The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
“The Woman”: How Multiple Texts Failed Irene Adler
Critical responses to Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “A Scandal in Bohemia,” an installment in the Sherlock Holmes series, have been dramatically varied. While some hail it as a work of feminist fiction ahead of its time, others condemn it as one of many examples of Doyle’s inability to write a rounded female character. Irene Adler, who makes her first and only appearance in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” is the subject of the controversy, regarded both as an empowered woman and a product of misogyny. The most striking aspect of Irene’s story in retrospect, however, is how thoroughly riddled it is with missed opportunities. The text itself seems to dance around the possibility of a strong female presence before solidly undermining its own potential. One would expect contemporary adaptations to seize this potential and give Irene the depth and autonomy that she was cheated out of in the original, but unfortunately this has not been the case, especially in the televised BBC series Sherlock. The same flaws that plagued “A Scandal in Bohemia” are present in the episode “A Scandal in Belgravia,” and their new iterations may be even more distressing.
In the original text, the same gesture towards progressiveness is the one that illuminates its failure to be an empowering narrative: Sherlock’s constant reference to Irene as “the woman.” Watson explains, “I have seldom heard [Sherlock] mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex” (Doyle). These are among the opening lines of the piece, and thus Irene’s accomplishments are downplayed as soon as she is introduced; she is simultaneously stripped of her individuality and reduced to an exception. Doyle makes it impossible for any of Irene’s strengths to reflect well on all women, as she is presented as a lone outlier. While Doyle may have intended for Sherlock’s awe at Irene to be indicative of her cunning, it instead reflects more on Sherlock’s misogyny. Even as Irene defies gendered assumptions, the whole of her identity is still equated to her womanhood. This prompts a modern-day reader to question: would Irene still have been able to outwit Sherlock if he hadn’t underestimated her intellect from the start? Her dehumanization through the use of the title “the woman” suggests otherwise.
Within this contradiction lies what might be the most glaring missed opportunity in Doyle’s text, which is one for Sherlock’s development as a character. Though the use of a female character as a narrative device to alter the beliefs of a male protagonist is still problematic, Irene could have served to inform Sherlock’s future relations with women and left a lasting, constructive impression on him. Though Watson notes that Sherlock ceases to “make merry over the cleverness of women” (Doyle) following Irene’s appearance, it is clear in subsequent installments that his sexist philosophies are still very much intact. In the story “A Case of Identity,” which follows closely after Irene’s, Sherlock opts not to inform a female client that she is being conned by her own stepfather, quoting a woefully misogynistic adage: “There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman” (Doyle). Irene has not, as Watson suggests, enlightened the detective as to the intellect of women.
Despite this lack of continuity, Irene’s exceptionality still could have resurfaced in the series as a means of creating tension and conflict. As the only character who canonically bested Sherlock, she easily could have been his final opponent, eschewing the need for the hastily-introduced Moriarty. She only makes one appearance in the original text, however, and Sherlock’s assumption that her contentment with her new beau would prevent her from engaging in further mischief proves to be correct. Irene is not arrested or killed like many of Sherlock’s other antagonists, leaving her available for an additional storyline, but this opportunity is missed as well.
Works of adaptation, whether across mediums or within the medium of the original text, can offer fertile revisionary spaces for problems like the ones in “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Often, adaptations are used as a means of salvaging a text that is rapidly becoming outdated, selecting the successful elements and omitting those that may be dragging the text down and preventing it from surviving in the evolving media. These kinds of adaptations provide an opportunity for remediation; creative authority can be used to update antiquated texts, rewriting moments that may have been informed by racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, or other such limitations. Because Arthur Conan Doyle’s female characters adhere to a consistent pattern of victimhood and fixation on the men around them, it naturally follows that many modern adaptations would seek to shed more light on these characters (or even in the case of the American TV show Elementary, to explore the possibility of a female main character in place of the previous male one) and access their untapped potential. BBC’s Sherlock flirts with this sort of remediation, but ultimately fails Irene just as Doyle did.
