The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | Study Guide

Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


What role does deception play in the story "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes?

The Holder household seems to be cursed by a plague of deception in "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet." Mary Holder deceives her uncle and her cousin about the coronet and her involvement with Sir George Burnwell; Arthur Holder deceives his father about Mary's actions; and Sir George Burnwell deceives every member of the Holder family. In fact he is so entangled in a web of lies that he actually deceives Mary—whom he is no doubt using, as he's done with so many women before—about his first deception that he loves her. The exception is that Arthur Holder misleads his father for noble purposes—to protect the honor and image of Mary Holder. It's a good thing Sherlock Holmes is on the complicated case; a lesser man may not have been up for the challenge.

How does a sense of honor motivate the characters in the story "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes?

The members of the Holder household place enormous value on their sense of honor, and it motivates their actions in "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet." Despite the fact that he is an irresponsible gambler and something of a layabout, Arthur Holder is so self-conscious about perceptions of his honor that he pleads with his father to loan him money to pay off his gambling debts. More nobly, he refuses to expose Mary's role in the theft of the coronet to protect her from shame. For the same reason he runs after Burnwell to retrieve the coronet—to protect his father from shame. Alexander Holder is a proud man, and Arthur knows losing the national treasure would devastate his father. This is confirmed when his father confronts him in his dressing room while he tries to fix the coronet. "You have disonhoured me forever!" Alexander Holder cries out in anguish.

In the story "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, what does the countryside represent to Sherlock Holmes?

In Holmes's view the countryside is a land of lawlessness. Far from a romantic paradise of traditional values and kind folks, it is a place where crimes are committed out of sight and without prosecution. Its beauty is merely a deception: "It is my belief," he tells Watson in "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" as the pair travels to Copper Beeches on a pretty spring day, "that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside." The disturbing case of Alice Rucastle, the young woman who is imprisoned in a room in her house by her parents, seems to support Holmes's perspective.

In the story titled "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, what do Holmes's comments about data tell readers about his approach to crime-solving?

Holmes's reluctance to form conclusions without having accurate information ("data") on hand underscores his empirical approach. In his view deductions and brainstorming are useless if they aren't based on solid facts. Twice in this story Holmes mentions the importance of data to solving crime and forming conclusions. In the beginning of "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches," when Miss Hunter asks Holmes what he makes of Mr. Rucastle's offer, he claims he doesn't know what to think because "I have no data. I cannot tell." He gives the same response to Watson before they are summoned to Copper Beeches. When Watson asks Holmes what he thinks is happening at the house, he responds, "Data! data! data! ... I can't make bricks without clay."

How does The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes reflect anxieties during the Victorian era?

Arthur Conan Doyle lived and wrote during the second half of the Victorian era. During this time period cities had become cultural and economic centers, and millions of people moved from rural areas into cities to find work and make new lives for themselves. Life in cities, however, was quite different from life in towns, where most people knew each other. People were anonymous in the cities, and thus people couldn't always be sure whom they were dealing with. As a result many people worried about being taken advantage of or being deceived. These worries are reflected in Sherlock Holmes's cases, which revolve around people who misrepresent themselves in some way.

In what ways does Sherlock Holmes in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes reassure Victorian readers?

Sherlock Holmes reassures readers in two ways. First, he shows the world is actually less mysterious than it seems. By resolving crimes that have perplexed their victims—and the police—he demonstrates there is always a causal explanation for everything. Events don't happen at random in Sherlock Holmes's world, despite seeming to (before Holmes solves the case). Second, Holmes affirms the world is just. Not always: in a few of his cases he solves a deception but the victim is not compensated or made whole. Nevertheless, most of the cases that he resolves bring perpetrators to justice, or at least prevent them from causing additional harm.

What does Doyle's depiction of servants and workers in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes reveal about Victorian attitudes toward them?

Doyle's depiction of servants and lower-class workers is uninterested at best and stereotypical at worst. Many of Holmes's clients have servants, and the detective comes into contact with them throughout his investigations; in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" the criminals are actually a hotel attendant (James Ryder) and a maid. Generally speaking, Holmes treats servants as mere set pieces that exist generically in the background. In "The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet," for example, Holmes's client, Alexander Holder, goes to great pains to describe his son and his niece. He also lives with three servants, but with the exception of a few remarks about his newest servant, Lucy (who may be a conspirator), he doesn't say anything about them. When Holmes disguises himself as a groom or a worker, it's implied that his associates are simple-minded and easily bribed. Holder's dismissive treatment is typical for the stories in the collection, and likely reflects the biases of the middle and upper class, of which Doyle was a part, who have little interest in the lives of their workers.

What is the significance of Sherlock Holmes's pipe smoking in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes?

Sherlock Holmes smokes his clay pipe when he is stuck on a difficult problem. In "The Red-Headed League" he takes a long break to analyze the role of Jabez Wilson's assistant, Vincent Spaulding (John Clay), in the plot against Wilson; he refers to the mystery as a "three pipe problem." In "The Man with the Twisted Lip" Holmes consumes an entire ounce of tobacco over a long night in order to figure out the whereabouts of Neville St. Clair. Holmes occasionally smokes a cherry-wood pipe, but he reserves this for times when he wants to argue. This pipe comes out during his somewhat tense debate with Watson at the beginning of "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches."

Why does Sherlock Holmes obsess over trivial details as portrayed in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes?

It would be fair to say Sherlock Holmes is obsessed with trivial details: "You know my method," he informs Watson in "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," "it is founded upon the observation of trifles." In "The Man with the Twisted Lip" he explains that the atypical marks on an envelope are "of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles." Holmes's point is even the tiniest details can reveal valuable clues that may lead to solving a case. In every one of his investigations he observes some trifle that seems suspicious or revealing, and each time his pursuit of the irregularity pays off.

In the story "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, what does Holmes mean when he says, "On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything"?

Sherlock Holmes makes this point in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle," while the men are examining the hat brought to Baker Street by Commissionaire Peterson. Watson complains the hat doesn't reveal anything to him aside from its most obvious physical clues: it was once an elegant expensive hat, and it's now battered and in bad condition. Holmes scolds Watson for giving up so easily, and for not engaging his powers of observation. Using his powers, Holmes is able to deduce an enormous amount of backstory about the hat wearer, Henry Baker. Holmes's gentle criticism of Watson as insufficiently observant recurs throughout many of the cases. He seems to expect more of his friend, an otherwise talented doctor. As he complains to Dr. Watson, "You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences."

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