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Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who first appeared in publication in 1887. He is the creation of Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A brilliant Londonmarker-based "consulting detective", Holmes is famous for his intellectual prowess and is renowned for his skilful use of astute observation, deductive reasoning (though in reality, he uses abductive reasoning) and forensic skills to solve difficult cases.

Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories that feature Holmes. The first story, A Study in Scarlet, appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual in 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 1875 up to 1907, with a final case in 1914.

All but four stories are narrated by Holmes' friend and biographer, Dr. John H. Watson, two are narrated by Holmes himself and two others are written in the third person. In two stories ("The Musgrave Ritual" and "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott"), Holmes tells Watson the main story from his memories, whereas Watson becomes the narrator of the frame story.

Conan Doyle said that the character of Holmes was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, for whom Doyle had worked as a clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmarymarker. Like Holmes, Bell was noted for drawing large conclusions from the smallest observations.


The first appearance of Holmes, 1887

Early life

Explicit details about Sherlock Holmes' life outside of the adventures recorded by Dr. Watson are few and far between in Conan Doyle's original stories; nevertheless, incidental details about his early life and extended families do construct a loose biographical picture of the detective.

An estimate of Holmes' age in the story "His Last Bow" places his birth around 1854; commonly, the date is cited as 6 January. However, on her website, Laurie R. King gives an argument for a younger Holmes, with a birth date somewhere between 1863 and 1868.

Holmes states that he first developed his deduction methods while an undergraduate. The author Dorothy L. Sayers suggested that, given details in two of the Adventures, Holmes must have been at Cambridge rather than Oxford and that "of all the Cambridge colleges, Sidney Sussex [College] perhaps offered the greatest number of advantages to a man in Holmes’ position and, in default of more exact information, we may tentatively place him there". His earliest cases, which he pursued as an amateur, came from fellow university students. According to Holmes, it was an encounter with the father of one of his classmates that led him to take up detection as a profession and he spent the six years following university working as a consulting detective, before financial difficulties led him to take Watson as a roommate, at which point the narrative of the stories begins.

From 1881, Holmes is described as having lodgings at 221B Baker Streetmarker, Londonmarker, from where he runs his private detective agency. 221B is a flat up seventeen steps, stated in an early manuscript to be at the "upper end" of the road. Until the arrival of Dr. Watson, Holmes works alone, only occasionally employing agents from the city's underclass, including a host of informants and a group of street children he calls the Baker Street Irregulars. The Irregulars appear in three stories, "The Sign of the Four", "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Adventure of the Crooked Man".

Little is said of Holmes' family. His parents are unmentioned in the stories and he merely states that his ancestors were "country squires". In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", Holmes claims that his great-uncle was Vernet, the Frenchmarker artist. He has an older brother, Mycroft, a government official, who appears in three stories; he is mentioned in a number of others. Mycroft has a unique civil service position as a kind of memory-man or walking database for all aspects of government policy. Mycroft is described as even more gifted than Sherlock in matters of observation and deduction. However, he lacks Sherlock's drive and energy, preferring to spend his time at ease in the Diogenes Club, described as "a club for the most un-clubbable men in London."

It's unclear whether Holmes has any other siblings. In "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", Holmes says, "I confess that it is not the situation which I should like to see a sister of mine apply for", leading some to suppose the existence of same. But he mentions this only to warn a woman in a case, taking her as his sister; therefore, this may be a mere figure of speech.

Life with Dr Watson

Holmes shares the majority of his professional years with his good friend and chronicler Watson, who lives with Holmes for some time before his marriage in 1887, and again after his wife's death; his residence is maintained by his landlady, Mrs. Hudson.

Watson has two roles in Holmes' life. First, he gives practical assistance in the conduct of his cases; he is the detective's right-hand man, acting variously as look-out, decoy, accomplice and messenger. Second, he is Holmes' chronicler (his "Boswell" as Holmes refers to him). Most of the Holmes stories are frame narratives, written from Watson's point of view as summaries of the detective's most interesting cases. Holmes is often described as criticising Watson's writings as sensational and populist, suggesting that they neglect to accurately and objectively report the pure calculating "science" of his craft.

