The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | Study Guide

Arthur Conan Doyle

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes | 11 Things You Didn't Know

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Sherlock Holmes is arguably the most famous detective in literary history—so famous, in fact, that some people mistakenly believe he was a real person. But Sherlock Holmes was not always so well known.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first two Sherlock Holmes novels, published in 1888 and 1890, experienced only minor success. It was only when Doyle started publishing Sherlock Holmes stories in a new magazine, the Strand Magazine, that he started to receive widespread attention. The first 12 stories, serialized between 1891 and 1892, were published as a book called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in October 1892.

In total, Doyle wrote four novels and 60 short stories about Sherlock Holmes. But Holmes's story does not end there. The fictional detective, who is known for his extraordinary powers of observation and logical reasoning, has lived on in numerous Holmes-related derivative works and adaptations.

Sherlock Holmes has even impacted real-world forensic investigations. He is said to have been more than a century ahead of his time, and many of the revolutionary scientific methods he used in Doyle's stories are now commonplace in modern criminal investigations.

1. Sherlock Holmes never says "Elementary, my dear Watson" in Doyle's stories.

Though Sherlock Holmes says both "Elementary" and "my dear Watson" separately, he never utters these particular words together. Nevertheless, this catchphrase is inextricably linked to Sherlock Holmes in the public imagination. The actual origins of the phrase are unclear, but there is speculation that it may have first been spoken by an actor in an 1899 stage production of Sherlock Holmes.

2. Many people believe Sherlock Holmes was a real person.

A 2008 survey of British teenagers found that 58 percent of them thought Sherlock Holmes was a real person who lived at 221B Baker Street. A 2011 survey of British adults found that 21 percent of respondents thought he was a real person.

3. The 12 stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes were initially serialized in the Strand Magazine.

The 12 stories were published from July 1891 until 1892 and proved so popular that they helped boost the circulation of the new Strand Magazine, which had started just months earlier. Doyle was paid 30 guineas for each story—quite a handsome sum at the time. The magazine's editor said of receiving Doyle's first stories, "I at once realized that here was the greatest short story writer since Edgar Allen Poe."

4. Sherlock Holmes was originally going to be called Sherrinford Hope.

One wonders if Sherlock Holmes would be a household name Doyle had used the first name he intended for him: Sherrinford Hope. Hope was the name of a whaling ship that sailed from Scotland to Greenland. Doyle worked on the ship when he was a medical student (medical students at the time often worked on ships to practice their future profession). While aboard the Hope Doyle kept a diary that was later published under the title Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure.

Doyle's wife hated the name Sherrinford Hope, so he changed it to Sherrinford Holmes. His early stories about Sherrinford Holmes were rejected by publishers, so he chose a new first name: Sherlock.

5. Doyle said Sherlock Holmes was loosely based on the surgeon Joseph Bell.

Joseph Bell was one of Doyle's college professors when he was a medical student at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Dr. Bell emphasized the importance of using close observation to establish an accurate diagnosis. He also enjoyed impressing his students by guessing a person's profession from just a few clues, much like Holmes.

The character Sherlock Holmes is also believed to have been partially inspired by the Scottish forensic scientist Henry Littlejohn, whose impressive ability to dissect a crime scene helped solve many high-profile murder cases. Littlejohn and his son, Harvey, helped develop forensic science skills that are still in use today.

6. A researcher estimated Sherlock Holmes's IQ to be 190.

John Radford, a professor of psychology at the University of East London, wrote a book called The Intelligence of Sherlock Holmes and Other Three-Pipe Problems. In his book he used three different methods to guess Holmes's IQ, concluding that it is around 190. In comparison the average person's IQ is 100–110, and Albert Einstein's was around 160.

7. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was banned in the Soviet Union for supposed occultism.

The Soviet Union banned the short story collection in 1929 for "occultism," but the ban was later lifted, and Sherlock Holmes became extremely popular in the country. Several Russian-language film adaptations were made, and a Sherlock Holmes television series filmed from 1979 to 1986 became one of the most successful series in the Soviet Union's history. For his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes actor Vasily Levanov received an Order of the British Empire, making him the only Russian actor to have received the honor.

8. Sherlock Holmes has a Guinness World Record for being the "most-portrayed literary human character in film & TV."

In 2012 Sherlock Holmes was awarded the Guinness World Record for the most portrayed literary human character in film and television. Between 1887 and 2012 the character of Sherlock Holmes was depicted on screen 254 times by more than 75 actors. But he is not the overall most-portrayed character. That honor goes to a nonhuman character: Dracula, who by then had been portrayed more than 270 times.

9. There are at least 250 Sherlock Holmes societies worldwide.

One of the oldest and most famous Sherlock Holmes societies is the Baker Street Irregulars, which was founded in 1934 and has an invitation-only membership policy. The group is "dedicated to the study of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Victorian world." Notable members have included the authors Isaac Asimov and Neil Gaiman. Some special-interest Sherlock Holmes societies include the Sir James Saunders Society (for dermatologists with an interest in Holmes), the Elusive Bicyclists (for Sherlockian cyclists), and the Admirable Beach Society (for reading Sherlock Holmes on the beach).

10. Sherlock Holmes's fictional address, 221B Baker Street, has been the subject of much debate and confusion.

In Doyle's stories Sherlock Holmes and John Watson live at 221B Baker Street. While there is a Baker Street in London, there was no 221B Baker Street at the time Doyle was writing. Sherlock Holmes scholars have debated which Baker Street building may have inspired 221B, but they have not come to any definitive conclusion.

Today, if you visit 221B Baker Street, you'll find the Sherlock Holmes Museum. But it is not technically at 221B—it is actually between 237 and 241, though it was given special permission to bear the address 221B.

11. Sherlock Holmes was bestowed an honorary fellowship at the Royal Society of Chemistry.

In 2002 Sherlock Holmes was the first fictional character to receive the Royal Society of Chemistry honorary fellowship, an award usually reserved for Nobel Laureates and other distinguished academics. The award was presented by a Dr. John Watson, who was chosen for being the only member of the Royal Society of Chemistry to have the same name as Sherlock Holmes's partner. Dr. Watson said of Holmes: "A hundred and twenty years ago he was ahead of his time, using forensic science and analytical chemistry. He also had great personal integrity."

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