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Appearance and physical profile
Holmes is generally depicted in various media as wearing a deerstalker hat and cloak, smoking a pipe and clutching a magnifying glass. Indeed, this image is arguably one of the most instantly recognizable and famous aspects of the character, and the deerstalker remains an instantly recognizable symbol for a detective character. However, this was not the invention of Conan Doyle (who only ever referred to Holmes wearing a 'travelling cap' in the original stories, and then only when his investigations took him into the countryside), but of the artist of the stories, Sidney Paget. Furthermore, contrary to many filmed depictions, Holmes is a fashion conscious man and would never wear exclusive country clothes like the deerstalker in the city which would have been an embarrassing fashion faux pas in his time. Holmes is described as a tall, lean gentleman with sharp, piercing silver grey eyes and an aquiline nose. Evidence in "The Adventure of the Abbey Grange" and "The Adventure of the Three Students" suggests that Holmes is exactly 6' in height. His hair is black, and he is almost always clean-shaven. Despite his lean build, he is quite physically capable. He is a skillful boxer and fencer, and usually gets the better of his opponents in the (relatively) rare times in the stories that he has to engage in physical combat. He states in "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" that he is "exceptionally strong in the fingers," which he demonstrates with his ability to unbend a metal poker in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band." In "The Adventure of the Empty House", Holmes mentions that he has "some knowledge" of "baritsu", "the Japanese system of wrestling", by which means he escaped his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty.
His knowledge and skills
Sherlock Holmes (right) and Dr. Watson, by Sidney Paget. In the very first story, A Study in Scarlet, something of Holmes' background is given. On March 5, 1881 he is presented as an independent student of chemistry with a variety of very curious side-interests, almost all of which turn out to be single-mindedly bent towards making him superior at solving crimes. In another early story, "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott", more background on what caused Holmes to become a detective is presented: a college friend's father complimented him very highly on his deductive skills. In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter" Holmes 1
5. 9. Knowledge of Anatomy. "I am fairly familiar with all forms of secret writing. Plays the violin well. Knowledge of Philosophy. given that Holmes tried to avoid having his memory cluttered with information that is of no use to him in detective work. Later stories make clear. The former had first appeared in The Murders in the Rue Morgue. more established fictional detectives: Edgar Allan Poe's C. Knowledge of Literature. Knowledge of Geology. Knowledge of Sensational Literature. 8. Knowledge of Botany. and swordsman. Knowledge of Astronomy. Holmes is also a competent cryptanalyst. for example: In A Study in Scarlet. and the latter in L'Affaire Lerouge (The Lerouge Affair) in 1866. 2." One such scheme is solved in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" which uses a series of stick figures. Well up in belladonna. Two examples: despite Holmes' supposed ignorance of politics. opium. 4. After walks. in which I analyse one hundred and sixty separate ciphers.—Feeble.—Nil. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century. Knowledge of Politics. Has a good practical knowledge of British law. Knowledge of Chemistry. and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.—Immense. 12.—Accurate. however. has shown me splashes upon his trousers. and am myself the author of a trifling monograph upon the subject. Conan Doyle presents a comparison between his sleuth and two earlier. 7. that the above list is misleading.—Practical. boxer. In A Study in Scarlet.—Nil. Tells at a glance different soils from each other.states that his grandmother was the sister of the French painter 'Vernet' (presumably Horace Vernet). He relates to Watson. Is an expert singlestick player. 11. Auguste Dupin and Emile Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq. 6. his speech is replete with references to the Bible. and that Holmes — who has just met Watson — is pulling Watson's leg. and poisons generally. in "A Scandal in Bohemia" he immediately recognizes the true identity of the supposed Count von Kramm. Regarding non-sensational literature. This is somewhat inconsistent with his scolding Watson for telling him about how the Earth revolved around the Sun. 10. Knows nothing of practical gardening. Watson makes an evaluation of Sherlock's skills: Sherlock Holmes—his limits 1. Shakespeare. The brief discussion between Watson and Holmes about the two characters begins with a comment by Watson: 2 .—Nil. 3. instead of the other way around.—Variable.—Profound. first published in 1841. but unsystematic. and even Goethe. Dr. but limited.
