Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes Bibliography Meaning

Sherlock Holmes, fictional character created by the Scottish writer Arthur Conan Doyle. The prototype for the modern mastermind detective, Holmes first appeared in Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of 1887. As the world’s first and only “consulting detective,” he pursued criminals throughout Victorian and Edwardian London, the south of England, and continental Europe. Although the fictional detective had been anticipated by Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin and Émile Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq, Holmes made a singular impact upon the popular imagination and has been the most enduring character of the detective story.

Conan Doyle modeled Holmes’s methods and mannerisms on those of Dr. Joseph Bell, who had been his professor at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. In particular, Holmes’s uncanny ability to gather evidence based upon his honed skills of observation and deductive reasoning paralleled Bell’s method of diagnosing a patient’s disease. Holmes offered some insight into his method, claiming that “When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” His detecting abilities become clear, though no less amazing, when explained by his companion, Dr. John H. Watson, who recounts the criminal cases they jointly pursue. Although Holmes rebuffs praise, declaring his abilities to be “elementary,” the oft-quoted phrase “Elementary, my dear Watson,” never actually appears in Conan Doyle’s writings. (See alsoSherlock Holmes: Pioneer in Forensic Science.)

Watson’s narrations describe Holmes as a very complex and moody character who, although of strict habit, is considerably untidy. His London abode at 221B, Baker Street, is tended by his housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson. Holmes appears to undergo bouts of mania and depression, the latter of which are accompanied by pipe smoking, violin playing, and cocaine use. Throughout the four novels and 56 short stories featuring Holmes, a number of characters recur, including the bumbling Scotland Yard inspector Lestrade; the group of “street Arabs” known as the Baker Street Irregulars, who are routinely employed by Holmes as informers; his even wiser but less ambitious brother, Mycroft; and, most notably, his formidable opponent, Professor James Moriarty, whom Holmes considers the “Napoleon of crime.”

Claiming that Holmes distracted him “from better things,” Conan Doyle famously in 1893 (“The Final Problem”) attempted to kill him off; during a violent struggle on Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls, both Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, are plunged over the edge of the precipice. Popular outcry against the demise of Holmes was great; men wore black mourning bands, the British royal family was distraught, and more than 20,000 readers cancelled their subscriptions to the popular Strand Magazine, in which Holmes regularly appeared. By popular demand, Conan Doyle resurrected his detective in the story “The Adventure of the Empty House” (1903).

Holmes remained a popular figure into the 21st century. Among the most popular stories in which he is featured are “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” (1892), “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” (1892), “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons” (1904), and the novelThe Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). Holmes’s character has been translated to other media as well, and he is widely known on both stage and screen. The earliest actor to have essayed the role is William Gillette (a founding member of the New York Holmes society still known as the Baker Street Irregulars), who gave several popular theatrical portrayals at the turn of the 20th century. Those who appeared as Holmes on-screen include Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Jeremy Brett, Robert Downey, Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, and Jonny Lee Miller. Ironically, two of the emblems of Holmes, his meerschaum pipe and deerstalker hat, are not original to Conan Doyle’s writings. Gillette introduced the curved meerschaum pipe (it is thought to have been easier on the actor’s jaw during a long performance), and Sidney Paget the deerstalker (or “fore-and-aft”) cap—it was de rigueur for country living—in more than one illustration for The Strand of Holmes at work on his investigations in the country.

In addition to myriad translations of the Holmes adventures throughout the world, a genre of parodies and pastiches has developed based upon the Sherlock Holmes character. An entire collection of more scholarly “higher criticism” of Conan Doyle’s writings was initiated by Ronald Knox’s “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes” (1912). Subsequent higher criticism is epitomized by the work appearing in The Baker Street Journal (begun 1946), published by the Baker Street Irregulars. Holmes devotees, known as Sherlockians or Holmesians, frequently gather in societies around the world to pay tribute to the master detective with a cultist fervour. The most established of these societies are the invitation-only Baker Street Irregulars , founded in 1934, and the Sherlock Holmes Society of London , founded in 1951 and open to anyone. The latter, which publishes The Sherlock Holmes Journal , traces its origins to the Sherlock Holmes Society that was formed in London in 1934 and counted among its members the scholar and writer Dorothy L. Sayers; it had ceased its activities by the 1940s.

