Sherlock Holmes is the famous figure of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He never existed, but he became so beloved that we talk about him as if he was alive. Sherlock Holmes lives and will live forever in the hearts of people who enjoy his adventures - that is why we can rightly say that he is alive. George Bernard Shaw once said that the three most famous names in history were Jesus Christ, Sherlock Holmes and Houdini.
Of course we respect the tremendous work what is behind the modern versions, and it is not our task to offer opinion on them – viewers can do that themselves. But the true, the real Sherlock Holmes can only be known from the canon, from the original stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Modern adaptations make the detective their title hero, but they change many things in his personality, and he not always profits from these alterings. The situation is the same with the other characters, and unfortunately modern versions contribute to the spreading of numerous misbeliefs as well. The creators of the modern adaptations often sacrifice the detective’s original, humane characteristics and the moral values for being more popular.
This is not true. Conan Doyle created the first detective who has vast knowledge of forensic science, who is the genius of geniuses, because he goes before his age. With the character the author founded modern crime scene investigation. As his hero declares proudly in The Sign of Four:
"My mind," he said, "rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world."
Sherlock Holmes, the fictional detective affected real-life forensic science and was a source of inspiration for dr. Edmond Locard, the pioneer of forensics.
In the modern world Sherlock is only one of the many geniuses, he is just a crime consultant – he is not unique at all (for example, Adrian Monk or Patrick Jane is a consultant too).
Naturally it does not mean that the modern adaptations are bad. But in these the very essence of Holmes, his most mesmerizing feature is lost, and what is more, Doyle’s writing genius is lessened at the same time. Recommended site: Alexander the Great and Sherlock
In the original novels and short stories Holmes was more philosophical, he contemplated a lot over his cases. This is partly lost in modern adaptations, only Elementary has a little bit of it.
Never forget: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the canon. EVERYTHING else is fanfiction.
There were several attempts to modernize the character of Sherlock, both in the form of books and films. For example in Sherlock Holmes Returns (1993) the detective awakens from hibernation in the 1990s, though in this case the sleuth is a stranger in the modern world. There is also an animation in which Holmes works in the 22nd century. BBC's Sherlock is the first rendition where the main character feels himself at home in the 21st century.
Lots of people share the opinion that the detective played by Benedict Cumberbatch is the first sexy Sherlock. In reality Conan Doyle did not intend the sleuth to be attractive, he became handsome thanks to Sidney Paget, who drew him for The Strand Magazine in 1891. Many charming actors portrayed the legendary figure in the past - for example: William Gillette, Jeremy Brett, Sir Roger Moore or Richard Roxburgh. Different people regard different actors handsome, there is no one who is agreed to be sexy by all.
It is a current opinion that Holmes and Watson had a romantic relationship. Actually Watson was married not only once in Doyle’s novels, so he was heterosexual. Holmes lived entirely for his profession – he was workaholic. There are people who do not consider sex their purpose. They can fully or partially do without sex urge. Famous scientists like Stephen Hawking or Sir Isaac Newton were workaholics too. The work was important for other famous persons as well: Alexander the Great, Ayrton Senna, Howard Carter.
Sherlock's job is dangerous, it requires fast thinking, the ability of combining things and a perfect build-up. It is an extremely exhaustive profession, and after it he has no time or/and energy to other activities or private life. Similar to him C. Auguste Dupin and Hercule Poirot had no companions.
Roger Johnson (The Sherlock Holmes Society of London Press and Publicity Officer and Hon Editor. He is the editor of the Sherlock Holmes Journal.), observed that in Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories, "Watson is something of a ladies' man, but a faithful husband to his wife. And Holmes is essentially asexual, with no erotic interest in women or men."
" But 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 judgment. "- Sherlock Holmes quote from "The Sign of Four". The detective needs true cold reason for his profession.
The society of the Victorian era had a different attitude towards sexuality. Nowadays it is an everyday topic. At that time there had been a belief that living a sexually active life shortens life expectancy and dulls thinking. It is possible that Holmes refrained from sexuality because of this reason – he thought it is harmful for thinking. He remarked digestion draws away energy from brainwork, and maybe his opinion was the same about sex.
Mahatma Gandhi had the same thoughts on sexuality, though he had several other reasons to refrain from it.