Nevertheless, Holmes' friendship with Watson is undoubtedly his most significant relationship. In several stories, Holmes' fondness for Watson—often hidden beneath his cold, intellectual exterior—is revealed. In "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs", Watson is wounded in a confrontation with a villain; while the bullet wound proves to be "quite superficial," Watson is moved by Holmes' reaction:

In all, Holmes is described as being in active practice for twenty-three years, with Watson documenting his cases for seventeen of them.


Holmes retires to a bee farm on the Sussex Downs in 1903-04, where he takes up the hobby of beekeeping as his primary occupation, eventually producing a "Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen." Only one adventure, narrated by Holmes himself pursuing the case as an amateur, takes place during the detective's retirement.

Habits and personality

Watson describes Holmes as "bohemian" in habits and lifestyle. According to Watson, Holmes is an eccentric, with no regard for contemporary standards of tidiness or good order. In an early story, Watson describes Holmes as:

What appears to others as chaos, however, is to Holmes a wealth of useful information. Throughout the stories, Holmes would dive into his apparent mess of random papers and artifacts, only to retrieve precisely the specific document or eclectic item he was looking for.

In matters of personal hygiene, by contrast, Holmes is described in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" as having a "cat-like" love of personal cleanliness. This in no way appears to hinder his intensely practical pursuit of his profession, however; in the first Holmes story, "A Study in Scarlet", his hands are discoloured with acid stains, while later Holmes uses drops of his own blood to conduct chemical experiments.

Watson frequently makes note of Holmes' erratic eating habits. The detective is often described as starving himself at times of intense intellectual activity, such as during "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder" where, according to Watson:

His chronicler does not consider Holmes' habitual use of a pipe, or his less-frequent use of cigarettes and cigars, a vice. Nor, does Watson condemn Holmes' willingness to bend the truth or break the law on behalf of a client (e.g., lying to the police, concealing evidence or breaking into houses) where he feels it morally justifiable.

Holmes is portrayed as a patriot, acting on behalf of the government in matters of national security in a number of stories. He also carries out counter-intelligence work in His Last Bow, set at the beginning of WWI. As shooting practice, the detective adorned the wall of his Baker Street lodgings with "VR" (Victoria Regina) in bullet pocks made by his pistol.

Holmes has an ego that at times borders on arrogant, albeit with justification; he draws pleasure from baffling police inspectors with his superior deductions. He does not seek fame, however, and is usually content to allow the police to take public credit for his work. It's often only when Watson publishes his stories that Holmes' role in the case becomes apparent.

Holmes' demeanour is presented as dispassionate and cold. Yet when in the midst of an adventure, Holmes can sparkle with remarkable passion. He has a flair for showmanship and will prepare elaborate traps to capture and expose a culprit, often to impress Watson or one of the Scotland Yardmarker inspectors.

Use of drugs

Holmes occasionally uses addictive drugs, especially when lacking stimulating cases. He is a habitual cocaine user, which he injects in a "seven-per-cent solution," using a special syringe that he keeps in a leather case. Holmes is also an occasional user of morphine, but expressed strong disapproval on visiting an opium den. All three were legal in late-19th-century England. Both Watson and Holmes are serial tobacco users, including cigarettes, cigars and pipes. Indeed, Holmes is expert at identifying tobacco ash residues, having penned a monograph on the subject.

Dr Watson reflects Victorian medical orthodoxy by having no medical objection to Holmes' drug use. Morally, he disapproves of his friend's habit, describing it as the detective's "only vice," and expressing concern over its possible effect on Holmes' mental health and superior intellect. In later stories, Watson claims to have "weaned" Holmes off drugs. Even so, according to his doctor friend, Holmes remains an addict whose habit is "not dead, but merely sleeping."

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 seldom revealed exactly how much he charges for his services. In "A Scandal in Bohemia", he is paid the staggering sum of one thousand pounds (300 in gold and 700 in notes) as advance payment for "present expenses." 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' 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 Dutch 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 autographed 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' 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 aristocrat and industrialists, and had also been consulted by impoverished pawnbrokers and humble governesses on the lower rungs of society.

