Sherlock Holmes - A Portrayal of the Greatest Detective of All Time

Pre-University Paper, 2010

22 Pages, Grade: 15



1 Introduction

2 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
2.1 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‟s Life
2.2 The Canon - Overview on Published Novels and Short Stories
2.3 Real Life Character Influence

3 Holmes‟ Biography - The Life of the Greatest Detective of All Time

4 Holmes‟ Character
4.1 Outward Appearance
4.2 Habits and Hobbies
4.3 Important Personal Relationships
4.3.1 Dr Watson
4.3.2 Mycroft Holmes
4.3.3 Irene Adler

5 Holmes‟ Methods of Work
5.1 The Science of Deduction
5.2 Scientific Approach
5.3 Professional Knowledge and General Education
5.4 Secrecy and Discretion
5.5 Disguise
5.6 Martial Arts and Self-Defence

6 Professor Moriarty - Sherlock Holmes‟ Archenemy

7 Legacy
7.1 Speculation and Extracanonical Works
7.2 Movie and Theatre Adaptions
7.3 Sherlock Holmes in Popular Culture

8 Appendix

9 Bibliography
9.1 Literature
9.2 Internet Sources

1 Introduction

A tall, black-haired man with a receding hairline is sitting in a cushioned armchair, holding a pipe in his left hand, while extending his right arm in a forward gesture. The room is wrapped in smoke. The man‟s sharp facial features, his posture and his eyes gazing at the ceiling towards the far corner of the room all show his concentration. He is fully absorbed in thought, being neither irritated by the heavy clouds of smoke coming from his pipe, nor by the presence of another man in the room. He, who is apparently also preoccupied in thought, gazes at a lamp, which is illumi- nating the table in front of him and the still blank sheets of paper on which he intends to write. The room is filled with several items, which probably belong to one of the two men sitting in there: A violin, swords, a shield, two filled book shelves, several paintings, boxing gloves, and various other objects one would or would not expect to find in a Victorian home in London. But this is not just any home sometime in the late 19th century London, it is 221B Baker Street in 1881.

This was a glimpse into the home of the consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes, as portrayed by the artist Nis Jessen1. But who was Sherlock Holmes? He is probably the best known detective in the world and if you were to ask a Holmes enthusiast, you would probably be told that he was “the greatest detective of all time”. There are even some people who actually believe that he was a real person and is not a fictional creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The aim of this paper is to portray as many facets of Mr Holmes as possible, including his biography, his character, his methods of work, his personal relationships, his archenemy and, of course, his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who will be the first subject of my study.

2 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

As already mentioned Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the creator of Sherlock Holmes. In the following part of this paper a brief overview on his life, the amount of Sherlock Holmes stories he produced and the real world influence on the character of his great detective will be given.

2.1 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‟s Life

Arthur Conan Doyle was born on 22 May 1859 in Edinburgh to Charles and Mary Doyle, who were both of Irish heritage and whose families immigrated to Scotland2. While his mother is described as a “mixture of [a] housewife and [a] woman of letters”3 by Doyle himself, his father, who “descended from a notable family of artist and illustrators”4, suffered from alcoholism forcing Mary Doyle to act as both mother and father figure.

In 1868 his mother sent him to Stonyhurst, a Jesuit school in Lancashire, where he developed his appreciation for literature, especially for Edgar Allen Poe whose C. Auguste Dupin would later serve as sort of prototype for Sherlock Holmes5. Nevertheless he had problems with the “strict routine” of the Jesuit school, which caused him to “turn his back on Catholicism”6. This attitude, however, did change when he came to Feldkirch, Austria experiencing “more human kindness than at Stonyhurst, with the immediate result that [he] ceased to be a resentful young rebel and became a pillar of law and order.”7

Eventually he returned to Edinburgh where he began to study medicine in 1876 and worked as a clerk for Dr Joseph Bell, who served - several years later though - as a real life model for Sher- lock Holmes8. After he finally graduated “with honours”9 in 1880 he served as a surgeon on a whaling ship to support his family financially and took a journey to West Africa to satisfy his de- sire for adventure. When he returned to the UK in 1882 he acquired a practice in Plymouth with an old friend of his. Seeing that the partnership did not work out, he then moved to Portsmouth and opened another surgery. But when this enterprise failed, just as the previous one, he fancied “a future before [him] in letters”10 which did appear to be the case as he received “positive critical response from papers such as the Illustrated London News”11 for his short story J. Habakuk Jeph- son’s Statement.