In “The Naked Truth: The Postfeminist Afterlives of Irene Adler,” Antonija Primorac addresses the many misfires of Irene’s adapted reincarnations. Primorac focuses in particular on a scene in the BBC episode in which Irene appears naked in order to disarm Sherlock and prevent him from analyzing her. This, like her gendered title, is a gesture towards empowerment that proves to be greatly counterproductive. Her status as a femme fatale seems to be her identifying strength, and even this trait does not carry her to her final objective in the episode, as Primorac notes:
“The ‘updating’ of Adler as a dominatrix and a sexual woman gives her only the temporary power of the female body as fetish and a very ‘Victorian’ narrative destiny. As soon as she ‘over-reaches’ her limits of agency as a sexualised body, Adler promptly falls/fails, is humiliated and punished.” (103)
Her sexualization thus functions as a form of pseudo-feminism, and this eventually is not enough, as she must seek out Moriarty’s assistance. Surprisingly enough, this modern remediation does not even allow Irene the triumph that she enjoyed in the original text, as Sherlock breaks her code and foils her plan by the end of the episode. This is just one of many failures of the BBC adaptation to update and empower Irene. Whereas Watson dismisses any romantic connotations regarding Sherlock and Irene in the original, the BBC Irene’s attraction to Sherlock betrays her and leads to her defeat.
Irene is not even given the dignity of disappearance in the episode, as it ends with a scene in which she is – as Primorac puts it – “reduced to the most oppressed image of the female body in Western media: that of the hijab-wearing (Muslim) woman, waiting either to die or to be rescued by a male hand” (103). This alteration also results in the omission of one of the most culturally interesting moments in the original, which is the scene in which a crossdressing Irene bids goodnight to the oblivious Sherlock. Primorac notes that this is a refreshing demonstration of autonomy on Irene’s part (however unintentional it may have been), as she is able to manipulate her appearance and defy gender performance norms to her own advantage. This blurring of the gender binary would have been a prime opportunity for expansion and remediation in a 21st century visual adaptation like Sherlock, but instead it is bypassed entirely in favor of a sexualized, stereotypically feminized character whose primary weapon is her naked body rather than her wit.
Primorac theorizes that the inability of many adaptations to effectively remediate Arthur Conan Doyle’s work is not a coincidental one. Its status as a Victorian series, she argues, makes it highly susceptible to oversexualized re-imaginings as contemporary authors resist the conspicuous sexlessness of its original canon. The focus on Sherlock’s virginity in the BBC series and the envisioning of a dominatrix Irene conveys this need for neo-Victorian media to fill in the perceived gaps, and often – particularly in the case of “A Scandal in Belgravia” – to overcompensate to a fault. Female characters suffer the consequences of this practice almost exclusively; the traits that should be fleshed out in contemporary works end up shouldered aside to make room for the sexualization that, rather than liberating these characters from social convention as intended, instead simplifies and objectifies them. Their center-stage male counterparts retain the screen or page time necessary to make them somewhat rounded, while the women lose their most memorable characteristics.
One can hope that future adaptations will give Irene Adler the attention and agency that she deserves, but as Primorac points out, this is difficult to achieve without a critical awareness of the strained relationship between neo-Victorian and Victorian media. Female characters like Irene are most at risk in the production of these adaptations, and unfortunately this is telling of contemporary gender biases. Ideally a remediation would devote time to developing Irene’s defiance of gender divides as a crucial part of her character, regardless of the chronological setting of the work. She would derive her independence from this fluidity and from her formidable intelligence, which would make her arc more satisfying and less problematic. A successful re-imagining would free her, with finality, from the bonds of the title “the woman.”
Works CitedDoyle, Arthur Conan. “A Case of Identity.” London: n.p., 1891. N. pag. Print.Doyle, Arthur Conan. “A Scandal in Bohemia.” London: n.p., 1891. N. pag. Print.McGuigan, Paul (dir.). 2012. “A Scandal in Belgravia.” Screenplay by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Sherlock, BBC.Primorac, Antonija. “The Naked Truth: The Postfeminist Afterlives of Irene Adler.” Neo- Victorian Studies 6.2 (2013): n. pag. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.