3 . The clear. and. hard eyes were dimmed for a moment. Watson says. The question was how to identify an unknown prisoner. "The Resident Patient." he observed. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain." "Have you read Gaboriau's works?" I asked. Watson is wounded by a forger he and Holmes are pursuing. in "The Adventure of the Dancing Men". It has been suggested that this was a way for Conan Doyle to pay some respect to characters by writers who had influenced him. And. "he had only one thing to recommend him. I could have done it in twenty-four hours. However. Holmes pulls a very Dupin-esque trick on Watson in "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" (repeated word for word in the story. Lecoq took six months or so. That book made me positively ill. there are times when he can become very emotional in a righteous cause. While the bullet wound proved to be "quite superficial". and the firm lips were shaking. "Lecoq was a miserable bungler. That trick of his of breaking in on his friends' thoughts with an apropos remark after a quarter of an hour's silence is really very showy and superficial. in "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs". while Watson expresses his admiration of the two characters. Holmes has shown himself a master of disguise: • • • • • • • • A seaman (The Sign of Four) A groom and a clergyman ("A Scandal in Bohemia") An opium addict ("The Man with the Twisted Lip") A common loafer ("The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet") An old Italian priest ("The Adventure of the Final Problem") A bookseller ("The Adventure of the Empty House") A plumber ("The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton") A dying man ("The Adventure of the Dying Detective") Although Holmes looks upon himself as a disembodied brain." Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. in "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet"." when "Cardboard Box" was removed from the Memoirs). It was worth a wound — it was worth many wounds — to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. It might be made a textbook for detectives to teach them what to avoid. but he was by no means such a phenomenon as Poe appeared to imagine." Holmes seems convinced that he is superior to both of them. Watson is moved by Holmes' reaction. to a lesser extent."You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin. "he was more nearly moved by the softer human emotions than I had ever seen him". no doubt. "Now. in an angry voice. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories. he is touched by Lestrade's deep gratitude for assisting Scotland Yard. "No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin. in my opinion."Does Lecoq come up to your idea of a detective?" Sherlock Holmes sniffed sardonically. He had some analytical genius. At the end of "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons". Dupin was a very inferior fellow. and that was his energy. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation. while insisting that his is an improvement over them." he said. as when he disapproves of the banker Holder as to how the man treated his son.
as recorded in one of the last stories. he describes himself and his habits as "Bohemian. carriage wheel tracks. "The Adventure of Silver Blaze"." Modern readers of the Holmes stories are apt to be surprised that he was an occasional user (a habitual user when lacking in stimulating cases) of cocaine and morphine. being done in a good cause. Watson says that after his long career. Now I knew that under ordinary conditions he no longer craved for this artificial stimulus. [or a] poetic and contemplative mood". alternating between days or weeks of listless lassitude and similar periods of intense engagement with a challenging case or with his hobby.. Holmes is not at all a stuffy straight-laced Victorian gentleman.Holmes could be looked upon then as the forerunner of modern forensic sciences: • • • • • • • The use of footprints. His personality and habits However. horseshoe prints... In Victorian England. such actions were not necessarily considered vices as long as they were done by a gentleman for noble purposes. lie to the police. in fact. experimental chemistry: "extreme exactness and astuteness. Holmes moved to Sussex Downs and took up bee farming.. Since many of the stories revolve around Holmes (and Watson) doing such things. followed by reactions of lethargy." He may suffer from bipolar disorder. Dr.. such as preserving a woman's honour or a family's reputation (this argument is discussed by Holmes and Watson in "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton"). Watson was gradually able to convince Holmes to discontinue the use of these drugs: "For years I had gradually weaned him from that drug mania which had threatened once to check his remarkable career. 