World for Women at a Crossroads – 1887
The year 1887 was the unofficial ending of the bustle, and for many reasons, the Victorian Era too, even if Queen Victoria would live until 1901. The world of the Victorians and especially for Victorian women was changing at a fast pace as the 20th Century approached.
Melissa’s character, set in London (and America – see below), was exposed to a face-paced world. The key difference we believe, between the earlier era of 1881-1887 and the later 1888-1898 was the term “play”, as in “leisure time” or “choosing what to do”. Unique to almost every other historical era for women, this time allowed women to decide what they would do with their time, and how they would do it. The aprons had come off (unless they wanted to leave them on).
“Cult of Beauty”
—— ERA IN BRIEF 1881-1887 ——
It was the end of Queen Victoria’s time, & as the powerful empires of the world became settled & innovation & technology advanced, women found themselves with more choices than ever. While the everyday woman wore whatever was practical to her position, those positions varied greatly, & so did the choices. Three strong fashion movements rose in contradiction to each other: the “Cult of Beauty/Tailor Made” with its designer dictates for rigid corsetry & huge bustles, the “Aesthetics” who removed all structures & let the hair frizz free, & the “Mass Produced” simple & functional apparel for the new, working woman.
—— WORLD SITUATION 1881-1887 ——
- France gave America the Statue of Liberty as a gift in 1886
- While conflict & independence over control of South American, African, & Pacific island territories continued for some, there was generally a sense of stability regarding the more powerful empires as boundaries had been established in Europe
- Communication & trade continued to increase between Europe, America, & Asia
- Countries were working on internal balance; e.g. American workers were rioting for rights, while the Netherlands were establishing policies for higher education
- Women’s rights were being openly discussed in America & England, with women attending universities to pursue professions such as medicine
- The first female medical school student graduated in Holland
- Monarchies were nearing their end of dominance, as other governmental structures were put into place
- Alfonso XIII of Spain would end the Spanish monarchy as one of the last remaining sovereigns in the world
- Gas & electricity were being installed through wires & distribution systems
- Electricity was used in manufacturing & transportation
- There were many fires & explosions around the world as gas & electricity were not quite safe yet
- The world of entertainment was evolving to include concepts & depictions of & by women, that would have been considered scandalous in previous eras
- Cottage industries changed completely to mass production except in cases of specialty production of goods & services
- Romance of the American West & adventure continued through literature & travels & investments by Europeans in American business & industry. These investments would lead to political change in America in the next century
- America’s world dominance as an innovator continued with construction of skyscrapers, elevated trains, & the fountain pen
—— INTERESTING FACTS 1881-1887 ——
- Women were more aware of the world around them & were becoming more independent
- Individualism demanded there be many choices for lifestyle & fashion
- The first Avon Lady was a man in 1886. He was a door to door book salesman who wanted to add a perfume gift as incentive to buy
- There were 3 directions for fashion: Mass produced, “Tailor-made”, & the “Aesthetic” & “Artistic” (“Dress Reform”) movements
—— THE ERA IN BRIEF 1888-1898 ——
Science merged with fashion & everything was bigger in the ’90’s: bustles the size of horses, busts that threw one off balance, clouds of hair, & ideas that would change the world. It seemed powerful women needed BIG sleeves & tiny waists to succeed. Men & women were equal in that no one could figure out how to use the new-fangled contraptions that were being invented every day. Fast cars, tea parties, & fluffy afternoons in the park were the norm for some, while others spent their time in business meetings or riding a “Bicycle Built for Two”. The world was changing fast towards the new century when women would leave their subservient roles & their large bu-stles behind.
—— WORLD SITUATION 1888-1898 ——
- By 1889, England & European countries were at war again, this time in Africa
- Conflict & change of power led to the start of the American-Spanish War
- The Philippines became independent of Spain, & China leased Hong Kong territories to the United Kingdom for 99 years
- College sports were invented for men & women including cheerleading for American football
- Sports were in great popularity
- Literature about sports such as “Casey at the Bat” was in great popularity too
- The Eiffel Tower was completed in Paris
- The Columbia Exposition in the US showed all the new innovations to the world
- A gold rush in the Yukon opened up exploration & trade
- Communication & trade continued to expand worldwide
- Literature & art expanded into new realms of thought such as “The Time Machine” & Impressionist painting
- The first modern Olympics were held in Athens
- Innovations continued including development of automobiles, fast ships,& machine guns
- Inventions kept coming, including the Ferris wheel, Kodak camera, & Bayer aspirin
—— FACTS OF THE TIME 1888-1898——
- This time was yielding completely to the confident, strong, independent woman
- It was the transition between the Victorian era of restraint, & the loose fanciful life of the Edwardian
- The Victorian era had spanned 64 years, & changes in attitude were constantly shifting during that time
- Roles of women & women’s independence had somewhat paralleled the life of Queen Victoria herself who was crowned at age 18, & grew up during her reign
- The Edwardian era was named for Edward VII King of England who loved extravagant pleasures with balls, house parties, travel, athletics, & mobility
- Edwardian was defined by the laces, frills, & fluff of a FEELING
- In a fast-paced world of technological change, Edwardians tried to recapture a romantic & nostalgic past
- The era focused on a leisure class with leisurely pursuits
- Cars, races, & the drive towards women suffrage marked the time
- There was tea on the terrace alongside garden parties, regattas, & bountiful picnics
- Social & political structure was built on a rising middle class due to the industrial revolution
- The middle class “aped” the upper class
- Middle & upper classes had outfits specific to every occasion & activity
- The attitude of men in the period was highlighted by the author Tennyson who wrote of “women staying by the hearth with their needles whilst men wielded their swords”
- By the end of Queen Victoria’s reign there were great differences apparent between classes, & this could easily be seen by the garments they wore
- The Victorian head of household dressed his women specifically to show off wealth
- A wealthy woman’s day was governed by rules of etiquette requiring up to 6 wardrobe changes a day, & 3 seasons of change
- Fashion plates were keys to give visual clues about how to dress for status
- For the very poor of Britain things were quite different. For them, 5th hand clothes were typical, as the average poor mill worker could only afford the food left over from a rich household, & survived on inferior meats, tainted breads, porridge, cheese, herring, or kippers
- The most acceptable career for all women was still marriage
- For the upper classes & rising middle class, to prepare for courtship, the typical girl was groomed like a racehorse
- She was required to sing, play an instrument, speak French or Italian, & to be innocent, virtuous, biddable, dutiful, & ignorant of intellectual opinion
- Women were expected to remain within marriage or outside of it as weak & helpless as a delicate flower incapable of making decisions beyond selecting the menu & ensuring her children were taught moral values
- A gentlewoman ensured the home was a place of comfort for her husband & family, away from the stresses of an industrial world
- An Edwardian woman’s prime use was to bear a large family & maintain a smooth family atmosphere so a man need not bother with domestic matters. He assumed the house would run smoothly so he could spend his focus on making money
- A wealthy wife was supposed to spend her time reading, sewing, receiving guests, going visiting, letter writing, seeing to servants, & dress the part of her husband’s social representative
- Even in high society, men kept mistresses, yet their wives were expected to be faithful no matter what
- If a woman took a lover, it was not made public, or she would be cut out of society
- Men could have a mistress & be warmly welcomed everywhere
- It was a hypocritical period when relationships were artificial until 1887 when the Married Woman’s Property Act gave women the right to own property
- Before the Act, anything a woman owned became her husband’s at their marriage, including herself
- If a wife separated from her husband, she had no rights of access to see her children, & no chance of acceptance in society ever again
- The Act changed all of that
- Fashion history usually depicts the style of those with wealth, & who met these cultural standards, showing typical excessive elements such as tiny V waists, layering of trims, & gigantic sleeves
- As the 1880’s progressed, dress became more & more lavish until clothing was nearly buried by lace & beading at the turn of the century
YET ANOTHER IDEAL WOMAN EMERGES
- The Gibson Girl the new ideal woman. While models were found to depict her, she never really existed
- This imaginary woman had large bosoms & hips, snub nose, small mouth, & upswept full hair
- The Gibson Girl was almost a merge of the extremes of the bustle era with all its draping, folds, & fuss, the Edwardian concept of the “Grand Dame” with her lace & tea, & the smooth lines of the natural forms & frizzy hair of “Aesthetic dress”
- The Gibson Girl image of the 1890’s combined elements of older images of caucasian female beauty: the “fragile lady” with slender lines & a sense of respectability & the “voluptuous woman” with large bust & hips who was never vulgar or lewd
- She was refined in beauty, spirit, & was calm, independent, confident, & sought personal fulfillment
- Portrayed at ease & always stylish
- She was often depicted attending college & vying for a good mate
- She would NEVER participate in the suffrage movement
- A member of upper class society
- More athletic-shaped; she was often depicted cycling in Central Park
- She exercised & was emancipated to the extent she could enter the workplace
- She had an exaggerated “S” curve torso achieved by wearing a swan bill corset
- The Gibson Girl Preoccupation with youthful features & ephemeral beauty
- She had a thin neck & her hair was piled high on her head in bouffant, pompadour, or chignon “waterfall of curls”
- The new image would be rehashed in each generation, eventually evolving into the “girl next door”, a national standard of wholesome beauty by standards of the ideal femininity of the time
- Of course, the Gibson Girl was invented by a man
- He created her based on his sister, & marketed the idea very successfully throughout the world
Interesting events in the United States
From the records, it would appear there were a lot of train wrecks, buildings burning down, floods, and diseases at the time. At the same time, there were great advancements in technology such as pasterization and electricity.
