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|Sherlock Holmes character|
Sherlock Holmes in a 1904 illustration by Sidney Paget
|First appearance||A Study in Scarlet|
|Created by||Sir Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Family||Mycroft Holmes (brother)|
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (November 2014)|
|Sherlock Holmes character|
Sherlock Holmes in a 1904 illustration by Sidney Paget
|First appearance||A Study in Scarlet|
|Created by||Sir Arthur Conan Doyle|
|Family||Mycroft Holmes (brother)|
Sherlock Holmes (/ /) is a fictional detective created by Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh Medical School. A London-based "consulting detective" whose abilities border on the fantastic, Holmes is known for his astute logical reasoning, his ability to adopt almost any disguise and his use of forensic science to solve difficult cases.
Holmes, who first appeared in print in 1887, was featured in four novels and 56 short stories. The first novel, A Study in Scarlet, appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1887 and the second, The Sign of the Four, in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1890. The character's popularity grew with the first series of short stories in The Strand Magazine, beginning with "A Scandal in Bohemia" in 1891; additional short-story series and two novels (published in serial form) appeared from then to 1927. The events in the stories take place from about 1880 to 1914.
All but four stories are narrated by Holmes's friend and biographer, Dr. John H. Watson. Two are narrated by Holmes himself ("The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" and "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane"), and two others are written in the third person ("The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone" and "His Last Bow"). In two stories ("The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual" and "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott"), Holmes tells Watson the story from his memory, with Watson narrating the frame story. The first and fourth novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear, include long passages of omniscient narrative of events unknown to either Holmes or Watson.
|This section requires expansion. (November 2014)|
Doyle said that Holmes was inspired by Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh for whom he had worked as a clerk. Like Holmes, Bell was noted for drawing broad conclusions from minute observations. However, he later wrote to Conan Doyle: "You are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it". Sir Henry Littlejohn, Chair of Medical Jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, is also cited as an inspiration for Holmes. Littlejohn, who was also Police Surgeon and Medical Officer of Health in Edinburgh, provided Doyle with a link between medical investigation and the detection of crime.
Details about Sherlock Holmes's life, except for the adventures in the books, are scarce in Conan Doyle's original stories. Nevertheless, mentions of his early life and extended family paint a loose biographical picture of the detective.
An estimate of Holmes's age in "His Last Bow" places his birth year at 1854; the story, set in August 1914, describes him as 60 years of age. Leslie S. Klinger, author of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, posits the detective's birthdate as 6 January.
Holmes says that he first developed his methods of deduction as an undergraduate; his earliest cases, which he pursued as an amateur, came from fellow university students. A meeting with a classmate's father led him to adopt detection as a profession, and he spent six years after university as a consultant before financial difficulties led him to accept Watson as a housemate (when the narrative of the stories begins).
Beginning in 1881 Holmes has lodgings at 221B Baker Street, London. According to an early story 221B is an apartment at the upper end of the street, up 17 steps. Until Watson's arrival Holmes worked alone, only occasionally employing agents from the city's underclass; these agents included a host of informants, and a group of street children he called "the Baker Street Irregulars". The Irregulars appear in three stories: A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of the Four and "The Adventure of the Crooked Man".
His parents are not mentioned in the stories, although Holmes mentions that his ancestors were "country squires". In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", he claims that his great-uncle was French artist Horace Vernet. Holmes's brother Mycroft, seven years his senior, is a government official who appears in "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", "The Final Problem" and "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" and is mentioned in "The Adventure of the Empty House". Mycroft has a unique civil service position as a kind of human database for all aspects of government policy but lacks Sherlock's interest in physical investigation, preferring to spend his time at the Diogenes Club.
Holmes shares most of his professional years with narrator John Watson, a physician who lives with Holmes for some time before his 1887 marriage and again after his wife's death. Their residence is maintained by their landlady, Mrs. Hudson. Most of the stories are frame narratives, written from Watson's point of view as summaries of the detective's most interesting cases. Holmes frequently calls Watson's writing sensational and populist, suggesting that it fails to accurately and objectively report the "science" of his craft:
Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it ["A Study in Scarlet"] with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story .... Some facts should be suppressed, or, at least, a just sense of proportion should be observed in treating them. The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which I succeeded in unravelling it.—Sherlock Holmes on John Watson's "pamphlet", The Sign of the Four
Nevertheless, Holmes's friendship with Watson is his most significant relationship. In "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs", Watson is injured; although the bullet wound turns out to be "quite superficial", Watson is moved by Holmes's reaction:
It was worth a wound; it was worth many wounds; to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.
According to "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger" Holmes was in active practice for 23 years, with Watson co-operating with him for 17.
Conan Doyle wrote the first set of stories over the course of a decade. Wishing to devote more time to his historical novels, he killed off Holmes in "The Final Problem" (which appeared in print in 1893, and is set in 1891). After resisting public pressure for eight years, the author wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles (which appeared in 1901, with an implicit setting before Holmes's death; some theorise that it occurs after "The Return", with Watson planting clues to an earlier date). In 1903 Conan Doyle wrote "The Adventure of the Empty House", set in 1894; Holmes reappears, explaining to a stunned Watson that he had faked his death in "The Final Problem" to fool his enemies. "The Adventure of the Empty House" marks the beginning of the second set of stories, which Conan Doyle wrote until 1927.
