Books | April 16, 2021 12:12 pm

One Dinner Party Inspired Classic Books by Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle

A meal that made literary history

Oscar Wilde
Groundbreaking writer and style icon Oscar Wilde.
Napoleon Sarony

Literature doesn’t emerge from a vacuum, and some of the most lauded literary works in history have rich and complex origin stories. The weekend that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein (and led to John Polidori writing The Vampyre) is held up as the apex of this, for obvious reasons — but it’s not alone in the category of single events that changed literary history. In the waning years of the 19th century, a pair of acclaimed writers were at the same dinner; it led to both of them creating some of their most enduring work.

The writers in question? Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle. And, as Olivia Rutigliano writes at CrimeReads, both men attended a dinner at London’s Langham Hotel in 1889. At the time, both were already on the rise — Doyle had recently created Sherlock Holmes, and Wilde was well-known for his writings and his views on aesthetics.

Rutigliano notes that the purpose of the meeting was centered around both men’s writing. The dinner was organized by J.M. Stoddart of the Philadelphia-based Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. (Other notable writers published in Lippincott’s over the course of its history include Rudyard Kipling and Willa Cather.) Stoddart was in London seeking new fiction for the journal — hence the presence of Wilde and Conan Doyle at the dinner.

The works that that meeting sparked are both high points in each writer’s bibliography. Wilde ended up publishing The Picture of Dorian Gray in Lippincott’s, while Conan Doyle published The Sign of Four, a novel with Holmes at its center. Both books helped to make the literary reputations of the men who wrote them — and the event that sparked their creation continues to hold a place in literary history.