Greatest detective who never lived | Sunday Observer

Greatest detective who never lived

19 March, 2023
Sherlock Holmes and Watson
Sherlock Holmes and Watson

The world is full of strange events. The literary world is no exception. Most literary figures have become immortal because people read their creations and discuss them. However, sometimes it so happens that fictional characters become more popular than their creators. That is what happened to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in 1859 to Irish Catholic parents. He graduated in medicine and practised in Southsea. His literary career began before he turned 20 and he invented Sherlock Holmes when he was 26. After moving to London he transferred Holmes and Watson to short stories published in the ‘Strand’ magazine. His influence on detective stories was omnipresent. He died in 1930. After his death he joined the ranks of immortalised literary men such as William Shakespeare.

Way back in 1887, a London magazine called ‘Beeton’s Christmas Annual’ published a story of a murder titled ‘A study in Scarlet’ written by Conan Doyle. The story had been rejected by many publishers before it was printed in ‘Beeton’s Christmas Annual.’ Even the magazine that published it treated the story as cheap fiction. Even today most university dons do not consider the stories involving Sherlock Holmes as part of serious literature. There are, however, dissenting voices.

Detective stories

I asked a few undergraduates reading English literature whether they were familiar with Sherlock Holmes or Conan Doyle. Only a few of them admitted having read some of the detective stories written by Conan Doyle. Ordinary readers, however, consider him as the greatest detective story writer. They have a clear mental picture of Sherlock Holmes smoking a pipe, carrying a magnifying glass and mocking London police. They also remember Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick Dr John H. Watson. Sherlock Holmes always goes with Watson and their brilliant conversations still remain etched in our minds.

Sherlock Holmes’ fans call themselves ‘Sherlockians.’ They have collected 60 original Holmes stories and consider them ‘sacred writings.’ Strangely, they believe Sherlock Holmes is the author and Conan Doyle is only a literary agent. Although the detective stories were originally published in England, British literary critics did not pay much attention to Sherlock Holmes. Christopher Morley, a columnist for the ‘Saturday Review of Literature’ wrote an introduction to the first complete American collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. The former US President Franklin D. Roosvelt even claimed Sherlock Holmes was an American!

Sometimes you may wonder why Sherlock Holmes, a fictional character, should receive such wide acclaim. The well-known science fiction writer Isaac Asimov says it is because Sherlock Holmes represents the triumph of the gifted amateur who could see clearly through the fog. Unlike British readers, Americans believed that Sherlock Holmes was a living character and Watson wrote the stories. They seem to have forgotten that Conan Doyle was the man who created Sherlock Holmes and Watson. There are many reasons for such a view.

Striking image

In the detective stories Sherlock Holmes could deduce a man’s profession from his expressions and trouser knees. The stories have become so popular among readers that they are available today in 57 languages including Icelandic, Azerbaijani and Urdu. Although Sherlock Holmes never left England, his striking image has received worldwide publicity. In most countries Sherlock Holmes stories can be listened to over the radio or watch them on television. This is perhaps a rare occasion when a fictional character has been personified. In fact, well-known actors such as Basil Rathbone and Jeremy Brett played the role of Sherlock Holmes in films.

Sherlock Holmes has a large number of fans in many countries, notably the United States where he is known as their beloved ‘Master.’ The Persian Slipper Club of San Francisco has transformed its Holiday Inn into a replica of Sherlock Holmes’ sitting room. You can see bullet holes in the wall spelling out Queen Victoria’s initials. The detective had his office at No.221B, Baker Street, London. People still send letters to this address seeking help from Sherlock Holmes.

A professor of English published ‘The Baker Street Journal’ carrying essays and criticisms. The Men on the Tor of Connecticut used to meet at a castle built by William Gillette who acted in the play ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ They even tried to get an old brick from Sherlock Holmes’ office building in Baker Street, London.

Many biographies have been written on Conan Doyle. Ronald De Waal at Colorado State University claims that volumes have been written on Sherlock Holmes as well. In addition, The Baker Street Irregulars, a Sherlockian society, once hosted a dinner to mark Sherlock Holmes’ birthday on 6 January 1854. It seems that there are more Sherlockian fans in the United States than in the United Kingdom.

Conversational tone

Conan Doyle got the inspiration to write detective stories from the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Conan Doyle used the warm conversational tone in his stories after reading books written by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Sherlock Holmes stories appealed to the reader because of their friendly approach. Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes probably imitating Joseph Bell. The detective stories became a huge success because they had a touch of fantasy and mystery.

Popularity-wise Sherlock Holmes’ stories stand on par with ‘Treasure Island, The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and ‘Three Men in a Boat.’ In a way, the detective Sherlock Holmes and Watson have overshadowed their creator Conan Doyle. However, Conan Doyle showed his realism and feminism by having the great detective defeated by Irene Adler in ‘A Scandal in bohemia.’

Read Sherlock Holmes’ adventures and share the joy because he was the greatest detective who never lived. [email protected]