If you would like to read more about Sherlock's workaholism and his lack of interest in women, please follow this link: Sherlock-series.com
In the BBC series Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) tells: „ John, um... I think you should know that I consider myself married to my work ”. You can watch the scene here:
Legendary Holmes actor Jeremy Brett also thought there was a great, platonic friendship between Holmes and Watson. Brett was bisexual, so same gender relationships were familiar to him. His opinion was that in modern days sincere and true friendships are very rare, that is why many people are unable to understand the relationship between the heroes of Doyle.
A number of Holmes fans have no problem with accepting homosexuality, but their protest is justifiable – the great detective was not drawn to men. These people do not condemn the sexual identity in question, they only identify themselves with reality – and reality is that Sherlock was not homosexual. Who says something else, disfigures the truth. As if you would state that Holmes was a dolphin, while he was a fictional detective. You can read more about him here: Sherlock Holmes
The sleuth did not hate women. Because of his work he regarded them as causes of crimes, or sometimes as criminals.
There was a woman, who played a special part in his life: the beautiful and clever Irene Adler. Holmes had never been in love with her – he immensely respected her for outwitting him. Before he met Miss Adler, he often passed sarcastic remarks on the fair sex, but after that he had a more fortunate opinion on them.
The master of deduction turned to drugs only when he experimented with them, or when he had no new case and was bored. Scientists revealed that drugs have the same effects on workaholics like immersion into tasks. That is to say that Sherlock used the dangerous materials for the sake of the investigation or to repress boredom. So he cannot be considered a drug user or addict. When he had something to work on, this could break him away from cocaine for longer periods of time. This characteristic of Holmes shows how accurate observations Doyle had about being workaholic.
We have to note that though the harmful effects of drugs were already known in Doyle’s time (Watson warns his friend several times), the science of medicine only experienced their real dangers in modern days.
Watson describes his friend this way. But is a machine capable of friendship? Does it release criminals when thinks they deserve mercy? Can it be touched by feelings? Can talk about religion, about the beauty of a rose, about the role of schools? The answer is no, of course. Sherlock Holmes has a heart too, though in some adaptations he is portrayed as a cold-blooded automaton.
The detective has different pastimes. Hobbies are activities that we do for leisure, and they are based on emotions. Machines cannot have hobbies. Sherlock often uses his imagination, what we do not find in a machine (in the adventure Silver Blaze imagination is very important).
A machine is capable to those things exclusively which are in its programme, it works according to a certain system of regulation. But Sherlock Holmes weighs the facts up and he is able to change even his own life, if it is necessary – for example, when he disappears for three years, because his life is in great danger. Besides Holmes is ready to break the law in order to advance in his investigation and to make himself useful and to help the society. In case of need he goes against the law, but he rather supplements it with humane interests in view. A machine simply does its tasks, but cannot think about being useful. A machine would destroy itself if it is directed to do so, while Sherlock was ready for it willingly. Just remember his words to Professor Moriarty: „If I were assured of the former eventuality I would, int he interest of the public, cheerfully accept the latter.” (The Final Problem)
In connection with the great detective we have to take into consideration that his mind is occupied with the highlights of his serious profession. His job is dangerous, so it is inevitable for him to be able to hide his emotions. It works as a sort of self-defense, it avoids others to find out his intentions.
That is why he shows his feelings so seldom – it does not mean that he has no sentiments, even if he sees himself as a thinking brain. He has emotions – this is the very reason why he lets off and help people who deserve it.
Sherlock is good at feelings. He knows how many of them may lead to crimes. He is fantastic at exploring the motivations of criminals. He is aware of the fact that boredom rushes him to drugs. But he is reluctant to deal with emotions that are unattached to crimes and his interests. Sherlock Holmes is able to tame his anger and self-consciousness to think rationally and investigate successfully.
Those who argue that Holmes was emotionless, usually bring up the following things:
I. The detective’s sentence: „He doesn't come to me for sympathy.”
II. Exploiting the Baker Street Irregulars
III. Letting down the maid in The Master Blackmailer
IV. Sherlock never laughs
V. The detective is unable to care for others
Let’s see one after the other.
I. The detective’s sentence: „He doesn't come to me for sympathy.”
Jeremy Brett: The Dancing Men
He tells it referring to a client he helps. (The sentence can also be found in Umberto Eco’s The name of the rose. The main character, William of Baskerville tells it, whose methods of investigation are similar to those of Sherlock.)