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 for the costs of recovering the stolen gems, and also claims the reward the banker had put for their recovery.

Relationships with women

The only woman to impress Holmes was Irene Adler, who was always referred to by Holmes as "The Woman". Holmes himself is never directly quoted as using this term—even though he does mention her actual name several times in other cases. Adler is one of the few women who are mentioned in multiple Holmes stories, though she actually appears in person in only one, "A Scandal in Bohemia".

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 demonstrates clear interest in several of the more charming female clients that come his way (in particular, Violet Hunter in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches"). 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 brought to him) invigorating, as distinct to any romantic interest. These episodes show 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." However, as Doyle remarked to muse Joseph Bell, "Holmes is as inhuman as a Babbage's calculating machine and just about as likely to fall in love".

A further point of interest in Holmes' relationships with women is that the only joy he derives 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," and Holmes is quoted as saying, "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..." This references Holmes' 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." Again in The Sign of the Four, Watson quotes Holmes as saying, "I would not tell them too much. Women are never to be entirely trusted, -- not the best of them." Watson notes that while he dislikes and distrusts them, he is nonetheless a "chivalrous opponent."

Methods of detection

Holmesian deduction

Holmes' primary intellectual detection method is deductive reasoning of the solution to a crime.The Critical Thinking Co.™ Staff."Sherlock Holmes: The Skill That Made Him Famous!". October, 2005. />. November 10, 2009. "From a drop of water," he writes, "a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlanticmarker or a Niagaramarker 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.

Holmes' 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 may be observed in the following example, 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:

In this case, Holmes employed several connected principles:

  • 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 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."

Deductive reasoning allows Holmes to impressively reveal a stranger's occupation, such as a Retired Sergeant of Marines in A Study in Scarlet; a former ship's carpenter turned pawnbroker in "The Red-Headed League"; and a billiard-marker and a retired artillery NCO in "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter". Similarly, by studying inanimate objects, Holmes is able to make astonishingly detailed deductions about their owners, including Watson's pocket-watch in "The Sign of the Four," as well as a hat, a pipe, and a walking stick in other stories.

Once he has amassed a large body of evidence and deduced a number of possible explanations, Holmes proceeds to find the one explanation that fits all the facts of the case to produce a solution. As Holmes explains to Watson, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."


Holmes displays a strong aptitude for acting and disguise. In several stories, he adopts disguises to gather evidence while 'under cover' so convincing that even Watson fails to penetrate them, such as in "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", "The Man with the Twisted Lip" and "A Scandal in Bohemia". In other adventures, Holmes feigns being wounded or ill to give effect to his case, or to incriminate those involved, as in "The Adventure of the Dying Detective."

Weapons and martial arts

Pistols Holmes and Watson carry pistols with them; in the case of Watson often his old service revolver. However, Watson only describes these weapons as being used on seven occasions.

Holmes brandishing a weapon.
Cane Holmes, as a gentleman, often carries a stick or cane. He is described by Watson as an expert at singlestick, and twice uses his cane as a weapon.

Sword In "A Study in Scarlet" Watson describes Holmes as an expert with a sword—although none of the stories have Holmes using a sword. It is mentioned in "Gloria Scott" that Holmes practiced fencing.

Riding crop In several stories, Holmes appears equipped with a riding crop. In "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" he uses it to lash out at a venomous snake, and in "A Case of Identity" comes close to thrashing a swindler with it. Using a "hunting crop," Holmes knocks a pistol from John Clay's hand in "The Red-Headed League."

Fist-fighting Holmes is described as a formidable bare-knuckle fighter. In The Sign of the Four, Holmes introduces himself to a prize-fighter as:

Holmes engages in hand to hand combat with his adversaries on occasions throughout the stories, inevitably emerging the victor. It is iterated in "Gloria Scott" that Holmes trained as a boxer.

