Sherlock Holmes

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Sherlock Holmes

A portrait of Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget from the Strand Magazine, 1891
Created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Episode count Four novels
Fifty-six short stories
Gender Male
Specialty Deductive reasoning
Occupation Consulting detective
Family Brother
Nationality English
IMDb profile

Sherlock Holmes is a famous fictional detective of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who first appeared in publication in 1887. He is the creation of Scottish-born author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A brilliant London-based consulting detective, Holmes is famous for his intellectual prowess, and is renowned for his skillful use of " deductive reasoning" while using abductive reasoning ( inference to the best explanation) and astute observation to solve difficult cases.

Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories that featured Holmes. All but four stories are narrated by Holmes's friend and biographer, Dr. John H. Watson; two are narrated by Sherlock Holmes himself, and two others are written in the third person. The first two stories, short novels, appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887 and Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1890, respectively. The character grew tremendously in popularity with the beginning of the first series of short stories in The Strand Magazine in 1891; further series of short stories and two serialised novels appeared until 1927. The stories cover a period from around 1878 up to 1907, with a final case in 1914.

Conan Doyle, when asked if there was a real Sherlock Holmes, always maintained that Holmes was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, for whom Doyle had worked as a clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Like Sherlock Holmes, Bell was noted for drawing large conclusions from the smallest observations. Dr. Bell was also interested in crime and assisted the police in solving a few cases.

Family and biography

An estimate of Holmes's age in the short story " His Last Bow" places his year of birth around 1854, although there is no authoritative biography. Not much is said of Holmes' parents, yet he had an older brother, Mycroft Holmes, a government official, who appears in three stories: " The Greek Interpreter", " The Final Problem", and " The Bruce-Partington Plans". He is also mentioned in a number of others, including "The Empty House". Mycroft had a unique civil service position as a kind of memory-man for all aspects of government policy — a kind of walking database. Sherlock thought Mycroft was more gifted but not a man of action, preferring to spend his time at the Diogenes Club, described as a club for the most un-clubbable men in London. In "The Greek Interpreter", Holmes also claims that his grandmother was the sister of Vernet, the French artist.

At the beginning of " The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger", Watson states that Holmes "was in active practice for twenty-three years"; during seventeen of these years, Watson "was allowed to cooperate with him and to keep notes of his doings". Historically, Holmes lived from the year 1881 at 221B Baker Street, London (in early notes it was described as being situated at Upper Baker Street), a flat up seventeen steps, where he shared many of his professional years with his good friend Dr. Watson for some time before Watson's marriage in 1887 and after Mrs. Watson's death. The residence was maintained by his landlady, Mrs. Hudson. In almost all of the stories, Holmes is assisted by the practical Watson, who is not only a friend but also his chronicler (his " Boswell"). Most of Holmes's stories are told as narratives, by Watson, of the detective's solutions to crimes brought to his attention by clients. Holmes sometimes criticizes Watson for his writings, usually because he relates them as exciting stories rather than as objective and detailed reports focusing on what Holmes regards as the pure "science" of his craft. In three stories ( The Sign of the Four, A Study in Scarlet, and " The Adventure of the Crooked Man"), Holmes is assisted by a group of street children he calls the Baker Street Irregulars.

Personality and habits

Monument of Sherlock Holmes in London
Monument of Sherlock Holmes in London

Holmes describes himself and his habits as " Bohemian". In his personal habits, he is very disorganized, as Watson notes in " The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual", leaving everything from notes of past cases to remains of chemical experiments scattered around their rooms and his tobacco inside his Persian slipper. Dr. Watson also states in " The Adventure of the Speckled Band" that Holmes is generally late to rise. However, in A Study In Scarlet, Watson states that Holmes would undoubtedly have eaten breakfast and left their apartment before he woke up every morning.

Holmes often went without food during his more intense cases:

My friend 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.

His "biographer" Watson did not consider as a vice Holmes' habit of smoking, cigars, cigarettes, and pipes , nor his willingness to bend the truth and break the law (e.g., lie to the police, conceal evidence, burgle, and housebreak) when it suited his purposes. Holmes and Watson considered such actions justified as done for noble purposes, such as preserving a woman's honour or a family's reputation (this argument is discussed by Holmes and Watson in " The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton").

In the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes' hands are discolored with acid stains and occasionally Holmes uses drops of blood from his fingers for chemical research—such as an experiment to detect dried blood spots months after a crime. This story also describes Holmes as working at a "chemical laboratory" at a hospital and that being a private "consulting detective" was only a part-time occupation. In later stories Holmes does his chemical experiments at 221 B Baker Street, his address during much of his professional life.

Holmes is also proud of being British, as demonstrated by the patriotic "VR" (Victoria Regina – i.e. Queen Victoria) made in bullet pocks in the wall by his gun. He has also carried out counterintelligence work for his government in several cases, most conspicuously in " His Last Bow", set at the beginning of the First World War.