Holmes aficionados refer to the period from 1891 to 1894—between his disappearance and presumed death in "The Final Problem" and his reappearance in "The Adventure of the Empty House"—as the Great Hiatus. One later story ("A Reminiscence of Sherlock Holmes", later known as "The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge") is described as taking place in 1892.
In "His Last Bow", Holmes has retired to a small farm on the Sussex Downs. The move is not dated precisely, but can be presumed to predate 1904 (since it is referred to retrospectively in "The Second Stain", first published that year). He has taken up beekeeping as his primary occupation, producing a Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen. The story features Holmes and Watson coming out of retirement to aid the war effort. Only one other adventure, "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" (narrated by Holmes), takes place during the detective's retirement. The details of his death are unknown.
Watson describes Holmes as "bohemian" in his habits and lifestyle. Described by Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles as having a "cat-like" love of personal cleanliness, Holmes is an eccentric with no regard for contemporary standards of tidiness or good order. In "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual", Watson says:
Although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind ... [he] keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece ... He had a horror of destroying documents .... Thus month after month his papers accumulated, until every corner of the room was stacked with bundles of manuscript which were on no account to be burned, and which could not be put away save by their owner.
In many of the stories, Holmes dives into an apparent mess to find an item most relevant to a mystery. The detective starves himself at times of intense intellectual activity, such as during "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder"—wherein, according to Watson:
[Holmes] had no breakfast for himself, for it was one of his peculiarities that in his more intense moments he would permit himself no food, and I have known him to presume upon his iron strength until he has fainted from pure inanition.
Although his chronicler does not consider Holmes's habitual use of a pipe (or his less frequent use of cigarettes and cigars) a vice per se, Watson—a physician—occasionally criticises the detective for creating a "poisonous atmosphere" of tobacco smoke. Holmes acknowledges Watson's disapproval in "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot": "I think, Watson, that I shall resume that course of tobacco-poisoning which you have so often and so justly condemned".
His companion condones the detective's willingness to bend the truth (or break the law) on behalf of a client—lying to the police, concealing evidence or breaking into houses—when he feels it morally justifiable, but condemns Holmes's manipulation of innocent people in "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton".
The detective acts on behalf of the British government in matters of national security in a number of stories, and performs counter-intelligence work in "His Last Bow" (set on the eve of World War I). As shooting practice during a period of boredom, Holmes decorates the wall of his Baker Street lodgings with VR (Victoria Regina) in "bullet-pocks" from his pistol.
Bordering on arrogance, Holmes derives pleasure from baffling police inspectors with his deductions. The detective does not actively seek fame, however, and is usually content to let the police take public credit for his work. Police outside London ask Holmes for assistance if he is nearby, even during a vacation. Watson's stories and newspaper articles reveal Holmes's role in the cases, and he becomes well known as a detective; many clients ask for his help instead of (or in addition to) that of the police. These include government officials and royalty. A Prime Minister and the King of Bohemia visit 221B Baker Street to request Holmes's assistance; the government of France awards him its Legion of Honour for solving a case; the King of Scandinavia is a client, and Holmes aids the Vatican at least twice.
Holmes is pleased when his skills are recognised, and responds to flattery. Although the detective is usually dispassionate and cold, during an investigation he is animated and excitable. He has a flair for showmanship, preparing elaborate traps to capture and expose a culprit (often to impress Watson or one of the Scotland Yard inspectors).
Except for that of Watson, Holmes avoids casual company; when Watson proposes visiting a friend's home for rest, Holmes only agrees after learning that "the establishment was a bachelor one, and that he would be allowed the fullest freedom". In "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott" he tells the doctor that during two years at college he made only one friend, Victor Trevor: "I was never a very sociable fellow, Watson, always rather fond of moping in my rooms and working out my own little methods of thought, so that I never mixed much with the men of my year; ... my line of study was quite distinct from that of the other fellows, so that we had no points of contact at all". The detective is similarly described by Stamford in A Study in Scarlet.
Holmes relaxes with music in "The Red-Headed League", taking the evening off from a case to listen to Pablo de Sarasate play violin. His enjoyment of vocal music, particularly Wagner's, is evident in "The Adventure of the Red Circle".
Holmes occasionally uses addictive drugs, especially in the absence of stimulating cases. He uses cocaine, which he injects in a seven-percent solution with a syringe kept in a Morocco leather case. Although Holmes also dabbles in morphine, he expresses strong disapproval when he visits an opium den; both drugs were legal in late-19th-century England. Watson and Holmes use tobacco, smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes (a socially acceptable habit at the time), and the detective is an expert at identifying tobacco-ash residue.
As a physician Watson strongly disapproves of his friend's cocaine habit, describing it as the detective's "only vice", and concerned about its effect on Holmes's mental health and intellect. In "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter" Watson says that although he has "weaned" Holmes from drugs, he remains an addict whose habit is "not dead, but merely sleeping".
