A Man Behind Sherlock Holmes English Literature Essay

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Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character. However, his popularity is extraordinary: till now this character in the example for the famous detectives, his name is considered a compliment for smart people, his silhouette with smoking pipe is known all over the world, and the majority of people on the Earth know about the deductive method because of Sherlock Holmes and the detective stories by sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A huge number of plays and movies are created on the base of detective stories about famous English detective. However, every literature character should have its prototype, and Sherlock Holmes is not the exclusion. Most popular version tells that Conan Doyle himself was the prototype for his famous character. Some researchers mention John Bell, a friend of Conan Doyle, who taught him the deductive method and logics. Really, sir Arthur Conan Doyle shared many of his features with his character, but it is a common knowledge that he suffered from the popularity of Sherlock very much. Conan Doyle described the death of Sherlock Holmes to get rid of the character and his fans. He tried himself as the author of science fiction («The lost world»), and wrote a historical novel about the times of King Arthur. The novel had no success, so sir Arthur resurrected Sherlock Holmes and created some new novels about famous detective.

Nowadays sir Arthur Conan Doyle also became the literary character. Many researchers paid attention to man who created Sherlock. In this paper the image of sir Arthur Conan Doyle in different biographies and novels will be reviewed. It is also necessary to mention John Bell and his impact on Holmes' character.

Before starting the discussion of Arthur Conan Doyle it is necessary to tell a view words about Dr. Joseph Bell. Dr. Joseph Bell was a friend, but not very close, of young Conan Doyle. He was a doctor, a successful surgeon and criminal psychologist, who lectures in Edinburgh Infirmary. According to his contemporaries, Bell told his students:

You see, gentlemen, when she said good morning to me, I noted her Fife accent, and, as you know, the nearest town in Fife is Burntisland. You notice the red clay on the edges of the soles on her shoes, and the only such clay within 20 miles of Edinburgh is the Botanic Gardens. Inverleith Row borders the gardens and is her nearest way here from Leith. You observed that the coat she carried over her arm is too big for the child who is with her, and therefore she set out from home with two children. Finally, she has dermatitis on the fingers of the right hand, which is peculiar to workers in the linoleum factory at Burntisland.(Riggs, 2009., p.88)

This famous joke illustrates the method of detective reasoning. It is obvious that young Doyle knew about the method of deductive reasoning from Bell, and he thought about Bell when wrote first novel about Sherlock Holmes. However, the similarity between Holmes and Bell is insufficient to claim that Bell was behind Holmes. Doyle wrote to his old teacher a letter with the gratitude for the valuable knowledge about detective reasoning method, He adopted this method from Dr. Bell, but a man behind Sherlock Holmes was Conan Doyle himself. Later Conan Doyle wrote on his autobiography:

"I thought of my old and his eerie tricks of spotting details. If he were a detective, he would surely reduce this fascinating but unorganized business to something nearer to an exact science. It was surely possible in real life, so why should I not make it plausible in fiction? It is all very well to say that a man is clever, but the reader wants to see examples of it - such examples as Bell gave us every day in the (hospital) wards. The idea amused me."(p.63)

Conan Doyle was a physician by education. He was born in Edinburgh and here he graduated the University. It is worth mentioning that his father drunk, and the family was always short of money. However, young Doyle founded the time for books; his favorite writer was Walter Scott and Edgar Allan Poe. Sir Walter Scott was the reason of Doyle's constant interest to historical novels.

After graduating university he started working. His first work was the job of surgeon on the whaler. The ship «Hope» committed voyage to Arctic. Contemporary researchers argue about this voyage discussing the question, whether Doyle was a cruel person or not. It is known that young surgeon took part in the hunt on baby seals. However, it is necessary to remember that in Victorian England the hunt was the best entertainment for gentlemen. Thus, Conan Doyle just followed his time.

"Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had many striking characteristics. He was gigantically tall and strong. He was a gifted story-teller. He was a man of strong opinions and considerable political influence... But perhaps the most extraordinary thing about him was the combination of all the attributes of worldly success with an almost child-like literalness and credulity of mind, manifested particularly in relation to Spiritualism and its surrounding phenomena."(Brandon, 1893)

After the return from Arctic he started to work as a private doctor, first in Edinburgh, than in Portsmouth but as the young doctor he had not so many visitors. He started to write stories sitting in the empty cabinet and waiting for patients. Generally the habit to write appeared in the school, and during his study in the University he wrote and published a number of medical articles. However only during his medical practice young doctor has got enough time for writing. The central character of his writing was the detective, similar to C. August Dupin, the character by Edgar Allan Poe, but the method of detective reasoning by Dr. Joseph Bell. The first story about Sherlock Holmes, «A study in Scarlet» was published in 1887. Sherlock Holmes appeared on the public for the first time. From the first novel he shocked readers with his approach to knowledge;

"I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it - there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones." (Doyle, p.22)

New character charmed the reading audience in London. Despite the lack of knowledge in natural science, Sherlok had a brilliant mind.Almost everybody asked for new events on the life of detective. In 1891 Conan Doyle has already been famous and rich due to Sherlock Holmes and his friend doctor James Watson.

