Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887. Over the course of four novels and fifty-six short stories Conan Doyle was able to create a character so vivid that no small number of people in his day came to believe that Sherlock Holmes was real. A recent British survey suggests that many people continue to think so. (Some also, incidentally, think that real persons such as Winston Churchill are fictitious.) He has become so well known as to be considered an archetype, and an attempt by Conan Doyle to kill off his creation resulted in a storm of protest.
Beyond the details provided by Conan Doyle himself, the "life" of the world's most famous detective has been fleshed out by legions of fans taking up the "game" of Sherlock Holmes scholarship and a number of authors who have written their own Sherlock Holmes stories. Indeed, some Sherlock Holmes attributes of later creation have become so well-known as to be erroneously considered canonical, for example the catchphrase 'The Game's Afoot!' only appears in one Conan Doyle story, while 'Elementary, my dear Watson', the most famous Holmes utterance, never actually appears in that exact form in the canon, but was widely employed by Basil Rathbone, one of Hollywood's most famous Holmeses.
A character sketch
Holmes is described paradoxically as having a 'catlike' sense of personal hygiene, but paradoxically as having stains on his hands and living in untidiness. He is addicted to cocaine and occasionally uses morphine; he can play the violin well but at other times saws at the strings haphazardly. He is antisocial in the extreme.
In A Study in Scarlet, Dr. Watson gives the following assessment of Holmes' abilities:
- Knowledge of Literature.—Nil.
- Knowledge of Philosophy.—Nil.
- Knowledge of Astronomy.—Nil.
- Knowledge of Politics.—Feeble.
- Knowledge of Botany.—Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.
- Knowledge of Geology.—Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks, has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.
- Knowledge of Chemistry.—Profound.
- Knowledge of Anatomy.—Accurate, but unsystematic.
- Knowledge of Sensational Literature.—Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.
- Plays the violin well.
- Is an expert singlestick player, boxer and swordsman.
- Has a good practical knowledge of British law.
Associates and nemeses
- Dr Watson. Most of the Holmes stories are narrated by his friend and roommate, a medical doctor.
- Inspector Lestrade. An inspector at Scotland Yard, Lestrade often gets credit for Holmes' work.
- Professor Moriarty. Holmes's arch enemy.
- Mycroft Holmes. Sherlock's brother, Holmes describes him as being more intelligent with better powers of deduction. He is even more antisocial than Holmes.