In August 1885 he still working primarily as a surgeon married his first wife Louise Hawkins, the sister of a former patient12 who is also known as Touie Doyle. Several months later - in April 1886 - he completed A Study in Scarlett, which was to be published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in November 188713. Although this did not turn out to be the success Doyle desired, he was given another chance two years later when he wrote The Sign of Four for Lippincott’s Monthly Maga- zine14.

In 1891 the couple spent several months in Vienna with their two year old daughter, and when they returned to England they decided to move to London and Arthur Conan Doyle opened anoth- er practice, which again did not turn out to be a success and thus he had a lot of time to write15. In 1892 Touie Doyle gave birth to their first son, Kingsley and her husband “had hit the big time”16 writing several stories for the newly founded Strand Magazine. Yet, shortly after the death of his father and a short trip to Switzerland where he saw the Reichenbach Falls (the location where the famous detective would meet his apparent end), Doyle decided to kill Sherlock Holmes off in or- der to have more time for writing historical novels, which would not turn out to be as successful as his detective stories.17

But when Conan Doyle believed that things had settled, “everything was thrown upside down by a Miss Jean Leckie”18 and soon an affair developed that would eventually result in their marriage one year after the death of his first wife, who had died “after thirteen years of ill health”19 in 1906. Four years earlier Arthur Conan Doyle was knighted, although “the only title he valued was that of „Doctor‟”20, but he eventually decided to accept it to “save any embarrassment in future meet- ings with Edward VII”21. One year later, in 1903, Sherlock Holmes made an official return in The Adventure of the Empty House with multiple stories being published until 1927. After the death of his son Kingsley in 1917 Doyle “became a leading public face for the Spiritualist movement”22 supporting the idea that one can actually communicate with the spirits of dead people through a medium23. He even claimed that he had been contacted by his dead son and gave the following explanation for his belief into Spiritualism:

“I seemed […] to see that this subject with which I had so long dallied was not merely a study of a force outside the rules of science, but that it was really something tremendous, a breaking down of the walls between two worlds, […] a call of hope and of guidance to the human race at the time of its deepest affliction.”24

In the end Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died after a heart attack on 7 July 1930 leaving behind a legacy “in letters”. He is mostly known for the great detective Sherlock Holmes, but also for “an extraordinary twist in a remarkable life”25 as he turned towards spiritualism, which would obviously contradict the rational approach of his most popular character, Sherlock Holmes.

2.2 The Canon - Overview on Published Novels and Short Stories

While there are numerous Sherlock Holmes novels, short stories and movies, the actual can- on26 27 consists of four novels and fifty-six short stories. The first two novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of Four, are set in the years 1881 and 1888, introducing the two main characters Sher- lock Holmes and Dr Watson to the reader. Several short stories were published in the Strand Magazine between 1891 and 1893 and were compiled in the two volumes The Adventures of Sher- lock Holmes and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle decided to kill Holmes off in 1893, stating: “If I had not killed Sherlock Holmes I verily believe that he would have killed me”28. However, to satisfy the readership (as well as the editors of the Strand Magazine), he wrote another novel called The Hound of the Baskervilles (set before Holmes‟ death at the Reichenbach Falls) in 1902 and “resurrected” the detective just one year later for another set of short stories (The Return of Sherlock Holmes) and a last novel: The Valley of Fear. Until his death in 1930 Doyle produced several other short stories, which were also published in the Strand Magazine and collected in the books His Last Bow and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes.