Within the following some years Conan Doyle and his famous detective became popular and known all over the world. Conan Doyle became not only the famous author but also a public figure. He was so popular that people addressed to him for help in the most surprising circumstances. For example, with his help two innocent men were released from prison. Conan Doyle also has very active social and political life. He discussed social and military reforms,

Sir Arthur would go on to achieve a remarkable career as an author and as a vivid public figure. He became personally involved in a number of causes, including using his own deductive skills to free two innocent men from prison. He also championed military and social reforms that were well ahead of their time and was even knighted for his service during the Boer War. In addition, he also introduced skis to the country of Switzerland and chronicled the history of the British Army during World War I.

In 1893 Doyle was so sick and tired of his famous detective that he decided to kill him in the story «Final Problem». In this story Holmes meets his enemy, the boss of London criminality, professor Moriarty at the fall of the Reichenbach in Switzerland. After the short battle both professor and detective fall down the waterfall. Watson finds a letter from Holmes explaining the situation. Conan Doyle tells from his character: "I have already explained to you, however, that my career had in any case reached its crisis, and that no possible conclusion to it could be more congenial to me than this."(Conan Doyle, p. 569)

Conan Doyle also took part in the South African War and First World War. He served as a doctor in hospital, later he was Britain military correspondent. He was even knighted for this job. He worked hard and a number of articles, poems novels and other publications.

«Heaven, too, was very near to them in those days. God's direct agency was to be seen in the thunder and the rainbow, the whirlwind and the lightning. To the believer, clouds of angels and confessors, and martyrs, armies of the sainted and the saved, were ever stooping over their struggling brethren upon earth, raising, encouraging, and supporting them. » (Doyle, p. 14)

Arthur Conan Doyle was more complex individual that it is used to think. Many Sherlock fans think that the creator of their beloved detective was the same: cold intellectual who rejected emotions and acted following his logics. In one story Watson called Holmes «the reasoning machine» Holmes represents rationale view on the world, and the author partly shared it. However, Conan Doyle wasn't so rational. At the second part of his life he was fond of mysticism. Some of his stories of that time reflected his new philosophy. He was interested in paranormal histories. He was magnified with the mysteries of mediums, and while he could not believe many things, at the same time he could not explain them from the scientific point of view. More and more he was fascinated with spiritualism. Nowadays researchers know that at the second part of his life Conan Doyle defined his mission and crusade as the promotion of Spiritualism around the world. The decisive stage of his interest to Spiritualism happened in the time of World War I.

''You know how often the turning down this street or that, the accepting or rejecting of an invitation, may deflect the whole current of our lives into some other channel. Are we mere leaves, fluttered hither and thither by the wind, or are we rather, with every conviction that we are free agents, carried steadily along to a definite and pre-determined end?''(p.88)

Doyle used his publicity lecture about Spiritualism, and his money - to travels with propaganda of spiritualism. The latest stories of Conan Doyle are full of Spiritualist motives. The continuing interest to Spiritualism was rather strange, because he lost many of his friends and significant amount of money because of fraudulent persons involved in Spiritualists.

"It is my holy mission to be a sompnour or pardoner. I am the unworthy servant and delegate of him who holds the keys. A contrite heart and ten nobles to holy mother Church may stave off perdition; but he hath a pardon of the first degree, with a twenty-five livre benison, so that I doubt if he will so much as feel a twinge of purgatory."p.262)


It is obvious that a man behind Sherlock Holmes was the author himself. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle shared some of his qualities with his character: brilliant erudition, strong character, attention to the smallest detail. These qualities together with the soft charm of Dr. Watson brought the world success to Conan Doyle. Despite he hated his character for some time, and even killed he, Dr. Doyle could not refuse him, because the fans required new and new adventurer of Sherlock Holmes. The «Canon», or the collection of classical Holmes stories includes 60 stories about Sherlock Holmes. However, sir Arthur was more complex person than his hero. Sir Arthur wrote medical articles, served as a war surgeon, worked as war correspondent, and was married twice - unlike his hero who was not married at all.

«My instincts are all against a woman being too frank and at her ease with me. It is no compliment to a man. Where the real sex feeling begins, timidity and distrust are its companions, heritage from old wicked days when love and violence went often hand in hand.» (p. 13)

At the second part of his life sir Arthur became the adept of Spiritualism. That time he considered his mission in life as to bring spiritualism all over the world. However, the best he is known as a creator of Sherlock Holmes.