Sherlockian FAQ

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
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Here is the answers of the most frequently asked questions about Sherlock Holmes :

Who's Who

Who is Sherlock Holmes?

Dictionary definition : Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character created by Arthur Conan Doyle appearing in 60 stories published between 1887 and 1927. He is an amateur consulting detective. The first story is a novel entitled A Study in Scarlet (1887) and the last one is a short story entitled The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place (1927). The action take place mostly in London, England, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Sherlockian definition : Sherlock Holmes is a real British amateur consulting detective born in 1854, dead or not (see FAQ on this topic Is Sherlock Holmes dead?). He lived at 221b Baker Street in London, with his friend and biographer, Dr. John H. Watson. Arthur Conan Doyle was the literary agent of Watson.

Who is John Watson?

Dictionary definition : John H. Watson is a fictional character created by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sherlockian definition : John H. Watson was a British M.D. born in the early 1850's. He was living at 221b Baker Street with Sherlock Holmes and was his assistant, his biographer and his only friend. He is the author of the stories about the detective's investigations (while Arthur Conan Doyle was his literary agent).

Who is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

Dictionary definition : Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) was a Scottish writer, physician, sportsman, poet, politician, justicer and spiritualist. He wrote more than 200 fictions of which 60 are stories of Sherlock Holmes. But he also wrote a lot of essays, poems, plays, articles, letters to the press...

Sherlockian definition : Arthur Conan Doyle is the literary agent of Dr Watson. He helped him to publish the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Who was the arch-ennemy of Sherlock Holmes?

We could answer: the Crime! But in the era of Sherlock Holmes, we could find a man at the top of pyramid of crime in England : the professor James Moriarty.

According to Sherlock Holmes, "he is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them."

He is "the greatest schemer of all time, the organizer of every devilry, the controlling brain of the underworld - a brain which might have made or marred the destiny of nations."

Who is Mycroft Holmes?

Mycroft Holmes is the elder brother of Sherlock Holmes. He is 7 years older. He only appears 2 times in the Sherlock Holmes stories : in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter and in The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans. He is however also mentioned in The Adventure of the Final Problem and in The Adventure of the Empty House). Holmes said about him: "He was my superior in observation and deduction. If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an arm-chair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived. But he has no ambition and no energy. [..] Again and again I have taken a problem to him and have received an explanation which has afterwards proved to be the correct one. 41 And yet he was absolutely incapable of working out the practical points which must be gone into before a case could be laid before a judge or jury."

Who is Irene Adler?

Irene Adler was an American singer and adventuress born in 1858 (deceased around 1890). For Sherlock Holmes she was the woman. She obly appears in one story : A Scandal in Bohemia where she succeed to avoid the trap set by Sherlock Holmes so the detective had a considerable admiration for her. In the detective eyes : "she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex." But "It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler." At the end of the affair, Holmes ask as only reward... the photo of Irene Adler.

Who is Mrs Hudson?

Mrs Hudson is the landlady of Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson at 221b Baker Street.

Who is Lestrade?

The inspector Lestrade is part of the British Scotland Yard police in London. Among all the policemen who worked with Sherlock Holmes, he is the most mentionned in the Sherlock Holmes stories, but not the most efficient. Holmes said about him : "He is quick and energetic, but conventional - shockingly so." and "he is absolutely devoid of reason, he is as tenacious as a bull-dog when he once understands what he has to do, and indeed it is just this tenacity which has brought him to the top at Scotland Yard."

Who is Sidney Paget?

Sidney Paget was a British illustrator (1860-1908) who had drawn most of the illustrations of Sherlock Holmes' stories published in The Strand Magazine between 1891 and 1904. An anecdote is amazing about him: the first choice of The Strand Magazine editor was Walter Paget, the brother of Sidney. An error in the mailing address and the letter went to Sidney Paget and he accepted. The Strand Magazine didn't regret this error. He also illustrated other non-sherlockian stories of Conan Doyle. Others artists illustrated the Sherlock Holmes stories like: Walter Paget (only one story after the death of his brother), Frederic Dorr Steele, Frank Wiles, George Hutchinson, W. H. Hyde, H. K. Elcock, and many more.

Holmes and Watson Life

How Holmes and Watson met?

Young Stamford, a common friend of Holmes and Watson, introduced Watson to Sherlock Holmes. He appears in the first story: A Study in Scarlet.

Watson, returning from Afghanistan where he was injured, was looking for a cheaper lodging than his hotel room on the Strand. He met Stamford at the Criterion Bar (in London) and explained his problem. Stamford told him that he know someone on the same situation, a man named Sherlock Holmes. They both went to the St. Bartholomew's hospital to meet this Sherlock Holmes...