Holmes does have an ego that sometimes seems to border on arrogance; however, his arrogance is justified. He seems to enjoy baffling police inspectors with his superior deductions. However, he is often quite content to allow the police to take the credit for his work, with Watson being the only one to broadcast his own role in the case (in " The Adventure of the Naval Treaty", he remarks that of his last fifty-three cases, the police have had all the credit in forty-nine), although he enjoys receiving praise from personal friends and those who take a serious interest in his work.

Financial affairs

Although he initially needed Watson to share the rent of his comfortable residence at 221B Baker Street, Watson reveals in " The Adventure of the Dying Detective", when Holmes was living alone, that "I have no doubt that the house might have been purchased at the price which Holmes paid for his rooms," suggesting he had developed a good income from his practice, although it is never revealed exactly how much he charges for his services. He does say, in " The Problem of Thor Bridge" that "My professional charges are upon a fixed scale. I do not vary them, save when I remit them altogether..."

This is said in a context where a client is offering to double his fees; however, it is likely that rich clients provided a remuneration greatly in excess of Holmes's standard fee: in " The Adventure of the Final Problem", Holmes states that his services to the government of France and the royal house of Scandinavia had left him with enough money to retire comfortably, while 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, while he could devote weeks at a time to the cases of the most humble clients. Holmes also tells Watson, in " A Case of Identity", of a golden snuff box received from the King of Bohemia after " A Scandal in Bohemia" and a fabulous ring from the Scandinavian royal family; in " The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" Holmes receives an emerald tie-pin from Queen Victoria. Other mementos of Holmes' cases are a gold sovereign from Irene Adler ("A Scandal in Bohemia") and an autograph letter of thanks from the French President and a Legion of Honour for tracking down an assassin named 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 notes the sum, which surprises even Watson, and then pats the cheque, saying "I am a poor man," an incident that could be dismissed as Holmes's tendency toward ironic humour. Certainly, in the course of his career Holmes had worked for both the most powerful monarchs and governments of Europe (including his own) and various wealthy aristocrats and industrialists, and had also been consulted by impoverished pawnbrokers and humble governesses on the lower rungs of society.

The Victorian class system was much more complex than today's — it would have been degrading to offer a bill to a royal figure, but such a figure might well provide recompense of the equivalent of millions in modern currency. On the other hand, Holmes has been known to charge clients for his expenses, and to claim any reward that might be offered for the solution's problem: he says in " The Adventure of the Speckled Band" that Miss Stoner may pay any expenses he may be put to, and requests that the bank in " The Red-Headed League" remunerate him for the money he spent solving the case. Holmes has his wealthy banker client in " The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" pay him both for the costs of recovering the stolen gems, and also claims the reward the banker had put for their recovery.

Friendships and relationships

In " The Adventure of the Norwood Builder", we see an example of Holmes's affection for Dr. Watson when it is revealed that Watson has sold his practice as a doctor to a man named Verner, who, "...[gave] with astonishing little demur the highest price that I ventured to ask — an incident which only explained itself later, when I found that Verner was a distant relation of Holmes, and it was my friend who had really found the money." In " The Adventure of the Three Garridebs", Watson is wounded by a forger he and Holmes are pursuing; while the bullet wound proves to be "quite superficial," Watson is moved by Holmes' 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.

Holmes shows kindness and fondness for the Baker Street Irregulars. The Irregulars' initial meetings with Holmes are not covered in any great detail, but he seems to have known them for at least a short period of time before meeting Watson. Exactly when they came into his service is unknown, but the boys show great respect for Holmes and he treats them with a surprising kindness, as he has shown little interest in children at all outside of cases involving them. He also speaks of them with a certain respect, due to the fact that, in the stories in which they appear, they are quite literally capable of going anywhere and seeing and hearing virtually anything, thus giving him increased ability to solve cases by taking in their reports. He pays the boys for their services, offering bonuses to any boy (or boys) who found a vital clue in the case.

Over time, Holmes's relations with the official Scotland Yard detectives goes from cold disdain to a strong respect. Law enforcement officers with whom Holmes has worked include Inspector Lestrade, Tobias Gregson, Stanley Hopkins, Alec MacDonald, and Athelney (or Peter) Jones, Inspector Gregory, and Inspector Bradstreet all seven of Scotland Yard, and Francois Le Villard of the French police. Holmes usually baffles the police with his far more efficient and effective methods, showing himself to be a vastly superior detective, a fact that the police seem to have learned to take with good grace — witness Lestrade at the end of " The Six Napoleons". Similarly, Holmes comes to recognize the different merits of individual detectives, such as Inspector Gregory's efficiency in investigation or Lestrade's tenacity and courage.

Holmes's archenemy and popularly-supposed nemesis was Professor James Moriarty ("the Napoleon of Crime"), who fell, struggling with Holmes, over the Reichenbach Falls. Conan Doyle intended "The Final Problem", the story in which this occurred, to be the last that he wrote about Holmes. However, the outpouring of protests and letters demanding that he bring back his creation convinced him to continue. He did so with The Hound of The Baskervilles, although this was a case Holmes was involved in before his supposed death. His return in "The Adventure of the Empty House" had Conan Doyle explaining that only Moriarty fell over the cliff, but Holmes had allowed the world to believe that he too had perished while he dodged the retribution of Moriarty's underlings. Professor Moriarty also has a presence in The Valley of Fear.

