Alfred Jarry and Sherlock Holmes – long lost cousins?

Wold Newton

After writing the post on Farmer and ‘Pataphysics (and starting to read Meteor Books Best of Farmerphile) I started to wonder if Jarry was part of the Wold Newton family – specifically if he was related to Sherlock Holmes.

Although there is a significant difference in height – Holmes was tall while Jarry was only 5ft 2in tall – both men had prodigious intellects and both were athletic. Jarry used to race steam trains on his bicycle and was a fencer, while Holmes was a master of the martial art of Baritsu and famously bent a poker back into shape after it had been twisted by Grimsby Roylott in the Adventure of the Speckled Band.

And both men have been known to resort to drugs for inspiration – cocaine in the case of Holmes and ether, marijuana and various other substances in Jarry’s.

They were contemporaries – Holmes born in 1854 and Jarry in 1873. However the clue to their relationship may be that Holmes grandmother was a member of the French Vernet family of painters.

Wold Newton scholars believe this was Violete Vernet – daughter of Carle Vernet who was a court painter under the revolutionary Directorate, Napolean and the restored monarchy. They also suggest Carle was the ancestor of Hercule Poirot and Jules de Grandin.

Jarry’s mother Caroline (ne Quernest) claimed she had aristocratic ancestors. While the Vernets were not aristocratic they were closely associated with the French court. We also know Caroline had pretensions and was always disappointed to be married to a member of the bourgeoisie – the marriage had problems when Jarry’s father’s business collapsed and he had to work as a travelling salesman to support his family.

There is not a direct link between the Vernets and Caroline’s family if we look at what we know about her family tree, but it may be that there is a more distant relationship, or there is a closer illegitimate link. It would require a lot of research to investigate this further, but it seems and inquiry worth making. In view of Farmer’s habit of incorporating members of the Wold Newton family into his fiction, did he know something we don’t when he placed Jarry on the Riverworld?

 

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