In Hungary lives a renowned neurosurgeon, whose work is appreciated outside the country as well. On his consulting hours he spends at least one hour with every single patient. His days often end at 11 pm. But his patients sometimes feel he does not spend enough time with them. They want more care, though the professor is very humane. Patients are embittered and see their conditions negatively, that is why they feel the professor has no time for them. He explains the effects of the operations, but he has no time for psychological consultation. In the operating-room he does his best to help his patients. We can learn from him that the will of help is not enough, it is more important to help fast and efficiently. The convalescents in hospitals prove the right of the professor. He does the best for his patients. He accumulated vast knowledge, and with that he can give better and longer life to others.
This kind of „surgeon” is Sherlock Holmes. Though he does not spend days with each client, but when he takes a case, he investigates devotedly and does his best. He gives people a better life too: clears their names or even saves many lives by catching criminals.
Thus he is not inhumane when concentrates solely on his profession – he knows that he serves his clients the best this way.
Though true, cold reason is inevitable for his investigations, Holmes does have emotions, but he is exceptionally good at hiding them. As Watson states it more than once, there are times when his mask of "a Red Indian" slips and shows the man underneath. We have to mention that Holmes was modelled after Professor Joseph Bell, who was a surgeon. You can read more about him here: Dr. Joseph Bell
II. Exploiting the Baker Street Irregulars
Some people think Sherlock exploits the urchins of Baker Street. But we have to remark that the children work voluntarily, by common assent.
Holmes has some income, but he cannot support children (just remember: he got to know Watson because he needed someone to help in paying the rent). By paying the urchins he subsidies them and at the same time he teaches it is worthy to have a job. Doing a task means success for the children and they are proud of the fact that the greatest detective of the world needs their services.
Please keep in mind that in the Victorian era not only orphans spent their days on the streets, but children whose parents worked and had no time to look after them. Once Conan Doyle belonged to the second category.
III. Letting down the maid in The Master Blackmailer
It often comes up how cruel was Holmes to the maid in that adventure. He was in disguise and got close to her for having more information. He promised her marriage and then betrayed her.
In the Granada’s version when Holmes returns to the house without disguise, he has not a single word or look for the girl. In the original novel Doyle does not specify the details of the break off. Earlier Sherlock tells the following:
’You would not call me a marrying man, Watson?’
’You will be interested to hear that I am engaged.’
’My dear fellow! I congrat----’
’To Milverton’s housemaid.’
’Good heavens, Holmes!’
’I wanted information, Watson.’
’Surely you have gone too far?’
’It was a most necessary step. I am a plumber with a rising business. Escott by name. I have walked out with her each evening, and I have talked with her. Good heavens, those talks! However, I have got all I wanted. I know Milverton’s house as I know the palm of my hand.’
’But the girl, Holmes?’
He shrugged his shoulders.
’You can’t help it, my dear Watson. You must play your cards as best you can when such a stake is on the table. However, I rejoice to say that I have a hated rival who will certainly cut me out the instant that my back is turned.’
We do not want to salve the detective – proposing marriage is a serious thing, but we have no details about their farewell. Holmes investigated a case in which lives were at stake. The girl deluded herself with false hopes only after a few days’ acquaintenance – and she had another admirer.
It is also possible that Sherlock did not promise anything, maybe the girl began to refer to him as her fiance. The detective needed information, so he agreed to play his part. After the episode was shot, Jeremy Brett thought it was a wrong decision that Holmes kissed the girl – his opinion was the sleuth would have never gone so far.
IV. Sherlock never laughs
The hero of Conan Doyle laughs out loud several times, and often smiles. This proves that he is not a deadpan, not a machine without emotions. Jeremy Brett told he was surprised at the cheerfulness of Holmes – he did not know about the happy side of him before. Actually Jeremy portrayed a sadder detective than the character really was – the cause of this was his serious depression and his intention to approach the role from another perspective. Many Sherlock actors played a happier Holmes. (Vasily Livanov, Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, Richard Roxburgh etc.) Below we show a laugh from Livanov:
V. The detective is unable to care for others
Sherlock Holmes is very humane in the stories of Conan Doyle. That is why he is able to sympathize with others. After evaluating the consequences, he lets go criminals when he is sure that they will have a safe future. In The Abbey Grange he sets free lovers, while in The Boscombe Valley Mystery he pardons a terminally ill old man. A machine never feels pity. But who has a merciful heart, he can forgive others. Holmes always keeps in mind that punishment has to correspond with the crime that has been committed.