Although Holmes initially needed Watson to share the rent for their comfortable residence at 221B Baker Street, Watson says in "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" (set when Holmes was living alone): "I have no doubt that the house might have been purchased at the price which Holmes paid for his rooms." In "The Problem of Thor Bridge" the detective says, "My professional charges are upon a fixed scale. I do not vary them, save when I remit [omit] them altogether". In this context a client is offering to double his fee, and it is implied that wealthy clients habitually pay Holmes more than his standard fee. In "The Final Problem", he says that his services to the government of France and the royal house of Scandinavia had left him with enough money to retire comfortably. In "The Adventure of Black Peter" Watson notes that Holmes would refuse to help the wealthy and powerful if their cases did not interest him, instead devoting weeks at a time to the cases of his humblest clients. The detective tells Watson, in "A Case of Identity", about a gold snuff box received from the King of Bohemia after "A Scandal in Bohemia" and about a valuable ring given to him by the Dutch royal family; in "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans", he receives an emerald tie pin from Queen Victoria. Other mementos of Holmes's cases are a gold sovereign from Irene Adler ("A Scandal in Bohemia") and a letter of thanks signed by the French president—along with his country's Legion of Honour—for tracking down the assassin Huret ("The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez"). In "The Adventure of the Priory School" Holmes rubs his hands with glee when the Duke of Holdernesse mentions his ₤6,000 fee, the amount of which surprises even Watson. During his career, Holmes works for the most powerful monarchs and governments of Europe (including his own), wealthy aristocrats and industrialists, and impoverished pawnbrokers and governesses.
The detective is known to charge clients for his expenses and claim any reward offered for a problem's solution; in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" he says that Helen Stoner may pay any expenses he incurs, and asks the bank in "The Red-Headed League" to reimburse him for money spent solving the case. Holmes has his wealthy banker client in "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" pay the costs of recovering the stolen gems, and claims the reward posted for their recovery.
Irene Adler is a retired American opera singer and actress who appears in "A Scandal in Bohemia". Although this is her only appearance, she is one of the most notable female characters in the stories.
Five years before the story's events, Adler had a brief liaison with Crown Prince of Bohemia Wilhelm von Ormstein while she was prima donna of the Imperial Opera of Warsaw. Recently engaged to the daughter of the King of Scandinavia and fearful that, if his fiancée's family learned of this impropriety, their marriage would be called off, von Ormstein hires Holmes to regain a photograph of Adler and himself. Adler slips away, leaving only a photograph of herself (alone) and a note to Holmes that she will not blackmail von Ormstein. The beginning of the story describes the high regard in which Holmes holds Adler:
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler ... yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
Her memory is kept alive by the photograph of Adler that Holmes received for his part in the case.
Although Holmes initially seems interested in some female clients (Violet Hunter in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", Violet Smith in "The Solitary Cyclist" and Helen Stoner in "The Speckled Band"), Watson says in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" that the detective inevitably "manifested no further interest in the client when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems". As Doyle wrote to Joseph Bell, "Holmes is as inhuman as a Babbage's calculating machine and just about as likely to fall in love". Holmes says in The Valley of Fear, "I am not a whole-souled admirer of womankind", and in "The Adventure of the Second Stain" finds "the motives of women ... so inscrutable .... How can you build on such quicksand? Their most trivial actions may mean volumes ... their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin or a curling tongs".
Holmes is adept at effortlessly putting his clients at ease, and Watson says that although the detective has an "aversion to women", he has "a peculiarly ingratiating way with [them]". In "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton," the detective becomes engaged in order to obtain information about a case. In The Sign of the Four he says, "I would not tell them too much. Women are never to be entirely trusted—not the best of them". Watson calls him "an automaton, a calculating machine", and the detective replies: "It is of the first importance not to allow your judgement to be biased by personal qualities. A client is to me a mere unit—a factor in a problem. The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning. I assure you that the most winning woman I ever knew was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money". However, Watson notes in "The Adventure of the Dying Detective" that Mrs. Hudson is fond of Holmes in her own way (despite his eccentricities as a lodger) because of his "remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealings with women. He disliked and distrusted the sex, but he was always a chivalrous opponent".
Holmes's primary intellectual detection method is abductive reasoning. "From a drop of water", he writes, "a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other". Holmesian deduction consists primarily of observation-based inferences, such as his study of cigar ashes. The detective's guiding principle, as he says in chapter six ("Sherlock Holmes Gives a Demonstration") of The Sign of the Four and elsewhere in the stories, is: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". In "A Scandal in Bohemia", Holmes deduces that Watson had gotten wet lately and had "a most clumsy and careless servant girl". When Watson asks how Holmes knows this, the detective answers:
It is simplicity itself .... My eyes tell me that on the inside of your left shoe, just where the firelight strikes it, the leather is scored by six almost parallel cuts. Obviously they have been caused by someone who has very carelessly scraped round the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud from it. Hence, you see, my double deduction that you had been out in vile weather, and that you had a particularly malignant boot-slitting specimen of the London slavey.
Deductive reasoning allows Holmes to learn a stranger's occupation, such as the retired Marine sergeant in A Study in Scarlet; the ship's-carpenter-turned-pawnbroker in "The Red-Headed League", and the billiard-marker and retired artillery non-commissioned officer in "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter". By studying inanimate objects, he makes deductions about their owners (Watson's pocket watch in The Sign of the Four and a hat, pipe and walking stick in other stories).
However, Conan Doyle does not paint Holmes as infallible (a central theme of "The Adventure of the Yellow Face"). At the end of the story, a chastened Holmes tells his chronicler: "If it should ever strike you that I am getting a little over-confident in my powers, or giving less pains to a case than it deserves, kindly whisper 'Norbury' in my ear, and I shall be infinitely obliged to you".
Holmes is apt at acting and disguise. In several stories ("The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", "The Man with the Twisted Lip", "The Adventure of the Empty House" and "A Scandal in Bohemia"), to gather evidence undercover he uses disguises so convincing that Watson fails to recognise him. In others ("The Adventure of the Dying Detective" and, again, "A Scandal in Bohemia"), Holmes feigns injury or illness to incriminate the guilty. In the latter story Watson says, "The stage lost a fine actor ... when [Holmes] became a specialist in crime".
Holmes and Watson carry pistols with them—in Watson's case, his old service weapon (probably a Mark III Adams revolver, issued to British troops during the 1870s). In the stories, the pistols are used (or displayed) on a number of occasions: in The Sign of the Four Holmes and Watson fire at the Andaman islander, and they later shoot at the eponymous hound in The Hound of the Baskervilles. In "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" Watson kills the mastiff, and in "The Adventure of the Empty House" he pistol-whips Colonel Sebastian Moran. In "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" Holmes pistol-whips "Killer" Evans after Evans shoots Watson. In "The Musgrave Ritual" Holmes is described as decorating the wall of his flat with a patriotic VR (Victoria Regina) of bullet holes. In "The Final Problem" Holmes has a pistol during his interview with Professor Moriarty, and he aims one at Sir George Burnwell in "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet". In "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist", "The Adventure of Black Peter" and "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" Holmes or Watson use a pistol to capture the criminals, and the detective uses Watson's revolver to reconstruct a crime in "The Problem of Thor Bridge". A Webley Bulldog (carried by Holmes), Webley RIC and Webley-Government ("WG") army revolver have been associated with Holmes and Watson.
As a gentleman, Holmes often carries a stick or cane. He is described by Watson as an expert at singlestick, and uses his cane twice as a weapon. In A Study in Scarlet Watson describes Holmes as expert with a sword, and in "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott" the detective practises fencing.
In several stories Holmes carries a riding crop, threatening to thrash a swindler with it in "A Case of Identity". With a "hunting crop", Holmes knocks a pistol from John Clay's hand in "The Red-Headed League" and drives off the adder in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band". In "The Six Napoleons" he uses his crop (described as his favourite weapon) to break open one of the plaster busts.
Holmes is an adept bare-knuckle fighter; in The Sign of the Four he introduces himself to McMurdo, a prize fighter, as "the amateur who fought three rounds with you at Alison's rooms on the night of your benefit four years back." McMurdo remembers: "Ah, you're one that has wasted your gifts, you have! You might have aimed high, if you had joined the fancy." "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott" mentions that Holmes trained as a boxer, and in "The Yellow Face" Watson says: "He was undoubtedly one of the finest boxers of his weight that I have ever seen".
The detective occasionally engages in hand-to-hand combat with his adversaries (in "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist" and "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty"), and is always victorious.
In "The Adventure of the Empty House", Holmes tells Watson that he used martial arts to fling Moriarty to his death in the Reichenbach Falls: "I have some knowledge ... of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me". "Baritsu" is Conan Doyle's version of bartitsu, which combined jujitsu with boxing and cane fencing.
The detective is described (or demonstrated) as possessing above-average physical strength. In "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", Dr. Roylott demonstrates his strength by bending a fire poker in half. Watson describes Holmes as laughing, "'I am not quite so bulky, but if he had remained I might have shown him that my grip was not much more feeble than his own.' As he spoke he picked up the steel poker and, with a sudden effort, straightened it out again." In "The Yellow Face" Holmes's chronicler says, "Few men were capable of greater muscular effort."
In the first novel, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes's background is presented. In early 1881 he is a chemistry student with a number of eccentric interests, almost all of which make him adept at solving crimes. He appears for the first time crowing with delight at his new method for detecting bloodstains. "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott", an early story, provides more background on Holmes's decision to become a detective when a college friend's father compliments his deductive skills. Holmes adheres strictly to scientific methods, focusing on logic, observation and deduction.
In A Study in Scarlet Holmes claims to be unaware that the earth revolves around the sun, since such information is irrelevant to his work; after hearing that fact from Watson, he says he will immediately try to forget it. The detective believes that the mind has a finite capacity for information storage, and learning useless things reduces one's ability to learn useful things. Watson assesses Holmes's abilities:
- Knowledge of Literature – nil.
- Knowledge of Philosophy – nil.
- Knowledge of Astronomy – nil.
- Knowledge of Politics – Feeble.
- Knowledge of Botany – Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
- Knowledge of Geology – Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks, has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
- Knowledge of Chemistry – Profound.
