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How Real is Sherlock Holmes

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Much as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became tired of the popularity of his literary invention, the detective Sherlock Holmes of London's Baker Street, he was literally forced at one time to bring Holmes back following a story where he was supposedly killed, along with his arch-enemy, Professor Moriarty. World-wide, the idea of this brilliant, yet truly maniacal, drug using "detective"- a form of police work Edgar Allen Poe had popularized- has continued to the present day. There were stage productions in the early Nineteen Hundreds, and a series of ­z@—!"popular low-budget films with Holmes and Doctor Watson which still are re-run often on television. There have been "major motion pictures" even a satirical one, and more recently the BBC has produced Sherlock Holmes in modern-day Britain to critical success. Regardless of the time frame of the mass media (the Basil Rathbone films even updated some of the plots to the then-present day World War II time-frame) there is no doubt that the realism of the times in which the original short stories were written provides history buffs with views of crime and criminals in London and Britain in the late Nineteenth Century that tend to be non-realistic. One can cite some proof.

" Most of the Holmes stories are set among the higher levels of Victorian and Edwardian society, a world inhabited by professional men, retired army officers and country gentlemen as well as members of royalty and cabinet ministers. Few take place among the working classes or the very poor. This situation is the precise opposite of the actual occurrence of criminality, which is overwhelmingly fanned by poverty, alcohol, gangs and domestic violence" (Rubinstein 45). Rubinstein also pooh-poohs Holmes brilliant deductions which supposedly make Scotland Yard look inept, when, in actuality, "the Yard's Criminal Investigation Department (ClD) had a remarkable clear-up rate" (Rubinstein 44).

Of course, one must consider that the majority of readers of short stories, even "detective stories" at that time surely were not the poor or lower classes in Britain, and therefore the plots and conversations and deductions were aimed at a higher "class" where happy endings and sensible solutions are a requirement for popularity. But, critics more recently feel that reality was not- at least in the printed stories- as they seemed in the films were one could feel the "atmosphere" with Hansom cabs, the Baker Street Irregulars (unscrubbed poor urchins running errands for a few pence). "They find that some of Holmes deductions are more flamboyant than scientific and many are founded on fallacies. He is often mistaken in his conclusions; his numerous philosophical maxims are sometimes fallacious; his flirtations with the law are legion; he occasionally is cavalier with the truth; he contradicts himself endlessly; his financial arrangements were sometimes dubious; and when it comes to making quotations he is usually at fault" (Jukes 29). Still, Jukes explains that what perceptive readers today would find ethnic slurs basically represent the times in which the Holmes stories were written: "(Critics) go on to say that all literature must be regarded "as a product of its period" and that inter-war detective fiction was rife with wily Orientals, oily Levantines, usurious Jews, and lecherous Latins" (Jukes 29).

The enormous popularity of the Sherlock Holmes stories and the fact that he was written in such a manner that more people began to assume that Sherlock Holmes was "real" or, at the very least, based on a "real" character, created a cottage industry for readers and dreamers and tourists who continued to stick to their beliefs that Sherlock Holmes lived! " In London, the rooms that Holmes and Watson shared together at 221B Baker Street are now a museum. The rooms are pure fiction, of course. Although there is a Baker Street in London, there was no 221B; it was an address Doyle made up. But tourists had been searching Baker Street for so many years, trying to find the 'actual house,' that the street numbers were changed so that the museum could be established" (Zotti, para. 15).

The fact that there continues to be a "reality" aboout the London of the late Nineteenth and easrly Twentieth Centuries seems summed up on the Zotti article this way: "In the 1940s Edgar W. Smith wrote, "We love the times in which he lived, of course, the half-remembered, half-forgotten times of snug Victorian illusion, of gaslit comfort and contentment, of perfect dignity and grace. And we love the place: the England of those times, fat with the fruits of her achievements, but strong and daring still with the spirit of imperial adventure" (Zotti, para. 58).

It is one thing for readers and movie-goers to believe Sherlock Holmes was/is real where still today there are letters written asking for "his" help (can one imagine writing to Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple?) but there are actual "biographers"- serious-minded writers and thinkers who have developed an entire biographical notation that Sherlock existed, had a family, attended college, etc. One can learn, for example, on the Internet that the most influential "biography" of Holmes is Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street by Baring-Gould. Faced with Holmes's reticence about his family background and early life, Baring-Gould invented one for him. "According to Baring-Gould, Sherlock Holmes was born in Yorkshire , the youngest of three sons of Siger Holmes and Violet Sherrinford. The middle brother, Mycroft, appears in the canon, but the eldest, Sherrinford Holmes, was invented by Baring-Gould to free Mycroft and Sherlock from the obligation of following Siger as a country squire. (In reality, "Sherrinford Holmes" was one of the names Arthur Conan Doyle considered for his hero before settling on Sherlock)" ("Sherlock Holmes" para. 3).

Still, there was a reality within the stories. Actual places and landmarks, some of which, like the Langham Hotel on Regent Street actually still exist. One can also state this about the stories and characters: " Conan Doyle's other alluring creation was London... Victorian London takes on almost the presence of a character in the novels and stories, as fully realized-in all its fogs, back alleys and shadowy quarters- as Holmes himself. Holmes could never have lived anywhere else but London" (Hammer 60).

There continue to be those who insist that there are certain buildings and alleyways and pubs and restaurants that figure prominently in the Doyle short stories, even if the names are slightly different. It is as one might observe reality shrouded by wishful thinking. Nevertheless, as Hammer points out, "Holmes' creator may have exercised artistic license with London's streets and markets. But with vivid evocations of the Victorian city- one recalls the fog-shrouded scene... in 'A Study in Scarlet': "a dun-coloured veil hung over the house tops, looking like the reflections of the mud-coloured streets beneath"- he captured its essence like few other writers before or since" (Hammer 65). This essence, long gone of course, still lingers in the perceptions of those who see Holmes as real as that London.


Jukes, Eric: " Alas, Poor Sherlock: The Imperfections of the

World's Greatest Detective (to Say Nothing of His

Medical Friend)" Harlow: Reference Review

2008 . Vol. 22, Iss. 2; pg. 29

Hammer, Joshua: "Sherlock Holmes' London" Washington D C:

Smithsonian Jan 2010 . Vol. 40, Iss. 10; pg. 56 - 65

Rubinstein, William D. "A Very British Crime Wave" London UK:

History Today Dec 2010 . Vol. 60, Iss. 12; pg. 43-49

"Sherlock Holmes" retrieved Jan 19, 2011 on sherlock - holmes / holmes ian-speculation.html

Zotti, Ed: "Did Sherlock Holmes Really Exist?" April 8, 2003

Retrieved Jan 19, 2011 on: sherlock - holmes -really-exist

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