(taken from https://worldhistoryproject.org/1887):
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West tours Europe
In 1887 he took the show to Britain in celebration of the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria. The show was staged in London before going on to Birmingham and then Salford near Manchester, where it stayed for five months. In 1889 the show toured Europe. In 1890 he met Pope Leo XIII.
Frank Lloyd Wright arrived in Chicago in search of employment.
Resulting from the devastating Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and recent population boom, new development was plentiful in the city. He later recalled that his first impressions of Chicago were that of grimy neighborhoods, crowded streets and disappointing architecture, yet he was determined to find work. Within days, and after interviews with several prominent firms, he was hired as a draftsman with the architectural firm of Joseph Lyman Silsbee.
Wright previously collaborated with Silsbee — accredited as the draftsman and the construction supervisor — on the 1886 Unity Chapel for Wright’s family in Spring Green, Wisconsin. While with the firm, he also worked on two other family projects: the All Souls Church in Chicago for uncle, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, and the Hillside Home School I in Spring Green for two of his aunts. Other draftsmen that also worked for Silsbee in 1887 included future architects, Cecil Corwin, George W. Maher, and George G. Elmslie. Wright soon befriended Corwin, with whom he lived until he found a permanent home.
War of Currents era begins
During the initial years of electricity distribution, Edison’s direct current was the standard for the United States and Edison was not inclined to lose all his patent royalties.
Direct current worked well with incandescent lamps that were the principal load of the day, and with motors. Direct current systems could be directly used with storage batteries, providing valuable load-leveling and backup power during interruptions of generator operation. Direct current generators could be easily paralleled, allowing economical operation by using smaller machines during periods of light load and improving reliability. At the introduction of Edison’s system, no practical AC motor was available. Edison had invented a meter to allow customers to be billed for energy proportional to consumption, but this meter only worked with direct current. As of 1882 these were all significant technical advantages of direct current.
From his work with rotary magnetic fields, Tesla devised a system for generation, transmission, and use of AC power. He partnered with George Westinghouse to commercialize this system. Westinghouse had previously bought the rights to Tesla’s polyphase system patents and other patents for AC transformers from Lucien Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs.
Oscar Wilde is Appointed Editor of ‘The Lady’s World’
His flair, having previously only been put into socialising, suited journalism and did not go unnoticed.
With his youth nearly over, and a family to support, in mid-1887 Wilde became the editor of The Lady’s World magazine, his name prominently appearing on the cover. He promptly renamed it The Woman’s World and raised its tone, adding serious articles on parenting, culture, and politics, keeping discussions of fashion and arts. Two pieces of fiction were usually included, one to be read to children, the other for the ladies themselves. Wilde used his wide artistic acquaintance to solicit good contributions, including those of Lady Wilde and his wife Constance, while his own “Literary and Other Notes” were themselves popular and amusing.
The Dawes Act Is Passed
The Dawes Act was enacted on February 8, 1887 regarding the distribution of land to Native Americans in Oklahoma.
Named after its sponsor, U.S. Senator Henry L. Dawes of Massachusetts, the act was amended in 1891 and again in 1906 by the Burke Act. The act remained in effect until 1934.
Through the years, Native Americans became US citizens by:
1. Treaty provision (as with the Mississippi Choctaw)
2. Registration and land allotment under the Dawes Act of February 8, 1887
3. Issuance of Patent in Fee Simple
4. Adopting Habits of Civilized Life
5. Minor Children
6. Citizenship by Birth
7. Becoming Soldiers and Sailors in the U.S. Armed Forces
8. Marriage to a US citizen
9. Special Act of Congress.
“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all noncitizen Native Americans born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided, That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Native American to tribal or other property.”— Indian Citizenship Act of 1924
The Bussey Bridge Train Disaster
The recent terrible disaster at the White River bridge, on the Central Vermont railroad, was paralleled, and, with the exception of the fire feature, almost exactly duplicated at Bussey bridge yesterday, on the Dedham branch of the Boston and Providence railroad. At White river four cars were thrown from the track upon a bridge seventy feet above a river, and went down with the bridge, resulting in the death of thirty-two people and the injury of nearly forty more.
Pasteur Institute Is Founded
The international subscription launched by the French Académie des Sciences in 1887 to allow Louis Pasteur to found his institute and thus provide rabies vaccinations, pursue the study of infectious diseases, and disseminate knowledge, was successful not only in France but in a vast number of countries. The Institut Pasteur, established by government decree on 4 June 1887, officially opened on 14 November 1888.
Custody of Blind Tom Wiggins granted to Eliza Stutzbach, widow of John Bethune
On July 30, 1887, a federal court ordered General Bethune to surrender Tom at Arlington, Virginia into the hands of Charity and his former daughter-in-law Eliza Bethune.
This case set a precedent regarding women’s rights.
Theatre Royal Fire (Britain)
On the 5th September 1887, on the first night of a romantic comedy called Romany Rye, and with an audience of 800, a naked gas flame ignited some drapes in the fly’s. Within moments, panic broke out as the flames spread.
Despite the valiant efforts of the West of England Insurance Co., fire brigade, using the “Little West” fire engine, the flames spread through the building.
Robert Pople, landlord of the New London Inn was quickly on the scene with ladders to rescue the audience. He used the inn to shelter the victims, and the stables to lay out the dead.
There were 186 victims, many from the upper gallery who could not escape because of poorly designed exits – many victims were suffocated in the crush. Most were buried in a mass grave in Higher Cemetery and a memorial cross carved by Harry Hems placed over the spot.
The Theatre Royal of Exeter had opened less that a year before the disaster. It was designed by one of the most respected theatre architect of the time, Charles John Phipps
The theatre was destroyed, but since that date, stringent safety regulations have been in force in British theatres.