2.3 Real Life Character Influence

Although Sir Arthur Conan Doyle often drew inspiration from the real world, especially when it came to character names, the most important one was that responsible for the creation of Sherlock Holmes. The surname Holmes has apparently been inspired by Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American doctor and writer29, and the first name Sherlock probably originates from Doyle‟s classmate Patrick Sherlock at Stonyhorst30. The very character model for Sherlock Holmes, how- ever, was the already mentioned Dr Joseph Bell, one of Doyle‟s professors in Edinburgh. Andrew Lycett describes Bell as “an inscrutable observer of his patients‟ traits and mannerisms, which allowed him to make an instant diagnosis from minimal evidence.”31 Doyle calls this skill the technique of “deduction” and thus adds science as a method of work to the abilities of his detec tive. He finally found “something new to add to the emerging genre”32 in order to distinguish him- self from other writers such as Edgar Allen Poe33, who was a source of inspiration after all. When Doyle had told an interviewer that one of his old professors in Edinburgh served as model for the character of Sherlock Holmes, he was contacted by Bell asking whether Doyle was actually refer- ring to him. Confirming this, an exchange of letters established and Bell made suggestions for further storylines. Yet, Doyle replied stating that the topics he prefers to deal with should not go “beyond the average man”34. Therefore it is unknown whether Bell did contribute more to Sher- lock Holmes than just the conception of his character and his methods of work35.

3 Holmes‟ Biography - The Life of the Greatest Detective of All Time

When it comes to the life of Sherlock Holmes there is a lot of speculation among Holmes en- thusiasts, which is mainly the case because Doyle did not provide detailed information on Holmes‟ life before he met Dr Watson in 1881 and because it is mostly unknown what Holmes did during the absence of Watson during various occasions. However, there are two stories set before 1881 giving more information on the detective‟s early life. In The Adventure of the ‘Gloria Scott’ Holmes mentions that he had no friends when he went to college but one whose name was Victor Trevor. He finally takes into consideration that he could make a profession out of his deductive skills, after being recommended to do so by Trevor‟s father during a visit at his home36. In the following story called The Musgrave Ritual, which is set four years later, Holmes, who moved to London after he left college, is contacted by a former fellow student to solve a mystery the police could not shed any light on and eventually solves it, establishing himself as „consulting‟ detec- tive37.

More information on his family is provided in The Greek Interpreter with Holmes mentioning that his “ancestors were country squires, who appear to have led much the same life as is natural to their class.”38 When Watson asks him whether his intellectual skills are a result of his “own sys- tematic training”38, he explains that his “turn that way is in [his] veins, and may have come with [his] grandmother who was the sister of Vernet, the French artist”38, suggesting that his skills have been genetically inherited. In this context he also mentions his elder brother Mycroft, who has a similar deductive talent and whose relationship to Sherlock will be analysed in a following part of this paper.

In 1881 Holmes and Watson meet after the latter has returned injured from Afghanistan and de- cide to take rooms together in 221B Baker Street to share the rent. This is when Watson starts to write down some of the cases, which lasts until 1891 when Holmes is seemingly killed at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland when he faces his archenemy, Professor Moriarty39. Holmes, however, returns in 1894 and explains that he only faked his death in order to protect himself from acts of vengeance performed by Moriarty‟s followers40. According to himself he spent the follow- ing three years travelling in Tibet, visiting Persia, Mecca and the Khalifa at Khartoum41 and doing research in France and Norway before returning to London, where his brother had “preserved [his] rooms […] exactly as they had always been”42. Yet, many Holmes enthusiasts, or Holmesians as some prefer to call themselves, think that this could only be a cover story, leaving another gap in the biography of the great detective43. In 1902 Holmes was offered a knighthood, but decided to turn it down (unlike his creator Doyle, who accepted it44 ). Unfortunately, Watson did not mention why Holmes was offered the knighthood and why he turned it down, as he was “obliged to be par- ticularly careful to avoid any indiscretion”45. Holmes then retired in 1903 “living the life of a her- mit […] in a small farm upon the South Downs”46 and wrote the Practical Handbook of Bee Cul- ture, with Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen. Yet he returned for two other cases in 1907 and in 1914. In the latter he apparently worked - already at the age of sixty - for the British government sabotaging the espionage efforts of the Germans prior to the First World War. It is unknown when and how Sherlock Holmes died or what his biographer Watson did after their ways parted.

