthy flashback to 19th-century Utah, where a father and his daughter are rescued by Mormons on condition they adopt the Mormon faith. When Lucy, the daughter, falls in love with Jefferson Hope after he rescues her from a herd of cattle, her father is pleased because he is not of the faith. "Nothing would ever induce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such a marriage he regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shame and a disgrace." But when Lucy is forced to marry a Mormon, and her father is murdered, Hope sets out to seek revenge.

Mormons are "persecutors of the most terrible description", writes Conan Doyle in his novel. "The man who held out against the Church vanished away, and none knew whither he had gone or what had befallen him," he adds, and when "the supply of adult women was running short ... fresh women appeared in the harems of the Elders – women who pined and wept, and bore upon their faces the traces of an unextinguishable horror". According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Conan Doyle's daughter said that her father "would be the first to admit that his first Sherlock Holmes novel was full of errors about the Mormons".

The Albemarle County school board made its decision after asking a committee to study the novel, which found that it was not "age-appropriate" for sixth graders, who are 11 to 12 years old. The ban was protested by more than 20 former students, with one teenager calling it "the best book I have read so far".

Stevenson was pleased with the decision, and suggested that The Hound of the Baskervilles – which features no Mormons at all – might be "a better introduction to mystery", the Daily Progress said.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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