If you’ve ever been here, you know it’s all about Agatha Christie on Some Photoblog. In the five years I’ve run it, I’ve not made a single mention of Sherlock Holmes. He’s been lurking in the background, I guess, waiting for his time. And as I’ve just rediscovered my love for Sherlockian stories, this time is now.
There will be no spoilers in this post, apart from The Final Problem, which is widely known anyway.
Sherlock Holmes was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), a writer and by profession a medical doctor, born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Now, I feel kind of bad because I always try to promote lesser known works by authors (e.g. Agatha Christie’s books without Poirot or Marple that are not And Then There Were None and non-Anne of Green Gables works by LM Montgomery) but this time around I’m going for the most obvious choice. It’s also a well known fact that the author ended up hating his most famous creation and had wished his other writings received similar attention. (Sorry, Sir Arthur!) I have read other works by him; a couple of Professor Challenger books and a short story collection Tales of Terror and Mystery and the guy does deserve to be known for his non-Sherlock writings–he was quite prolific and wrote sci-fi, historical fiction, non-fiction. I remember a few years ago a commenter on ACD’s official Facebook page post said “I didn’t know he wrote stories other than Sherlock Holmes” and I thought, how stupid can you get? Please. And any of you bloggers reading this, if you blog about Sir Arthur and have covered his non-Sherlock work (or even Sherlock only, let’s be friends), please drop a comment and I’ll check out your posts.
Anyway… today, I’m basic.
Sherlock Holmes is without a doubt the most popular fictional detective in the world and this is unlikely to change, in our lifetimes or perhaps ever. What is it that makes him so appealing, more than a century after his first appearance?
I don’t know the answer. He just is. An eccentric character, with brilliant mind, skilled in detection, what’s not to love? (Yes, I know he took cocaine. But this was legal in his time.) Mystery is a popular genre anyway, people love their detectives. And Sherlock Holmes is a classic. I think there is certain appeal in Victorian and Edwardian era London as well.
Sherlock Holmes first came to life in the 1887 novel A Study in Scarlet. Altogether he features in four novels (the other three being The Sign of Four, The Hound of Baskervilles and The Valley of Fear) and 56 short stories, majority of them written by his sidekick Dr John Watson. The character is inspired by Dr Joseph Bell (1837-1911), a surgeon and lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, for whom ACD served as a clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Dr Bell used observation to carry out a diagnosis and was a pioneer of what we now call forensic science. He also served as a personal surgeon to Queen Victoria when she visited Scotland.
“My friend and colleague, Dr Watson.”
I am lost without my Boswell.
Sherlock Holmes on Dr Watson (A Scandal in Bohemia)
[Note: This is a reference to James Boswell, who was a biographer of the writer Samuel Johnson.]
The lifelong partnership–or whatever else you might want to call it, I’m not going to argue–was born in A Study in Scarlet. Dr Watson is introduced to Sherlock Holmes by an old acquaintance Stamford as someone to potentially share a place with, as he’s in a precarious financial situation. Stamford knows Sherlock from the hospital, where he, Stamford, works as a dresser and Sherlock likes to dabble with chemicals at the lab.
“Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” said Stamford, introducing us.
from A Study in Scarlet
Sherlock already knows of a suitable lodgings to rent, 221b Baker Street. The next day they meet and go view the place, Watson decides it’s suitable, and they move in.
Also can we raise a glass for Mr Stamford, without whom this iconic duo would never have existed?
Watson at first has no clue about Sherlock’s profession and for some reason is afraid to ask. Because he really has nothing else to do, he studies his flatmate and even makes a list of his skills and abilities. I made a graphic of this list, which I posted on my Tumblr and which remains my most popular post of all time on that platform. Now I’m posting it here:
Watson is also shocked at Sherlock’s total ignorance of the Solar System. Of course, now it seems funny, because you’re thinking, haha he’s obsessed. He admits as such right there, in the text. He has nothing else to occupy his mind, has no close friends and his health is not in the best condition. This is what, on my recent re-read, made me come up with a theory–I think meeting Sherlock Holmes saved Dr Watson’s life. Hear me out.
So, as we know from Watson’s narrative, he qualified as medical doctor, joined the army and served in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, where he was wounded during the Battle of Maiwand. His injury healed, but then he contracted enteric fever (which a quick Google search informs me is the same as typhoid fever). Afterwards, his health was so poor, he was discharged and sent back to England to recuperate. Having no living relatives in England, he arrived in London and booked himself a room in a hotel. His description of the capital city is amusing: that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained. (You wouldn’t think it of him, but our doctor does have some good burns.) His army pension was eleven shillings and sixpence a day (another quick Google search informs me this should have been quite a comfortable income). He describes this period of his life as a “meaningless existence” and confesses to spending too much money. Hence the aforementioned precarious financial situation. He realised that he needed to change his lifestyle and having just made the decision to look for cheaper living, he bumped into Stamford.