4 Holmes‟ Character

Sherlock Holmes is often described as a cold-blooded thinking machine and the detective seems to share this opinion explaining: “I‟m a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix.”47 Yet, this “mere appendix” will be examined in the following part of the paper.


1 Nis Jessen illustrated a 2005 edition of A Study in Scarlet by Hakon Holm Publishing.

2 Compare: Andrew Lycett, The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes (New York, 2008), ch. 1.

3 Quoted in: ibid., pg. 21.

4 Daniel Smith, The Sherlock Holmes Companion (London, 2009), pg. 11f..

5 Compare: a.u., Poe: About the Man,

6 Daniel Smith, The Sherlock Holmes Companion (London, 2009), pg. 11.

7 Quoted in: ibid., pg. 11.

8 Compare: Andrew Lycett, The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes (New York, 2008), pg. 53f..

9 Compare: ibid., pg. 76.

10 Quoted in: Daniel Smith, The Sherlock Holmes Companion (London, 2009), pg. 12.

11 Andrew Lycett, The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes (New York, 2008), pg. 107.

12 Compare: ibid., pg. 112f..

13 Compare: ibid., pg. 126ff..

14 Compare: Daniel Smith, The Sherlock Holmes Companion (London, 2009), pg. 13.

15 Compare: ibid. pg. 14.

16 ibid., pg. 14.

17 Compare: Andrew Lycett, The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes (New York, 2008), pg. 203f..

18 Daniel Smith, The Sherlock Holmes Companion (London, 2009), pg. 15.

19 ibid., pg. 18.

20 Andrew Lycett, The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes (New York, 2008), pg. 289.

21 Daniel Smith, The Sherlock Holmes Companion (London, 2009), pg. 15.

22 Daniel Smith, The Sherlock Holmes Companion (London, 2009), pg. 19.

23 Compare: Albert Sydney Hornby/Sally Wehmeier, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (Oxford, 2005 7), pg. 1475.

24 Quoted in: Dick Riley/Pam McAllister, The Bedside, Bathtub & Armchair Companion to Sherlock Holmes (New York, 1999)

25 Daniel Smith, The Sherlock Holmes Companion (London, 2009), pg. 19.

26 The following information has been extracted from: Daniel Smith, The Sherlock Holmes Companion (London, 2009). A detailed overview on all novels and short stories can be found in the appendix (2).

27 The canonical works are only those written and published by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

28 Quoted in: Daniel Smith, The Sherlock Holmes Companion (London, 2009), pg. 17.

29 Compare: Daniel Smith, The Sherlock Holmes Companion (London, 2009), pg. 22f..

30 Compare: Andrew Lycett, The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes (New York, 2008), pg. 122.

31 ibid., pg. 53.

32 ibid., pg. 118.

33 Compare: ibid., pg. 118.

34 Quoted in: ibid., pg. 190.

35 Holmes„ methods of work will be inspected more thoroughly in another part of this paper

36 Compare: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes (Ware, 2007), pg. 708ff..

37 Compare: ibid., pg. 726f..

38 ibid., pg. 785.

39 Compare: ibid., pg. 842ff..

40 Compare: ibid., pg. 854.

41 Khartoum is the capital of Sudan

42 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes (Ware, 2007), pg. 855.

43 Compare: Daniel Smith, The Sherlock Holmes Companion (London, 2009), pg. 24.

44 The Three Garridebs was published in 1925; twenty-three years after Doyle accepted his knighthood

45 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes (Ware, 2007), pg. 1311.

46 ibid., pg. 1227.

47 ibid., pg. 1272.

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Sherlock Holmes - A Portrayal of the Greatest Detective of All Time
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Marius Wegener (Author), 2010, Sherlock Holmes - A Portrayal of the Greatest Detective of All Time, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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