Where Holmes and Watson live?

Holmes and Watson lived together at 221b Baker Street, West End, London.

Watson, who married, had to quit Baker Street several times (see Chronologies). But Holmes lived here from 1881 (installation of the two men) until 1903 (date when he retired in Sussex). Many debates has been raised about this address : the location of the 221, the meaning of the "b", the layout of the apartment, the windows, Mrs Hudson, etc.

Today, there is a Sherlock Holmes museum at the 221 Baker Street, where they recreated the sitting-room and chambers... Museum website

Is Sherlock Holmes dead?

For some sherlockians, Sherlock Holmes is still alive.

The 3 main theories are :

  1. During his retiring in Sussex, Sherlock Holmes worked on Bee Culture. He would have followed a royal jelly regime which would have increased his life expectancy until now.
  2. During his trip to Tibet, Sherlock Holmes would have drink an elixir of youth given by the Dalaï-Lama.
  3. His obituary has never been published in The Times.

What is the Great Hiatus?

The Great Hiatus is the period from may 1891 to april 1894 (according to William Stuart Baring-Gould chronology) when everyone, even Watson, thought Holmes dead.

In The Adventure of the Final Problem, Sherlock Holmes fought to death with Professor Moriarty at the top of the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. They both fell in the falls. Holmes and Moriarty was dead. But Holmes will come back several years later in The Adventure of the Empty House.

Did Sherlock Holmes receive the French Legion of Honour?

Yes. In The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez, Watson tells us that "the tracking and arrest of Huret, the Boulevard assassin - an exploit which won for Holmes an autograph letter of thanks from the French President and the Order of the Legion of Honour."

The French president at this time (1894) was Jean-Pierre Casimir-Perier. Researches has been made by the french sherlockians of the Sherlock Holmes Society of France in 1993 in the archives of the "Musée de la Légion d'honneur". In the section "Foreign dignitaries", they found a "S. Holmes" dated 1909. THey still have to find why the dates are not matching.

Did Sherlock Holmes write books?

Yes. Here is the list:

Books he wrote :

  • The Book of Life (STUD)
  • Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos (SIGN)
  • Monograph upon the tracing of footsteps (SIGN)
  • Monograph upon the influence of a trade upon the form of the hand (SIGN)
  • Monograph upon the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus (BRUC)
  • Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen (LAST)
  • Study of tattoo marks (REDH)
  • Monograph upon all forms of secret writings (DANC)
  • Monograph upon the dating of documents (HOUN)
  • 2 Monographs upon the human ear (CARD)
  • The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier (BLAN)
  • The Adventure of the Lion's Mane (LION)

Books he projected to write :

  • Monograph upon the uses of dogs in the work of the detective (CREE)
  • Monograph on Malingering (DYIN)
  • Monograph on the type-writer and its relation to crime (IDEN)
  • Textbook upon the whole art of detection (ABBE)

Did Sherlock Holmes meet famous people?

He met the following famous people:

In the Sherlock Holmes stories:

  • Dr. Watson !
  • Dalaï-Lama
  • Khalifa at Khartoum
  • Sarasate
  • Trepoff
  • King of Bohemia
  • Prime Minister
  • Home Secretary
  • Royal Family of Holland
  • Foreign Minister

In pastiches :

  • Jack the Ripper
  • Karl Marx
  • Albert Einstein
  • Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde
  • The Ghost of the Opera
  • Edgar Poe
  • Dracula
  • Arsene Lupin
  • Captain Dreyfus
  • Freud
  • Raffles
  • and more...

Did Sherlock Holmes play music?

Sherlock Holmes played violon. He had purchased a Stradivarius which was worth at least five hundred guineas, at a jew broker's in Tottenham Court Road for fifty-five shillings. (CARD)

Watson said "My friend was an enthusiastic musician, being himself not only a very capable performer, but a composer of no ordinary merit." (REDH)

What is the V.R.?

Watson told that when Sherlock Holmes was in one of his queer humours would sit in an arm-chair, with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges, and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V.R. (Victoria Regina) done in bullet-pocks. (MUSG)

Did Sherlock Holmes meet Jack the Ripper?

Jack the Ripper (serial killer who terrorized the East End of London in 1888) and Sherlock Holmes are the two most famous characters of the Victorian era. If Holmes participated to the enquiry of the murders, Watson never recounted it in the Sherlock Holmes stories. As the killer has never been arrested, all hypothesis are allowed... Some even think that the two men are in fact only one!

Several literary and cinema writers have already wrote some meeting between the two men:

  • Movie in 1965, A Study in Terror, by James Hill
  • Movie in 1979, Murder by Decree, by Bob Clark
  • Novel in 1984, The Return of Moriarty, by John Gardner
  • Novel in 1995, The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, by Michael Dibdin

What is the difference between induction and deduction?