221b Baker Street & Similar
If this depiction is for a Holmes or similar character, then they are in the city of London and surrounds. The late Victorian era has been depicted in movies and literature in England as dark, smelly, dismal, and impoverished. In reality, the entire Victorian Era was one of technological and industrial development, along with resultant changes to class and society. (see the continuing sections on Victorian Life).
To sum it up, there were abundant opportunities for many, especially for those of the working class to rise by their efforts. The system of nobility was being replaced by one of wealth and power. Many were leaving the rural life to work in the cities, while at the same time, many were leaving the cities to enjoy or invest in the country. There was a lot of coming and going, especially given the development of a transportation system including streetcars and trains available to anyone who could afford the fare.
Situation n London 1887
(Taken from https://www.historyofengland.net/london-history)
London Underground in Operation
The transport system now known as the London Underground began in 1863 with the Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground railway. Over the next forty years, the early sub-surface lines reached out from the urban centre of the capital into the surrounding rural margins, leading to the development of new commuter suburbs. At the turn of the nineteenth century, new technology—including electric locomotives and improvements to the tunnelling shield—enabled new companies to construct a series of “tube” lines deeper underground.
This was Victorian London, the capital city of England and the seat of the largest empire in the world. For most of this period London was still filthy, Cholera and TB were endemic, life expectancy only some 20 years and crime was out of control. Population growth was partly to blame (1million to 7million in the 100 years to 1900) but so was the indifferent attitude of the rich to the poor. This included the Queen (Victoria) and the government. The well off never visited the poor areas.
A quick look at a map of the time compared to say 1750 and the change would be obvious. Together with a general expansion outwards the big change was the populating of South London for the first time. Southwark had been inhabited since Roman times being directly accessed by the only bridge across the Thames for 1700 years (London Bridge). Much of the land round Southwark was marshy and not suitable for building until properly drained (around 1800.)
Six new bridges had been built in the previous century but only two, Blackfriars and Westminster served central London. After 1800 Londoners got four more to service the centre and particularly the newly built up areas south of the river. ( Southwark Bridge 1819, Lambeth Bridge 1862, Vauxhall Bridge 1816 and Tower Bridge 1894.)
Also tunnels at Deptford/Surrey Docks (Rotherhithe) and Greenwich (Blackwall).
Transportation within and without the City
This was the age of the train which conveniently transported the rich into the new developing suburbs. Rich Inner Londoners would travel by Handsome Cab (Horse drawn for up to four persons) and the not so rich would use the horse drawn Omnibuses. Two decker two horse “buses” carrying some 20 to 30 people.
(The idea and the name was pinched from Paris as a means of transport for everybody. Unfortunately still too expensive for the poor.
Inner London and suburban transport was soon to be augmented by the Tubes, (Metro) initially the “Tuppeny Tube” which is now part of the central line. New Cross, Wimbledon and Clapham in the south and Hounslow and Harrow in the west could all be reached by “tube” by 1900. Inner London and the most of the well known suburbs could also be reached by horse drawn tram (Running on rails in the street) Notably Catford, Dulwich, Tooting, Hampstead, Highgate and Woodgreen.
The two major road developments of the period were: the building of the Holborn Viaduct (1869) designed to speed up the horse drawn traffic east west between the City and the West End as the poor horses struggled up and down the fleet river valley at Ludgate. Plus the Victoria Embankment(1870) which “reclaimed” some 37 acres of land from the Thames from the Houses of Parliament north and west to Blackfriars Bridge by building a new river wall 500 feet out into the Thames. This extra land was mainly used to create a grand new riverside road and underneath, part of the Tube. Below the Strand new gardens were created which are still there for busy Londoners to enjoy.
Other road improvements included; The creation of Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column, Piccadilly Circus and the North Circular road. Slum clearance allowed the creation of Kingsway and the Aldwich.
Housing, Health, & Sanitation
“The Great Stink” of 1858 sums up the situation. All sewers from the old north side of the Thames flowed directly into the river mainly by open surface drains. The inhabitants of the newly populated south were served with drinking water pumped from the Thames, extracted directly adjacent to the outflows of these sewers. Life expectancy was short! Those living in the north were better off, as much of their water was supplied by a new river diverted for the purpose.
The area of North Kensington (close-by the current Kensington Hilton and Shepherds Bush) was populated by households who made a living out of a few pigs, part time building labouring and other seasonal work. Housing which they built themselves was not much better than hovels from the dark ages and this was Victorian England. Similar areas were Hoxton, Whitechapel, Wapping, Bermondsey and Southwark.
Meanwhile the rich were living in Victorian splendour in Mayfair, Wimpole Street and out in the new suburbs. Clapham was a good example were new posh housing estates were developed with large detached houses in secluded gardens.
A new building phenomena developed that of the spec builder i.e. building houses, flats and office blocks before occupants had been identified. In Notting Hill the spec builders caught a cold, building too many posh terraced houses for the upper middle classes. To sell them they had to be subdivided and sold to the lower middle classes.
The idea of flats (apartments) was copied from the French and anybody who lived in a flat was naturally assumed to live like the French and have a mistress! Office blocks for multi ownership were also constructed.
This was the start of the great London department stores. All these names are still in business; Maples and Heals in Tottenham Court Rd were adjacent at the time to the furniture makers in London. Sainsbury, originally a butcher, Marks and Spencer (actually started in the north of England.) W.H. Smith and William Whitely. The latter has just totally renovated its store in Bayswater. Plus of course the most famous and still perhaps the most useful, Harrods in Knightsbridge and Selfridges in Oxford Street. All department stores were originally designed to service women who by 1860 could conveniently visit the London shopping areas by train for a days shopping to furnish their new “mansions” in the suburbs.
London saw a huge influx of starving Irish fleeing the English fuelled Irish potato famine. (In Victorian times the Irish made up 5% of all Londoners, many living in extreme poverty in areas like Whitechapel, St Giles and Southwark). Later in this century there was another influx of Jews, refugees from eastern Europe particularly Russia and Poland. These Jews contributed hugely with their skills in the clothing industry and as financiers.
Industry and The Docks
During this period London was the biggest industrial town in England inspite of having no large factories. Indeed the average business employed about 10 people.
There was however a huge change as the skilled artisan who supplied his customers direct was replaced by machines and large retail stores where there was no direct contact between customer and craftsman. This caused workshops to move out of the centre and become little impersonal factories in the outskirts of places like Southwark and Deptford. There was no help in those days in re-housing the workers and they would swap one slum for another. Transport was available but only the middle classes could afford it.
The London Docks continued their expansion eastwards (down stream where the river was wider and deeper.) The Royal Victoria(1855) and the Royal Albert(1880) docks were developed on the north bank of the Thames opposite Woolwich. Access was by train to Silvertown and by the Woolwich ferry and eventually by Blackwall tunnel in the last decade of the century.
Rugby, Football(Soccer) and Tennis clubs were founded but these had to compete with Bear bating (Dogs versus Bears), Cock fighting and open air bare fist boxing until they were eventually banned. Londoners had always enjoyed skating most winters, initially at Moorefield’s marshes outside Moorgate until they were drained, and on the Thames which iced over most winters to such a degree that ice fairs were popular including the traditional roasting of whole oxen. The Thames no longer iced over when the flow of water was increased under London Bridge by widening the span of each section.
Thanks mainly to Henry 8th London has magnificent parks created from land he acquired from the church at the time of The Dissolution. Hyde Park, Green Park, St James Park and Regents Park are perhaps the best known. The Victorians continued to create new recreational parks, notably Battersea Park in South London and Victoria Park in the East End.
It is into the 1887 London environment that fictional character Sherlock Holmes enters. While Melissa’s ensemble is not specifically a Holmes character, it is going to be used in the teaching of literary pieces such as the Holme’s stories as well as others, and to wear to Sherlock Holmes events.