Sherlock Holmes’ Mentorship of Christopher Boone
Living in a world surrounded by people who function in a disparate way could cause one to feel neglected, but finding another person, fiction or non-fiction that shares similar characteristics can help one feel valuable. In Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher Boone, a seemingly autistic child, is caught in the middle of both an alcoholic father and a mother disjointed from the family. One way he finds inspiration and motivation throughout the novel is through Sherlock Holmes. Christopher relies on fictional character Sherlock Holmes as a mentor due to the lack of congruence he has with the people around him. Christopher finds similarities in thinking patterns, personality traits, and social skills that help him to relate to Sherlock. Christopher uses Holmes as his incentive to both solve the death of Wellington and travel to London to find his mother.
Throughout the novel, Haddon incorporates special insights into Christopher’s brain that help the to reader understand the way Christopher thinks. By doing this, the reader can see a clear difference between Boone and his father. The way he processes events and approaches situations is different than the average person. When Christopher finds Wellington he “decide[s] to do some detective work” to figure out what happened (30). Similar to Sherlock Holmes who, when on a case, looks to find all the detail needed to solve his mystery. Holmes and Christopher both use the unique qualities within their brain, which result in them both approaching situations from a different, but similar angle.
Christopher states that his “memory is like a film” and that he can “simply press Rewind and Fast Forward and Pause like on a video recorder” when he wants to remember something (76). He then mentions how if he doesn’t know something he will search his mind to see if he has seen or heard it before. An interesting point in regards to Christopher’s brain is that the average brain works similar to this film analogy but Boone has figured out an organized way of understanding it. He does not understand the use of metaphors or the idea behind telling a lie. He says he “[does] not tell lies… [he] can’t tell lies” and this is because it is hard for him to comprehend the idea of only one thing that didn’t happen (19). He says that if he “think[s] about something which didn’t happen [he] start[s] thinking about all the other things which didn’t happen” and this ends up confusing him, this contrasting how his father views the use of lying (19). Christopher’s father uses lying to mask a situation that is hard for Christopher to understand, whether it be the absence of his mother or the death of Wellington. Christopher’s father admits to Christopher that “maybe [he] [doesn’t] tell the truth all the time” but relies on the use of lying to help communicate with his son (121).
Sherlock Holmes, similar to Christopher’s film analogy, has a famous quote where he compares the human brain to an attic. He states that “a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and [one has] to stock it with such furniture as [they] choose” (A Quote from A Study in Scarlet). He then says that “the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic” to which he is referring to himself and other intelligent people (A Quote from A Study in Scarlet). Sherlock is said to have an “uncanny ability to gather evidence based upon his honed skills of observation and deductive reasoning” that helps him come to a conclusion (Willson). During the novel, Christopher references a point where Watson states that “the world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes” to where Boone states that Sherlock “notices them, like [he] does” (73). Here being one point where Christopher shows his admiration for someone, though fictional, who sees the world in a similar way to him. Another instance is when Christopher explains his correlation to Sherlock and how he “doesn’t believe in the supernatural” where as, he then explains his hatred toward Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Holmes) and his belief in supernatural beings (74). Showing how Christopher seems to relate to a fictional character more than a real human. Holmes doesn’t use lying and is able to pick up the fine details that Christopher can relate too unlike Boone’s father who does not see the world in the same way.
Christopher and Sherlock share a similar narcissistic personality that is caused by their belief that they are smarter than those around them. Christopher is aware of his intelligence and knows that though he goes to a special school, he is not any less bright than the other students. In comparison, Sherlock Holmes is a very conceited person and chooses to display his intelligence to everyone he encounters. Christopher, like Sherlock, knows the people around him are not as intellectually apt as he is; so with the help of Sherlock, he is able to express his intelligence and is able to see what he is capable of succeeding.
Christopher starts his story stating, “[his] name is Christopher John Francis Boone. [He] know[s] all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number to 7057” (2). This quote shows all of the random information Christopher knows, but also helps the reader get an insight on his character. He states that he is going to “prove that [he is] not stupid” and to do that he expresses the knowledge he has (44). He wants to prove to the people who bully him for his differences, that he can do anything he puts his mind to. He is very confident in the way he talks about his intelligence. He explains his desire to be an astronaut and how he would make a good astronaut because “to be a good astronaut you have to be intelligent and [he is] intelligent” (50). His father acknowledges that Christopher’s personality is different but is shy of understanding him. For example when Christopher wants to investigate the death of Wellington, he says Christopher should “just try and keep [his] nose out of other people’s business” not understanding how important solving the mystery was to Christopher. Where Sherlock would understand Christopher’s want to solve the mystery, his father doesn’t (20).