Martial arts "The Adventure of the Empty House", Holmes recounts to Watson how he used martial arts to overcome Professor Moriarty and fling his adversary to his death at the Reichenbach Fallsmarker. He states that "I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanesemarker system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me." The name "baritsu" appears to be a reference to the real-life martial art of bartitsu.

Knowledge and skills

In the very first story, A Study in Scarlet, something of Holmes' 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 influenced Holmes to become a detective: a college friend's father richly complimented his deductive skills. Holmes maintains strict adherence to scientific methods, and focuses on logic and the powers of observation and deduction.

In A Study in Scarlet, Holmes claims he does not know that the Earth revolves around the sun, as such information is irrelevant to his work. Directly after having heard that fact from Watson, he says he will immediately try to forget it. He says he believes that the mind has a finite capacity for information storage, and so learning useless things would merely reduce his ability to learn useful things. Dr Watson subsequently assesses Holmes' abilities thus:

  1. Knowledge of Literature — Nothing.
  2. Knowledge of Philosophy — Nothing.
  3. Knowledge of Astronomy — Nothing.
  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 knowledge of the language would be of doubtful direct utility for detective work. Later stories also contradict the list. Despite Holmes' supposed ignorance of politics, in "A Scandal in Bohemia" he immediately recognises the true identity of the supposed "Count von Kramm". Regarding non-sensational literature, his speech is replete with references to the Bible, Shakespeare, even Goethe.

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, 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 regarded "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".

Holmes' 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 “premise” that an unmarried woman will seek her most valuable possession in case of fire, whereas a married woman will grab her baby instead. In the first story, A Study in Scarlet, Holmes claims to have invented a chemical process to detect old blood stains—although different blood types would not be recognised until years later.

Despite the excitement of his life (or perhaps seeking to leave it behind) Holmes retired to the Sussex Downsmarker to take up beekeeping ("The Second Stain"), and wrote a book on the subject, entitled "Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen". 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.



1852 microscope
Arch shown in a fingerprint
Human hair under 200-times magnification

Sherlock Holmes remains a great inspiration for forensic science, especially for the way his acute study of a crime scene yields small clues as to the precise sequence of events. He makes great use of trace evidence such as shoe and tire impressions, as well as fingerprints, ballistics and handwriting analysis, now known as questioned document examination. Such evidence is used to test theories conceived by the police, for example, or by the investigator himself. All of the techniques advocated by Holmes would later become reality, but were generally in their infancy at the time Conan Doyle was writing. In many of his reported cases, Holmes frequently complains of the way the crime scene has been contaminated by others, especially by the police, emphasising the critical importance of maintaining its integrity, a now well-known feature of crime scene examination.

Owing to the small scale of the trace evidence (such as tobacco ash, hair or fingerprints), he often uses a magnifying glass at the scene, and an optical microscope back at his lodgings in Baker Streetmarker. He uses analytical chemistry for blood residue analysis as well as toxicology examination and determination for poisons. Holmes seems to have maintained a small chemistry laboratory in his lodgings, presumably using simple wet chemical methods for detection of specific toxins, for example. Ballistics is used when spent bullets can be recovered, and their calibre measured and matched with a suspect murder weapon.

Holmes was also very perceptive of the dress and demeanour of his clients and others, noting style and state of wear of their clothes, any contamination (such as clay on boots), their state of mind and physical condition in order to infer their origin and recent history. Skin marks such as tattoos could reveal much about their past history. He applied the same method to personal items such as walking sticks (famously in The Hound of the Baskervilles) or hats (in the case of The Blue Carbuncle, with small details such as medallions, wear and contamination yielding vital indicators of their absent owners.

One surprising omission from the stories is the use of photography for recording the crime scene, a method now fully exploited by investigators. Forensic photography is well developed in the modern armoury of forensic methods. Even before Holmes' time, high quality photography was used to record accident scenes, as in the Tay Bridge disastermarker of 1879, for example. Other railway accidents were also recorded, such as the Staplehurst rail crashmarker of 1865. It was widely used later in the century to record the faces of criminals to build index files, as well as crime scenes, especially those involving homicide.