Being compassionate means that one feels with those who suffer. „According to Buddhism for a man to be perfect there are two qualities that he should develop equally: compassion on one side and wisdom on the other. Here compassion represents love, charity, kindness, tolerance and such noble qualities on the emotional side, or qualities of the heart, while wisdom would stand for the intellectual side or the qualities of the mind.” (Walpola Rahula: What the Buddha taught)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived in a world which was much more tolerant. Doyle and Sherlock both appreciated people after their deeds and purposes, they did not care about their social or financial status. For them it was the most important what was in the heart. Of course the world changes rapidly. Recently emotions tend to disappear from relationships, together with certain values and traditions. The movie products are more and more cruel, and selfish, taunting and oppressive characters become popular. While at Basil Rathbone’s time the humanity of Holmes was shining and Christopher Plummer’s Sherlock shed tears, later the trend changed and the newer productions showed a rough detective.
The charm of the CBS series Elementary is that its main character (Jonny Lee Miller) is very humane and mindful. The series successfully brought back such an important feature of Holmes which is not trendy in movies but well-known from the original stories. We can even say that Sherlock Holmes finally returned to those who remember him as a good-hearted man. As he is never permanently absorbed in his own problems, he can live through the difficulties of others and this way he is able to help them more effectively.
" There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion," said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. "It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers. " - Sherlock Holmes quote from "The Naval Treaty"
"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." This famous quote is from Albert Einstein, who was a believer. Lots of well-known scientists believed in God, just like Sir Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, Galileo Galilei or René Descartes. The fictional sleuth, Sherlock Holmes was a kind of a scientist in his own profession. In The Empty House he tells that he spent some time in Tibet, where he met the Dalai Lama.
Arthur Conan Doyle modelled Sherlock Holmes after Professor Joseph Bell. Bell’s family was deeply religious. They went to church regularly and he was extremely familiar with the Bible. Throughout his life he often cited it and faith always played an important part in his life. He was a very charitable person. His wife, Edith was also a believer, so religion was a strong bond between them. She also was famous for being good-hearted. - You can read more here: A Biography of Joseph Bell
We must not forget that Conan Doyle attended schools run by Jesuits, and religion was an integral part of his life. He had many believers among his friends, for example William Gillette. In the adventures of the great detective he often made Sherlock to voice his opinion on various topics, including the existence of God.
In the movies of Guy Ritchie Holmes takes evidence from the crime scenes many times and hides it from the police. This way he is the first to solve the cases. Sherlock did exactly the opposite in the original stories. He always leaves enough evidence behind, so cops can find out the truth (The Devil’s Foot). In Wisteria Lodge he shares his findings with the police in order to avoid them following a false trail. The truth is that Holmes was much better at deduction – that is why he was always before anyone else.
Again the Guy Ritchie movies are guilty of spreading this misbelief. Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes has extreme outfits, his clothes do not fit him and he wears them in mismatch. He is uncombed and seems to be untidy all the time. Contrarily in The Hound of the Baskervilles the detective is described as having a cat-like tidiness in him. In the original novels he dresses traditionally and he is always pretty and smart. While secretly investigating the case of that evil dog he resides at the moor in an abandoned stone hut, but he still organizes to get clean and fresh clothes. At his Baker Street home he had several dressing gowns.
His clothing was always perfect, as he was an English gentleman. He was only dishevelled when being in disguise for the sake of the investigation’s success. Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett or Richard Roxburgh portrayed an elegant detective.
Many people imagine the duo is middle-aged at the beginning of their friendship. Before their first encounter Watson served as an army doctor in Afghanistan and Holmes already had a reputation in solving crimes. In fact they both are young, around thirty years during most of their adventures. The two are almost coveal – Holmes was born in 1854 and he met Watson in 1881. It is easy to explain how could they achieve so many things at such a young age: they both were extraordinary young men. Though Watson is lightly overshadowed by Holmes, the good doctor was an intelligent man and a well-trained surgeon, who pulled through on the battlefield.
Doyle did not make the mistake of not aging his characters, as Agatha Christie did with Poirot.
Many people think Holmes is old in the majority of the adaptations and Benedict Cumberbatch is the first actor to portray a young detective. In fact, there are earlier adaptations with young artists, for example Ronald Howard in the American series Sherlock Holmes, or Nicholas Rowe, who played the sleuth in Young Sherlock Holmes.