What I wonder about–what was he spending his money on? Drinking? Women? Gambling? It was at a bar where he came across Stamford, so draw your own conclusions. (Also in The Sign of Four, we learn that Watson had an older brother with a drink problem.) Stamford comments that Watson is very thin and very brown (suntan from Afghanistan, presumably). It’s not unreasonable to conclude that he suffered from PTSD. And the “meaningless existence”–could that be… depression? When he moved in with Sherlock, he got his life and finances in order and his mind was revived from idleness by this intriguing new friend of his. Then, when Sherlock finally reveals to Watson what his profession is–a consulting detective–he invites him to come along to view a dead body. The rest is history.
Watson is at first sceptical of Sherlock’s science of deduction, but soon learns that yes, it really does work. It seems to me that Sherlock, whether intentionally or not, pulled Watson back into life. That’s how the BBC Sherlock series pretty much plays it.
In the next book, The Sign of Four, a new client named Mary Morstan enters the scene and she and Watson fall in love and get married. I always thought it happened way too fast. They knew each other only for days. But it seems to have worked for them, so I guess that’s good. ACD needed to marry off Watson, so he did. *shrug* Sherlock remained in Baker Street, as Watson says in A Scandal in Bohemia, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature. In other words, he missed his friend. (The Guy Ritchie movies with Robert Downey Jr showcase this well.)
Screenshot of Sherlock Holmes, The Definitive Audio Collection from my Audible app. The complete works, all for one single credit, (not bad!), read by Stephen Fry, who played Mycroft in Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows movie. Speaking of which:
All men are specialists, but his specialism is omniscience.
Sherlock Holmes on his brother Mycroft (The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans)
Sherlock Holmes has a brother called Mycroft, seven years his senior. We first meet him in the story The Greek Interpreter; he also features in one of my personal favourites, The Bruce-Partington Plans. Mycroft possesses even greater ability for deduction and observation than his younger brother, only he can’t be bothered to do any actual detective work out in the field. No ambition and no energy. (I can relate.) He rarely ventures beyond his circle of home, workplace and the Diogenes Club. In The Bruce-Partington Plans Sherlock nearly falls off a chair when he receives telegram from Mycroft informing him of his upcoming visit to Baker Street. It must be something really serious to drag his brother away from his usual territory!
Mycroft’s skills enabled him to create his own position in the Government–this is what Sherlock means about omniscience. He makes himself indispensable, that’s why Sherlock says Mycroft is the Government itself. But my favourite part about the older Holmes is the Diogenes Club. A gentlemen’s club set up for those who hated company, whether it was due to shyness or misanthropy, but who still liked comfortable chairs and newspapers. Talking is not permitted, except for Stranger’s Room and three offences will get you expelled from the club. Mycroft was one of the founding members.
We don’t know what Mycroft’s politics is. From Sherlock’s description, he certainly can make any regime work for him, but I like to think he was at least somewhat progressive. There is nothing in the canon to say he wasn’t.
According to Sherlock, both of them may have inherited their talents from their grandmother, a sister to French artist Vernet. Vernet was a real artist that really existed, in fact there were three of them: grandfather, father and son:
Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789)
Antoine Charles Horace Vernet, known as Carle Vernet (1758-1836)
Émile Jean-Horace Vernet, known as Horace Vernet (1789-1863)
ACD doesn’t specify which one of them it was, but based on the timeline, the youngest one is the most likely one. Horace Vernet mostly painted battle scenes and enjoyed patronage from, among others, King Louis-Philippe. He also took photographs by daguerreotype process, the first publicly available photography technique.
Check out his self-portrait:
It looks very Sherlock Holmes, doesn’t it?
Aside from this, Sherlock never mentions any other family. He says his ancestors were country squires, but offers no further details. In The Adventure of the Norwood Builder, after Sherlock returns from the dead, Watson moves back with him to Baker Street and sells his practice to a young doctor named Verner. Years later he finds out that this Verner was a distant relation of Sherlock and it was really Sherlock who provided the money for the practice, which was sold at the highest price. Verner, Vernet, sounds very similar, also R and T are next to each other on the keyboard. Most likely a coincidence, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
The Best and Finest Man I Have Ever Known
So, Sherlock believed his talent for observation and deduction came from his artist great uncle. Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms, he says in The Greek Interpreter. Sherlock is the logical, scientific type. He also plays the violin and is fond of music. I think we can safely say that in the mind of our great detective, science and art combine.