4 . "The Adventure of the Priory School") The use of tobacco ashes and cigarette butts to identify criminals ("The Adventure of the Resident Patient".) Holmes has a strong sense of honour and "doing the right thing". (They remain staples of detective fiction. but I was well aware that the fiend was not dead.g. as Holmes recognises the fingerprint as a forgery) In "The Adventure of the Second Stain". and bicycle tracks to identify actions at a crime scene (A Study in Scarlet. burgle and housebreak) when it suited his purposes. nor his willingness to bend the truth and break the law (e. shoe prints. though Watson describes this as Holmes' "only vice"." Typically of his time. The Hound of the Baskervilles) The use of typewritten letters to expose a fraud ("A Case of Identity") The deduction of murder from two pieces of human remains ("The Adventure of the Cardboard Box") The observation of gunpowder residue on victim ("The Adventure of the Reigate Squire") The observation of use of bullets from murder weapon from two crime scenes ("The Adventure of the Empty House") The use of a fingerprint to free an innocent man ("The Adventure of the Norwood Builder") (an especially subtle case. conceal evidence. But. a modern reader must accept actions which would be out of character for a 'law-abiding' detective living by the standards of a later time. "outbursts of passionate energy. but sleeping. Watson did not consider a vice Holmes' habit of smoking (usually a pipe) heavily.
and he intrepidly confronts violent murderers. until the very end. although it is never revealed exactly how much he charges for his services. Holmes is usually quite content to allow the police to take the credit for his work. He also holds back on his chain of reasoning. the police have had all the credit in forty-nine). however. although he enjoys receiving praise from personal friends and those who take a serious interest in his work. a peg of wood with string and three old coins ("The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual") An emerald tie-pin from Queen Victoria. Holmes also has souvenirs from his cases: • • • • • • • • A black pearl and a shattered bust of Napoleon Bonaparte ("The Six Napoleons") A gold sovereign from Irene Adler on his watch chain ("A Scandal in Bohemia") A photograph of Irene Adler ("A Scandal in Bohemia") An old gold snuff box with an amethyst from the King of Bohemia. Watson and firearms Although on occasion Holmes and Watson carry pistols with them (see also Dr. he remarks that of his last fifty-three cases. when he can explain all of his deductions at once. ("The Adventure of the Cardboard Box") Holmes. He seems to enjoy baffling the police inspectors with his superior deductions. not revealing it or only giving cryptic hints and surprising results.Holmes can often be quite dispassionate and cold. Holmes does have an ego that sometimes seems to border on arrogance. he does not allow superstition (as in "The Hound of the Baskervilles") or grotesque situations to make him afraid. In addition. ("The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans") A Stradivarius violin. his comfortable residence at 221B Baker St. with Watson being the only one to broadcast his own roles in the case (in "The Adventure of the Naval Treaty". He has a flair for showsmanship. ("A Case of Identity") A ring from the ruling family of Holland ("A Case of Identity") A crumpled piece of paper. when hot on the trail of a mystery. there are only three times when these weapons are fired: 5 . a key. and indeed Holmes himself remarks that it is the danger of his profession that has attracted him to it. brutal crime scenes. He is generally unfazed by threats from his criminal enemies. He dispassionately surveys horrific. he can display a remarkable passion given his usual languor. Watson's revolver). however. Holmes is generally quite fearless. and often. His possessions Besides fees. he prepares dramatic traps to capture the culprit of a crime which are staged to impress Watson or one of the Scotland Yard inspectors (as at the end of "The Norwood Builder"). suggests he has a good income from his business. his arrogance is usually deserved.
