Born of the mind of physician-turned-author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most well-known detective (fictional or real) in the world. Challenging the Victorian Scotland Yard with his superior intellect and deductive reasoning, Sherlock Holmes always solved the crime and got his man—even when it seemingly cost his own life. Enduring from his creation to the modern day, the character has been subject to many film and television interpretations, most recently played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Johnny Lee Miller, and Robert Downey Jr. But some of the facts surrounding the fictional detective may even elude him.
Both Holmes and Watson
Doyle was inspired by one of his professors at medical school, Dr. Joseph Bell, to create the famous detective. Dr. Bell had the ability to diagnose patients as soon as they walked into the surgery, using physical clues and deductive logic to make his prognoses.
Slow Path to Success
Believe it or not, “A Study in Scarlet” was not exactly successful when it was first published. Doyle wrote the story at the age of 27 while running a struggling surgery in Portsmouth. It took about three weeks to complete. Like many authors who went on to great success, his first work was rejected by multiple publishers, finally being published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887. Editor Joesph Stoddart convinced Doyle to write another novel for serialisation in Stoddart’s magazine, Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, while at a party in 1889. Also at the party was Oscar Wilde, who agreed to write his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was published in 1890 in the same issue as one chapter of “The Sign of Four”.
No. 1 on the Screen
According to Internet Movie Database, Sherlock Holmes is the most filmed fictional character across film and television with at 292 entries. His first film was a comedy spoof made in 1900 called “Sherlock Holmes Baffled”, where he was played by an unknown actor. Since then, many great actors (including those previously mentioned) have had their turn at playing the detective, including John Barrymoore, Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett, Peter Cushing, and even Doctor Who’s Tom Baker.
Despite the famous deerstalker hat being a staple of many films and television programmes (even “Sherlock” now), Holmes rarely ever wore one in his adventures. This was the result of Sidney Paget’s illustrations in The Strand magazine, as he typically depicted Holmes wearing one whenever he went to the country. Holmes also never said, “Elementary, my dear Watson”, though he would say “elementary” and “my dear Watson” separately. They weren’t put together until P.G. Wodehouse’s novel, Psmith, Journalist in1915.
It’s Actually Not Deductive Reasoning
What Holmes uses is a process called “abductive” reasoning. Abductive reasoning requires the individual to make an observation and to form a hypothesis based on reliable data from the observation and explains the relevant evidence. It was first posited by American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce, which he referred to as “guessing”. Unlike deductive reasoning, the premises don’t guarantee the conclusion, but when you’re writing a fictional story like Doyle, it always does. Can’t have your great detective guessing wrong, hmm?
A Real Detective
Much like the character that inspired him, Dr. Bell also assisted in several criminal cases. Unlike Holmes, Bell did not solve the cases on his own, but was usually accompanied by forensic scientist Professor Henry Littlejohn.
The name Sherlock actually came about because Doyle was a huge fan of cricket, where the name Sherlock belonged to one of the more well-known players of the time. Originally, Doyle was going to call the character Sherrington, but couldn’t get the name Sherlock out of his head.
A Museum with a Wrong Address
As mentioned in my previous article about famous literary landmarks, there is a Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street. However, it’s not actually at 221, but 239. The address at 221 belonged to the Abbey National Building Society, which often got mail for Holmes. A struggle between the two over the right to that mail began when the museum opened in 1990, but ended after ANBS vacated their building in 2002.
Most fans of Sherlock Holmes know that Dr. Watson’s first name is “John”, but in “The Man with the Twisted Lip”, his wife Mary actually calls him “James”.
After retiring from becoming a detective, the character apparently took up beekeeping in Sussex in “His Last Bow.”