Watson’s list of Sherlock’s skills is not entirely accurate for the rest of the series. In The Sign of Four, for example, Watson notes that “[Holmes] spoke on a quick succession of subjects,—on miracle-plays, on medieval pottery, on Stradivarius violins, on the Buddhism of Ceylon, and on the war-ships of the future,—handling each as though he had made a special study of it.” Yet none of those subjects are mentioned on the list in A Study in Scarlet. Quite the opposite–any facts he considers irrelevant must be forgotten at once, as to not clutter his mind. When ACD came up with the character of Sherlock Holmes, he couldn’t have known he would still write about him decades later (he didn’t even want to!). With time, he developed his character more, realising that, when you work as a detective, no knowledge is useless. This can be easily explained by Watson not knowing Sherlock that well in their early days yet. There is also another inconsistency. Watson’s wound was in the shoulder in A Study in Scarlet, but in The Sign of Four, he tells us it’s in the leg. Not that it matters much, in any case he could have sustained more than one injury in the war. BBC Sherlock got round it by making Watson’s leg pain psychosomatic–quite clever, I think.
This is a popular outline of Sherlock’s profile, thanks to illustrations by Sidney Paget. It is Paget that gave Sherlock the iconic deerstalker hat, never mentioned in the actual writing. Paget’s illustrations accompanied ACD’s Sherlock stories in The Strand Magazine, where they were published. (Random fact: Agatha Christie also published her Poirot short stories in this magazine.) ACD himself requested Paget to continue illustrating in The Strand when he resurrected Sherlock. Sidney Paget definitely deserves some credit for contributing to the famous detective’s image.
The Birth of a Fandom
ACD killed off Sherlock in 1893 in The Final Problem, hoping this would help him concentrate on the more serious fiction and non-fiction he wanted to work on. Sherlock faces his ultimate antagonist, Professor Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime as he calls him. Interestingly, Moriarty is also a man of science, a mathematical genius. During their last showdown at Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, they both plunge to their deaths.
The reaction of fans to this move was like nothing else ever experienced before. Angry letters poured into ACD’s mailbox, people wore black armbands, The Strand Magazine suffered 20,000 cancellations. These days you’d shrug your shoulder, just another Tuesday in the fandom. But then, it was new. ACD eventually brought the beloved sleuth back; he needed the money and people wanted their Sherlock. Luckily the way he wrote Sherlock’s end enabled him to explain it away with “actually he didn’t fall into his death, only Moriarty did” and “he quickly realised that faking his death would help him break Moriarty’s criminal network and protect his dear Watson”. ACD though killed another character, Mrs Mary Watson, off page, so that he could reinstate Watson back into 221b Baker Street. (It’s kinda shitty if you think about it, but I understand why it had to be that way, besides, readers likely didn’t care about her. Apart from all the other qualities of the Granada Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett, I like that their Watson remained unmarried and Mary Morstan exited at the end of The Sign of Four episode.)
And so the adventures continued.
Sherlockians, or Holmesians if you want, were the first modern fandom. (Ahhh, fandoms, yes, fandoms, that’s a discussion I’d rather not have today.)
Aside from the books written by ACD, Sherlock appears in numerous books by other authors–this is called pastiche. Most of ACD’s works are in public domain now–and you know that means you can get them free as eBooks. Project Gutenberg is the best place for this.
I truly hope that if ACD can see from beyond how loved the character he grew to hate is, and how much Sherlock Holmes means to people, he is not too angry. After all, Sherlock, and all the related adaptations and pastiches, bring many of us joy and in the end, that is what really matters.
My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.
from The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
And how about you, readers? Any fans of Sherlock Holmes there? Tell me in the comments!
Note: Apart from the tiny mentions, I don’t touch on any of the adaptations, as the post was already long enough. In the future, I might dedicate a separate post for these.
I think it would go well with this quote from LM Montgomery book Emily’s Quest.
I was alone but not lonely. I was a queen in halls of fancy. I held a series of conversations with imaginary comrades and thought out so many epigrams that I was agreeably surprised at myself.
Remind you of something? Yes, LMM used this almost exact quote in in Anne of Windy Poplars. Windy Poplars was released in 1936 and Emily’s Quest in 1927, so Emily’s quote came earlier. (Note: Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside were written much later than the rest of Anne books.)
Compare the two books, though. Emily books are much darker than Anne books (there is also altogether more darkness in Montgomery’s work than people realise, but that’s another topic). Windy Poplars covers the three years in Anne’s life when she teaches school at Summerside, while Gilbert is working towards his medical degree. Large chunk of the book is comprised of her letters to Gilbert and that line is from one of them. They are apart for now, but they write to each other and look forward to the time they finally get married and start their life together. So, all is good. Emily’s Quest, on the other hand, is quite a different story. While her friends leave home to pursue their dreams, Emily stays and tries to become a writer. She and her love interest, Teddy, can’t seem to get together because they have communication issues. Emily gets ill, suffers from, what we call now, depression, agrees to marry a man she doesn’t love, and it takes years for her to finally find the happiness she deserves. It’s–bleak. Definitely not one for the children’s books section. Or even Young Adult section. Like one reviewer on Goodreads put it “Montgomery’s work is constantly under-estimated, and the way the books are marketed doesn’t help (the flowery script, the swoony illustrations).” I’ve been saying that for years.
Anne and Emily are both orphans with different journeys, but I think both of them would have loved that little bench under the trees.
I have quite a collection of them now. I chose one in every position for this post.
Someone does clear them, though, because they don’t stay like that for long. Like usually when you see one of these, the next day they’re gone. This is just a sample, by the way, I still have more pictures, all from my neighbourhood.
Time has come for anotherduck post, this time with references from the TV show Good Omens. It’s now been one year since it premiered on Amazon Prime. The basic summary of the show (adapted from the book of the same name written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman) is: Armageddon is coming and angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and demon Crowley (David Tennant) team up to prevent it so that they can save the Earth. What has this got to do with ducks, you ask?
Well this. Apart from it being absolutely hilarious series, it mentions ducks four times–in only six episodes.
Watch our for a spoiler ahead.
In Episode 1, we are told by God (voiced by Frances McDormand) that the best place for clandestine meetings in London is St James’s Park and the ducks there are used to being fed by secret agents.
In Episode 2, Crowley has this line of dialogue: “suspicions slide of him like…” and stops as he can’t remember what they slide like, then, later in that same episode it comes to him: “water off a duck’s back!”
In Episode 3, Crowley and Aziraphale meet in St James’s Park, in the Victorian era (as we follow them throughout history), Aziraphale feeds the ducks and Crowley says: “Ducks have ears.”
And finally, in the final episode, we see Crowley (who is actually Aziraphale in Crowley’s body) get a bath of holy water and he says this: “I don’t suppose that anywhere in the nine circles of hell there’s such a thing a a rubber duck?”
*end of spoiler*
And that’s it. I just find it interesting that there are only two episodes that have no mention of a duck. Maybe the writers agree with me that ducks are indeed awesome.
The yellow one is my pencil sharpener that I brought from work when I started homeworking. The other one I bought at Waterstones; they’ve got more of these mini model animals, I think it’s for some farm collection for children. Or something, I don’t know.
I’ve been thinking about doing this post for months. Initially I contemplated giving it some Buzzfeed-style catchy title (17 Ways My Kindle Makes My Life Worth Living) but in the end I opted for simple, what-it-says-on-the-tin title. So here it is.
I’ve mentioned books on this blog here and there, mostly either LM Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables or Agatha Christie, or, if it’s a Gloomscapes post, a dystopian novel. This post not strictly about books, though, it’s about their format. The reason? Well, eBooks need some love. I’m fed up with the stupid comments about how eBooks will never be as good as “real books” and how you can’t really get immersed in an eBook and real books, nothing beats the smell of real books, realbooks, reAAAAALBOOKS waah waah waah! So, here I want to list my reasons why I LIKE eBooks.
When I did my Gloomscapes series two years ago, I never imagined we would soon be in the midst of our own dystopia. I expected some things, of course, with Brexit and Trump and the wave of right-wingery on one side and climate change on the other, but I never expected a pandemic. And now here we are.
Following the advice of staying at home and social distancing is for me, pretty much, just living my life as I do. I stay indoors and don’t go anywhere anyway, unless I take a trip for my photography and I don’t socialise. So I thought I would post some currently appropriate shots of my home. I put no quality in these, I basically just snapped them and uploaded to my computer.
I’m very much about Kindle books, as I blogged about before, so these physical books are from the time before eBooks started or titles that are not available in digital format. I’ve got some Game of Thrones characters figures, funko pops of Captain Marvel and Black Widow, a tiny model space shuttle and cats!
This is an older photo, as you can see more effort was put in it. This pile represents so many of my interests: Anne of Green Gables, Agatha Christie, history, maps, Star Trek, A Song of Ice and Fire and Sherlock Holmes!
Jaime Lannister with a catapult pencil sharpener from Chester and a tiny globe. The doll with the red braids is, of course, Anne Shirley.
The dog is called Snoopy and I’ve had him since 2003. Obviously I’m a cat person but Snoppy is special.
I’ve posted some of my Polaroids before, here they are again.
Above – the pasta shelf. Below – the toilet roll shelf.
I personally am not doing any stockpiling, because I live on my own and have no space anyway. I went to Tesco to do my usual weekly shopping. On the way, I saw a man in a balaclava riding a scooter, backpack on his back, with a shopping bag hanging in front of him. Well ain’t you a badass, I thought. James Bond could never!