In one of the many stories containing Sherlock Holmes he states “[his] name is Sherlock Holmes…[and] it is [his] business to know what other people don’t know” (Steiner). He, similar to Christopher, states what he wants people to know about him. Watson claims, “[the] fellow (Sherlock Holmes) may be very clever… but he is certainly very conceited” (A Quote from A Study in Scarlet). Sherlock always attempts to make it a point to prove that he is dexterous. Throughout the novel, Christopher lacks people in his life who share his love for mysteries and his want to prove people wrong; if anything he is surrounded by people who want to hide other’s wrongdoings to keep him safe. So by having Holmes to look up to, he is able to express his love for those things and feel as though he is supported.
Christopher and Sherlock Holmes share distinct social skills that truly set them apart from the people Christopher is around every day. Christopher and Sherlock both enjoy being alone and neither shows empathy toward any situation. Christopher struggles to pick up on people’s emotions and has to carry a note card around to help him identify emotions. Sherlock Holmes deals with death on a daily basis and has yet to discover the correct way to react in that type of situation. Both Christopher and Sherlock do not prefer to interact with strangers and are similar in the struggle of talking to people they don’t know. This is Christopher’s biggest difference from his father, yet his strongest similarity to Holmes. Christopher’s father would be unable to comprehend how Boone is unable to read emotions because he can, in fact, understand emotions. But Sherlock can’t, which allows it to be easier for Christopher to relate.
Christopher understands that he is able to comprehend things in a unique way and knowing this, he does not like the fact that he is alone in that sense. This realization only adds to his apparent social awkwardness due to the fact that he knows he is different. At one point in the story he talks about how he wished that “eventually there [would be] no one left in the world except people who don’t look at other people’s faces… and these people are all special people like [him]. And they like being on their own” (199). This quote includes people like his mother and father but not Sherlock Holmes. There is a point in the story where Christopher’s mom is crying and he says “she made a loud wailing noise like an animal on a nature program on television. I didn’t like her doing this because it was a loud noise, and I said ‘why are you doing that’” (193). This incident is just one that pertains Christopher and his lack of empathy. Christopher and his mother do not correspond well with each other at some points of the story. There was a point where his mother wants to hold hands with him but due to his social skills and personality he was unable to let her do that saying “I don’t like people holding my hand” (194). Actions like this cause Christopher to realize just how contrasting he is from his mother and parallel he and Sherlock are.
Sherlock Holmes, like Christopher, enjoys being alone and supports that when he says “alone is what I have…alone protects me” (Sherlock (TV Series)). He too feels that it is hard to be around people who are not like him. In his case, the people he is accompanied by don’t mentally move as fast as he does. His brain figures things out at a more rapid pace than those around him. He goes on to make fun of this by saying “dear god, what is it like in your funny little brain… it must be so boring” (Sherlock (TV Series)). He, similar to Christopher, does not show empathy. He is never affected by what he sees on a case and therefore does not always act in the appropriate manner. This similarity between Christopher and Sherlock is beneficial to Boone. He is able to see how his differences are not always a burden. He sees that though Sherlock lacks empathy, he is able to have a successful job. He also is witness to the fact that being similar to Sherlock, he could pursue one of his dreams and live alone one day.
At the end of the story, the reader might look back on Christopher and not understand why he chose to bring Sherlock Holmes into the story. Throughout the novel, Christopher finds constant guidance through what Holmes had taught him through his books. It gives Christopher motivation to become an astronaut and travel to London on his own. Sherlock was an example to Christopher that one with similar characteristics to him can still be successful and do what he desires. The comparison between Christopher and Sherlock helps show the reader that Christopher has someone he can relate to in his life, though that person is not physical. It helps build sympathy and hope for Christopher to grow up and do what he loves, not letting any type of disability hold him back.
