Arthur and George

Arthur and George

by Julian Barnes


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Arthur and George by Julian Barnes

As boys, George, the son of a Midlands vicar, and Arthur, living in shabby genteel Edinburgh, find themselves in a vast and complex world at the heart of the British Empire. Years later—one struggling with his identity in a world hostile to his ancestry, the other creating the world’s most famous detective while in love with a woman who is not his wife–their fates become inextricably connected.

In Arthur & George, Julian Barnes explores the grand tapestry of late-Victorian Britain to create his most intriguing and engrossing novel yet.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400097036
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/09/2007
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 278,589
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Julian Barnes is the author of two books of stories, two collections of essays, a translation of Alphonse Daudet's In the Land of Pain, and nine previous novels. In France he is the only writer to have won both the Prix Médicis and the Prix Fémina, and in 2004 he became a Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In England his honors include the Somerset Maugham Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. He has also received the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He lives in London.


London, England

Date of Birth:

January 19, 1946

Place of Birth:

Leicester, England


Degree in modern languages from Magdalen College, Oxford, 1968

Read an Excerpt




A child wants to see. It always begins like this, and it began like this then. A child wanted to see.

He was able to walk, and could reach up to a door handle. He did this with nothing that could be called a purpose, merely the instinctive tourism of infancy. A door was there to be pushed; he walked in, stopped, looked. There was nobody to observe him; he turned and walked away, carefully shutting the door behind him.

What he saw there became his first memory. A small boy, a room, a bed, closed curtains leaking afternoon light. By the time he came to describe it publicly, sixty years had passed. How many internal retellings had smoothed and adjusted the plain words he finally used? Doubtless it still seemed as clear as on the day itself. The door, the room, the light, the bed, and what was on the bed: a ‘white, waxen thing’.

A small boy and a corpse: such encounters would not have been so rare in the Edinburgh of his time. High mortality rates and cramped circumstances made for early learning. The household was Catholic, and the body that of Arthur’s grandmother, one Katherine Pack. Perhaps the door had been deliberately left ajar. There might have been a desire to impress upon the child the horror of death; or, more optimistically, to show him that death was nothing to be feared. Grandmother’s soul had clearly flown up to Heaven, leaving behind only the sloughed husk of her body. The boy wants to see? Then let the boy see.

An encounter in a curtained room. A small boy and a corpse. A grandchild who, by the acquisition of memory, had just stopped being a thing, and a grandmother who, by losing those attributes the child was developing, had returned to that state. The small boy stared; and over half a century later the adult man was still staring. Quite what a ‘thing’ amounted to — or, to put it more exactly, quite what happened when the tremendous change took place, leaving only a ‘thing’ behind — was to become of central importance to Arthur.


George does not have a first memory, and by the time anyone suggests that it might be normal to have one, it is too late. He has no recollection obviously preceding all others — not of being picked up, cuddled, laughed at or chastised. He has an awareness of once having been an only child, and a knowledge that there is now Horace as well, but no primal sense of being disturbingly presented with a brother, no expulsion from paradise. Neither a first sight, nor a first smell: whether of a scented mother or a carbolicy maid-of-all-work.

He is a shy, earnest boy, acute at sensing the expectations of others. At times he feels he is letting his parents down: a dutiful child should remember being cared for from the first. Yet his parents never rebuke him for this inadequacy. And while other children might make good the lack — might forcibly install a mother’s doting face or a father’s supporting arm in their memories — George does not do so. For a start, he lacks imagination. Whether he has never had one, or whether its growth has been stunted by some parental act, is a question for a branch of psychological science which has not yet been devised. George is fully capable of following the inventions of others — the stories of Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, the Journey of the Magi — but has little such capacity himself.

He does not feel guilty about this, since his parents do not regard it as a fault in him. When they say that a child in the village has ‘too much imagination’, it is clearly a term of dispraise. Further up the scale are ‘tellers of tall stories’ and ‘fibbers’; by far the worst is the child who is ‘a liar through and through’ — such are to be avoided at all costs. George himself is never urged to speak the truth: this would imply that he needs encouragement. It is simpler than this: he is expected to tell the truth because at the Vicarage no alternative exists.

‘I am the way, the truth and the life’: he is to hear this many times on his father’s lips. The way, the truth and the life. You go on your way through life telling the truth. George knows that this is not exactly what the Bible means, but as he grows up this is how the words sound to him.


For Arthur there was a normal distance between home and church; but each place was filled with presences, with stories and instructions. In the cold stone church where he went once a week to kneel and pray, there was God and Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles and the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins. Everything was very orderly, always listed and numbered, like the hymns and the prayers and the verses of the Bible.

He understood that what he learned there was the truth; but his imagination preferred the different, parallel version he was taught at home. His mother’s stories were also about far distant times, and also designed to teach him the distinction between right and wrong. She would stand at the kitchen range, stirring the porridge, tucking her hair back behind her ears as she did so; and he would wait for the moment when she would tap the stick against the pan, pause, and turn her round, smiling face towards him. Then her grey eyes would hold him, while her voice made a moving curve in the air, swooping up and down, then slowing almost to a halt as she reached the part of the tale he could scarcely endure, the part where exquisite torment or joy awaited not just hero and heroine, but the listener as well.

‘And then the knight was held over the pit of writhing snakes, which hissed and spat as their twining lengths ensnared the whitening bones of their previous victims . . .’

‘And then the black-hearted villain, with a hideous oath, drew a secret dagger from his boot and advanced towards the defenceless . . .’

‘And then the maiden took a pin from her hair and the golden tresses fell from the window, down, down, caressing the castle walls until they almost reached the verdant grass on which he stood . . .’

Arthur was an energetic, headstrong boy who did not easily sit still; but once the Mam raised her porridge stick he was held in a state of silent enchantment — as if a villain from one of her stories had slipped a secret herb into his food. Knights and their ladies then moved about the tiny kitchen; challenges were issued, quests miraculously fulfilled; armour clanked, chain mail rustled, and honour was always upheld.

Reading Group Guide

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation about Arthur & George, Julian Barnes’s moving account of the intersection of the lives of Arthur Conan Doyle, world-famous writer of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and George Edalji, a Birmingham solicitor imprisoned for dreadfully gruesome crimes.

1. One of the first things we learn about George is that “for a start, he lacks imagination” [p. 4]. George is deeply attached to the facts, while Arthur discovers early in life the “essential connection between narrative and reward” [p. 14]. How does this temperamental difference determine their approaches to life? Does Barnes use Arthur and George to explore the very different attractions of truth telling and storytelling?

2. What qualities does the Mam encourage in Arthur? How does Arthur’s upbringing compare with George’s? What qualities are encouraged in George by his parents? What does the novel imply about one’s parents as a determinant in character development?

3. To what degree do George’s parents try to overlook or deny the social difficulties their mixed marriage has produced for themselves and their children? Are they admirable in their determination to ignore the racial prejudice to which they are subjected?

4. Critic Peter Kemp has commented on Julian Barnes’s interest in fiction that “openly colonises actuality—especially the lives of creative prodigies” [The Sunday Times (London), June 26, 2005]. In Arthur & George, the details we read about Arthur’s life are largely true. While the story of George Edalji is an obscure chapter of Doyle’s life, its details as presented here are also based on the historical record. What is the effect, for the reader, when an author blurs the line between fiction and biography or fiction and history?

5. From early on in a life shaped by stories, Arthur has identified with tales of knights: “If life was a chivalric quest, then he had rescued the fair Touie, he had conquered the city, and been rewarded with gold. . . . What did a knight errant do when he came home to a wife and two children in South Norwood?” [p. 69]. Is it common to find characters like Arthur in our own day? How have the ideas of masculinity changed between Edwardian times and the present?

6. George has trouble believing that he was a victim of racial prejudice [p. 264]. Why is this difficult for him to believe? Is it difficult for him to imagine that others don’t see him as he sees himself? Does George’s misfortune seem to be juxtaposed ironically with his family’s firm belief in the Christian faith?

7. The small section on pages 91–92, called “George & Arthur,” describes an unnamed man approaching a horse in a field on a cold night. What is the effect of this section, coming into the novel when it does, and named as it is?

8. Inspector Campbell tells Captain Anson that the man who did the mutilations would be someone who was “accustomed to handling animals” [p. 97]; this assumption would clearly rule out George. Yet George is pursued as the single suspect. Campbell also notes that Sergeant Upton is neither intelligent nor competent at his job [p. 99]. What motivates Campbell as he examines George’s clothing and his knife, and proceeds to have George arrested
[pp. 117–123]?

9. George’s lawyer, Mr. Meek, is amused at George’s sense of outrage when he reads the factual errors and outright lies in the newspapers’ reports of his case [p. 137; 140–141]. Why is Mr. Meek not more sympathetic?

10. George’s arrest for committing “the Great Wyrley Outrages” [p. 176] causes a stir in England just a few years following the sensational killing spree of Jack the Ripper, which sold millions of newspapers. Are the newspapers, and the public appetite for sensational stories, partly responsible for the crime against George Edalji?

11. How does Barnes convey the feeling of the historical period of which he writes? What details and stylistic effects are noticeable?

12. England was extremely proud of its legal system; Queen Victoria had expressed outrage over the injustice in the dubious case against Alfred Dreyfus, which had occurred a few years earlier in France. Yet the Edalji case seems to present an even greater injustice, and again because of the ethnicity of the accused. Why might the Home Office have refused to pay damages to Edalji?

13. For nine years, Arthur carries on a chaste love affair with Jean Leckie. Yet he feels miserable after the death of his wife, Touie, particularly when he learns from his daughter Mary that Touie assumed Arthur would remarry [pp. 247–49]. Why is Arthur thrown into “the great Grimpen Mire” by his freedom to marry Jean [p. 253]? Why does he believe that “if Touie knew, then he was destroyed” [p. 305]? Has he, as he fears, behaved dishonorably to both women? What does the dilemma do to his sense of personal honor?

14. Why is the real perpetrator of the animal killings never identified? In a Sherlock Holmes story the criminal is always caught and convicted, but Doyle gets no such satisfaction with this real-world case. How disturbing is the fact that George is never truly vindicated and never compensated for the injustice he suffered? Does Barnes’s fictional enlargement of George Edalji’s life act as a kind of compensation?

15. Arthur & George presents a world that seems less evolved than our own in its assumptions about race and human nature, justice and evidence, and its examples of human innocence and idealism. Does this world seem so remote in time as to be, in a sense, unbelievable? Or might American readers recognize a similar situation in a story like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, or more recent news stories about racial injustice?