Role in the history of the detective story

Although Sherlock Holmes isn't the original fiction detective (he was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe's C. Auguste Dupin and Émile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq), his name has become a by-word for the part. His stories also include several detective story characters such as the loyal but less intelligent assistant, a role for which Dr Watson has become the archetype. The investigating detective became a popular genre with many authors such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers after the demise of Holmes, with characters such as Hercule Poirot, and Lord Peter Wimsey. Forensic methods become less important than the psychology of the criminal, despite the strong growth in forensics in use by the police in the early 20th century.

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 intelligence was 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 Holmesians. 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 221Bmarker. One well-known example of this is the character Gregory House on the show House M.D, whose name and apartment number are both references to Holmes. Often the simplest reference is to dress anybody who does some kind of detective work in a deerstalker and cloak. 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 incorrect attribution is that Holmes, throughout the entire novel series, is never explicitly described as wearing a "deerstalker hat." Although, Holmes does don "an ear flapped travelling cap" in "The Adventure of Silver Blaze". Sidney Paget first drew Holmes wearing the deerstalker cap and inverness cape in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" and subsequently in several other stories.

The Great Hiatus

Holmes and Moriarty fighting over the Reichenbach Falls.
Art by Sidney Paget.
Holmes aficionados 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 first set of 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 revived 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 entitled "The Great Man Takes a Walk." 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 other 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 had 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 was never quite the same man. 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). 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
In 1934 the Sherlock Holmes Society, in London, and the Baker Street Irregulars, in New York were founded. Both are still active (though the Sherlock Holmes Society was dissolved in 1937 to be resuscitated only in 1951). The London-based society is one of many worldwide who arrange visits to the scenes of the Sherlock Holmes adventures, such as the Reichenbach Fallsmarker in the Swiss Alpsmarker.

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.


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 Baker Street Sitting-Room reconstruction, are still open to the public.In 1990, the Sherlock Holmes Museummarker opened in Baker Street London and the following year in Meiringen, Switzerland another museum opened; 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.


Adaptations of the original stories

The enduring popularity of Sherlock Holmes has led to many stage and cinematic adaptations of Conan Doyle's work. 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.

William Gillette’s play, Sherlock Holmes, or The Strange Case of Miss Faulkner, was not a dramatization of any one adventure. Rather, it was a synthesis of several, based on A Scandal in Bohemia, with the Holmes-Moriarty exchange from The Final Problem, as well as elements from The Copper Beeches and A Study in Scarlet. This play formed the basis for Gillette's 1916 motion picture, Sherlock Holmes.

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, as well as a number of radio plays. 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 broadcast a series of five made-for-television films, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, starring Vasily Livanov as Holmes and Vitaly Solomin as Watson. The series were produced at the Lenfilm movie studio and contained a total of eleven parts.

In the 2009 movie Sherlock Holmes, based on the graphic novel by Lionel Wigram and directed by Guy Ritchie, the role of Holmes is performed by Robert Downey Jr., in a reinterpretation more focused in the character's martial abilities.

Related and derivative works

In addition to the Sherlock Holmes corpus, Conan Doyle's "The Lost Special" (1898) 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 (and earlier) 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 anthologies 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.

In 1907, Sherlock Holmes began featuring in a series of German booklets. Among the writers was Theo van Blankensee. Watson had been replaced by a 19 year old assistant from the street, among his Baker Street Irregulars, with the name Harry Taxon, and Mrs. Hudson had been replaced by one Mrs. Bonnet. From number 10 the series changed its name to "Aus den Geheimakten des Welt-Detektivs". The French edition changed its name from "Les Dossiers Secrets de Sherlock Holmes" to "Les Dossiers du Roi des Detectives".

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.

Laurie R. King recreates Sherlock Holmes in her Mary Russell series (starting with The Beekeeper's Apprentice), set during the First World War and the 1920s. Her Holmes is (semi) retired in Sussex, where he is literally stumbled over by a teenage Russell. Recognizing a kindred spirit, he gradually trains her as his apprentice. As of 2009 the series includes nine full length novels and a short story tie-in with a book from her Kate Martinelli series, The Art of Detection.