Holmes and women

The only woman in whom Holmes ever showed any interest that verged on the romantic was Irene Adler. According to Watson, she was always referred to by Holmes as "The Woman." Holmes himself is never directly quoted as using this term — though he does mention her actual name several times in other cases. She is also one of the few women who are mentioned in multiple Holmes stories, though she actually appears in person only in one, " A Scandal in Bohemia". She is often thought to be the only woman who broke through Holmes's reserve. She is possibly the only woman who has ever "beaten" Holmes in a mystery. However, it is important to note that Watson explicitly states, "It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler."

In one story, " The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", Holmes is engaged to be married, but only with the motivation of gaining information for his case. He clearly demonstrates particular interest in several of the more charming female clients that come his way; however, Holmes inevitably "manifested no further interest in the client when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems." Holmes found their youth, beauty, and energy (and the cases they bring to him) invigorating, as opposed to an actual romantic interest. These episodes show that Holmes possesses a degree of charm, yet, apart from the case of Adler, there is no indication of a serious or long-term interest. Watson states that Holmes has an "aversion to women" but "a peculiarly ingratiating way with [them]." Holmes states, "I am not a whole-souled admirer of womankind"; in fact he 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."

Another point of interest in Holmes's relationships with women is that the only joy he gets from their company is the problems they bring to him to solve. In The Sign of the Four, Watson quotes Holmes as being "an automaton, a calculating machine." This references Holmes's lack of interest in relationships with women in general, and clients in particular, as Watson states that "there is something positively inhuman in you at times." At the end of " The Adventure of the Devil's Foot", Holmes states: "I have never loved, Watson, but if I did and if the woman I loved had met such an end, I might act as our lawless lion-hunter had done". In the story, the explorer Dr. Sterndale had killed the man who murdered his beloved, Brenda Tregennis, to exact a revenge which the law could not provide. Watson writes in " The Adventure of the Dying Detective" that Mrs. Hudson is fond of Holmes in her own way, despite his bothersome eccentricities as a lodger, owing to his "remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealings with women." Watson notes that while he dislikes and distrusts them, he is nonetheless a "chivalrous opponent." However, Holmes cannot be said to be misogynistic, given the number of women he helps in his work.

Detection methods

Holmes can often be quite dispassionate and cold; however, when hot on the trail of a mystery, Holmes can display a remarkable passion despite his usual languor. He has a flair for showmanship and often prepares dramatic traps to capture the culprit of a crime which are staged to impress Watson or one of the Scotland Yard inspectors (e.g., Inspector Lestrade at the end of "The Norwood Builder" or the capture of Jonathan Small in The Sign of Four). He also holds back his chain of reasoning, not revealing it or giving only cryptic hints and surprising results, until the very end, when he can explain all of his deductions at once. His deductive reasoning allows Holmes to figure out a stranger's former/present occupation such as a Retired Sergeant of Marines ( A Study in Scarlet); a former ships carpenter turned pawnbroker (" The Red-Headed League"); and a billiard-marker and a retired artillery NCO (" The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter").

He is also quite an actor, in several of his adventures he has feigned being wounded or ill to give effect to his case, or to incriminate the people involved, as in " The Adventure of the Dying Detective". In the case of Irene Adler, Holmes staged a brawl, and a fire to get her to give away the hiding place of her picture. This worked at first, but after his departure she realized what had occurred and immediately left the country but leaving a different picture behind with a note to Holmes explaining her actions.

Holmes is generally quite fearless. He dispassionately surveys horrific, brutal crime scenes; he does not allow superstition (as in The Hound of the Baskervilles) or grotesque situations to make him afraid; and he intrepidly confronts violent murderers. He is generally unfazed by threats from his criminal enemies, and indeed Holmes himself remarks that it is the danger of his profession that has attracted him to it. The only thing that truly bothers Holmes is boredom, and he can become very agitated and upset when there is no case set before him.

Use of weapons and martial arts

On occasion Holmes and Watson carry pistols with them; however, these weapons are only used on seven occasions.

  1. In The Sign of the Four, they both fire at the Andaman Islander;
  2. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, both Holmes and Watson fire at the hound;
  3. In " The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", Watson fires at the mastiff;
  4. In " The Adventure of the Empty House", Watson pistol-whips Colonel Sebastian Moran;
  5. In " The Adventure of the Three Garridebs", Holmes pistol-whips Killer Evans after Watson is shot;
  6. In " The Musgrave Ritual", it is revealed that Holmes decorated the wall of their flat with a patriotic "V.R." (Victoria Regina") done in bullet marks;
  7. In " The Problem of Thor Bridge", Holmes uses Watson's revolver in a reconstruction of the crime
Holmes brandishing a weapon.
Holmes brandishing a weapon.

In three stories Holmes has a pistol but does not fire it: " The Adventure of the Final Problem"; " The Adventure of the Dancing Men"; " The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist".

