Sherlock Holmes is always among us.
Since he first appeared in print in 1887, the legendary detective has been a continual presence on stage, radio, screen and television. BBCâ€™s â€œSherlock,â€ starring Benedict Cumberbatch, is one of the latest in the characterâ€™s innumerable reincarnations.
Sims reminds us that both Conan Doyle and Holmes were creatures of their times.
The rise of modern detection was a product of Victorian London, and Charles Dickens was one of those fascinated by its impact.
In a story, Dickens explained how different â€œthe Detective Forceâ€ was from the earlier Bow Street Police, who were â€œmen of very indifferent character, and far too much in the habit of consorting with thieves.â€
In contrast, modern detectives used a scientific method to capture the criminals clogging Londonâ€™s fog-filled streets. Sims writes that by the 1870s these sleuths â€” both real and fictional â€” had become heroic figures in the public imagination.
Arthur And Sherlock: Conan Doyle And The Creation Of Holmes
By Michael Sims
Young Conan Doyle was riveted by the new detective writings of Dickens and Wilkie Collins.
Although trained as a medical doctor, he always fancied himself an author. In his 20s when he opened a surgery in Portsmouth, England, he spent every spare moment writing stories of â€œmystery, adventure, and the supernatural.â€ Sherlock Holmes made his debut in â€œA Study in Scarlet.â€
Sims agrees with other scholars that Edgar Allan Poe was a major literary influence on the creation of Holmes.
Conan Doyle was first drawn to Poeâ€™s story â€œThe Murders in the Rue Morgueâ€ (1841) and particularly to the â€œintellectual acutenessâ€ that led to â€œan unraveling of a puzzle by means of reason and observation.â€ Later, Conan Doyle wrote, â€œOn this narrow path the writer …. sees the footmarks of Poe always in front of him.â€
Sherlock Holmes was also influenced by one of Conan Doyleâ€™s medical school professors.
Joseph Bell used a rigorous method of observation and deduction to diagnose illness, and Conan Doyle once told an interviewer: â€œI began to think of turning scientific methods … onto the work of detection. … If a scientific man like Bell was to come into the detective business, he wouldnâ€™t do these things by chance. Heâ€™d get the thing by building it up scientifically.â€
Conan Doyle even appropriated some of Bellâ€™s physical attributes for Holmes, giving him the professorâ€™s â€œsharp and piercingâ€ gray eyes and thin, aquiline nose.
Although Sims has carefully tracked Holmesâ€™s origins, he glosses over Conan Doyleâ€™s own evolving character.
Notably, he fails to explore how the science-oriented Conan Doyle embraced spiritualism the same year that â€œA Study in Scarletâ€ was published.
According to biographer Andrew Lycett, Conan Doyleâ€™s passion for spiritualism overtook his other pursuits and ultimately left him a figure of ridicule.
When â€œThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmesâ€ was published in 1892, Conan Doyle dedicated the collection to â€œmy old Teacher Joseph Bell, M.D.â€
Sims abruptly ends his enlightening but limited study at this point â€” far before Conan Doyle was through with Sherlock. Readers can hope for a second volume.