With Holmes in Mind: Christopher’s Extended Allusion
Living in a world surrounded by people whom function in a different way could cause one to feel left out, but finding another person, fiction or non-fiction that shares similar characteristics can help solve that issue. In Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Christopher decides to write a mystery novel while trying to solve the mystery of his mom and the death of Wellington. While writing the story, he explains his love of Sherlock Holmes and their many compatible qualities. Though Christopher can be viewed as having unique characteristics, he finds comfort in comparing his individual traits with those of the fictional character Sherlock Holmes. Holmes and Christopher share similar thinking patterns, personality traits, and social skills that set them apart from the average crowd.
Throughout the novel, Haddon adds different moments that help the reader understand the way Christopher thinks. The way he processes events in his life is different than the average person. Also, the way he approaches a situation is unique to him. He goes around the situation, figuring out everything about the things involved and then deals with the problem. This is similar to Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock uses his brain in a different way than his assistant Dr. Watson. Holmes deals with circumstances similar to Christopher where he takes in all the information he can before he comes to a conclusion.
Christopher states that his “memory is like a film” and that he can “simply press Rewind and Fast Forward and Pause like on a video recorder” when he wants to remember something (76). He does not understand the use of metaphors and is unable to comprehend the topic of supernatural. He states “Sherlock Holmes doesn’t believe in the supernatural, which is God and fairy tales and Hounds of Hell and curses, which are stupid” (74). He relates to Sherlock on this level because neither of them can believe that there is something that can exist but can’t be explained or physically seen. Christopher then mentions a time when Watson was talking about Holmes and he states, “the world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes” to where Christopher comments that Sherlock “notices them, like [he] does” (73). Christopher can relate to Sherlock because he can understand why Sherlock thinks the way he does better than he can understand the average person and how they comprehend different things. Sherlock Holmes has a famous quote where he compares the human brain to an attic. He states that “a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and [one has] to stock it with such furniture as [they] choose” (A Study in Scarlet). He then says that “the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic” to which he is referring to himself and other intelligent people (A Study in Scarlet). This comparison to the brain is very similar to Christopher. Christopher and Sherlock both take the time to analyze how their brains work in comparison to other people, where Christopher’s is like a VCR, Sherlock’s is like an attic. Christopher at one point states that he “had to be like Sherlock Holmes and … detach [his] mind at will to a remarkable degree” (132). This showing how Sherlock thinks and how Christopher is referencing him at a tough time to help him through a situation. They appear to approach a situation in the same way.
One major thing about both Christopher and Sherlock Holmes is their distinct personality. Sherlock Holmes is known for his narcissistic personality where Christopher is very similar to that. Both believe that they are very smart to a point where they are almost smarter than the people that surround them. Christopher is very reserved and does not enjoy talking to strangers. Part of his growth through out the book is his confidence talking to strangers. Where Sherlock Holmes is a very conceited person and people find it hard to be around him due to his attitude toward them. Both share similar personality traits, which help Christopher to find Sherlock a relatable character.
Christopher starts his story with “my name is Christopher John Francis Boon. I know all the countries of the world and their capital cities and every prime number to 7057” (2). This quote shows the personality of Christopher and the immense amount of information he knows. He states that he is going to “prove that [he is] not stupid” (44). He wants to prove to the people who don’t believe in him that he can do anything he puts his mind to. He is very confident in the way he talks about his intelligence. Though confident, Christopher is very shy around strangers. He “[does] not like strangers because [he does] not like people [he has] never met before” (34). Before his adventure to London, he had never been in a situation that required him to talk to strangers. This combination of confidence and shyness is what creates the personality of Christopher similar to the personality of Sherlock Holmes.
In one of the many stories containing Sherlock Holmes he states, “my name is Sherlock Holmes…it is my business to know what other people don’t know” (The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle). He, similar to Christopher, states what he wants people to know about him. By Sherlock stating this, he is openly showing his confident, narcissistic personality. Watson claims, “this (Sherlock Holmes) fellow may be very clever… but he is certainly very conceited” (A Study in Scarlet). Sherlock always attempted to make a point to prove that he was smart. This being similar to what Christopher wanted to do. Christopher wanted to prove his intelligence similar to the way Holmes does. Sherlock Holmes, parallel to Christopher, is not an adherent people person. He enjoys his alone time and is not ashamed to state it.