Besides a pistol, Holmes twice uses a riding crop/cane as a weapon. In " The Red-Headed League"' he knocks the pistol from John Clay's hand, and in The Adventure of the Speckled Band to lash out at the snake. In " A Case of Identity" Holmes comes close to thrashing Windibank the swindler with a riding crop. In A Study in Scarlet Watson remarks on how Holmes is a expert in fighting with a singlestick and a sword-yet in none of the Doyle literature on Holmes, does Holmes use either weapon.

Holmes is also reckoned a formidable fist-fighter, though his prowess is only reported second-hand. In The Sign of the Four, Holmes introduces himself to the prize-fighter McMurdo as "the amateur who fought three rounds with you at Alison's rooms on the night of your benefit four years back." McMurdo responds by saying, "Ah, you're one that has wasted your gifts, you have! You might have aimed high, if you had joined the fancy." In " The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist" Holmes gets the better of Woodley with a straight left; in " The Adventure of the Empty House" Holmes remarks how a criminal named Matthews had knocked out Holmes's left canine tooth at Charing Cross Station. In " The Adventure of the Empty House", Holmes recounts to Watson how he used martial arts to overcome Moriarty and fling his adversary to his death at the Reichenbach Falls. He states: "I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me." Baritsu was either a fabricated martial art, or a drafting error on the author's part who meant to refer to Bartitsu. Despite this, for a while at least, it still acquired some notoriety all of its own.

Knowledge and skills

Sherlock Holmes (right) and Dr. Watson, by Sidney Paget.
Sherlock Holmes (right) and Dr. Watson, by Sidney Paget.

In the very first story, A Study in Scarlet, something of Holmes's background is given. In early 1881, he is presented as an independent student of chemistry with a variety of very curious side interests, almost all of which turn out to be single-mindedly bent towards making him superior at solving crimes. An early story, " The Adventure of the Gloria Scott", presents more background on what caused Holmes to become a detective: a college friend's father complimented him very highly on his deductive skills. Holmes always uses scientific (or supposedly scientific) methods and focuses on logic and the powers of observation and deduction.

In A Study in Scarlet, Dr. Watson assesses Holmes's abilities thus:

  1. Knowledge of Literature.—Nil.
  2. Knowledge of Philosophy.—Nil.
  3. Knowledge of Astronomy.—Nil.
  4. Knowledge of Politics.—Feeble.
  5. Knowledge of Botany.—Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
  6. 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.
  7. Knowledge of Chemistry.—Profound.
  8. Knowledge of Anatomy.—Accurate, but unsystematic.
  9. Knowledge of Sensational Literature.—Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
  10. Plays the violin well.
  11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer and swordsman.
  12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.

However, even at the very end of A Study in Scarlet itself, it is shown that Holmes knows Latin and needs no translation of Roman epigrams in the original—though that knowledge is not mentioned in the above list, and the language would be of doubtful direct utility for detective work.

Later stories make completely clear that the above list is misleading, and that Holmes—who has just met Watson—is "pulling Watson's leg". Two examples: despite Holmes's supposed ignorance of politics, in " A Scandal in Bohemia" he immediately recognizes the true identity of the supposed "Count von Kramm". Regarding non-sensational literature, his speech is replete with references to the Bible, Shakespeare, and even Goethe. This is somewhat inconsistent with Holmes's rebuking Watson for telling him that the Earth revolves around the Sun instead of the other way around, saying it would not matter to him one bit if it were true. He goes on to say that he avoids cluttering his memory with information that is of no use to him in detective work; however, in " The Lion's Mane", it is said that Holmes has a habit of collecting even the most obscure facts and memorizing them.

Also, in " The Boscombe Valley Mystery", Holmes expresses his knowledge of different varieties of tobacco ash, and tells of the monograph he wrote on the subject, a very strange field of knowledge but understandable as it relates to his detective work. Holmes states, "I found the ash of a cigar, which my special knowledge of tobacco ashes enables me to pronounce as an Indian cigar. I have, as you know, devoted some attention to this and written a little monograph on the ashes of one hundred forty different varieties of pipe, cigar, and cigarette tobacco."

Moreover, in " The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans" Watson reports that in November 1895, "Holmes lost himself in a monograph which he had undertaken upon the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus"—a most esoteric field of knowledge, for which Holmes would have had to "clutter his memory" with an enormous amount of information which had absolutely nothing to do with crime-fighting—knowledge so extensive that his monograph was taken as "the last word" on the subject. The later stories abandon the notion that Holmes did not want to know anything unless it had immediate relevance for his profession; in the second chapter of The Valley of Fear, Holmes instead declares that "all knowledge comes useful to the detective", and near the end of " The Adventure of the Lion's Mane", he describes himself as "an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles".