Carole Nelson Douglas' series the Irene Adler Adventures is based on the character Irene Adler from Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia." The first book, Good Night, Mr. Holmes, retells "A Scandal in Bohemia" from Irene's point of view. The series is narrated by Adler's companion, Penelope Huxleigh, in a role similar to that of Dr. Watson.

The film They Might Be Giants, is a 1971 romantic comedy based on the 1961 play of the same name (both written by James Goldman) in which the character Justin Playfair, played by George C. Scott, is convinced he is Sherlock Holmes, and manages to convince many others of same, including the psychiatrist Dr. Watson, played by Joanne Woodward, who is assigned to evaluate him so he can be committed him to a mental institution.

The film Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) explores youthful adventures of Holmes and Watson as boarding school students, a period unexamined by Conan Doyle.

The film The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire was produced in 2002. It is loosely based on the Doyle story The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire.

The original stories

The original Sherlock Holmes stories consist of fifty-six short stories and four novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


Short stories

For more detail see List of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes short stories.

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

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


  2. Dorothy L. Sayers, "Holmes’ College Career," for the Baker Street Studies, edited by H.W. Bell, 1934.
  3. "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual".
  4. "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott"
  5. "The Greek Interpreter", "The Final Problem" and "The Bruce-Partington Plans";
  6. including "The Empty House".
  7. "The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger".
  8. "His Last Bow"
  9. "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane"
  10. "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton"; "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client"
  11. "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"; "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty".
  12. In The Adventure of the Naval Treaty, Holmes remarks that, of his last fifty-three cases, the police have had all the credit in forty-nine.
  13. See, for example, Inspector Lestrade at the end of "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder".
  14. "The Sign of Four"
  15. "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter"
  16. A Study In Scarlet.
  17. "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle".
  18. "The Adventure of the Yellow Face".
  19. The Hound of the Baskervilles.
  20. In The Sign of the Four, they both fire at the Andaman Islander. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, both Holmes and Watson fire. In "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", Watson fires at and kills the mastiff. In "The Adventure of the Empty House", Watson pistol-whips Colonel Sebastian Moran. In "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs", Holmes pistol-whips Killer Evans after Watson is shot. In "The Musgrave Ritual", it is revealed that Holmes decorated the wall of their flat with a patriotic "V.R." done in bullet marks. In "The Problem of Thor Bridge", Holmes uses Watson's revolver in a reconstruction of the crime.
  21. See "The Red-Headed League" and "The Adventure of the Illustrious Client".
  22. However, in the Granada TV version of "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty" Holmes uses a sword cane to force Joseph Harrison to give up the stolen treaty.
  23. Inter alia "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist" and "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty".
  24. His Last Bow.
  25. In the stories by Conan Doyle, Holmes often remarked that his logical conclusions were "elementary," in that he considered them to be simple and obvious. He also, on occasion, referred to his friend as "my dear Watson." However, the complete phrase, "Elementary, my dear Watson," does not appear in any of the sixty Holmes stories written by Conan Doyle. One of the closest examples to this phrase appears in the "The Adventure of the Crooked Man". Upon Holmes's explanation of a deduction: It does appear at the very end of the 1929 film, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, the first Sherlock Holmes sound film, and may owe its familiarity to its use in Edith Meiser's scripts for The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes radio series. The phrase was first used by American actor William Gillette though.
  26. - Author Profile: Laurie R. King.
  27. Nordberg, Nils: Døden i kiosken. Knut Gribb og andre heftedetektiver.

See also


  • Fenoli Marc, Qui a tué Sherlock Holmes ? [Who shot Sherlock Holmes ?], Review L’Alpe 45, Glénat-Musée Dauphinois, Grenoble-France, 2009. ISBN 978-2-723469-02-9
  • Lieboe, Eli. Doctor Joe Bell: Model for Sherlock Holmes. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1982; Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-87972-198-5

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