Different elements that had an impact on the popularity of Sherlock Holmes


Seminar Paper, 2011
13 Pages, Grade: 2,0
Kevin Theinl (Author)

Excerpt

Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Motives that had an influence on Sir Conan Arthur Doyle for writing Sherlock Holmes stories

3. Different elements which had an impact on the popularity of Sherlock Holmes
3.1. Style of narration: The function of Dr. Watson
3.2. The use of exotic elements in the Sherlock Holmes stories
3.3 Holmes way of investigation towards justice

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The stories of Sherlock Holmes, known as ‘The Canon’ were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the Golden Age of Crime Fiction between 1887 and 1924. ‘The Canon’ consists of four novels and five volumes of short stories which have never been out of print. That makes a total of 60 tales.[1] Within these 60 tales the setting and the protagonists Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson continue, while the plot and therefore the clients change in each story. Moreover, there were written more than twenty-four thousand of other books and articles about Sherlock Holmes. He was also imitated on stage and in films, as well as in different television series.[2]

Sherlock Holmes is synonymous for a detective, who had an enormous success, because he had astonishing powers of examination and could solve crimes that could not be solved by the representative police, even when Scotland Yard could reduce the crime in London to this great enormity. But London needed a kind of superhero, who was more scientific than Scotland Yard. Sherlock Holmes was created and filled that gap with his genius to put down the remaining crime that could not be dissolved by others because of its complexity.[3] [4] His gift for observation and imagination, his exceptional personality, and his astounding logical deductions lead readers to talk and to write about Holmes as if he were a real person in their social environment. [5] His prototype character with his well-known abilities of logical deduction has often been copied, but no one could develop a better character who was more influential and who stands for the brilliantly archetypal detective.[6]

The popularity of Sherlock Holmes can be explained by the style of Watson’s narration, by the exotic elements used in all the stories, and Holmes’ personality just as much as his way of investigation and his sense of justice. In my following term paper I want to deal with different elements used in Sherlock Holmes stories which had a great impact on the popularity of Sherlock Holmes until today.

2. Motives that had an influence on Sir Conan Arthur Doyle for writing Sherlock Holmes stories

All great heroes of time have a beginning, but what makes them heroic is that they will not die. Thus, Sherlock Holmes and other heroes can be described as superhumans.

It all started in 1859 when Doyle was born. Encouraged by his mother Mary in educational matters he started to get interested in books. When he grew up he invented the great figure of Sherlock Holmes. He was inspired significantly by his professor Joseph Bell from the university where Doyle got his doctor’s degree. Bell was most famous for his logical and deductional powers. He demonstrated his powers of deduction with the technique to observe the characters of patients not less than their ill-being. Doyle had great ambitions and got an occupation as an oculist. But as he admired the capabilities of his professor, he created in the scientific Sherlock Holmes a detective who was a heightened adaptation to himself, and Watson who was a lowered one. Also Edgar Allan Poe’s detective Dupin motivated Doyle to invent Holmes. Dupin had a wide-raging knowledge from his readings, and he also had the ability to accentuate the spoken word, what makes him a great detective in the field of investigation.[7] [8]

3. Different elements which had an impact on the popularity of Sherlock Holmes

3.1. Style of narration: The function of Dr. Watson

Dr. Watson is Holmes’ best friend, even if he lacks to support him with relevant clues. He is always at the side of Holmes and gives him moral support in periods of uncertainty. It seems that Holmes cannot express his appreciation for the friendship between him and Watson, but in ‘The Norwood Builder’ Holmes said, “I feel as if I shall need your company and your moral support today.” [9] Holmes needs Watson far more than Watson depends on Holmes.

Watson, the eye-witness of Holmes’ investigation, describes the setting and the characters in detail which appear so that the reader has a good knowledge about the crime scene and the persons which show up in the short stories. “She was plainly but neatly dressed, with a bright, quick face, freckled like a plover’s egg, and with the brisk manner of a woman who has had her own way to make in the world.“, noticed Watson at the arrival of the client Miss Hunter in ‘The Copper Beeches’. [10] Although Dr. Watson cannot be described by his keen sense of observation, he proves to be a trustworthy reporter and a judge of character. The reader needs Watson’s faithful reproduction of events and is willing to believe him without compromise. Watson as Holmes’ companion takes over the role of the eye-witness which creates an allusion of authenticity. [11]

The story is told in present tense in a chronological order, so that the reader will not be confused. The reader is in an equal position as Dr. Watson. He is providing the readership with all clues the superior Holmes can acquire from the crime scenes, but Watson himself is not able to deduce anything from that. As an example Watson is asking Holmes a set of questions in ‘The Red-Headed League’. For an instance he asks: “but how could you guess what the motive was?“, and wonders “how [he] could […] tell that they would make their attempt tonight?”. [12]