Holmes is also a competent cryptanalyst. He relates to Watson, "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." One such scheme is solved using frequency analysis in " The Adventure of the Dancing Men", which uses a series of stick figures, for example:

Dancing men ciphertext

Holmes's analysis of physical evidence is both scientific and precise. His methods include the use of 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"), the use of tobacco ashes and cigarette butts to identify criminals (" The Adventure of the Resident Patient", The Hound of the Baskervilles), the comparison of typewritten letters to expose a fraud (" A Case of Identity"), the use of gunpowder residue to expose two murderers (" The Adventure of the Reigate Squire"), bullet comparison from two crime scenes (" The Adventure of the Empty House") and even an early use of fingerprints (" The Norwood Builder"). Holmes also demonstrates knowledge of psychology in " A Scandal in Bohemia", luring Irene Adler into betraying where she had hidden a photograph based on the “precis” that an unmarried woman will seek her most valuable possession in case of fire, whereas a married woman will grab her baby instead.

Despite the excitement of his life (or perhaps seeking to leave it behind) Holmes retired to the Sussex Downs to take up beekeeping (" The Second Stain"), and wrote a book on the subject. His search for relaxation can also be seen in his love for music, notably in " The Red-Headed League", where Holmes takes an evening off from a case to listen to Pablo de Sarasate play violin.


Holmesian deduction

"Holmes' belongings" including a magnifying glass, calabash pipe, and a deerstalker cap at the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London.
"Holmes' belongings" including a magnifying glass, calabash pipe, and a deerstalker cap at the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London.

"From a drop of water," Holmes wrote in an essay described in A Study in Scarlet, "a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other." Holmes stories often begin with a bravura display of his talent for " deduction". It is of some interest to logicians and those interested in logic to try to analyse just what Holmes is doing when he performs his deduction. Holmesian deduction appears to consist primarily of drawing inferences based on either straightforward practical principles — which are the result of careful inductive study, such as Holmes's study of different kinds of cigar ashes — or inference to the best explanation. In many cases, the deduction can be modeled either way. In 2002, Holmes was inducted as an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry — the only fictional character so honoured — in appreciation of his contributions to forensic investigation.

Holmes's straightforward practical principles are generally of the form, "If 'p', then 'q'," where 'p' is observed evidence and 'q' is what the evidence indicates. But there are also, as one may observe in the following example, often some intermediate principles. In "A Scandal in Bohemia" Holmes deduces that Watson had got very wet lately and that he had "a most clumsy and careless servant girl." When Watson, in amazement, asks how Holmes knows this, Holmes 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.

In this case, we might say Holmes employed several connected principles such as these:

  • If leather on the side of a shoe is scored by several parallel cuts, it was caused by someone who scraped around the edges of the sole in order to remove crusted mud.
  • If a 19th-century London doctor's shoes are scraped to remove crusted mud, the person who so scraped them is the doctor's servant girl.
  • If someone cuts a shoe while scraping it to remove encrusted mud, that person is clumsy and careless.
  • If someone's shoes had encrusted mud on them, that person has been very wet lately and has been out in vile weather.

By applying such principles in an obvious way (using repeated applications of modus ponens), Holmes is able to infer that:

"The sides of Watson's shoes are scored by several parallel cuts"; to "Watson's servant girl is clumsy and careless"; and "Watson has been very wet lately and has been out in vile weather."

But perhaps Holmes is not giving a proper explanation — after all, Holmes may be well aware of Watson's servant girl. As Watson is a doctor and it has been raining, it is likely he has been out in the rain.

Of course, Holmes's deductive reasonings are a common tool by which certain characters (particularly his astonished clients) are introduced by Holmes himself into the story. For example, in Conan Doyle's story " The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist", Holmes's observations allow him to deduce that the client, Violet Smith, enjoys bicycling, due to slight roughenings of the sides of her shoe's soles from friction with the pedals. He also notes that the lady has spatulated finger-ends, which he initially assumes had been acquired from typewriting. However, he then openly corrects himself by commenting on Ms. Smith having a certain spirituality about the face (which he commented would not come from working with a typewriter), and remarks how such fingers can also develop from playing musical instruments; thus, he identified Ms. Smith as being a musician (a music teacher, to be precise).

In other instances of Holmesian deduction, it is more difficult to model his inference as deduction using general principles, and logicians and scientists will readily recognize the method used, instead, as an " inductive" one — in particular, " argument to the best explanation", or, in Charles S. Peirce's terminology, " abduction". However, that Holmes should have called this "deduction" is entirely plausible.

The instances in which Holmes uses deduction tend to be those where he has amassed a large body of evidence, produced a number of possible explanations of that evidence, and then proceeds to find one explanation that is clearly the best at explaining the evidence. For example, in The Sign of the Four, a man is found dead in his room, with a ghastly smile on his face, and with no immediately visible cause of death. From a whole body of background information as well as evidence gathered at and around the scene of the crime, Holmes is able to infer that the murderer is not one of the various people that Scotland Yard has in custody (each of them being an alternative explanation), but rather another person entirely. As Holmes says in the story, "How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?" This phrase has entered Western popular culture as a catchphrase. As of 2007, the MI5 and MI6 are training their agents in Sherlockian Deduction.