- Knowledge of Anatomy – Accurate, but unsystematic.
- Knowledge of Sensational Literature – Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
- Plays the violin well.
- Is an expert singlestick player, boxer and swordsman.
- Has a good practical knowledge of British law.
Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet
At the end of A Study in Scarlet Holmes demonstrates a knowledge of Latin. Later stories also contradict Watson's early assessment. Despite Holmes's supposed ignorance of politics, in "A Scandal in Bohemia" he immediately recognises the true identity of "Count von Kramm". His speech is peppered with references to the Bible, Shakespeare and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the detective quotes a letter from Gustave Flaubert to George Sand in the original French. At the end of "A Case of Identity", Holmes quotes Hafez. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the detective recognises works by Martin Knoller and Joshua Reynolds: "Excuse the admiration of a connoisseur .... Watson won't allow that I know anything of art, but that is mere jealousy, since our views upon the subject differ".
In "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" Watson says that in November 1895 "Holmes lost himself in a monograph which he had undertaken upon the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus", considered "the last word" on the subject. The later stories abandon the notion that Holmes did not want to know anything not immediately relevant to his profession. In the second chapter of The Valley of Fear he says, "All knowledge comes useful to the detective", and near the end of "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane" the detective calls himself "an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles". Holmes is a cryptanalyst, telling Watson in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men": "I am fairly familiar with all forms of secret writing, and am myself the author of a trifling monograph upon the subject, in which I analyse one hundred and sixty separate ciphers".
The detective's analysis of physical evidence includes examining latent prints (such as footprints, hoof prints and bicycle tracks) to identify actions at a crime scene ("A Study in Scarlet", "The Adventure of Silver Blaze", "The Adventure of the Priory School", The Hound of the Baskervilles, "The Boscombe Valley Mystery"); using tobacco ashes and cigarette butts to identify criminals ("The Adventure of the Resident Patient", The Hound of the Baskervilles); comparing typewritten letters to expose a fraud ("A Case of Identity"); using gunpowder residue to expose two murderers ("The Adventure of the Reigate Squire"); comparing bullets from two crime scenes ("The Adventure of the Empty House"); analyzing small pieces of human remains to expose two murders ("The Adventure of the Cardboard Box") and an early use of fingerprints ("The Norwood Builder").
Holmes demonstrates a knowledge of psychology in "A Scandal in Bohemia", luring Irene Adler into betraying where she hid a photograph based on the premise that an unmarried woman will save her most valued possession from a fire. Another example is in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", where Holmes obtains information from a salesman with a wager: "When you see a man with whiskers of that cut and the 'Pink 'un' protruding out of his pocket, you can always draw him by a bet .... I daresay that if I had put 100 pounds down in front of him, that man would not have given me such complete information as was drawn from him by the idea that he was doing me on a wager".
Holmes helped marry forensic science, particularly his acute observation of small clues, and literature. He uses trace evidence (such as shoe and tire impressions), fingerprints, ballistics and handwriting analysis to evaluate his theories and those of the police. Some of the detective's investigative techniques, such as fingerprint and handwriting analysis, were in their infancy when the stories were written; Holmes frequently laments the contamination of a crime scene, and crime-scene integrity has become standard investigative procedure.
Because of the small scale of much of his evidence (tobacco ash, hair or fingerprints), the detective often uses a magnifying glass at the scene and an optical microscope at his Baker Street lodgings. He uses analytical chemistry for blood residue analysis and toxicology to detect poisons; Holmes's home chemistry laboratory is mentioned in "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty". Ballistics feature in "The Adventure of the Empty House" when spent bullets are recovered and matched with a suspected murder weapon.
Holmes observes the dress and attitude of his clients and suspects, noting style and state of wear of their clothes, skin marks (such as tattoos), contamination (clay on boots), their state of mind and physical condition in to deduce their origins and recent history.
He also applies this method to walking sticks (The Hound of the Baskervilles) and hats ("The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"), with details such as medallions, wear and contamination yielding information about their owners. In 2002 the Royal Society of Chemistry bestowed an honorary fellowship on Holmes for his use of forensic science and analytical chemistry in popular literature, making him (as of 2010) the only fictional character thus honoured.
Although Holmes is not the original fictional detective (he was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin and Émile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq), his name has become synonymous with the role. The investigating detective (such as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey) became a popular character for a number of authors, and forensic methods began to take a back seat to the psyche of the criminal.
John Radford (1999) speculated on Holmes's intelligence. Using Conan Doyle's stories as data, he applied three methods to estimate the detective's intelligence quotient and concluded that his IQ was about 190. Snyder (2004) examined Holmes's methods in the context of mid- to late-19th-century criminology, and Kempster (2006) compared neurologists' skills with those demonstrated by the detective. Didierjean and Gobet (2008) reviewed the literature on the psychology of expertise, using Holmes as a model.
The phrase "Elementary, my dear Watson" is never uttered by Holmes in the sixty stories written by Conan Doyle. He often observes that his conclusions are "elementary", however, and occasionally calls Watson "my dear Watson". One of the nearest approximations of the phrase appears in "The Adventure of the Crooked Man", when Holmes explains a deduction: "'Excellent!' I cried. 'Elementary,' said he."