We have selected the year 1887 because it is accurate to the ensemble that we are trying to replicate, plus the year fits right smack in the middle of the Holmes books. Specifically, “The Sign of the Four”, set on the London Docks, ships, and streets of London 1888 is perfect to lend reality to the depiction. Picture an industrial pier such as this as the setting for a novel:
Or if you’d like your story to be set in a brighter light, this location on the Thames instead:
Rather than writing what has already been done by experts and passionate fans and historical researchers, we present the explanation of Sherlock Holmes word for word from two sources (below)
“The author, (Sir) Arthur Conan-Doyle wrote his first Holmes story, A Study In Scarlet, in 1886. Sherlock Holmes, a fictitious character was based on a real man, Dr Joseph Bell, a renown forensic scientist at Edinburgh University whom Conan-Doyle studied under. Conan-Doyle wrote 56 self contained short stories & 4 novels (60 adventures in total) The collection is known as The Cannon.
The first Sherlock Holmes film was produced in 1900. In 1939 the novels were developed as a series of films staring Basil Rathbone, establishing the trademark deerstalker, pipe & spyglass as a global visual icon.
Conan Doyle wrote four novels and fifty-six short stories that feature Holmes. 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.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.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 Infirmary. Like Sherlock Holmes, Bell was noted for drawing large conclusions from the smallest observations. Michael Harrison has argued in a 1971 article in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine that the character was inspired by Wendell Scherer a “consulting detective” in a murder case that allegedly received a great deal of newspaper attention in England in 1882.
Perhaps one of the quirkiest twenty first-century homages to Holmes belongs to the award-winning American TV series House, which began transmitting in 2004, starring the British actor, Hugh Laurie. Now into his fifth season, Dr Gregory House is in many respects a medical Sherlock Holmes, and series creator, David Shore, has admitted that even Dr House name is meant as a subtle homage. The show draws heavily upon Holmes archetypes, such as House reliance on psychology to solve a case, his reluctance to accept cases he does not find interesting, his drug addiction (Vicodin instead of cocaine), his home address (apartment 221B), a complete disregard for social mores, personal talents (playing piano and guitar, rather like Holmes violin), as well as Holmes characteristic ability to judge a situation correctly with almost no effort. Dr House confidant and sounding board is Dr James Wilson.
©2015 sherlockholmes.com | All Rights Reserved”
“Sherlock Holmes is a fictional private detective created by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Referring to himself as a “consulting detective” in the stories, Holmes is known for his proficiency with observation, deduction, forensic science, and logical reasoning that borders on the fantastic, which he employs when investigating cases for a wide variety of clients, including Scotland Yard.
As Conan Doyle wrote to Joseph Bell, “Holmes is as inhuman as a Babbage‘s calculating machine and just about as likely to fall in love”. Holmes says of himself that he is “not a whole-souled admirer of womankind”, and that he finds “the motives of women … inscrutable. … How can you build on such quicksand? Their most trivial actions may mean volumes…. In The Sign of Four, he says, “Women are never to be entirely trusted—not the best of them”, a feeling Watson notes as an “atrocious sentiment”. In “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane”, Holmes writes, “Women have seldom been an attraction to me, for my brain has always governed my heart”. At the end of The Sign of Four, Holmes states that “love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true, cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgement.” Ultimately, Holmes claims outright that “I have never loved”.
But while Watson says that the detective has an “aversion to women”, he also notes Holmes as having “a peculiarly ingratiating way with [them]”. Watson notes that their housekeeper Mrs. Hudson is fond of Holmes because of his “remarkable gentleness and courtesy in his dealings with women. He disliked and distrusted the sex, but he was always a chivalrous opponent”. However, in “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton“, the detective becomes engaged under false pretenses in order to obtain information about a case, abandoning the woman once he has the information he requires.
First appearing in print in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet, the character’s popularity became widespread with the first series of short stories in The Strand Magazine, beginning with “A Scandal in Bohemia” in 1891; additional tales appeared from then until 1927, eventually totalling four novels and 56 short stories. All but one are set in the Victorian or Edwardian eras, between about 1880 and 1914. Most are narrated by the character of Holmes’s friend and biographer Dr. John H. Watson, who usually accompanies Holmes during his investigations and often shares quarters with him at the address of 221B Baker Street, London, where many of the stories begin.
Though not the first fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes is arguably the best known. By the 1990s there were already over 25,000 stage adaptations, films, television productions and publications featuring the detective, and Guinness World Records lists him as the most portrayed literary human character in film and television history. Holmes’s popularity and fame are such that many have believed him to be not a fictional character but a real individual; numerous literary and fan societies have been founded on this pretense. Avid readers of the Holmes stories helped create the modern practice of fandom. The character and stories have had a profound and lasting effect on mystery writing and popular culture as a whole, with the original tales as well as thousands written by authors other than Conan Doyle being adapted into stage and radio plays, television, films, video games, and other media for over one hundred years.
Inspiration for the character
Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930), Sherlock Holmes’s creator, in 1914
Edgar Allan Poe‘s C. Auguste Dupin is generally acknowledged as the first detective in fiction and served as the prototype for many later characters, including Holmes. Conan Doyle once wrote, “Each [of Poe’s detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed… Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?” Similarly, the stories of Émile Gaboriau‘s Monsieur Lecoq were extremely popular at the time Conan Doyle began writing Holmes, and Holmes’s speech and behaviour sometimes follow that of Lecoq. Holmes and Watson discuss Dupin and Lecoq near the beginning of A Study in Scarlet.
Conan Doyle repeatedly said that Holmes was inspired by the real-life figure of Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, whom Conan Doyle met in 1877 and had worked for as a clerk. Like Holmes, Bell was noted for drawing broad conclusions from minute observations. However, he later wrote to Conan Doyle: “You are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it”. Sir Henry Littlejohn, Chair of Medical Jurisprudence at the University of Edinburgh Medical School, is also cited as an inspiration for Holmes. Littlejohn, who was also Police Surgeon and Medical Officer of Health in Edinburgh, provided Conan Doyle with a link between medical investigation and the detection of crime.
Other possible inspirations have been proposed, though never acknowledged by Doyle, such as Maximilien Heller, by French author Henry Cauvain. In this 1871 novel (sixteen years before the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes), Henry Cauvain imagined a depressed, anti-social, opium-smoking polymath detective, operating in Paris. It is not known if Conan Doyle read the novel, but he was fluent in French. Similarly, Michael Harrison suggested that a German self-styled “consulting detective” named Walter Scherer may have been the model for Holmes.
Family and early life
Details of Sherlock Holmes’s life in Conan Doyle’s stories are scarce and often vague. Nevertheless, mentions of his early life and extended family paint a loose biographical picture of the detective.
A statement of Holmes’s age in “His Last Bow” places his year of birth at 1854; the story, set in August 1914, describes him as sixty years of age. His parents are not mentioned, although Holmes mentions that his “ancestors” were “country squires“. In “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter“, he claims that his grandmother was sister to the French artist Vernet, without clarifying whether this was Claude Joseph, Carle, or Horace Vernet. Holmes’s brother Mycroft, seven years his senior, is a government official. Mycroft has a unique civil service position as a kind of human database for all aspects of government policy. Sherlock describes his brother as the more intelligent of the two, but notes that Mycroft lacks any interest in physical investigation, preferring to spend his time at the Diogenes Club.
Holmes says that he first developed his methods of deduction as an undergraduate; his earliest cases, which he pursued as an amateur, came from fellow university students. A meeting with a classmate’s father led him to adopt detection as a profession.