Articles and books discussing the Sherlock Holmes stories, adaptations, and pop culture manifestations are abundant. Critical takes on Conan Doyle’s other writings are harder to come by, although his work is often discussed in critical perspectives of contemporaries such as Kipling, Rider Haggard, and Stevenson. Below are listed a few places for the beginner to get started, as well a sampling of some of the most interesting recent articles. Hall 1978, Orel 1992, and Hodgson 1994 together offer a useful sampling of essays covering a broad range of Conan Doyle’s fictional works. Cox 1985 and Jaffe 1987 are simple and straightforward critical and biographical overviews. Eyles 1986 is an accessible and popular chronological account of Conan Doyle’s career, with the focus mostly on the Sherlock Holmes stories and phenomenon. Clausen 1984 situates Sherlock Holmes within late Victorian ideas of normalcy. Rosenberg 1974 is a semiclassic of Sherlock Holmes criticism, examining the stories for allegorical devices.

  • Clausen, Christopher. “Sherlock Holmes, Order, and the Late-Victorian Mind.” Georgia Review 38.1 (Spring 1984): 104–123.

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    Clausen’s smart article connects the detective story as a genre with domestic desires for order and normalcy, with the detective figured as the repairer of fissures in the social order.

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  • Cox, Don Richard. Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1985.

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    Cox’s book provides a brief biography of Conan Doyle and a solid discussion of his work, with a focus on the Sherlock Holmes fiction. Though brief, the book adequately details Conan Doyle’s forays into historical fiction and other genres.

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  • Eyles, Allen. Sherlock Holmes: A Centenary Celebration. New York: Harper and Row, 1986.

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    Published on the one hundredth anniversary of the first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, this glossy, illustrated overview of the Sherlock Holmes mythos provides an unexpectedly thorough and considerate portrait of Conan Doyle the man. Though not a scholarly work by any means, Eyles’s survey is an accessible and informative place to begin a study of the Holmes phenomenon, examining the creation and development of the original stories as well as considering various multimedia adaptations.

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  • Hall, Trevor. Sherlock Holmes and His Creator. London: Duckworth, 1978.

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    Despite the title, this collection of essays by Hall explores Conan Doyle’s writings variously, not limiting itself to discussing the Sherlock Holmes stories. Like Jeffery Meikle’s article a few years earlier, Hall makes a scholarly and intelligent attempt to comprehend Conan Doyle’s spiritualist conversion.

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  • Hodgson, John A., ed. Sherlock Holmes: The Major Stories with Critical Essays. Boston: Bedford, 1994.

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    Anthology reprints some the most important short stories including “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Red-Headed League,” interspersed with interpretive essays. Novitiates should begin here for any critical overview of Sherlock Holmes.

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  • Jaffe, Jacqueline A. Arthur Conan Doyle. Twayne’s English Author Series. Boston: Twayne, 1987.

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    Books in Twayne’s English Author Series provide a brief, mostly chronological overview of the subject’s life and oeuvre. Jaffe’s book focuses especially on the Holmes fiction but pays ample attention to the historical novels and the scientific romances. Like most studies of Conan Doyle, the spiritualist writings of his late career are relatively neglected.

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  • Orel, Harold, ed. Critical Essays on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992.

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    An excellent and varied anthology that includes Stephen Knight’s “The Case of the Great Detective” and other oft-cited pieces on Sherlock Holmes. Also includes pieces on the other fiction and Conan Doyle’s place in the literary canon. Begin here for an overview of critical opinion on Conan Doyle. Authors include Dorothy L. Sayers, Andrew Lang, Arthur Morrison, and Lydia Alix Fillingham.

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  • Rosenberg, Samuel. Naked is the Best Disguise. Indianapolis, IN, and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974.

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    Rosenberg’s sometimes strange study examines allegorical devices at work in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Veering close to Sherlockian writing in its tone, import, and assumptions, the work is insightful enough to have become something of a classic in Sherlock Holmes criticism.

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