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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Some Inconsistencies of Sherlock Holmes

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Some Inconsistencies of Sherlock Holmes is an article published in The Bookman (US version p. 446-447) in january 1902.


Some Inconsistencies of Sherlock Holmes

The Bookman (january 1902, p. 446)
The Bookman (january 1902, p. 447)

A recent number of The Independent contains a paper on Sherlock Holmes, in which the claim is made that his creation is a distinct addition to English literature, and that the stories in which he appears are better than the stories by Gaboriau and Poe, with which they have been often compared. The reason for this is found in the fact that the human element enters very decidedly into the Sherlock Holmes cycle, whereas it has little to do with the narratives about M. Lecoq and M. Dupin. Gaboriau's detective stories are, indeed, mere Chinese puzzles. Poe's are mathematical problems, or perhaps we should say problems in chess. Conan Doyle, however, has made us feel an interest in Sherlock Holmes, and in Watson, and in Gregson and Lestrade and Mycroft Holmes as human beings with very distinct and definite characteristics.

There is one little inconsistency in the portraiture of Holmes which we are surprised that no one yet has mentioned. In A Study in Scarlet Watson catalogues Holmes's limitations, and among other things says that his knowledge of literature was nil. "Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle. he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done." This is pretty specific as a statement, and therefore one is naturally surprised to find in the very next book (The Sign of the Four) Sherlock Holmes recommending Watson to study Winwood Reade's Martyrdom of Man (page 26), citing French aphorisms (page 74), quoting Goethe in the original German (page 77). referring to Jean Paul in relation to Carlyle ! (page 92), reverting once more to Winwood Reade (page 136), and winding up at last with another bit of Goethe (page 193). Elsewhere he shows a familiarity with George Sand, and in "A Case of Identity" gets in both Horace and Hafiz in a single sentence. Indeed, in the matter of quotations and allusions, we think that the later Sherlock Holmes could run Mr. Mabie pretty hard.

We believe that the interest of the reading public in Sherlock Holmes is increasing rather than diminishing as time goes on. One proof of this is found in the fact that Dr. Doyle has been absolutely forced to write another Holmes story, and that the serial publication of it in the Strand has made the issues of that magazine jump to thirty thousand copies beyond its normal circulation. We are reading The Hound of the Baskervilles ourselves, and it is the first story that we have read in serial form for more than ten years. We should like to publish some guesses here as to how it is going to turn we prudently abstain. The thing indeed is growing so fearfully complex as to seem scarcely to admit of any solution whatever; yet experience has shown that when the explanation does come, it will be so absurdly simple as to make one fairly gasp at not having seen it from the beginning. The Strand, by the way, is publishing the best short stories that we have lately come across. The Christmas number alone contained two gems, and we recommend everybody to buy it and to read "Battery Fifteen" and "The Meeting-place of the Three Friends." The latter contains a theme which, from the time of Count Fathom's adventure down to ten years ago, was unfailing in its interest, but which of late has been lost sight of — the lonely inn where travellers are murdered.





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