Life with Watson
Financial difficulties lead Holmes and Dr. Watson to share rooms together at 221B Baker Street, London. Their residence is maintained by their landlady, Mrs. Hudson. Holmes works as a detective for twenty-three years, with Watson assisting him for seventeen of those years. Most of the stories are frame narratives written from Watson’s point of view, as summaries of the detective’s most interesting cases. Holmes frequently calls Watson’s records of Holmes’s cases sensational and populist, suggesting that they fail to accurately and objectively report the “science” of his craft:
Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it [A Study in Scarlet] with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story or an elopement into the fifth proposition of Euclid. … Some facts should be suppressed, or, at least, a just sense of proportion should be observed in treating them. The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which I succeeded in unravelling it.
Nevertheless, Holmes’s friendship with Watson is his most significant relationship. When Watson is injured by a bullet, although the wound turns out to be “quite superficial”, Watson is moved by Holmes’s 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’s clients vary from the most powerful monarchs and governments of Europe, to wealthy aristocrats and industrialists, to impoverished pawnbrokers and governesses. He is known only in select professional circles at the beginning of the first story, but is already collaborating with Scotland Yard. However, his continued work and the publication of Watson’s stories raises Holmes’s profile, and he rapidly becomes well known as a detective; so many clients ask for his help instead of (or in addition to) that of the police that, Watson writes, by 1887 “Europe was ringing with his name” and by 1895 Holmes has “an immense practice”. Police outside London ask Holmes for assistance if he is nearby. A Prime Minister and the King of Bohemia visit 221B Baker Street in person to request Holmes’s assistance; the President of France awards him the Legion of Honour for capturing an assassin; the King of Scandinavia is a client; and he aids the Vatican at least twice. The detective acts on behalf of the British government in matters of national security several times, and declines a knighthood “for services which may perhaps some day be described”. However, he does not actively seek fame and is usually content to let the police take public credit for his work.
The Great Hiatus
The first set of Holmes stories was published between 1887 and 1893. Conan Doyle killed off Holmes in a final battle with the criminal mastermind Professor James Moriarty in “The Final Problem” (published 1893, but set in 1891), as Conan Doyle felt that “my literary energies should not be directed too much into one channel.” However, the reaction of the public surprised Doyle very much. Distressed readers wrote anguished letters to The Strand Magazine, which suffered a terrible blow when 20,000 people canceled their subscriptions to the magazine in protest. Conan Doyle himself received many protest letters, and one lady even began her letter with “You brute”. Legend has it that Londoners were so distraught upon hearing the news of Holmes’s death that they wore black armbands in mourning, though there is no known contemporary source for this; the earliest known reference to such events comes from 1949. However, the recorded public reaction to Holmes’s death was unlike anything previously seen for fictional events.
After resisting public pressure for eight years, Conan Doyle wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles (serialised in 1901–02, with an implicit setting before Holmes’s death). In 1903, Conan Doyle wrote “The Adventure of the Empty House“; set in 1894, Holmes reappears, explaining to a stunned Watson that he had faked his death to fool his enemies. Following “The Adventure of the Empty House”, Conan Doyle would sporadically write new Holmes stories until 1927.
Holmes aficionados refer to the period from 1891 to 1894—between his disappearance and presumed death in “The Final Problem” and his reappearance in “The Adventure of the Empty House”—as the Great Hiatus. The earliest known use of this expression dates to 1946.
In His Last Bow, the reader is told that Holmes has retired to a small farm on the Sussex Downs and taken up beekeeping as his primary occupation. The move is not dated precisely, but can be presumed to be no later than 1904 (since it is referred to retrospectively in “The Adventure of the Second Stain“, first published that year). The story features Holmes and Watson coming out of retirement to aid the British war effort. Only one other adventure, “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane“, takes place during the detective’s retirement.
Personality and habits
Watson describes Holmes as “bohemian” in his habits and lifestyle. Said to have a “cat-like” love of personal cleanliness, at the same time Holmes is an eccentric with no regard for contemporary standards of tidiness or good order. Watson describes him as
in his personal habits one of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow-lodger to distraction. [He] keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece. … He had a horror of destroying documents…. Thus month after month his papers accumulated, until every corner of the room was stacked with bundles of manuscript which were on no account to be burned, and which could not be put away save by their owner.
While Holmes can be dispassionate and cold, during an investigation he is animated and excitable. He has a flair for showmanship, often keeping his methods and evidence hidden until the last possible moment so as to impress observers). His companion condones the detective’s willingness to bend the truth (or break the law) on behalf of a client—lying to the police, concealing evidence or breaking into houses—when he feels it morally justifiable.
Except for that of Watson, Holmes avoids casual company. In “The Gloria Scott“, he tells the doctor that during two years at college he made only one friend: “I was never a very sociable fellow, Watson … I never mixed much with the men of my year”.
Holmes occasionally uses addictive drugs, especially in the absence of stimulating cases. He sometimes used morphine and sometimes cocaine, the latter of which he injects in a seven-percent solution; both drugs were legal in 19th-century England. As a physician, Watson strongly disapproves of his friend’s cocaine habit, describing it as the detective’s only vice, and concerned about its effect on Holmes’s mental health and intellect. In “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter“, Watson says that although he has “weaned” Holmes from drugs, the detective remains an addict whose habit is “not dead, but merely sleeping”.
Watson and Holmes both use tobacco, smoking cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Although his chronicler does not consider Holmes’s smoking a vice per se, Watson—a physician—does criticise the detective for creating a “poisonous atmosphere” in their confined quarters.
Holmes is known to charge clients for his expenses and claim any reward offered for a problem’s solution, such as in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band“, “The Red-Headed League“, and “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet“. The detective states at one point that “My professional charges are upon a fixed scale. I do not vary them, save when I remit them altogether”. In this context, a client is offering to double his fee, and it is implied that wealthy clients habitually pay Holmes more than his standard rate. In “The Adventure of the Priory School“, Holmes earns a £6,000 fee (at a time where annual expenses for a rising young professional were in the area of £500). However, Watson notes that Holmes would refuse to help even the wealthy and powerful if their cases did not interest him.
Irene Adler is a retired American opera singer and actress who appears in “A Scandal in Bohemia“. Although this is her only appearance, she is one of only a handful of people who best Holmes in a battle of wits, and the only woman. For this reason, Adler is the frequent subject of pastiche writing. The beginning of the story describes the high regard in which Holmes holds her:
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. … And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
Five years before the story’s events, Adler had a brief liaison with Crown Prince of Bohemia Wilhelm von Ormstein. As the story opens, the Prince is engaged to another. Fearful that the marriage would be called off if his fiancée’s family learns of this past impropriety, Ormstein hires Holmes to regain a photograph of Adler and himself. Adler slips away before Holmes can succeed. Her memory is kept alive by the photograph of Adler that Holmes received for his part in the case.
Knowledge and skills
Shortly after meeting Holmes in the first story, A Study in Scarlet (generally assumed to be 1881, though the exact date is not given), Watson assesses the detective’s abilities:
- Knowledge of Literature – nil.
- Knowledge of Philosophy – nil.
- Knowledge of Astronomy – nil.
- Knowledge of Politics – Feeble.
- Knowledge of Botany – Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
- 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.
- Knowledge of Chemistry – Profound.
- Knowledge of Anatomy – Accurate, but unsystematic.
- Knowledge of Sensational Literature – Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
- Plays the violin well.
- Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
- Has a good practical knowledge of British law.