Role in the history of the detective story

A popular misconception is that the Sherlock Holmes stories gave rise to the entire genre of detective fiction. In fact, the Holmes character and his modus operandi were inspired by two predecessors, C. Auguste Dupin and Monsieur Lecoq and their technique for solving crime. Already in A Study in Scarlet, Conan Doyle compares his sleuth with two earlier, more established fictional detectives: Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin and Emile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq. The former had first appeared in " The Murders in the Rue Morgue", first published in 1841, and the latter in L'Affaire Lerouge (The Lerouge Affair) in 1866. The brief discussion between Watson and Holmes about the two characters begins with a comment by Watson:

"You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories."

Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. "No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin," he observed. "Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial. He had some analytical genius, no doubt; but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine."

"Have you read Gaboriau's works?" I asked. "Does Lecoq come up to your idea of a detective?"

Sherlock Holmes sniffed sardonically. "Lecoq was a miserable bungler," he said, in an angry voice; "he had only one thing to recommend him, and that was his energy. That book made me positively ill. The question was how to identify an unknown prisoner. I could have done it in twenty-four hours. Lecoq took six months or so. It might be made a textbook for detectives to teach them what to avoid."

Holmes seems convinced that he is superior to both of them, while Watson expresses his admiration of the two characters. It has been suggested that this was a way for Conan Doyle to pay his respects to characters imagined by writers who had influenced him, while insisting that his creation was an improvement on theirs. (Doyle did in fact express his own admiration for Holmes's two predecessors.) However, Holmes pulls a very Dupin-esque mind reading trick on Watson in " The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" (transplanted word for word to "The Resident Patient" when "The Cardboard Box" was removed from the Memoirs), and, to a lesser extent, in " The Adventure of the Dancing Men".

As an inspiration for scientists

Sherlock Holmes has occasionally been used in the scientific literature. Radford (1999) speculates on his intelligence. Using Conan Doyle’s stories as data, Radford applies three different methods to estimate Sherlock Holmes’s IQ, and concludes that his intelligences were very high indeed. Snyder (2004) examines Holmes’ methods in the light of the science and the criminology of the mid- to late-19th century. Kempster (2006) compares neurologists’ skills with those displayed by Holmes. Finally, Didierjean and Gobet (2008) review the literature on the psychology of expertise by taking as model a fictional expert: Sherlock Holmes. They highlight aspects of Doyle’s books that are in line with what is currently known about expertise, aspects that are implausible, and aspects that suggest further research.


Fan speculation

The fifty-six short stories and four novels written by Conan Doyle are termed the " Canon" by Sherlockians. A popular pastime among fans of Sherlock Holmes is to treat Holmes and Watson as real people, and attempt to elucidate facts about them from clues in the stories or by combining the stories with historical fact. Early scholars of the canon included Ronald Knox in Britain and Christopher Morley in New York.

Writers have produced many pop culture references to Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle, or characters from the stories in homage, to a greater or lesser degree. Such allusions can form a plot development, raise the intellectual level of the piece or act as Easter eggs for an observant audience.

Some have been overt, introducing Holmes as a character in a new setting, or a more subtle allusion, such as making a logical character live in an apartment at number 221b. Often the simplest reference is to dress anybody who does some kind of detective work in a deerstalker and cloak (as seen right). Another rich field of pop culture references is Holmes' ancestry and descendants, but really the only limit is the writer's imagination. A third major reference is the quote, "Elementary, my dear Watson," (which, was never actually said by Holmes). Another common misattribution is that Holmes, throughout the entire novel series, is never described as wearing the ' deerstalker hat', although Sidney Paget had drawn Holmes donning it on two occasions.

The Great Hiatus

Statue of Holmes outside the English Church, Meiringen
Statue of Holmes outside the English Church, Meiringen

Holmes fans refer to the period from 1891 to 1894 — the time between Holmes' disappearance and presumed death in "The Adventure of the Final Problem" and his reappearance in "The Adventure of the Empty House" — as "the Great Hiatus". It is notable, though, that one later story ("The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge") is described as taking place in 1892.

Conan Doyle wrote the stories over the course of a decade. Wanting to devote more time to his historical novels, he killed off Holmes in "The Final Problem", which appeared in print in 1893. After resisting public pressure for eight years, the author wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, which appeared in 1901, implicitly setting it before Holmes' "death" (some theorise that it actually took place after "The Return" but with Watson planting clues to an earlier date). The public, while pleased with the story, was not satisfied with a posthumous Holmes, and so Conan Doyle resuscitated Holmes two years later. Many have speculated on his motives for bringing Holmes back to life, notably writer-director Nicholas Meyer, who wrote an essay on the subject in the 1970s, but the actual reasons are not known, other than the obvious: Publishers offered to pay generously. For whatever reason, Conan Doyle continued to write Holmes stories for a quarter-century longer.

Some writers have come up with alternate explanations for the hiatus. In Meyer's novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, the Hiatus is depicted as a secret sabbatical following Holmes' treatment for cocaine addiction at the hands of Sigmund Freud, and presents Holmes making the light-hearted suggestion that Watson write a fictitious account claiming he'd been killed by Moriarty, saying of the public: "They'll never believe you in any case."