Watson repeatedly emphasizes his admiration and recognition, which the reader unconsciously internalizes. Watson passes his perspective he has got about the detective to the recipient. After Holmes vivid explanation Watson admires his work on that case where he exclaimed “You reasoned it out beautifully” [13]. Watson is also unequal to Holmes for the reason that he seems rather normal. He is not addicted to drugs, has no bad characteristics as moodiness or eccentricity. The fact that Watson appears more steadfast and that both Watson and the readership are not able to discover the mystery creates sympathy between them, but it also makes Watson inferior and not as smart as Holmes. It also attaches excitement to the stories for the reason that it is hardly possible to know what could happen next. If there would be no Watson or any other eye-witnessing narrator, there would be no Sherlock Holmes, because no one would present his great abilities. Holmes generally appears when there is a crime to be solved. In contrast Watson gives the impression to have a usual life apart from the cases, what initiates the readership to empathize with him.

3.2. The use of exotic elements in the Sherlock Holmes stories

The use of exotic elements is unavoidable to write detective novels. Moreover, the detective story would fall apart without the passion of discovery. The reader of detective stories is far more fascinated by unusual events, as by stories which are not capturing the imagination of the reader.

The unusual crimes in Sherlock Holmes induce the readers to go on with reading, as in “The Speckled Band”, where a snake was trained by Lord Roylett to take the lives of his twin daughters. But there is not always a crime committed, as in “The Man with the Twisted Lip”. It was supposed that Neville StClair was murdered, but he was just leading a double life.

These unusual crimes with their inconvenient settings, murder weapons and legends are important elements. Furthermore, important facts from exotic things can overlap the facts of the case, such as in “The red headed league". Here, Mr. Jabez Wilson is ordered in a club of redheads, for the reason that his house is empty and therefore a tunnel to the next bank can be dugged. [14] But a good detective novel also needs exotic characters from other nations, as the Ku Klux Klan, for the reason that Holmes powers can be accentuated.

As the detective novel thrives on the variety and the exotic, it is possible that at some point all the different variants are already used. The reader, however, does not lose interest in Sherlock Holmes. The difference of our time compared to Victorian times can also be seen as an exotic element. This is a new kind of exoticism, but not intended by Conan Doyle.[15] For example, the reader is not familiar with wages and prices at that time. Also, the modern reader is not familiar with the world of Sherlock Holmes, and finds it hard to judge over the committed crimes. Therefore, the reader needs the reaction of Holmes. The reader will notice that our time is very different compared to the Victorian era.

3.3 Holmes way of investigation towards justice

For writing a good detective novel it is necessary to use puzzling elements, so that the answer to the questions “Who had done it?” and “How did the crime exactly occur?” are not too obvious. British crime author and poet Julian Symons wrote that “the puzzle is vital to the detective story but is not a detective story in itself.”[16] The detective novel is destined formally very strong. The first element of the action is the enigmatic crime. Then the criminal is searched, the sequence of events is reconstructed, and the motives for the crime are cleared. Thereafter, the case is solved and the perpetrator convicted. The sequence of events, however, can be accented differently. This gives rise to different forms of the detective novel. [17]

The Holmes stories can be divided in three parts. First, a part called relation, consists of the appearance of the client in Baker Street where the problem is presented. The investigation, the second part of the structure, starts after a discussion between Holmes and Watson and mostly they are investigating together. In the last part, the resolution, when both are back in Holmes’ apartment in Baker Street, he explains the deductions he made to his sidekick. However, there are two short stories which vary from this structure, because they are never going back to Baker Street – ‘The Boscombe Valley Mystery’ and ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip’. Within the structure of relation, investigation and resolution also occurs variety, but the structural devices do not change their position. [18] This structure is creating tension, and the reader is aiming to come to the end of the story where he gets the information what exactly had happened.