Christopher and Sherlock Holmes share similar social skills when it comes to having empathy or communicating with other people. Christopher and Sherlock both enjoy being alone and neither shows empathy toward any situation. Christopher struggles to pick up on people’s emotions and doesn’t know how to react when someone is feeling sad or angry. Sherlock Holmes deals with death on a daily basis and has yet to discover the correct way to react in that type of situation. Both do not enjoy the act of talking to strangers and try to avoid it best they can.
Christopher picks up on the fact that he is different from the people around him. He understands that he is able to comprehend things in a unique way and knowing this, he does not like the fact that he is alone in that sense. At one point in the story he talks about how he wished that “eventually there [would be] no one left in the world except people who don’t look at other people’s faces… and these people are all special people like [him]. And they like being on their own” (199). Christopher states that he would like this because he is unable to clearly pick out what emotion a person is feeling. It would be easier for him if the people around him were the same way and he didn’t have to worry about trying to figure it out. There is a point in the story where Christopher’s mom is crying and says “she made a loud wailing noise like an animal on a nature program on television. I didn’t like her doing this because it was a loud noise, and I said ‘ why are you doing that’” (193). This incident is just one pertaining Christopher and his lack of empathy. Instead of comforting his mother, he tells her to stop: this being very similar to Sherlock and how he handles different situations.
Sherlock Holmes is very similar to Christopher when it comes to social skills. Sherlock enjoys living alone and states that when he says “alone is what I have…alone protects me” (Sherlock TV). He too feels that it is hard to be around people who are not like him. In his case, the people he is with don’t move as fast as he does. His brain figures things out at a more rapid pace than those around him. He goes on to make fun of this by saying “dear god, what is it like in your funny little brain… it must be so boring” (A Study in Pink). He understands that other people are not as intellectually gifted as he is but he has a hard time slowing down for them to catch up. He, similar to Christopher, does not show empathy. He often says what comes to his head and does not use a filter or think about what he is saying before. Because of this, the people he works with are always skeptical of having him around. His coworkers are often annoyed to have him on a case due to the way he treats them. This similar to Christopher who says that if he doesn’t understand something he will either “ask them what they mean or [he] walk[s] away” (3). Showing how difficult it would be to world with either of them.
At the end of the story, the reader might look back on Christopher and not understand why he chose to bring Sherlock Holmes into the story. It seems though that with out Sherlock in the story, the reader might not understand why he chose to write his story as a mystery. He had said that he ‘like[s] Sherlock Holmes and [he] think[s] that if [he] were a proper detective he (Sherlock Holmes) is the kind of detective [he] would be” (73). Sherlock adds to Christopher’s personality and helps to expose more of what he enjoys. Sherlock was an example to Christopher that one with similar characteristics to him can still be successful and do what he wants. It gives Christopher motivation to become an astronaut and travel to London on his own. The comparison between Christopher and Sherlock helps show the reader that Christopher is capable of more than what has access to at the beginning of the book. It helps build sympathy and hope for Christopher to grow up and do what he loves, not letting any type of disability hold him back.
“The Adventure of the Speckled Band”: The Peculiarities of the Genre
The genre of the detective story is one of the most remarkable categories of short fiction. The Sherlock Holmes stories are genuine masterpieces created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the usage of the detective stories elements has contributed to their popularity. In “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” the author employs the opportunities of the genre in order to provoke readers’ interest and keep them thrilled till the end of the narration. Considering the key components of the story, namely, characters, setting, plot, problem, and solution, it is possible to trace specific techniques that add up to creating the atmosphere of mystery in this case.
To begin with, characters play a pivotal role in the context of a short story. In this respect, “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is not an exception. The particulars of the genre are confirmed: the main characters are the criminal (Dr. Roylott), the possible victim (Helen), and the detective (Holmes). The figure of the criminal is prominent since it is the engine of the development of the events. Describing Dr. Roylott, the author introduces another popular technique of detective stories: some secondary characters may try to throw the main character and the reader off track. Helen provides some important information about her stepfather: “He had no friends at all save the wandering gypsies, and he would give these vagabonds leave to encamp upon the few acres of bramble-covered land.” One may consider the gypsies to be another criminal-like character of the story because they are suspected to be responsible for Julia’s death. However, it is a wrong speculation, and this technique is an effective instrument to lead one astray.
