Sherlock Holmes

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Dr. Watson and Holmes by Signey Paget

Sherlock Holmes is one of the greatest and best-known fictional characters in English literature. He was the central character in fifty-six short stories and four novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes is a "consulting detective" specializing in crime, and the stories are told by his friend and chronicler, the famous Dr. John H. Watson. Holmes is known for using his amazing art of deduction to solve what seem to be unsolvable crimes—though he would be the first to tell anyone who asked, as he frequently tells Dr. Watson, that he is only observing "elementary" facts that anyone having eyes to see, would see just as well.

Holmes' observation of the significance of the "dog that didn't bark" in the presence of someone thought to be a stranger in Silver Blaze is an important lesson about the immense meaning of things not seen or heard:[1]

The plodding Scotland Yard detective (Gregory): "Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Sherlock Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

Real-life Basis

The character of Holmes is likely based on Joseph Bell, a medical lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Bell emphasized the observation of detail before making a diagnosis and was a pioneer of forensic science. Conan Doyle worked for Bell as a clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.[2]


Of Holmes' early life and family, Conan Doyle said but little, though many dedicated fans have attempted to supply the details. Christopher Morley, founder of the first Sherlock Holmes fan club, "The Baker Street Irregulars,"[3] estimated the date of Holmes' birth at January 6, 1854.[4]

Sherlock Holmes is the younger by seven years of two brothers. The other brother, Mycroft Holmes, has a reputation for having as much power of observation and deduction as does his brother Sherlock. But instead of being a consulting detective, Mycroft is a sort of minister-without-portfolio in Her Majesty's government (Victoria of the United Kingdom)--and in fact Watson observes that "occasionally he is the British government."[5]

Speculation as to the full extent, and the pedigree, of Holmes' family abounds. However, only Mycroft Holmes, which Conan Doyle specifically mentions, may be considered a canonical relative of his.

The one love of Holmes' life was Irene Adler, whom he called The Woman. Holmes never married.[4]

Sherlock Holmes lived at 221b Baker Street in London.[4] When he was not being a consulting detective, Holmes could be found playing his violin, or taking cocaine, an addiction that he never fully conquered, but in later life was able to manage, with Watson's help.[6]

Original short stories and novels


Short story collections:

Allusions to Holmes by other authors

Sherlock Holmes greatly influenced other writers of detective stories. Some authors have written their own Holmes books. Larry Millett is one. These extra-canonical works fall into three broad categories:

  1. Further adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the Victorian and Edwardian periods in which he lived. These include hypothetical stories that have Holmes investigating such real-life criminals as Jack the Ripper, and at least one story (The Seven Percent Solution) in which Watson prevails upon Holmes to consult Sigmund Freud for help with his cocaine addiction.
  2. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes after he somehow finds himself in the late twentieth century after someone—usually Professor Moriarty—has had him cryogenically preserved against his will. In this same category one can include the adventures of amnesiacs who become Sherlock Holmes because of their own obsessions with the canonical works.
  3. Adventures of other putative members of Holmes' family. In this category also fall stories that have canonical characters behaving out-of-character.[7]

Effect on modern culture

Recently a movement has sprung up to place a plaque on this residence, this although Holmes was a fictional character. Several films and parodies have been made based on him as well. One such parody is Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler from VeggieTales.

Copyright issues

The complete body of Sherlock Holmes' work is not yet in the public domain. The last canonical collection, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, is still under copyright in the United States. This copyright will expire between 2016 and 2023, as per the terms of the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998.[8] The Estate of Dame Jean Conan Doyle owns the remaining US copyrights.[9]

However, copyrights in Canada are already expired (since 1980), as are copyrights in the United Kingdom (expired 2000).[9]

Portrayals of Holmes

Many different actors have portrayed Sherlock Holmes in a variety of motion picture and television projects. Perhaps the two actors who portrayed Holmes most often were:

  1. Basil Rathbone, who portrayed Holmes in several films set in the middle twentieth century, when the films were made. He also played Holmes on a weekly radio show from 1939 to 1945.
  2. Jeremy Brett, who portrayed Holmes in adaptations, produced by John Hawkesworth, of all four novels and fifty of the fifty-six short stories. Brett died before Hawkesworth could complete his grand project of adapting all of the Sherlock Holmes stories for television. Critics regard Brett's portrayal as the most definitive and realistic portrayal of Holmes ever made.


"When you have eliminated all which is impossible then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." - Sherlock Holmes[10]

See also


  1. Project Gutenberg - Silver Blaze
  2. Perry Internet Consulting. "Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Joseph Bell." The Chronicles of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 2007. Retrieved May 19, 2007.
  3. Authors unknown, "Societies," Retrieved April 20, 2007.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Authors unknown, "The World of Holmes and Watson," Retrieved April 20, 2007.
  5. Authors unknown, "The Brother of the Detective", Retrieved April 20, 2007.
  6. First fully disclosed in The Sign of Four, Holmes injected "a seven-per-cent solution." Then in The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter, Watson discloses his efforts to bring Holmes' addiction under some semblance of control. Authors unknown, "A Seven-Percent Solution," The Chronicles of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Perry Internet Consulting, 2007. Retrieved November 8, 2007.
  7. At least one writer of horror and science fiction has even suggested that Holmes is the nephew of Count Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler, through Vlad's brother Radu the Handsome, on the theory that Vlad and Radu both became vampires. See Fred Saberhagen, The Holmes-Dracula File, Tor Books, 1978, ISBN 0812523849
  8. Dennis S. Karjala, Opposing Copyright Extension, Protecting the Public Domain, Arizona State University, March 8, 2007. Retrieved April 20, 2007.
  9. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes