Saturday, July 7, 2012

Elementary, my Dear Watson! - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous Sherlock Holmes

Photograph of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
 © New York Public Library Digital Collection.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who died 82 years ago today in 1930, was one of the most prolific, versatile and successful authors of the late 19th and early 20th century. Besides his best known character, the 'consulting detective' of the London police, Sherlock Holmes and his dear friend and advisor Dr. John Watson, he also wrote science fiction stories, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction and historical novels.
Doyle struggled to find a publisher for his work.

The first significant story featuring the first appearance of Watson and Sherlock Holmes was 'A Study in Scarlet' published in 1886. Actually, Doyle struggled to find a publisher for the work until he finally ended up with the well known Strand Magazine for the sequel 'The Sign of the Four'.

The famous Detective is said to be partially modelled after Doyle's former university teacher Joseph Bell. Like Holmes, Bell was noted for drawing large conclusions from the smallest observations. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote to Bell,
"It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes... [R]ound the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man." 
Robert Louis Stevenson was able, even in faraway Samoa, to recognize the strong similarity between Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes:
"[M]y compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. ... [C]an this be my old friend Joe Bell?"
Overall, Sherlock Holmes was featured by Doyle in four novels and 56 short stories. The character grew tremendously in popularity with the first series of short stories in Strand Magazine, beginning with A Scandal in Bohemia in 1891; further series of short stories and two novels published in serial form appeared between then and 1927. The stories cover a period from around 1880 up to 1914.
Holmes is described as having lodgings at 221B, Baker Street, London, from where he runs his consulting detective service. He lives some kind of bohemian lifestyle and doesn't care about good manners or the public's opinion - much to the regret of his dear friend Watson.
"Although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind ... [he] keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece ... He had a horror of destroying documents.... Thus month after month his papers accumulated, until every corner of the room was stacked with bundles of manuscript which were on no account to be burned, and which could not be put away save by their owner." 
The Guinness World Records has consistently listed Sherlock Holmes as the "most portrayed movie character"with 75 actors playing the part in over 211 films. And the story continues. In the latest tv adaption Benedict Cumberbatch plays a modern-day version of the detective, with Martin Freeman as Watson, in the very popular BBC One TV series 'Sherlock'. The series changes the books' original Victorian setting to the shady and violent present-day London. There, Holmes also uses modern technology, such as texting and blogging, to solve crimes, and in a nod towards changing smoking legislature, he has replaced his pipe with multiple nicotine patches, as London has forbidden smoking in most public areas, yet this interpretation of Holmes still finds nicotine to help the cognitive process.

At yovisto Dr. Jim Bryant and Dr. Sam Gosling from the University of Austin illustrate the master sleuth's use of statistics and observations of personality in their 'Sherlock Holmes' lecture.


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