The phrase "Elementary, my dear fellow, quite elementary" (not spoken by Holmes) appears in P. G. Wodehouse's novel, Psmith in the City (1909–1910), and his 1915 novel Psmith, Journalist. It also appears at the end of the 1929 film The Return of Sherlock Holmes, the first Holmes sound film. William Gillette (who played Holmes on the stage and on radio) had previously said, "Oh, this is elementary, my dear fellow". The phrase may have become familiar because of its use in Edith Meiser's scripts for The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes radio series, which was broadcast from 1939 to 1947. Holmes utters the exact phrase in the 1953 short story "The Adventure of the Red Widow" by Conan Doyle's son, Adrian.
Conan Doyle's fifty-six short stories and four novels are known as the "canon" by Holmes aficionados. Early canonical scholars included Ronald Knox in Britain (credited with inventing "the Game") and Christopher Morley in New York, who founded the Baker Street Irregulars—the first society devoted to the Holmes canon—in 1934.
The Sherlockian game (also known as the Holmesian game, the Great Game or simply the Game) attempts to resolve anomalies and clarify details about Holmes and Watson from the Conan Doyle canon. The Game, which treats Holmes and Watson as real people (and Conan Doyle as Watson's literary agent), combines aspects of the stories with contemporary history to construct biographies of the two and publishes scholarly analyses from the Holmes universe.
One detail analyzed in the Game is Holmes's birthdate, with Morley contending that the detective was born on 6 January 1854. Laurie R. King also speculated about Holmes's birthdate, based on A Study in Scarlet and "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott"; details in "Gloria Scott" indicate that Holmes finished his second (and final) year of university in 1880 or 1885. Watson's account of his wounding in the Second Afghan War and return to England in A Study in Scarlet place his moving in with Holmes in early 1881 or 1882. According to King, this suggests that Holmes left university in 1880; if he began university at age 17, his birth year would probably be 1861.
Another topic of analysis is the university Holmes attended. Dorothy L. Sayers suggested that, given details in two of the Adventures, the detective must have studied at Cambridge rather than Oxford: "of all the Cambridge colleges, Sidney Sussex (College) perhaps offered the greatest number of advantages to a man in Holmes's position and, in default of more exact information, we may tentatively place him there".
Holmes's emotional and mental health have long been subjects of analysis in the Game. At their first meeting, in A Study in Scarlet, the detective warns Watson that he gets "in the dumps at times" and doesn't open his "mouth for days on end". Leslie S. Klinger (editor of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes) has suggested that Holmes exhibits signs of bipolar disorder, with intense enthusiasm followed by indolent self-absorption. Other modern readers have speculated that Holmes may have Asperger's syndrome, based on his intense attention to details, lack of interest in interpersonal relationships and tendency to speak in monologues. The detective's isolation and distrust of women is said to suggest a desire to escape, with William Baring-Gould (author of Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of the World's First Consulting Detective) and others—including Nicholas Meyer, author of the Seven Percent Solution—implying a family trauma, the murder of Holmes's mother, as the cause.
In 1934, the Sherlock Holmes Society (in London) and the Baker Street Irregulars (in New York) were founded. Both are still active, although the Sherlock Holmes Society was dissolved in 1937 and revived in 1951. The London society is one of many worldwide who arrange visits to the scenes of Holmes adventures, such as the Reichenbach Falls in the Swiss Alps.
The two societies founded in 1934 were followed by many more Holmesian circles, first in the U.S. (where they are known as "scion societies"—offshoots—of the Baker Street Irregulars) and then in England and Denmark. There are at least 250 Sherlockian societies worldwide, including Australia, India and Japan (whose society has 80,000 members).
For the 1951 Festival of Britain Holmes's living room was reconstructed as part of a Sherlock Holmes exhibition, with a collection of original material. After the festival, items were transferred to the Sherlock Holmes (a London pub) and the Conan Doyle collection housed in Lucens, Switzerland by the author's son, Adrian. Both exhibitions, each with a Baker Street sitting-room reconstruction, are open to the public.
In 1990 the Sherlock Holmes Museum opened on Baker Street in London, followed the next year by a museum in Meiringen (near the Reichenbach Falls) dedicated to the detective. A private Conan Doyle collection is a permanent exhibit at the Portsmouth City Museum, where the author lived and worked as a physician.
The London Metropolitan Railway named one of its 20 electric locomotives deployed in the 1920s for Sherlock Holmes. He was the only fictional character so honored, along with eminent Britons such as Lord Byron, Benjamin Disraeli and Florence Nightingale.
A number of London streets are associated with Holmes. York Mews South, off Crawford Street, was renamed Sherlock Mews, and Watson's Mews is near Crawford Place.
Holmes's popularity has spawned additional stories and adaptations in other media. The copyright for Conan Doyle's works expired in the United Kingdom in 1980, and they are in the public domain there. All works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain; this includes all the Sherlock Holmes stories, except for some short stories in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle's heirs registered the copyright to The Case-Book in 1981 in accordance with the Copyright Act of 1976.