by Watson. He is also mentioned in a number of others. including The Sign of Four. who is not only a friend but also his chronicler (his "Boswell"). Hudson. London. as is also referenced in the work of Baring-Gould. The residence was maintained by his landlady. To lash out at the snake in "The Adventure of the Speckled Band". the mass of mailings he received demanding that he bring back his creation convinced him to continue. including "The Empty House". who fell. over the Reichenbach Falls. In many of the stories. struggling with Holmes. Mycroft Holmes. and with whom he shared rooms for some time before Watson's marriage in 1890. Besides a pistol. Most of Holmes' stories are told as narratives. the story in which this occurred. Conan Doyle intended "The Final Problem". Holmes uses a riding crop as a weapon: • • To knock the pistol from John Clay's hand in "The Red-Headed League". Also. all four of Scotland Yard. Holmes also has an older brother. usually because he relates them as exciting stories rather than as objective and detailed reports focusing on what Holmes regards as the pure "science" of Holmes' craft. and "The Bruce-Partington Plans". Dr. However. In some later stories. Holmes is assisted by the practical Watson. Law enforcement officers with whom Holmes has worked include G. Tobias Gregson. who appears in three stories: "The Greek Interpreter". Mrs. Holmes lived from the year 1881 at 221B Baker Street. he is assisted by a group of street children he calls the Baker Street Irregulars. of the detective's solutions to actual crimes. 6 . Stanley Hopkins. "The Final Problem". numerous sources claim that Moriarty was initially Holmes' mathematics tutor. Watson pistol-whips Colonel Sebastian Moran in "The Adventure of the Empty House". and Francois Le Villard of the French police.• • • • They both fire at the Andaman Islander in The Sign of Four. Holmes criticizes Watson for his writings. In three stories. Holmes' arch-enemy and popularly-supposed nemesis was Professor James Moriarty ("the Napoleon of Crime"). Holmes usually baffles the police with his far more efficient and effective methods. and Athelney Jones. an upper-story flat (in early notes it was described as being situated at Upper Baker Street). "The Adventure of the Empty House" had Conan Doyle explaining that only Moriarty fell over the cliff. to be the last that he wrote about Holmes. They both fire at the hound in The Hound of the Baskervilles Watson fires at the mastiff in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches". showing himself to be a vastly superior detective. where he spent many of his professional years with his good friend. but Holmes had allowed the world to believe that he too had perished while he dodged the retribution of Moriarty's underlings. Watson. Lestrade. People in his life Historically.
"A Scandal in Bohemia". Watson states that Holmes has an "aversion to women" but "a peculiarly ingratiating way with [them].. On the other hand.." This resistance to his deductive processes may have annoyed him. as indicated by these episodes." Holmes stated "I am not a whole-souled admirer of womankind. whom Watson thought might become more than a client to Holmes). Hudson. She is often thought to be the only woman who broke through Holmes' reserve. In one story. beauty. Watson." His dislike may have stemmed from the fact he found "the motives of women. is never actually described. She is also one of the few women who are mentioned in multiple Holmes stories.. the context implies that Holmes found their youth. their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin. According to Watson.. so inscrutable. Mary Morstan of The Sign of Four. in virtually all the longer stories he remarks on the exceptional beauty of at least one female character — and actually married one. 7 ." Holmes himself never uses this term — though he does mention her actual name several times in other cases.. has a perhaps justifiable reputation as a ladies' man: he spoke favourably of some women — indeed. on the other hand. However. it may be noted that the landlady." If he was able to turn on a certain amount of charm. this point is unclear due to a comment with some chronological problems in one of the stories (see the Irene Adler or The Five Orange Pips articles for details).. Mrs. He clearly demonstrates particular interest in several of the more charming female clients that come his way (such as Violet Hunter of "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches". How can you build on such quicksand? Their most trivial actions may mean volumes. as opposed to an actual romantic interest. though she is actually only in one. and energy (and the cases they bring to him) invigorating. "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton". there is no indication of a serious or long-term interest apart from the case of Adler. She is possibly the only woman who has ever "beaten" Holmes in a mystery.Holmes and women The only woman in whom Holmes ever showed any interest that verged on the romantic was Irene Adler. but only with the motivation of gaining information for his case. she was always referred to by Holmes as "The Woman. as Holmes inevitably "manifested no further interest in her when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems. Holmes is engaged to be married.