Subsequent stories reveal that Watson’s early assessment was incomplete in places and inaccurate in others, due to the passage of time if nothing else. Despite Holmes’s supposed ignorance of politics, in “A Scandal in Bohemia” he immediately recognises the true identity of the disguised “Count von Kramm”. At the end of A Study in Scarlet, Holmes demonstrates a knowledge of Latin. The detective cites Hafez, Goethe, as well as a letter from Gustave Flaubert to George Sand in the original French. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the detective recognises works by Godfrey Kneller and Joshua Reynolds: “Watson won’t allow that I know anything of art, but that is mere jealousy since our views upon the subject differ”. In “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans“, Watson says that “Holmes lost himself in a monograph which he had undertaken upon the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus“, considered “the last word” on the subject.
In A Study in Scarlet, Holmes claims to be unaware that the earth revolves around the sun since such information is irrelevant to his work; after hearing that fact from Watson, he says he will immediately try to forget it. The detective believes that the mind has a finite capacity for information storage, and learning useless things reduces one’s ability to learn useful things. The later stories move away from this notion: in The Valley of Fear, he says, “All knowledge comes useful to the detective”, and in “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane”, the detective calls himself “an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles”. Looking back on the development of the character in 1912, Conan Doyle wrote that “In the first one, the Study in Scarlet, [Holmes] was a mere calculating machine, but I had to make him more of an educated human being as I went on with him.”
Holmes is a cryptanalyst, telling Watson that “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”. Holmes also demonstrates a knowledge of psychology in “A Scandal in Bohemia”, luring Irene Adler into betraying where she hid a photograph based on the premise that a woman will rush to save her most valued possession from a fire. Another example is in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle“, where Holmes obtains information from a salesman with a wager: “When you see a man with whiskers of that cut and the ‘Pink ‘un’ protruding out of his pocket, you can always draw him by a bet …. I daresay that if I had put 100 pounds down in front of him, that man would not have given me such complete information as was drawn from him by the idea that he was doing me on a wager”.
Maria Konnikova points out in an interview with D. J. Grothe that Holmes practices what is now called mindfulness, concentrating on one thing at a time, and almost never “multitasks.” She adds that in this he predates the science showing how helpful this is to the brain.
Holmes observes the dress and attitude of his clients and suspects, noting skin marks (such as tattoos), contamination (such as ink stains or clay on boots), emotional state, and physical condition in order to deduce their origins and recent history. The style and state of wear of a person’s clothes and personal items are also commonly relied on; in the stories Holmes is seen applying his method to items such as walking sticks, pipes, and hats. For example, in “A Scandal in Bohemia”, Holmes infers that Watson had got wet lately and had “a most clumsy and careless servant girl”. When Watson asks how Holmes knows this, the detective 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 the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, Dr. Watson compares Holmes to C. Auguste Dupin, Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional detective, who employed a similar methodology. Alluding to an episode in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue“, where Dupin determines what his friend is thinking despite their having walked together in silence for a quarter of an hour, Holmes remarks: “That trick of his breaking in on his friend’s thoughts with an apropos remark… is really very showy and superficial”. Nevertheless, Holmes later performs the same ‘trick’ on Watson in “The Cardboard Box“ and “The Adventure of the Dancing Men“.
Though the stories always refer to Holmes’s intellectual detection method as “deduction“, he primarily relies on abduction: inferring an explanation for observed details. “From a drop of water”, he writes, “a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other”. However, Holmes does employ deductive reasoning as well. The detective’s guiding principle, as he says in The Sign of Four, is: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. This type of problematic reasoning has been referred to as the Holmesian fallacy, or the Sherlock Holmes fallacy.
Though Holmes is famed for his reasoning capabilities, his investigative technique relies heavily on the acquisition of hard evidence. Many of the techniques he employs in the stories were at the time in their infancy.
The detective is particularly skilled in the analysis of trace evidence and other physical evidence, including latent prints (such as footprints, hoof prints, and shoe and tire impressions) to identify actions at a crime scene; using tobacco ashes and cigarette butts to identify criminals; handwriting analysis and graphology; comparing typewritten letters to expose a fraud; using gunpowder residue to expose two murderers; and analyzing small pieces of human remains to expose two murders.
Because of the small scale of much of his evidence, the detective often uses a magnifying glass at the scene and an optical microscope at his Baker Street lodgings. He uses analytical chemistry for blood residue analysis and toxicology to detect poisons; Holmes’s home chemistry laboratory is mentioned in “The Naval Treaty“. Ballistics feature in “The Adventure of the Empty House” when spent bullets are recovered to be matched with a suspected murder weapon, a practice which became regular police procedure only some fifteen years after the story was published.
Laura J. Snyder has examined Holmes’s methods in the context of mid- to late-19th-century criminology, demonstrating that, while sometimes in advance of what official investigative departments were formally using at the time, they were based upon existing methods and techniques. For example, fingerprints were proposed to be distinct in Conan Doyle’s day, and while Holmes used a thumbprint to solve a crime in “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” (generally held to be set in 1895), the story was published in 1903, two years after Scotland Yard’s fingerprint bureau opened. Nonetheless, Holmes inspired future generations of forensic scientists to think scientifically and analytically.
Holmes displays a strong aptitude for acting and disguise. In several stories (“The Sign of Four“, “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton“, “The Man with the Twisted Lip“, “The Adventure of the Empty House” and “A Scandal in Bohemia“), to gather evidence undercover he uses disguises so convincing that Watson fails to recognise him. In others (“The Adventure of the Dying Detective” and “A Scandal in Bohemia“), Holmes feigns injury or illness to incriminate the guilty. In the latter story, Watson says, “The stage lost a fine actor … when [Holmes] became a specialist in crime”.
Holmes and Watson often carry pistols with them to confront criminals—in Watson’s case, his old service weapon (probably a Mark III Adams revolver, issued to British troops during the 1870s). Holmes and Watson shoot the eponymous hound in The Hound of the Baskervilles, and in “The Adventure of the Empty House” Watson pistol-whips Colonel Sebastian Moran. In “The Problem of Thor Bridge“, Holmes uses Watson’s revolver to solve the case through an experiment.
As a gentleman, Holmes often carries a stick or cane. He is described by Watson as an expert at singlestick and uses his cane twice as a weapon. In A Study in Scarlet, Watson describes Holmes as an expert swordsman, and in “The Gloria Scott” the detective says he practised fencing while at university. In several stories (“A Case of Identity“, “The Red-Headed League”, “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons“) Holmes wields a riding crop, described in the latter story as his “favourite weapon”.
The detective is described (or demonstrated) as possessing above-average physical strength. In “The Yellow Face“, Holmes’s chronicler says, “Few men were capable of greater muscular effort.” In “The Adventure of the Speckled Band“, Dr. Roylott demonstrates his strength by bending a fire poker in half. Watson describes Holmes as laughing, “‘if he had remained I might have shown him that my grip was not much more feeble than his own.’ As he spoke he picked up the steel poker and, with a sudden effort, straightened it out again.”
Holmes is an adept bare-knuckle fighter; “The “Gloria Scott” mentions that Holmes boxed while at university. In “The Sign of Four“, he introduces himself to McMurdo, a prize fighter, as “the amateur who fought three rounds with you at Alison’s rooms on the night of your benefit four years back.” McMurdo remembers: “Ah, you’re one that has wasted your gifts, you have! You might have aimed high if you had joined the fancy.” In “The Yellow Face“, Watson says: “He was undoubtedly one of the finest boxers of his weight that I have ever seen”.
In “The Adventure of the Empty House“, Holmes tells Watson that he used a Japanese martial art known as baritsu to fling Moriarty to his death in the Reichenbach Falls. “Baritsu” is Conan Doyle’s version of bartitsu, which combines jujitsu with boxing and cane fencing.