16. The story ends with George’s attendance at the memorial service for Arthur. What is most moving about this episode?

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Arthur and George 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1903, solicitor George Edalji is arrested and convicted of mutilating cattle and other farm animals as well as writing threatening letters. He is sent to prison and disbarred from practicing law.----- In 1906 Arthur Conan Doyle still grieves the loss of his beloved life when he learns of the case that some claim is the result of racism. He does a perfunctory review and quickly learns that police and others have harassed the Edalji family before the arrest and apparently continue to do so. He digs deeper as the investigation helps him out of his morbid funk until he concludes that the extremely near-sighted George, who can barely see and was obviously a logical rational person, could not have committed these atrocious acts. Doyle begins a campaign to free George and get him reinstated as a lawyer.------ This is a terrific fictionalized account of a real event as Doyle actually undertook a campaign to free the imprisoned Edalji. The investigation grips the audience who will receive a taste of Edwardian England¿s darker societal practices as much as insight into the two lead characters. Readers will understand how the intelligent George became a victim and how Arthur turned to spiritualism when logic especially that of his society failed him. The details make this a fabulous historical fiction that will shock the audience with its equivalency to the Emile Zola-Dreyfus Affair.----- Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would have to say the story is both engaging and inspiring. I picked this book up in London two months ago. It has taken me some time to read it due to other obligations. It has kept me up for the past two evenings. Believe me, if it keeps me up to read, then it holds my interest. Do not miss this excellent piece of literature.
breeks on LibraryThing 5 days ago
A great read! The intertwining of the two lives was very ably put together by Barnes. An historical novel that had real life to it.
stubbyfingers on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Perhaps my expectations were just too high. I never found myself to be very interested in this book. I read it on the bus to and from work, but never had the urge to pick it up at other times. We were past page 200 before Arthur and George ever met (somehow from the title I had expected a bit more interaction between the characters). And I was never really convinced as to why they met. George didn't seem like the type of guy to initiate the interaction and why did Arthur choose George's case to look into after he'd ignored so many others?It turned out though, that this was based on a true story. Somehow I never quite realized that until I read the author's note at the end of the book.At any rate, while this wasn't a bad book, it certainly wouldn't make my "Top 10 Books of 2006" list.
karieh on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Some very interesting facts about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - along with a very compelling story about a total unknown whose life he had a dramatic effect on.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing 5 days ago
Julian Barnes uses an elegant and readable writing style to create the dual fictional lives of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji in this his tenth novel. The result is a compelling narrative that at once is both interesting as fictional biography and as a detective story. Personally, I found the mystery and Doyle's investigation into its' source was more interesting, but the rest of the novel was well enough told to almost keep up with the suspense created by the mystery. The combination was one of the best novels I have read all year and would certainly make any ten-best list I might create, if I were so inclined. The author uses an interesting narrative technique switching back and forth between the two protagonists as they grow up completely unaware of each other until the moment when their lives become inextricably intertwined, in no small part due to the fame of Doyle's most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes. What happens subsequently as their lives continue to their unique personal conclusions is summed up in the final sections of the novel. Certainly this is a more than satisfying read for several winter nights.
wendyrey on LibraryThing 5 days ago
As close to a documentary/mockumentary/dramatisation as a novel can get. Very readable story of two real men Arthur Conan Doyle and a solicitor who was accused and convicted of crimes he did not commit.Much better than it sounds.
ShelfMonkey on LibraryThing 5 days ago
primalprayer on LibraryThing 5 days ago
The writing is excellent. This book is about two men in England at the turn of the 20th century. On several occasions I was surprised by how easily the author becomes the character and in turn the reader sees the events no throught the authors' perspective, but those of the characters'. This is taken on by nearly all authors, but in this narrative I am so convinved of the characters that I forget I am reading a book. This has never been done so well. Towards the end the story was losing me as it turned into a light, comic mystery, but we were back on track by the end. A great story to tell and well-told to boot.
LynnB on LibraryThing 5 days ago
This is a novel based on a real event: the work by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to clear the name of George Edalji, wrongfully convicted of a crime.After having read the reviews already posted on this site, I find myself very much in the minority: I didn't like this book very much. My views can actually be well summed up by the "Grand Old Duke of York" nursery rhyme: When he was up, he was up. And when he was down, he was down. And when he was only half way up, he was neither up nor down.The author tries to remain very true to the actual events, and in so doing so, has created a book that at times is very fictionalized (conversations and dialogue) and at times reads much more like nonfiction. This made the book feel very slow-moving at times, and resulted in several lengthy discussions that had little, if anything, to do with the story. The more fictionalized accounts were wonderful, and actually had me laughing out loud because of their witty humour. Perhaps because they were so good, the more true-to-fact sections dragged on. And the just didn't work for me. As I was reading the last section, I noted several passages that would have made a perfect ending, but the book just kept going. I have a feeling this author could write fiction or non-fiction quite well, but he just couldn't combine least this time.
Doondeck on LibraryThing 5 days ago
A wonderful read. So English. A great blend of two interesting stories
jojoma on LibraryThing 5 days ago
I really enjoyed this book.Absolutely unputdownable.The structure of the book,the beautifully delineated characters and the language...brilliant.
murraymint11 on LibraryThing 5 days ago