In his memoirs, Conan Doyle quotes a reader, who judged the later stories inferior to the earlier ones, to the effect that when Holmes went over the Reichenbach Falls, he may not have been killed, but he was never quite the same man after. The differences in the pre- and post-Hiatus Holmes have in fact created speculation among those who play "The Great Game" (making believe Sherlock Holmes was a historical person). One theory holds that the later Holmes was in fact an impostor (perhaps even Professor Moriarty), the later stories were fictions created to fill other writers' pockets (this is often used to deal with the stories which supposedly are written by Holmes himself), and Holmes and Professor Moriarty were in fact a variation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Among the more fanciful theories, the story "The Case of the Detective's Smile" by Mark Bourne, published in the anthology Sherlock Holmes in Orbit, posits that one of the places Holmes visited during his hiatus was Alice's Wonderland. While there, he solved the case of the stolen tarts, and his experiences there contributed to his kicking the cocaine addiction.


Sherlock Holmes in Scotland
Sherlock Holmes in Scotland

In 1934 were founded the Sherlock Holmes Society, in London, and the Baker Street Irregulars, in New York. Both are still active today (though the Sherlock Holmes Society was dissolved in 1937 to be resuscitated only in 1951). The two initial societies founded in 1934 were followed by many more Holmesians circles, first of all in America (where they are called "scion societies" - offshoots - of the Baker Street Irregulars), then in England and Denmark. Nowadays, there are Sherlockian societies in many countries like India and Japan being the more prominent countries which have a history of such activity.

The Sherlock Holmes Society of London maintains a moderately up-to-date links page, pointing at other Sherlockian sites in a range of countries and languages. It is also one of many societies worldwide who arrange visits to the scenes of the Sherlock Holmes adventures (Holmesian topography), such as the Reichenbach Falls in the Swiss Alps.


During the 1951 Festival of Britain, Sherlock Holmes' sitting-room was reconstructed as the masterpiece of a Sherlock Holmes Exhibition, displaying a unique collection of original material. After the 1951 exhibition closed, items were transferred to the Sherlock Holmes Pub, in London, and to the Conan Doyle Collection in Lucens (Switzerland). Both exhibitions, each including its own very good Baker Street Sitting-Room reconstruction, are still to be seen today. In 1990 The Sherlock Holmes Museum was opened in Baker Street London and the following year in Meiringen Switzerland another Museum was also opened, but naturally they include less historical material about Conan Doyle than about Sherlock Holmes himself. The Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street, London was the first Museum in the world to be dedicated to a fictional character.


Canonical adaptations

As Sherlock Holmes is such a popular character, there have been many theatrical stage and cinematic adaptations of Conan Doyle's work — much in the same way that Hamlet or Dracula are often revised and adapted. The Guinness World Records has consistently listed him as the "most portrayed movie character" with over 70 actors playing the part in over 200 films.

Basil Rathbone starred as Sherlock Holmes, alongside Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, in fourteen films (two for 20th Century Fox and a dozen for Universal Pictures) from 1939-1946. Jeremy Brett is generally considered the definitive Holmes of recent times, having played the role in four series of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, created by John Hawkesworth for Britain's Granada Television, from 1984 though to 1994, as well as depicting Holmes on stage. Brett's Dr. Watson was played by David Burke and Edward Hardwicke in the series.

Between 1979 and 1986, Soviet television produced a series of five films at the Lenfilm movie studio, split into eleven episodes, starring Vasily Livanov as Holmes and Vitaly Solomin as Watson. This series was referred to as "the best Sherlock Holmes screening ever" by the British Queen. Later, a cinematic adaptation was made based on the 1986 episodes. This film was called Sherlock Holmes in the 20th Century.

Related and derivative works (non-canonical)

In addition to the canonical Sherlock Holmes stories, Conan Doyle's "The Lost Special" (18988) features an unnamed "amateur reasoner" clearly intended to be identified as Holmes by his readers. His explanation for a baffling disappearance, argued in Holmes' characteristic style, turns out to be quite wrong — evidently Conan Doyle was not above poking fun at his own hero. A short story by Conan Doyle using the same idea is "The Man with the Watches". Another example of Conan Doyle's humour is " How Watson Learned the Trick" (1924), a parody of the frequent Watson-Holmes breakfast table scenes. A further parody by Conan Doyle is "The Field Bazaar". He also wrote other material, especially plays, featuring Holmes. Many of these writings are collected in the books 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 Roger Lancelyn Green.

Sherlock Holmes' abilities as both a good fighter and as an excellent logician have been a boon to other authors who have lifted his name, or details of his exploits, for their plots. These range from Holmes as a cocaine addict, whose drug-fuelled fantasies lead him to cast an innocent Professor Moriarty as a super villain ( The Seven-Per-Cent Solution), to science-fiction plots involving him being re-animated after death to fight crime in the future ( Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century).

Some authors have supplied stories to fit the tantalising references in the canon to unpublished cases (e.g. " The giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared" in " The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire"), notably The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes by Conan Doyle's son Adrian Conan Doyle with John Dickson Carr, and The Lost Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Ken Greenwald, based rather closely on episodes of the 1945 Sherlock Holmes radio show that starred Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce and for which scripts were written by Dennis Green and Anthony Boucher; others have used different characters from the stories as their own detective, e.g. Mycroft Holmes in Enter the Lion by Michael P. Hodel and Sean M. Wright (1979) or Dr. James Mortimer (from The Hound of the Baskervilles) in books by Gerard Williams.

On the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation Lt. Cmdr. Data is depicted as a fan of Holmes, and portrays him in a holodeck recreation in the episode "Elementary, My Dear Data." The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle objected, claiming a copyright on the character, but allowed the performance to be reprised in the episode "Ship In A Bottle," with attribution in the closing credits.

The main character in the TV series House, M.D., a medical doctor with a Holmesian approach to diagnosing diseases, is named as a pun on the near-homophone "Homes" for "Holmes" as Dr. Gregory House. The show draws heavily upon Holmes' archetypes, including a drug addiction (in the show, Vicodin instead of cocaine), a quirky sense of humour and complete disregard for social mores, personal talents (piano and guitar, like Holmes' violin), as well as Holmes' characteristic ability to judge a situation correctly with almost no effort. House's apartment number is 221B. Dr. House's confidant and sounding board is Dr. James Wilson, whose initials coincide with Dr. John Watson.

In the anime Death Note the detective L greatly resembles Holmes in his deductive skills, eccentricities, and his somewhat questionable morals in pursuit of justice. He rarely sleeps and, rather than cocaine, seems to have an addiction to sugar. He is not above lying or posing elaborate, sometimes morbid, charades simply to see the reaction of his suspect. Also, though he would appear to be unskilled in hand-to-hand combat, he has shown himself to be quite an adept fighter, much like Holmes. L's caretaker and partner Watari could be seen as his Dr. Watson, while his nemesis Light Yagami (also known as Kira) mirrors somewhat Moriarty, though the connections are not nearly as precise. One obvious spoof of Sherlock Holmes is (briefly) seen in the name and nature of one "Shamrock Jolnes" (with Watson appearing as "Whatsup") in Sixes and Sevens by O. Henry. In "What's New Scooby-Doo", Holmes is shown when Velma steps into a virtual reality mystery solving game. He's in the first room on the right with Watson.

William S. Baring-Gould, who is cited in two of the major Holmesian references below, is also the author of the "definitive biography" of Rex Stout's great detective: Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street In it are two references suggesting that Wolfe's paternity might be in the Holmesian line, with Irene Adler possibly involved. One reference in the acknowledgment section is to a Baker Street Journal issue citing Nero Wolfe's paternity, and the other is a discussion in Chapter 11 of various genealogical ramifications connected with Holmes and Adler. All this is explored more fully in the "Origins" section of the Wikipedia entry for Nero Wolfe. There may also be remarks extant about the strong similarities between Nero Wolfe and Mycroft Holmes, but this has not been verified.

The Canon

Traditionally, Canon of Sherlock Holmes consists of the fifty-six short stories and four novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In this context, the term " canon" is an attempt to distinguish between Doyle's original works and subsequent works by other authors using the same characters.


  • A Study in Scarlet (serialised 1887)
  • The Sign of the Four (published 1890)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (serialised 1901–1902 in The Strand)
  • The Valley of Fear (serialised 1914–1915)

Short stories

The short stories were originally published in periodicals; they were later gathered into five anthologies:

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (contains stories published 1891–1892 in The Strand)
  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (contains stories published 1892–1893 in The Strand as further episodes of the Adventures)
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes (contains stories published 1903–1904 in The Strand)
  • His Last Bow (contains stories published 1908–1913 and 1917)
  • The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (contains stories published 1921–1927)

Lists of favourite stories

There are two famous lists of favourite stories: that of Conan Doyle himself, in The Strand in 1927, and that of the Baker Street Journal in 1959.

Conan Doyle's list:

  1. " The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
  2. " The Red-Headed League"
  3. " The Adventure of the Dancing Men"
  4. " The Adventure of the Final Problem"
  5. " A Scandal in Bohemia"
  6. " The Adventure of the Empty House"
  7. " The Five Orange Pips"
  8. " The Adventure of the Second Stain"
  9. " The Adventure of the Devil's Foot"
  10. " The Adventure of the Priory School"
  11. " The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual"
  12. " The Adventure of the Reigate Squire"

The Baker Street Journal's list:

  1. " The Adventure of the Speckled Band"
  2. " The Red-Headed League"
  3. " The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle"
  4. " The Adventure of Silver Blaze"
  5. " A Scandal in Bohemia"
  6. " The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual"
  7. " The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"
  8. " The Adventure of the Six Napoleons"
  9. " The Adventure of the Dancing Men"
  10. " The Adventure of the Empty House"

Holmes by other authors

See: Non-canonical works related and derived from Sherlock Holmes, List of authors of new Sherlock Holmes stories, and Sherlock Holmes speculation

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