On 14 February 2013, Leslie S. Klinger filed a declaratory judgement suit against the Conan Doyle estate in the Northern District of Illinois asking the court to acknowledge that the characters of Holmes and Watson were public domain in the U.S. The court ruled in Klinger's favor on 23 December, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed its decision on 16 June 2014. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case, letting the appeals court's ruling stand. This final step resulted in the characters from the Holmes stories, along with all but ten of the Holmes stories, being in the public domain in the U.S.
Guinness World Records has listed Holmes as the "most portrayed movie character", with more than 70 actors playing the part in over 200 films. His first screen appearance was in the 1900 Mutoscope film, Sherlock Holmes Baffled. The detective has appeared in many foreign-language versions, including a Russian miniseries broadcast in November 2013.
William Gillette's 1899 play Sherlock Holmes, or The Strange Case of Miss Faulkner was a synthesis of four Conan Doyle stories: "A Scandal in Bohemia", "The Final Problem", "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" and A Study in Scarlet. By 1916, Harry Arthur Saintsbury had played Holmes on stage more than a thousand times. The play formed the basis for Gillette's 1916 film, Sherlock Holmes, in which Gillette introduced Holmes's curved pipe.
From 1921 to 1923, Stoll Pictures produced a series of silent black-and-white films based on the Holmes stories. Forty-five short films and two feature-length films were produced, with Eille Norwood as Holmes and Hubert Willis as Watson (with the exception of the final film, The Sign of Four, where Willis was replaced by Arthur Cullin). John Barrymore played Holmes in the 1922 film Sherlock Holmes, with Roland Young as Watson.
The first Holmes sound film was 1929's sound-on-disc The Return of Sherlock Holmes, written by Basil Dean and filmed in New York City, with Clive Brook as Holmes; a silent version of the film was also produced to accommodate theaters which did not yet have sound. Basil Rathbone played Holmes and Nigel Bruce played Watson in fourteen U.S. films (two for 20th Century Fox and a dozen for Universal Pictures) from 1939 to 1946, and in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on the Mutual radio network from 1939 to 1946 (before the role of Holmes passed to Tom Conway). The Universal films were distinctive for their contemporary setting. In 1939, 20th Century Fox's Hound of the Baskervilles contained an unusually direct reference to Holmes's drug use in the last line of the film: "Watson, the needle."
Ronald Howard starred in 39 episodes of the 1954 Sherlock Holmes American TV series, with Howard Marion Crawford as Watson. These plots deviated from Conan Doyle's, changing characters and other details. In 1959 Peter Cushing starred in Hammer Film Productions' The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes's first screen appearance in colour; Cushing returned to the role several times in film and on television.
Fritz Weaver appeared as Holmes in the musical Baker Street, which ran on Broadway from 16 February to 14 November 1965. Peter Sallis, Inga Swenson and Martin Gabel played Watson, Irene Adler and Moriarty, respectively. Virginia Vestoff, Tommy Tune and Christopher Walken were also part of the original cast. Director Billy Wilder's 1970 The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, with Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely, was heavily edited after its release, and parts of it are now lost. Roger Moore played the detective in the 1976 film Sherlock Holmes in New York, with Patrick Macnee as Watson.
In the 1987 TV movie The Return Of Sherlock Holmes, a pilot for an unproduced series, Margaret Colin played Watson's great-granddaughter Jane, a Boston private investigator who stumbles upon Holmes's (Michael Pennington) frozen body and restores him to life. 1994 Baker Street: Sherlock Holmes Returns has a similar plot; Amy Winslow (Debrah Farentino) discovers Holmes (Anthony Higgins) frozen in the cellar of a San Francisco house owned by a descendant of Mrs. Hudson.
Jeremy Brett is considered the definitive Holmes by critic Julian Wolfreys. Brett played the detective in four series of Sherlock Holmes, created by John Hawkesworth for Britain's Granada Television from 1984 to 1994, and appeared as Holmes on stage. Watson was played by David Burke and Edward Hardwicke in the series.
Nicol Williamson played Holmes in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, with Robert Duvall as Watson and Alan Arkin as Sigmund Freud. The 1976 adaptation, written by Nicholas Meyer and based on his 1974 novel of the same name, was directed by Herbert Ross.
Bob Clark directed Christopher Plummer and James Mason in the 1979 film Murder by Decree, in which Holmes hunts Jack the Ripper. From 1979 to 1986 Soviet television broadcast a series of five made-for-TV films in eleven parts, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, with Vasily Livanov as Holmes and Vitaly Solomin as Watson. In 2006, Queen Elizabeth awarded Livanov an MBE (Order of the British Empire) for his work.
Christopher Lee starred as Holmes in three screen adaptations: Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962), Incident at Victoria Falls (1991) and Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1992), with Morgan Fairchild as Irene Adler. The only actors to play Holmes and Watson in adaptations of every Doyle story are Clive Merrison and Michael Williams; they played Holmes and Watson, respectively, in a BBC Radio 4 series from 1989 to 1998.