The first two Sherlock Holmes stories, the novels A Study in Scarlet (1887) and The Sign of the Four (1890), were moderately well received, but Holmes first became widely popular early in 1891, when the first six short stories featuring the character were published in The Strand Magazine. Holmes became very popular in Britain and America. The character was so popular that in 1893, when Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Holmes in the short story “The Final Problem“, the strongly negative response from readers was unlike any previous public reaction to a fictional event. The Strand reportedly lost more than 20,000 subscribers as a result of Holmes’s death. Public pressure eventually contributed to Conan Doyle writing another Holmes story in 1901 and resurrecting the character in a story published in 1903.
Many fans of Sherlock Holmes have written letters to Holmes’s address, 221B Baker Street. Though the address 221B Baker Street did not exist when the stories were first published, letters began arriving to the large Abbey National building which first encompassed that address almost as soon as it was built in 1932. Fans continue to send letters to Sherlock Holmes; these letters are now delivered to the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Some of the people who have sent letters to 221B Baker Street believe Holmes is real. Members of the general public have also believed Holmes actually existed. In a 2008 survey of British teenagers, 58 percent of respondents believed that Sherlock Holmes was a real individual.
The Sherlock Holmes stories continue to be widely read. Holmes’s continuing popularity has led to many reimaginings of the character in adaptations. Guinness World Records, which awarded Sherlock Holmes the title for “most portrayed literary human character in film & TV” in 2012, released a statement saying that the title “reflects his enduring appeal and demonstrates that his detective talents are as compelling today as they were 125 years ago.”
The London Metropolitan Railway named one of its twenty electric locomotives deployed in the 1920s for Sherlock Holmes. He was the only fictional character so honoured, along with eminent Britons such as Lord Byron, Benjamin Disraeli, and Florence Nightingale.
A number of London streets are associated with Holmes. York Mews South, off Crawford Street, was renamed Sherlock Mews, and Watson’s Mews is near Crawford Place. The Sherlock Holmes is a public house in Northumberland Street in London which contains a large collection of memorabilia related to Holmes, the original collection having been put together for display in Baker Street during the Festival of Britain in 1951.
In 2002, the Royal Society of Chemistry bestowed an honorary fellowship on Holmes for his use of forensic science and analytical chemistry in popular literature, making him (as of 2019) the only fictional character thus honoured.
There are multiple statues of Sherlock Holmes around the world. The first, sculpted by John Doubleday, was unveiled in Meiringen, Switzerland, in September 1988. The second was unveiled in October 1988 in Karuizawa, Japan, and was sculpted by Yoshinori Satoh. The third was installed in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1989, and was sculpted by Gerald Laing. In 1999, a statue of Sherlock Holmes in London, also by John Doubleday, was unveiled near the fictional detective’s address, 221B Baker Street. In 2001, a sculpture of Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle by Irena Sedlecká was unveiled in a statue collection in Warwickshire, England. A sculpture depicting both Holmes and Watson was unveiled in 2007 in Moscow, Russia, based partially on Sidney Paget‘s illustrations and partially on the actors in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. In 2015, a sculpture of Holmes by Jane DeDecker was installed in the police headquarters of Edmond, Oklahoma, United States. In 2019, a statue of Holmes was unveiled in Chester, Illinois, United States, as part of a series of statues honouring cartoonist E. C. Segar and his characters. The statue is titled “Sherlock & Segar”, and the face of the statue was modelled on Segar.
The detective story
Although Holmes is not the original fictional detective, his name has become synonymous with the role. Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories introduced multiple literary devices that have become major conventions in detective fiction, such as the companion character who is not as clever as the detective and has solutions explained to him (thus informing the reader as well), as with Dr. Watson in the Holmes stories. Other conventions introduced by Doyle include the arch-criminal who is too clever for the official police to defeat, like Holmes’s adversary Professor Moriarty, and the use of forensic science to solve cases.
The Sherlock Holmes stories established crime fiction as a respectable genre popular with readers of all backgrounds, and Doyle’s success inspired many contemporary detective stories. Holmes influenced the creation of other “eccentric gentleman detective” characters, like Agatha Christie‘s fictional detective Hercule Poirot, introduced in 1920. Holmes also inspired a number of anti-hero characters “almost as an antidote to the masterful detective”, such as the gentleman thief characters A. J. Raffles (created by E. W. Hornung in 1898) and Arsène Lupin (created by Maurice Leblanc in 1905).
“Elementary, my dear Watson”
The phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” has become one of the most quoted and iconic aspects of the character. However, although Holmes often observes that his conclusions are “elementary”, and occasionally calls Watson “my dear Watson”, the phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson” is never uttered in any of the sixty stories by Conan Doyle. One of the nearest approximations of the phrase appears in “The Adventure of the Crooked Man” when Holmes explains a deduction: “‘Excellent!’ I cried. ‘Elementary,’ said he.”
William Gillette is widely considered to have originated the phrase with the formulation, “Oh, this is elementary, my dear fellow”, allegedly in his 1899 play Sherlock Holmes. However, the script was revised numerous times over the course of some three decades of revivals and publications, and the phrase is present in some versions of the script, but not others.
The exact phrase, as well as close variants, can be seen in newspaper and journal articles as early as 1909; there is some indication that it was clichéd even then. “Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary” appears in P. G. Wodehouse‘s novel Psmith, Journalist (serialised 1909–10). The phrase became familiar with the American public in part due to its use in The Rathbone-Bruce series of films from 1939 to 1946.
Museums and special collections
For the 1951 Festival of Britain, Holmes’s living room was reconstructed as part of a Sherlock Holmes exhibition, with a collection of original material. After the festival, items were transferred to The Sherlock Holmes (a London pub) and the Conan Doyle collection housed in Lucens, Switzerland by the author’s son, Adrian. Both exhibitions, each with a Baker Street sitting-room reconstruction, are open to the public.
In 1969, the Toronto Reference Library began a collection of materials related to Conan Doyle. Stored today in Room 221B, this vast collection is accessible to the public. Similarly, in 1974 the University of Minnesota founded a collection that is now “the world’s largest gathering of material related to Sherlock Holmes and his creator”. Access is closed to the general public, but is occasionally open to tours.
In 1990, the Sherlock Holmes Museum opened on Baker Street in London, followed the next year by a museum in Meiringen (near the Reichenbach Falls) dedicated to the detective. A private Conan Doyle collection is a permanent exhibit at the Portsmouth City Museum, where the author lived and worked as a physician.
Adaptations and derived works
The popularity of Sherlock Holmes has meant that many writers other than Arthur Conan Doyle have created tales of the detective in a wide variety of different media, with varying degrees of fidelity to the original characters, stories, and setting. The first known period pastiche dates from 1893. Titled “The Late Sherlock Holmes”, it was written by Conan Doyle’s close friend, J. M. Barrie.
Adaptations have seen the character taken in radically different directions or placed in different times or even universes. For example, Holmes falls in love and marries in Laurie R. King‘s Mary Russell series, is re-animated after his death to fight future crime in the animated series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, and is meshed with the setting of H. P. Lovecraft‘s Cthulhu Mythos in Neil Gaiman‘s “A Study in Emerald” (which won the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Short Story). An especially influential pastiche was Nicholas Meyer‘s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, a 1974 New York Times bestselling novel (made into the 1976 film of the same name) in which Holmes’s cocaine addiction has progressed to the point of endangering his career. It served to popularize the trend of incorporating clearly identified and contemporaneous historical figures (such as Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley, Sigmund Freud, or Jack the Ripper) into Holmesian pastiches, something Conan Doyle himself never did. Another common pastiche approach is to create a new story fully detailing an otherwise-passing canonical reference (such as an aside by Conan Doyle mentioning the “giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared” in “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire“).