Definition of Deduction : A process of reasoning or concluding from the general to the particular or specific.

Definition of Induction : A process of reasoning in which individual facts are used to arrive at a general statement or conclusion.

Thus, Sherlock Holmes is using induction.

Sherlock Holmes and animals?

Sherlock Holmes met many creatures in the Sherlock Holmes stories:

Why 27th july 1880 is an important date?

Watson was attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as Assistant Surgeon. Then he was removed from his brigade and attached to the Berkshires, with whom he served at the fatal battle of Maiwand on 2th july 1880. There, he was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery. He should have fallen into the hands of the murderous Ghazis had it not been for the devotion and courage shown by Murray, his orderly, who threw him across a pack-horse, and succeeded in bringing him safely to the British lines.

Without Murray, Watson would be dead and there would never have Sherlock Holmes stories, so the 27th july should be celebrated by any sherlockians.

Did Sherlock Holmes have French origins?

Yes, Sherlock Holmes was the grand-son of the sister of the French painter Vernet. (GREE)

How many times Watson has been married?

The exact number is not sure. Sherlockian experts have to work on debatables chronologies which have different conclusions. At least, two marriages are sure.

In The Sign of Four (1888), Watson met Mary Morstan (the Sherlock Holmes' client) and they married at the end of the story. Mary died between 1891 and 1893. Then, in The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier (1903), Holmes said that Watson had left Baker Street to live with his wife.

Any other allusion to Watson's wife are controversial issues because we don't know if it concerns Mary or other woman.

What means "b" in the address "221b Baker Street"?

The signification of "b" is not sure.

Some think it has the same meaning than in France, the "b" is a new building inserted between 221 and 222.

And some think it means the apartment (apartment "a" and apartment "b") or the floor. But in these cases it is erroneous to write "221b" in the front door on the building.

What means the "H." of "John H. Watson"?

We don't know. Nothing is said about it in the Sherlock Holmes stories.

The British writer Dorothy Sawyers (1893-1957) proposed an interesting hypothesis. She thought it could be "Hamish", which is the scottish equivalent of "James". In The Man with the Twisted Lip, Mrs. Watson called his husband : James.

The cliches

Did Sherlock Holmes smoke a calabash pipe?

Illustration by Sidney Paget (1891)

No. The calabash pipe was only introduced in England after the Boer war, meaning after The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

This curved pipe became the symbol of the detective silhouette after the William Gillette performance in his 1899 play and 1916 movie. While acting he couldnt speak with a straight pipe so he was using a curved pipe.

William Gillette in the movie "Sherlock Holmes" (1916)

Did Sherlock Holmes wear a McFarlane and a deerstalker?

Illustration by Sidney Paget (1892)

Here are the descriptions of the Sherlock Holmes' outfits when he is travelling in countryside:

  • his ear-flapped travelling-cap (SILV)
  • his long grey travelling-cloak and close-fitting cloth cap (BOSC)
  • his tweed suit and cloth cap (HOUN)

There is no more precise description.

The illustrator Sidney Paget (1860-1908), when he illustrated these 3 stories, made the choice to understand it as a deerstalker and a MacFarlane with a hood.

Anyway, these were travel and countryside clothings. As Watson said: "In his tweed suit and cloth cap he looked like any other tourist upon the moor...". Sherlock Holmes would never wear these clothes in London, and even less at the Opera like in we could see in some movies.

The Granada series with Jeremy Brett is probably the most faithfull adaptation of the original description (cloth cap). See photo below:

Jeremy Brett in Silver Blaze (1988)

Was Sherlock Holmes misogynistic?

No. Holmes never said he hate women. He said that sentiments or emotions could trouble his perfect reasoning. In The Sign of Four, Holmes told to Watson "I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment."

In many cases, Holmes showed consideration and gentleness to the female clients.

Did Sherlock Holmes ever say "Elementary, my dear Watson"?

Sherlock Holmes often said his reasonning is "Elementary" and he often told to Watson "My Dear Watson". But never both in the same phrase.

Oh, this is elementary, my dear Watson was first used by William Gillette in his 1899's play and can be heard in the 1916 movie Sherlock Holmes.

Was Sherlock Holmes really infallible?

No. Sherlock Holmes has already been beaten or outwitted :

The Sherlockians

Who are the sherlockians?

The Sherlockians are people fond of Sherlock Holmes and his universe. They are playing The Game called the Sherlockiana. They like to think that Sherlock Holmes was a real person and do some serious studies like he was an historic personnality.