¿Found the end dragged out and not really sure of relevance of Arthur's memorial seance as George's memorial/ funeral was not contrasted and the two men were not really in contact then. it just made the book too long and I think the best point to end would have been George attending Arthur and Jean's wedding. This to me was when the story did end as it was when the pardon was received and reacted to, and was when the men last met¿I agree whole-heartedly with the comments above regarding the ending, and I would go further and say that I think the second 100 pages could have been significantly reduced.... the story only got going again once Doyle started investigating George's case. I disagreed with Richard's comment that this book was an 'easy' read - in fact Judy was nearer the mark when she said it was a 'literary' read.There were parts of the book which I enjoyed, the beginning where the two main characters were drawn, and the investigations by Conan Doyle, but I found other parts really dragged, such as Doyle's endless deliberations regarding his relationship with Jean while his wife was ill, and the 'Psychical' references, especially the seance at the end.
riverwillow on LibraryThing 5 days ago
This is an interesting, surprisingly gentle, book based on a real-life case which ultimately led to the setting up of the Courts of Appeal. It reads, more or less, like a typical work of historical fiction with a narrative that is alternatively focused on George Edjali, accused and convicted of mutilating animals, and Arthur Conan Doyle, who was convinced of George's innocence. My main criticism is that the characters just do not come across as three-dimensional and emotionally sound leaving me, as a reader, as an emotionally observer of the events described in the text . But a good read nonetheless
MeganS on LibraryThing 5 days ago
A book I thought I would love and I didn't... Its an interesting story though from a historical perspective. It did make me look up the real story so I guess it did grab me in some way.
jennyo on LibraryThing 11 days ago
I thoroughly enjoyed Julian Barnes's fictional account of the relationship between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji. Since I knew nothing about the Edalji case to begin with, I got caught up in the plot and found myself inhaling pages in order to find out what was going to happen to Edalji.I like Barnes's straightforward, clear writing and his ability to turn a clever phrase. I knew from the very first paragraphs of the book that I'd enjoy it. It begins like this: A child wants to see. It always begins like this, and it began like this then. A child wanted to see. He was able to walk, and could reach up to a door handle. He did this with nothing that could be called a purpose, merely the instinctive tourism of infancy.I love that bit; the instinctive tourism of infancy. I also loved this bit at the end where Edalji attends the spiritualist's presentation in honor of ACD, and the spirits seem to all be speaking at once: George listens to the crowd of spirits being given fleeting description. The impression is that they are all clamoring for attention, fighting to convey their messages. A facetious if logical question comes into George's mind, from where he cannot tell, unless as a reaction to all this unwonted intensity. If these are indeed the spirits of Englishmen and Englishwomen who have passed over into the next world, surely they would know how to form a proper queue?All in all, an entertaining book and one I'd highly recommend.
mattcompton on LibraryThing 11 days ago
When Dr. Watson first meets Sherlock Holmes, he isn't well. He has returned from the war in Afghanistan, arm still stiff from a bullet wound. He is living in a hotel, spending beyond his means, and only chances upon the soon-to-be famous detective because each is in need of a roommate to make the London rent affordable. Watson tells the reader, "As the weeks went by, my interest in him and my curiosity as to his aims in life gradually deepened and increased." That interest and curiosity gradually become the stuff which pulls Watson out of his melancholy and into one of the greatest literary friendships in history.In Julian Barnes' new novel, Arthur & George, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is coping with similar feelings when he stumbles upon the case of George Edalji. Edalji is the son of a Parsee father and a soft-spoken Scottish mother. His father is a clergyman in the Church of England and he has lived his entire life in the vicarage. His entire life that is, except for the last three years, which he has spent in jail, for a crime he did not commit. And, as with the Dreyfus Affair across the English Channel, race has much to do with the conviction. Before the trial, Edalji was a solicitor, but because he is released from prison without a pardon, he can no longer practice law. The only thing that Edalji wants from his government is the chance to return to his chosen profession. By this time, Doyle is famous. He has created Holmes, killed him, then brought the detective back to life. He has built a fortune, traveled the world, fought for his country, and been awarded a peerage for his efforts. He has also married a woman he does not love and fallen for one he does. He has managed to reconcile these two relationships in a way that does no damage to either woman's honor. Then, after many years as an invalid, Doyle's wife dies. And everything changes. Doyle, the consummate man of action, is struck by an inability to do much of anything. Until he receives a letter from Edalji. And then, like Watson so many years before, his interest and curiosity came back to life.Days later, they meet, and as Barnes tells it, "They had stood to say good-bye, and Sir Arthur had towered over him, and this large, forceful, gentle man had looked him in the eye and said, 'I do not think you are innocent. I do not believe you are innocent. I know you are innocent.' The words were more than a poem, more than a prayer, they were the expression of a truth against which lies would break."Of course, Doyle throws himself into action, and with his clerk playing the role of Watson to his Holmes, the writer succeeds, not only dismantling the case against Edalji but also in tabbing the actual perpetrator of the crimes. He also succeeds in making a lot of noise, both in the media and in the halls of government. And for his efforts, Doyle gets a national debate, Edalji gets a pardon, and the British get an appellate court.Though there is always plenty of action, Arthur & George is slow to unfold. It takes a full third of the book for the narrative to truly take root in the reader's imagination. The story doesn't drag per se, but it doesn't become truly gripping until Edalji is released from jail and Doyle's first wife dies. Once we reach that point, however, then the game is afoot. Chapters breeze by as Doyle begins his detective work, and then, all too soon, the book reaches a close.Barnes is a talented writer, but there can be no doubt that he is at his best when he is writing about identity. English identity in particular. And in Arthur Conan Doyle and in George Edalji he has a complex pair of foils which he can use to poke at the topic. In George, he has a character who so admires his country and the image that it projects that he refuses to blame race for all his troubles. And in Arthur, he has a man who calls himself one of the "unofficial English" but lacks the capacity to be anything but. Between them, Barnes manages to develop a highl
bibliobibuli on LibraryThing 11 days ago
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I enjoyed Arthur & George very much. It is well written, and while speculative, is justifiably so. The use of actual letters and newspaper articles in the course of the narrative lends credibility to the elements that Barnes must have imagined. Recommended.
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