In addition to the Holmes canon, Conan Doyle's 1898 "The Lost Special" features an unnamed "amateur reasoner" intended to be identified as Holmes by his readers. The author's explanation of a baffling disappearance, argued in Holmesian style, pokes fun at his own creation. Similar Conan Doyle short stories are the early "The Field Bazaar", "The Man with the Watches" and 1924's "How Watson Learned the Trick", a parody of the Watson–Holmes breakfast-table scenes. The author wrote other material, especially plays, featuring Holmes. Much of it appears in Sherlock Holmes: The Published Apocrypha, edited by Jack Tracy; The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, edited by Peter Haining, and The Uncollected Sherlock Holmes, compiled by Richard Lancelyn Green.
Beginning in 1907 Holmes was featured in a series of German books by Theo van Blankensee, with Watson replaced by Harry Taxon (a 19-year-old member of the Baker Street Irregulars) and a Mrs. Bonnet in place of Mrs. Hudson. From the tenth book, the series's German name changed to Aus den Geheimakten des Welt-Detektivs and the French edition changed from Les Dossiers Secrets de Sherlock Holmes to Les Dossiers du Roi des Detectives. Douglas Fairbanks played cocaine-addicted detective Coke Ennyday in The Mystery of the Leaping Fish, a 1916 comedy co-written by Tod Browning.
Holmes's name, details of the character's life and his abilities as a fighter and logician have been used by other authors, with the detective a cocaine addict whose fantasies cast an innocent Professor Moriarty as a villain in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, or re-animated after his death to fight future crime in Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. Some authors have supplied stories for canonical references to unpublished cases (such as the "giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared" from "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"), including The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes by Adrian Conan Doyle with John Dickson Carr and The Lost Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Ken Greenwald (based on episodes of The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes written by Dennis Green and Anthony Boucher). Others have used characters from the stories: Mycroft Holmes in Enter the Lion by Michael P. Hodel and Sean M. Wright (1979) and Dr. James Mortimer (from The Hound of the Baskervilles) in novels by Gerard Williams.
Laurie R. King recreated Holmes in her Mary Russell series (beginning with The Beekeeper's Apprentice), set during the First World War and the 1920s. Her Holmes, semi-retired in Sussex, is stumbled upon by a teenaged American girl. Recognising a kindred spirit, he trains her as his apprentice and subsequently marries her. As of 2012[update], the series included twelve novels and a novella tied into a book from King's Kate Martinelli series (The Art of Detection).
Carole Nelson Douglas's Irene Adler series is based on "the woman" from "A Scandal in Bohemia", with the first book (1990's Good Night, Mr. Holmes) retelling the story from Adler's point of view. The series is narrated by her companion, Penelope Huxleigh, in a role similar to Watson's. The Final Solution, a 2004 novella by Michael Chabon, concerns a long-retired detective interested in beekeeping.
In 2011 Anthony Horowitz (author of the Alex Rider novels, The Power of Five and Foyle's War) published a Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk, with the approval of the Conan Doyle estate. Presented as a continuation of Conan Doyle's work, The House of Silk is narrated by Watson. In early 2014 a sequel (Moriarty) was announced, with Holmes appearing only at the end of the novel.
In They Might Be Giants, a 1971 romantic comedy based on the 1961 play (both written by James Goldman), Justin Playfair (George C. Scott) is convinced he is Holmes. Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) speculates about Holmes and Watson's lives as college students. In the 1988 comedy Without a Clue, Holmes (Michael Caine) is a character created by Watson (Ben Kingsley). James D'Arcy played Holmes in his twenties in Sherlock: Case of Evil, a 2002 made-for-television film. The 2009 Sherlock Holmes, which earned Robert Downey, Jr. a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of Holmes and which co-starred Jude Law as Watson, focuses on Holmes's antisocial personality. Downey and Law returned for a 2011 sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. In the 2010 direct-to-DVD film Sherlock Holmes a younger Holmes (Ben Syder) and Watson (Gareth David-Lloyd) battle a criminal mastermind, Spring-Heeled Jack.
The 1984–1985 Japanese anime series Sherlock Hound adapted the Holmes stories for children, with its characters anthropomorphic dogs. The series was co-directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Holmes was featured in the 2008 episode "Trials of the Demon" of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays a modern version of the detective (with Martin Freeman as Watson) in the BBC One TV series Sherlock, which premiered on 25 July 2010. In the series, created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the stories' original Victorian setting is now present-day London. Cumberbatch's Holmes uses modern technology (texting and blogging) to solve crimes, and nicotine patches to aid his cognitive process.
On 27 September 2012, Elementary premiered on CBS. Set in contemporary New York, the series features Jonny Lee Miller as recovering British drug addict Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson.
Holmes has also appeared in video games, including the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series of seven titles. The detective is based on Jeremy Brett's portrayal, with the series's plot independent of the Conan Doyle stories.
In 2014, NHK produced a version in puppetry, Sherlock Holmes (シャーロックホームズ), written by Kōki Mitani, who is a fan of the Canon of Sherlock Holmes and who regards the stories adventure rather than mystery. It is set in an imaginary boarding school (Beeton School), and both Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson are fifteen-year-old schoolboys who live in the room 221B of Baker Dormitory.
The short stories, originally published in magazines, were later collected in five anthologies:
Holmes was reinvented definitively by Jeremy Brett...It is Brett's Holmes...which comes closest to Conan Doyle's original intentions.
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