Sherlock Holmes actually has a vast quantity of unusual knowledge, like his colleague Dr. Watson in “a Study in Scarlet" reports. "I believe he is well up in atonomy, and he is a first class chemist […] he has amassed a lot of out-of-the-way knowledge which would astonish his professors.” [19]

Even Poe's Dupin already thought that the world can be explained by logical deduction. Holmes used techniques of natural science in his truth-finding, and thus rises to the rank of the forensic science. “Holmes acted as a catalyst in the evolving of modern investigative, identification and forensic sciences.” [20] He draws on Dupin, but he considered him as less successful in ‘A study in scarlet’ after Watson states, that he reminds him of Poe’s Dupin. “Dupin was a very inferior fellow […] He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine” [21] The stories of Auguste Dupin were also told by a first person narrator, but he is an anonymous one unlike Watson in the Holmes stories. The presentation of other fictional heroes in crime fiction as the reference to Dupin, Watson suggests to the reader that Holmes is not an invented figure of crime fiction. Thus, he manages that the reader believes that the characters and the plots in the Sherlock Holmes stories are not fictional.[22]

The author Conan Doyle had the notion, that the criminal events are linked and that an investigator should be invented who could solve these crimes by establishing the links. [23]

Holmes who could establish the links of criminal events thought that the little things he observes are the most important ones towards solving the crime. [24] Holmes is collecting a lot of data and did not have just only one single thought of what could have happened, but the reader is in the same position as Watson and cannot see the pattern which would lead them to solve the crime by themselves. “It is my business to know things. Perhaps I have trained myself to see what others overlook”, [25] states Holmes who uses relevant facts as clues to tell the only one surprising tale of the mysterious events. In ‘The speckled Band’ Holmes was not able to see the dead body. Instead by giving him a complete portrayal how the body was arranged when it was found, “She stabbed her finger into the air in the direction of the doctor’s room”, and “She was in her night dress.

[...]


[1] Redmond, Christopher: Sherlock Holmes Handbook. Toronto 2009, p.12.

[2] Ibid. p. 38.

[3] Riggs, Ransom: The Sherlock Holmes Handbook. The methods and mysteries of the world’s greatest detective. Philadelphia 2009, 10-11.

[4] Knight, Stephen Thomas: ‘… a great blue triumphant cloud’ – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In: Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction. Indiana University Press 1980, p. 67-85.

[5] Herbert, Rosemary; Aird, Catherine et al: The Oxford Companion to crime and mystery writing. Oxford 1999, p. 411.

[6] Riggs, Ransom: The Sherlock Holmes Handbook. The methods and mysteries of the world’s greatest detective. Philadelphia 2009, 8-9.

[7] Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Biography: http://www.sherlockholmesonline.org/Biography/index.htm (March 25th, 7:36 pm).

[8] Knight, Stephen Thomas: ‘… a great blue triumphant cloud’ – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In: Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction. Indiana University Press 1980, p. 68.

[9] Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Hertfordshire 1995, p. 39.

[10] Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Hertfordshire 1996, p. 250.

[11] Dunker, Michael: Beeinflussung und Steuerung des Lesers in der englischsprachigen Detektiv- und Kriminalliteratur. Frankfurt am Main 1991, p. 31.

[12] Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Hertfordshire 1996, p. 36.

[13] Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Hertfordshire 1996, p. 48.

[14] Malborn, Peter: Sherlock Holmes. Historizität von Historik und Alltäglichkeit. Marburg 1999, p. 10-12.

[15] Ibid., p. 14.

[16] Symons, Julian: Bloody Murder. From the detective story to the crime novel. Boston 1993, p. 27.

[17] Nusser, Peter: Der Kriminalroman. Weimar 2009, p. 26.

[18] Knight, Stephen Thomas: ‘… a great blue triumphant cloud’ – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In: Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction. Indiana University Press 1980, p. 75-77.

[19] Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The complete Sherlock Holmes. New York 2003, p. 9.

[20] Berg, Stanton: Sherlock Holmes: Father of science crime detection. In: The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Science. London 1970.

[21] Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The treasury of Sherlock Holmes. Radford 2007, p. 8.

[22] Malborn, Peter: Sherlock Holmes. Historizitaet von Historik und Alltaeglichkeit. Marburg 1999, p.19.

[23] Knight, Stephen Thomas: ‘… a great blue triumphant cloud’ – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. In: Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction. Indiana University Press 1980, p. 68.

[24] Ibid., p. 74.

[25] Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: The treasury of Sherlock Holmes. Radford 1007, p. 118.

Excerpt out of 13 pages

Details

Title
Different elements that had an impact on the popularity of Sherlock Holmes
College
University of Rostock
Grade
2,0
Author
Year
2011
Pages
13
Catalog Number
V179367
ISBN (eBook)
9783656017424
ISBN (Book)
9783656017158
File size
442 KB
Language
English
Tags
Sherlock Holmes, Literature, Crime Fiction, Watson, Conan Arthur Doyle, style of narration, investigation
Quote paper
Kevin Theinl (Author), 2011, Different elements that had an impact on the popularity of Sherlock Holmes, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/179367

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