What is the Sherlockiana?

The literary activities of the sherlockians is called the Sherlockiana. The study is limited to the Sherlock Holmes saga in the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, including all the characters appearing the stories (their lives, their activities, the places where they live, etc). The sherlockiana is practised by writing articles, studies or conferences (serious or humorous) on the most diverse topics around Sherlock Holmes and his universe.

Who is Ronald Knox and Christopher Morley?

Ronald A. Knox and Christopher Morley are the founders of the Sherlockiana.

What is the BSI and the SHSL?

B.S.I. are the initials of The Baker Street Irregulars which is the first American sherlockian society created in 1934. In the Sherlock Holmes stories, the Baker Street irregulars are the young boys of the London streets who occasionally helped Sherlock Holmes in his investigations.

S.H.S.L. stands for the Sherlock Holmes Society of London which is the first British sherlockian society created in 1934 as well but a few months later than the BSI.

What is a scion society?

A Scion Society is a sherlockian society who take the BSI as model for their functionning and declares themselves an affiliate of the BSI, even if the BSI doesn't recognizes them officially.

The Stories

What is the "Canon"?

The "Canon" is a term used by sherlockian devotees for 60 Sherlock Holmes stories (4 novels and 56 short stories) written by Arthur Conan Doyle between 1887 and 1927. It does not include two stories (The Field Bazaar an How Watson Learned the Trick) written by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The stories written by other authors are not part of their "Canon" and can't be used for their sherlockian studies. Even those written by Adrian Conan Doyle, the son of Arthur Conan Doyle. All these stories are called pastiches.

Which are the best Sherlock Holmes stories?

Everyone has his own opinion. But if you want others opinion, here is two top lists from trustworthy people:

According to Conan Doyle himself

  1. The Adventure of the Speckled Band
  2. The Red-Headed League
  3. The Adventure of the Dancing Men
  4. The Adventure of the Final Problem
  5. A Scandal in Bohemia
  6. The Adventure of the Empty House
  7. The Five Orange Pips
  8. The Adventure of the Second Stain
  9. The Adventure of the Devil's Foot
  10. The Adventure of the Priory School

According to the Baker Street Journal readers (1959)

  1. The Adventure of the Speckled Band
  2. The Red-Headed League
  3. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
  4. The Adventure of Silver Blaze
  5. A Scandal in Bohemia
  6. The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual
  7. The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans
  8. The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
  9. The Adventure of the Dancing Men
  10. The Adventure of the Empty House

What is an "Untold Story"?

An "untold story" is a case mentioned by Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories but never told nor published.

For example, in The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire, Sherlock Holmes told to Watson: "'Matilda Briggs was not the name of a young woman, Watson,' said Holmes, in a reminiscent voice. 'It was a ship which is associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.'" The story of the Giant Rat of Sumatra is an "untold story".

What is "The Strand Magazine"?

The Strand Magazine is a famous British monthly magazine where many Sherlock Holmes stories have been published for the first time between 1891 and 1927.

Except the 2 first novel A Study in Scarlet (published in the Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1887) and The Sign of Four (published in Lippincott's in 1890), and some short stories first published in American magzines.

The Adaptations

Which was the first sherlockian Cinema movie?

The first sherlockian cinema movie is an American short of 30 seconds entitled: "Sherlock Holmes Baffled". Produced by "The American Mutoscope and Biograph" and directed by Arthur Marvin. The actor who played Sherlock Holmes is unknown. The movie was released on 26 april 1900. It tells the story of a burglar who appears and disappears like magic in the Sherlock Holmes' living-room.

Which was the first sherlockian TV movie?

The first sherlockian TV movie is an American movie entitled: "The Three Garridebs" aired in 1937 on NBC Television New York. Directed by Robert Palmer. Holmes is played by Louis Hector et Watson by William Podmore.

Which was the first sherlockian Play?

The first sherlockian play was a British parody of 1893 entitled "Under the Clock" by Seymour Hicks and Charles Brookfield. Holmes was played by Charles Brookfield.

Which was the first sherlockian Radio adaptation?

The first sherlockian radio show is dated 1930. The show from American WEAF-NBC aired 30 minutes of "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" with William Gillette as Holmes and Leigh Lowell as Watson.

How many times Sherlock Holmes appeared on screen?

Sherlock Holmes is the character who has been the most brought to the screen, as early as the cinema invention. More than 260 movies have been found. It's more than Dracula, Frankenstein, Napoléon or Jesus Christ. However, all the movies are not faithfull adaptations of the stories. Most are pastiches or parodies.

Which where the main Sherlock Holmes' performers?

The most famous performers are:






Is "Conan" part of the first name or last name?