Created by Arthur Conan Doyle, in the late 19th century, the character of Sherlock Holmes is one of the best surviving of the period. As a ‘consulting detective,’ Holmes investigates various mysteries and is most often accompanied by Dr. Watson, a close friend and the narrator of the stories. These characters have had a profound influence on both past and present stories in the detective genre, and their cases have been adapted for film and TV many times in the past century.
High-Profile Clients, Assisting the Authorities
Holmes’ keen observation skills, logical reasoning and widespread knowledge of forensic science made him the most likely choice for clients when they had a difficult case to be solved. Many times, he would be employed in addition to, or instead of, the police. When working alongside Scotland Yard, Holmes enjoys proving his intellectual superiority. He does not go out of his way to get recognition, often allowing the police to take the credit for solving a mystery, but takes immense pleasure in any that is given.
Throughout his career, Holmes works for several high-profile clients. This includes a Prime Minister and the King of Bohemia who visit him at his home, to personally request his services. Public honours bestowed upon the detective include The Legion of Honour, by the French government, and a knighthood (which he declines) for unrevealed services rendered to the crown. The Vatican becomes a client twice, as well as The King of Scandinavia. Regardless of a client’s wealth or power, however, Holmes would refuse any case that did not interest him.
Death, Resurrection, Retirement
Most of the Sherlock Holmes stories take place between 1880 and 1914, and intricate details of the detective’s life are revealed in each one. Holmes first began using his superior sleuthing ability while attending university, when other students would ask him to solve cases for them. After graduating he spent six years as a consultant before financial difficulties forced him to take in a lodger in 1881. This became the beginning of a lifelong friendship, between himself and Dr. Watson. The documents kept at their house at 221B Baker Street become a significant part of their investigations, and Holmes is often described as rummaging through his items to locate one of grave importance to the current case.
Holmes’ career was cut short in 1891 when he plunges to his death along with criminal mastermind, James Moriarty, in The Final Problem. He resurfaces in The Adventure of the Empty House, set in 1894, explaining to a stunned Watson that he faked his death to fool his enemies. This period, when Holmes is presumed to be dead, is referred to as The Great Hiatus.
Even though the detective can be charming when necessary, Dr. Watson is his only devoted friend and he likes a solitary lifestyle. He described himself as preferring to mope about his college room, rather than to socialise. His lifestyle after retiring, continues to reflect this as Holmes moves to Sussex Downs, and takes up beekeeping as a hobby. He comes out of retirement to solve two cases, once in His Last Bow to ‘aid in the war effort,’ and again in The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane.
Personal Characteristics, Unconventional Manner
As Dr. Watson narrates the stories, he reveals personal details about Holmes. He describes the detective as being eccentric and living outside the box, often doing unconventional things such as hiding his tobacco in the ‘toe end of a Persian slipper.’
Holmes displays a cold, unemotional exterior which Watson has, on occasion, seen a warm heart beneath. He comes alive when investigating a case, however, often even refusing to eat while it is still in progress. The detective’s flair for the dramatic is revealed as he sets elaborate traps to catch criminals, once he has figured out certain elements of the case.
Holmes also uses stimulating drugs, such as cocaine and morphine, most often when he is not working on a case. As a doctor, Watson is concerned about the effects of these drugs on his friend’s mental health and intellectual abilities, and describes it as his only vice. He attempts to stop Holmes from snorting cocaine, but admits that he is an addict in which the condition is only dormant, not permanently eliminated. Watson joins Holmes in his tobacco indulgence, however, with both gentlemen often smoking pipes, cigarettes and cigars.
The detective’s attitude towards women is one of scepticism and mistrust. He genuinely believes that they are the less intelligent gender. Throughout the stories his admiration for Irene Adler, is revealed by his constantly referring to her as ‘the woman.’ Ms. Adler outsmarts the detective, and slips away before his intentions are fulfilled. Even though she only makes one appearance in Holmes’ stories, Irene Alder has become a well-known and well-loved character for Sherlock Holmes fans everywhere.
Analysing Evidence, Solving Cases
Holmes’ unconventional manner is also applied to the way in which he solves his cases. Watson admires the extents that he is willing to go to, to achieve the desired results. This includes ‘bending the truth’ and breaking the law. Throughout his career, Holmes has lied to the police, concealed evidence on behalf of clients and even resorts to breaking and entering when necessary. He is also a master of disguises and an amazing actor, transforming himself so convincingly that even Watson is unable to identify him.
Until Dr. Watson moved in with Holmes, the detective worked mostly by himself. He would occasionally employ agents, mainly informants, from the underclass of the city. A master at defending himself, Holmes possesses above average physical strength and used his cane as a weapon on more than one occasion. Both Holmes and Watson carry pistols with them, as many of their cases lead into dangerous situations.
The Sherlock Holmes stories were written in a time when forensic science was in its initial stages, and fingerprint evidence and handwriting analysis were new tools to help solve cases. Holmes uses this evidence, and often refers to the contamination of the crime scene, which played a significant role in police becoming more careful in real investigations. An analysis of Holmes’ reasoning capabilities and power of deduction, reveal that his IQ would be about 190. Arthur Conan Doyle truly created a genius.