The new exhibit here in Burns Library—Golden Spiders and Black Orchids: A ‘Satisfactory’ Look at the Life and Writings of Rex Stout—inspired us to delve a little deeper into the life of American mystery writer Rex Stout.
Rex Stout’s stories featuring armchair detective Nero Wolfe and his sidekick, Archie Goodwin, have inspired many devoted fans through the years. The Rex Stout related collections in Burns Library all contain examples of fan art and fan events celebrating Stout’s colorful characters. So it is interesting to learn that Rex Stout himself was a fervent fan—of mystery author Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
Stout’s writings show a clear admiration for Doyle’s famous literary creation. Stout’s own books follow the archetypes set forth by Doyle: the cerebral lead detective (Holmes: Wolfe) and his more down-to-earth partner (Watson: Archie), solving crimes as private detectives. Stout wrote impassioned essays about Sherlock Holmes. The Rex Stout papers include a carbon copies of both Stout’s introduction for The Later Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Heritage Press, 1952), and his review in The New Republic of Vincent Starrett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Macmillan, 1933).
Far from simply publishing essays on Arthur Conan Doyle, Stout connected with like-
minded literati to produce new scholarship. Rex Stout was an active member of the Baker Street Irregulars, the literary society dedicated to studying the world of Sherlock Holmes. A January 1959 certificate proclaims Stout “a recipient with the full honours of the Irregular Shilling and entitled to bear and display at all times the Titular Investiture of The Boscombe Valley Mystery is hereby designated an HONORARY LIFE MEMBER of the Society”. Stout’s papers document his ties with the BSIs, and include a eulogy published in The Baker Street Journal for the Buttons-cum-Commissionaire of the society, Edgar Smith.
As Rex Stout’s devotion to Doyle indicates, characters can inspire generations of interpretations, criticism, and fandoms. Indeed, Stout’s characters have also inspired fan creativity and spawned a literary society – The Wolfe Pack. Pack members continue to write and create art in homage to Stout’s characters and writing. Some of the Wolfe Pack’s creative output can be found in the collections, alongside Stout’s personal, professional, and political writing and associated materials.
To learn more about Rex Stout, please visit Golden Spiders and Black Orchids: A ‘Satisfactory’ Look at the Life and Writings of Rex Stout, on display until early 2020 in Burns Library. Researchers interested in using any of the Rex Stout collections (listed below) are welcome to visit anytime, but please be advised that original material in the exhibit is not available for research. If you can’t visit us in person, view highlights in the online, permanent exhibit. We hope you will pleased with our efforts and, in true Nero Wolfe style, will deem them “Satisfactory!”
-Kathleen Monahan, Reference, Instruction & Digital Services Librarian
-Katherine Fox, Head, Public Services & Engagement
- Rex Stout papers (MS1986-096)
- John J. McAleer Faculty Papers (BC1995-016)
- Judson C. Sapp papers and Collection of Rex Stout (MS1996-022)
- Ed Price Collection of Rex Stout (MS2018-057)
- Baker Street Irregulars. “About the Baker Street Irregulars”. https://bakerstreetirregulars.com/about-the-bsi/ (accessed 10/23/2019)
- Wolfe Pack. “Rex Stout & The Baker Street Irregulars (BSI)”. https://www.nerowolfe.org/htm/stout/bsi.htm (accessed 10/23/2019)
- Golden Spiders and Black Orchids: A ‘Satisfactory’ Look into the Life and Mysteries of Rex Stout (accessed 10/24/19)