Dr. John Watson is the best (and only) friend of Sherlock Holmes, he stands by the sleuth as his biographer and companion. They are very close to each other till the end of their lives. Holmes even declares: „I am lost without my Boswell” – it is a reference to the biographer of Samuel Johnson. Though the doctor could set him on his legs again and had a high opinion of his medical skills, he did not really trust Watson. In The Hound of the Baskervilles he sends his friend to Dartmoor to follow the events, while he travels to the crime scene too, as he could not trust his companion’s observations. To worsen the situation, he keeps dark his arrival. In The Dying Detective he makes the doctor believe he is deadly ill, because he does not think Watson can keep a secret. He reappears years after Reichenbach, but lets his friend think he is dead.
Holmes respects the medical skills of Watson, but he does not think he can follow his thinking.
It is just partially true that Holmes spared a maximum of several months for a case and he retired at a relatively young age. Most of his investigations were finished stunningly fast and he planned to retire when he is young. He wanted to observe bees and even wrote a book about the subject which he called „the magnum opus of my latter years”. But the government had a problem: its enemies got secret information, the identity of agents unveiled and no one knew who was behind all these. After failed attempts of many high-ranked officials Holmes took the case – that was His Last Bow. He finds the guilty German secret agent and asks the help of Watson for the endgame. He explains him that it took two years to infiltrate into an Irish secret society in the USA, and this way he could only get close to another agent, not the one in question. Sherlock was very thorough, he spent as much time investigating a case as it needed.
The famous Hungarian writer, Gyula Hernádi wrote a novel entitled Jack the Ripper. In the story Holmes investigates the case for more than ten years.
Even though lots of adaptations suggest it, Professor Moriarty is not the only enemy of Holmes. The character appears in one single story (The Final Problem), and in The Valley of Fear it is mentioned that he consultates other criminals if they pay for him. There is no evidence that he and Holmes met more than twice (at Baker Street and at the Reichenbach Falls). Actually Doyle got tired of his detective and wanted to focus on other themes – so he created the Professor and killed him and Sherlock in Switzerland. But there was such a vast public outcry that he had to bring the latter back. (Maybe Holmes is the only fictional character whose fans wear mourning bands on the anniversary of his death.)
The detective had many other opponents both before and after meeting Moriarty.
Many people think Holmes wore deerstalker and smoked a calabash pipe all the time. The truth is the deerstalker was a part of his outfit only in the country, in London he donned hat or top hat. Recommended article: The deerstalker of Sherlock Holmes
It is a misconception too that he used a calabash pipe and was an opium addict. You can read more about the smoking habits of the great detective here:
Sherlock Holmes pipe
At the beginning of their friendship Watson thinks Holmes is unaccustomed to literature. But when he gets to know him better, he realizes that he was wrong - as Holmes often cites from various literary works. More information: Sherlock Holmes characterization
People use words to think. Who reads a lot, has a wider vocabulary, and reading also gives insight to the way of thinking of others. Literature was very important for the master of deduction. - You can read more about this topic here: The importance of reading
Present for you:Free download - CBS Elementary and BBC Sherlock Bookmarks
The phrase never appeared in the novels in this peculiar form. Holmes remarks that a deduction he made is ’elementary’ in The Crooked Man, and he calls his friend ’my dear Watson’ many times, and somehow these two parts were mixed into one sentence later.
It is a misconception as well that the detective was handsome. Though for movies, films and theatre plays producers cast good-looking actors to play the sleuth, Conan Doyle did not wanted him to be a nice man. According to the author’s description Holmes is rather hideous: he is balding and has a big nose. Many years later J. K. Rowling híd Harry Potter under a scar and glasses, and this way people saw his features and deeds and formed their opinions accordingly. Doyle wanted to show the spirit, courage and humanity of Holmes. The detective became handsome because of a brilliant artist called Sidney Paget. He was commissioned by The Strand Magazine to make illustrations to the Holmes novels. While reading the stories Sidney came to like the eccentric Sherlock and that is why the character was handsome for him (Other illustrators also became fans of the detective, for example Frederic Dorr Steele). But Conan Doyle thought it was Frank Wiles who depicted Holmes the closest to his original idea.
The famous detective was born in Britain and lives in London, but many nations admire the character. In our days he is rightly considered American too – the USA added so much to the figure, that he became their national symbol as well. The British professor, Jeremy Black talks about this phenomenon in his lecture, what you can find here: