Detective Sherlock Holmes



Sherlock Holmes is the fictional detective character creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and protagonist of his Sherlock Holmes mystery collection composed of fifty-six short stories and four full-length novels (the first of which was published in 1887).  Famous for his ability to take on almost any disguise and his use of inductive reasoning and forensic science to solve every angle of crime, Holmes’ character was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, a one-time boss of Doyle’s at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and forensic medicine and health lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons, Sir Henry Littlejohn.  Littlejohn also served as Police Surgeon and Medical Officer of Health of Edinburgh, effectively creating the link between crime and medicine that the detective Holmes expresses.

Though challenged, Holmes’ birth date is commonly accepted to have been in January of 1854 based on the story His Last Bow set in 1914, during which the detective is said to be sixty years of age.  Given to details in his adventures, it is believed that Holmes attended Cambridge University, and it was there that he met the classmate whose father influenced Holmes’ decision to pursue detection professionally.  After six years building his credentials in the field, Holmes took his “intimate friend and associate” and many, but not all, of the stories’ narrator, Dr. John H. Watson, as a roommate in 221B Baker Street, London.  It is from here that he runs his detection service.

Much of what we know about Holmes’ habits and personality comes from Watson’s narrations.  Watson describes Holmes as a “bohemian,” with little care for tidiness and order.  Holmes is often found rummaging through mounds of disorder in order to find a specific document or relative item.  He often skips meals and starves himself at times of “intense intellectual activity,” smokes despite Watson’s condemnations of “tobacco poisoning,” and uses cocaine to “stimulate his brain when it is not in use.”  At times, a hint of arrogance is apparent in Holmes’ personality, though he doesn’t seek fame (or friends, “I was never a very sociable fellow . . . 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,” he tells Watson in The Adventure of Gloria Scott) and is neutral to the police assuming credit for his work.  Some suggest that Holmes showed signs of Asperger’s syndrome based on his ability to notice minute detail and his disinterest in interpersonal relationships.  And there are those who propose he was maniac-depressive, apparent in his fluctuating moments of intense self-absorption closely followed by chatty enthusiasm.

Holmesian deduction (improperly named for the inductive reasoning composing his method) is Holmes’ primary method of investigation in which he draws inferences based on practicalities or the best explanations.  “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth,” he’s aptly quoted regularly.

Sherlock Holmes detective sensation endures.  His character has since been explicitly and subtly adapted (such ad Dr. Gregory House of the Television series House M.D.) and his adventures have been further popularized on stage and screen — in fact, you can catch Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows playing in theaters right now.


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