The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | Study Guide

Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | Motifs



The world of Sherlock Holmes is a world of lies. This state of affairs is necessary in any book of mysteries, but it also reveals anxieties about life during Victorian times. As people moved into cities, they were suddenly surrounded by strangers. Holmes, however, could provide something critical: the truth. Holmes's clients have been cheated and abused, misled and deceived, and he is hired to see through these deceptions to establish the truth. The deceptions Holmes's clients are subject to give each adventure its narrative thrust. Each case is a race to discover the meaning of a lie or reveal what someone is hiding, and each story reaches its climax when the deception is revealed.

Arthur Conan Doyle employs some situational irony by causing Holmes, in his crusade to establish the truth, to employ his own deceptive tricks, such as going in disguise. He dresses as a stable groom, a "loafer," and other characters in order to earn the trust of people—and then exploits it to gain information. This makes him an effective sleuth who uses deception for his own advantage.


The wealth and growth that occurred during Victorian England bequeathed to the nation a far-reaching network of rails and carriage routes. Within cities residents could hail "cabs"—carriage taxis—just like people do today. This created a mobility unknown to earlier generations, a mobility widely reflected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and different characters constantly travel around the city of London and often travel to distant areas of the country. Several of the characters in the stories, such as Neville St. Clair and Alexander Holder, actually commute into London each day for work by train. Still others, such as Dr. Roylott Grimesby, who lived in India, have traveled overseas.

These new opportunities, however, make Holmes's sleuthing more time-consuming, as he must leave his home base in central London to gather clues and investigate. He must also be well-informed about the wider world, since many of the cases he works on involve incidents that took place in other countries. In this respect the mobile, worldly detective is a perfect embodiment of a Victorian sleuth.

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