Related and derivative writings
In addition to the Holmes canon, Conan Doyle’s 1898 “The Lost Special” features an unnamed “amateur reasoner” intended to be identified as Holmes by his readers. The author’s explanation of a baffling disappearance argued in Holmesian style poked fun at his own creation. Similar Conan Doyle short stories are “The Field Bazaar“, “The Man with the Watches”, and 1924’s “How Watson Learned the Trick“, a parody of the Watson–Holmes breakfast-table scenes. The author wrote other material featuring Holmes, especially plays: 1899’s Sherlock Holmes (with William Gillette), 1910’s The Speckled Band, and 1921’s The Crown Diamond (the basis for “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone“). These non-canonical works have been collected in several works released since Conan Doyle’s death.
In terms of writers other than Conan Doyle, authors as diverse as Anthony Burgess, Neil Gaiman, Dorothy B. Hughes, Stephen King, Tanith Lee, A. A. Milne, and P. G. Wodehouse have all written Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Contemporary with Conan Doyle, Maurice Leblanc directly featured Holmes in his popular series about the gentleman thief, Arsène Lupin, though legal objections from Conan Doyle forced Leblanc to modify the name to “Herlock Sholmes” in reprints and later stories. Famed American mystery writer John Dickson Carr collaborated with Arthur Conan Doyle’s son, Adrian Conan Doyle, on The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, a pastiche collection from 1954. In 2011, Anthony Horowitz published a Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk, presented as a continuation of Conan Doyle’s work and with the approval of the Conan Doyle estate; a follow-up, Moriarty, appeared in 2014. The “MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories” series of pastiches, edited by David Marcum and published by MX Publishing, has reached over a dozen volumes and features hundreds of stories echoing the original canon which were compiled for the restoration of Undershaw and the support of Stepping Stones School, now housed in it.
Some authors have written tales centred on characters from the canon other than Holmes. Anthologies edited by Michael Kurland and George Mann are entirely devoted to stories told from the perspective of characters other than Holmes and Watson. John Gardner, Michael Kurland, and Kim Newman, amongst many others, have all written tales in which Holmes’s nemesis Professor Moriarty is the main character. Mycroft Holmes has been the subject of several efforts: Enter the Lion by Michael P. Hodel and Sean M. Wright (1979), a four-book series by Quinn Fawcett, and 2015’s Mycroft Holmes, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse. M. J. Trow has written a series of seventeen books using Inspector Lestrade as the central character, beginning with The Adventures of Inspector Lestrade in 1985. Carole Nelson Douglas‘ Irene Adler series is based on “the woman” from “A Scandal in Bohemia”, with the first book (1990’s Good Night, Mr. Holmes) retelling that story from Adler’s point of view. Martin Davies has written three novels where Baker Street housekeeper Mrs. Hudson is the protagonist.
Laurie R. King recreated Holmes in her Mary Russell series (beginning with 1994’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice), set during the First World War and the 1920s. Her Holmes, semi-retired in Sussex, is stumbled upon by a teenaged American girl. Recognising a kindred spirit, he trains her as his apprentice and subsequently marries her. As of 2018, the series includes sixteen base novels and additional writings.
The Final Solution, a 2004 novella by Michael Chabon, concerns an unnamed but long-retired detective interested in beekeeping who tackles the case of a missing parrot belonging to a Jewish refugee boy. Mitch Cullin‘s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind (2005) takes place two years after the end of the Second World War, and explores an old and frail Sherlock Holmes (now 93) as he comes to terms with a life spent in emotionless logic; this was also adapted into a film, 2015’s Mr. Holmes.
There have been a host of scholarly works dealing with Sherlock Holmes, some working within the bounds of the Great Game, and some written with the understanding that Holmes is a fictional character. In particular, there have been three major annotated editions of the complete series. The first was William Baring-Gould’s 1967 The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. This two-volume set was ordered to fit Baring-Gould’s preferred chronology, and was written from a Great Game perspective. The second was 1993’s The Oxford Sherlock Holmes (general editor: Owen Dudley Edwards), a nine-volume set written in a straight scholarly manner. The most recent is Leslie Klinger’s The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (2004–05), a three-volume set that returns to a Great Game perspective.
Adaptations in other media
The 1899 play Sherlock Holmes, by Conan Doyle and William Gillette, was a synthesis of several Conan Doyle stories. In addition to its popularity, the play is significant because it, rather than the original stories, introduced one of the key visual qualities commonly associated with Holmes today: his calabash pipe; the play also formed the basis for Gillette’s 1916 film, Sherlock Holmes. Gillette performed as Holmes some 1,300 times. In the early 1900s, H. A. Saintsbury took over the role from Gillette for a tour of the play. Between this play and Conan Doyle’s own stage adaptation of “The Adventure of the Speckled Band“, Saintsbury portrayed Holmes over 1,000 times.
Holmes’s first screen appearance was in the 1900 Mutoscope film, Sherlock Holmes Baffled. From 1921 to 1923, Eille Norwood played Holmes in forty-seven silent films (45 shorts and two features), in a series of performances that Conan Doyle spoke highly of. 1929’s The Return of Sherlock Holmes was the first sound title to feature Holmes. From 1939 to 1946, Basil Rathbone played Holmes and Nigel Bruce played Watson in fourteen U.S. films (two for 20th Century Fox and a dozen for Universal Pictures) and in The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes radio show. While the Fox films were period pieces, the Universal films abandoned Victorian Britain and moved to a then-contemporary setting in which Holmes occasionally battled Nazis.
The 1984–85 Italian/Japanese anime series Sherlock Hound adapted the Holmes stories for children, with its characters being anthropomorphic dogs. The series was co-directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Between 1979 and 1986, the Soviet studio Lenfilm produced a series of five television films, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The series were split into eleven episodes and starred Vasily Livanov as Holmes and Vitaly Solomin as Watson. For his performance, in 2006 Livanov was appointed an Honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire.
Jeremy Brett played the detective in Sherlock Holmes for Granada Television from 1984 to 1994. Watson was played by David Burke (in the first two series) and Edward Hardwicke (in the remainder). Brett and Hardwicke also appeared on stage in 1988–89 in The Secret of Sherlock Holmes, directed by Patrick Garland.
Bert Coules penned The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams/Andrew Sachs as Watson, based on throwaway references in Conan Doyle’s short stories and novels. Coules had previously dramatised the entire Holmes canon for BBC Radio Four.
The 2009 film Sherlock Holmes earned Robert Downey Jr. a Golden Globe Award for his portrayal of Holmes and co-starred Jude Law as Watson. Downey and Law returned for a 2011 sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. In March 2019 a release date of 21 December 2021 was set for the third film in the series.
Benedict Cumberbatch plays a modern version of the detective (with Martin Freeman as John Watson) in the BBC One TV series Sherlock, which premiered in 2010. In the series, created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the stories’ original Victorian setting is replaced by present-day London, with Watson a (modern) Afghan war veteran. Similarly, Elementary premiered on CBS in 2012, and ran until for seven seasons, until 2019. Set in contemporary New York, the series featured Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as a female Dr. Joan Watson. With 24 episodes per season, by the end of season two Miller became the actor who had portrayed Sherlock Holmes the most in television and/or film.
The 2015 film Mr. Holmes starred Ian McKellen as a retired Sherlock Holmes living in Sussex, in 1947, who grapples with an unsolved case involving a beautiful woman. The film is based on Mitch Cullin‘s 2005 novel A Slight Trick of the Mind. The 2018 television adaptation, Miss Sherlock, is a Japanese-language production, and the first adaptation with a woman (portrayed by Yūko Takeuchi) in the signature role. The episodes are based in modern-day Tokyo, with many references to Conan Doyle’s stories.