Further, the main victim character is Helen because her life is in danger. Although her sister Julia also becomes the victim, little is known about her, and the narrator emphasizes that solving this mystery is more about saving Helen. Indeed, the expected menace harm can be prevented at the moment, and it becomes the priority of the characters’ actions. Apparently, a detective story should picture the person who will solve the problem as the main character. Just as in all Sherlock Holmes stories, the duo of Mr. Holmes and Mr. Watson is in the focus of readers’ attention, and they not only solve the mystery but also manage to save Helen Stoner. Still, Watson is a more peripheral figure since his function is to narrate and assist Holmes rather than be an active participant in the investigation. Overall, the characters of the story agree with the image of typical detective stories characters.
Another indispensable element of a detective story is the setting. This feature pertains to the location of the action which the author is expected to describe in such detail that readers can picture the scene. It becomes especially interesting when the environment is ordinary because the contrast between the secret and the presumably harmless circumstances adds up to the lack of understanding. Detective stories may be subdivided into several types, and the story under discussion pertains to the locked-room mystery subtype. As the term implies, it involves some criminal events that occurred in a closed setting. The only explanation of the events relates to the actions of the present characters, and the figure of the detective opposes the closeted homosocial environment. Thus, this type is notable for a limited room for criminal action.
In the context of the story, the home environment is given. The locked room mystery is classic: “…the door had been fastened upon the inner side, and the windows were blocked by old-fashioned shutters with broad iron bars, which were secured every night. The walls were carefully sounded and were shown to be quite solid all round, and the flooring was also thoroughly examined, with the same result.” Doyle displays the rooms of the house, the weird whistling, and the clanging sound. Taken together, these details are small steps toward the denouement. By the end of the story, the setting becomes the central object of consideration because it determines the detection of the crime.
The plot is about the actual story with its structure that ideally consists of a clear beginning, the middle part, and the ending, all necessary descriptions, and details included to make it even more interesting. The detective story genre implies that some secret becomes a linchpin of the plot, and little by little, the story heads to the climax where the criminal is revealed. However, the detective genre has never simply been about “who-did-it?” – it but has to do with reflecting the society and places. As a result, the plot serves as the external instrument to shape the story and, at the same time, the point of internal reference when a reader reflects on social matters and phenomena.
All these features are traced in the Sherlock Holmes story. The beginning of the story is distinguishable because Watson deliberately makes an introduction in which he expresses his opinion about unique cases Sherlock worked on. The central element is the chain of weird events: Julia’s death, the beginning of repairs at Helen’s house, and whistling sounds at night. The story also gives some food for thought concerning the social order because one may start thinking about money matters and marriages, unusual hobbies and cold calculus. Watson’s comments and rhetorical questions are also a valuable instrument of reflection: “How shall I ever forget that dreadful vigil?” The ending of the story is a kind of contemplation because the ethical issues related to the death of the criminal are discussed. Thus, the plot of the story is typical of the genre.
The next element of a detective story, problem, is understood as the actual secret that needs to be solved, usually who committed a crime and why. In this respect, “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is based on the problem of the mysterious threat that turns out to be a swamp adder. One can argue that there are two aspects of the problem in this story: while the former is about Julia and her strange words before her death, the latter involves Helen and her life. It would be wrong to treat these aspects as separate phenomena because actually, they refer to the same venomous snake. Thus, the problem of the story is binary, and it only stimulates readers’ interest. It is notable that a reader is supposed to become a partner of the detective and make an attempt to solve the problem or at least find out the right direction. The genre demands that the clues must be plainly stated and described, and the author does precisely so when he pictures the first meeting with Helen. Together with Mr. Holmes, one examines the house and sees what pushes them to understand: the fastened bed, bell-ropes, and ventilators. The ambiguous word “band” deceives both the detective and the reader. Therefore, the feature required by the genre tradition is present to its full extent.
Last but not least, the proper solution is an integral part of the detective story. Logically, the final element must pertain to the solution or the way the action is resolved because it attributes meaning to reading the story. It is probably one of the most challenging moments for the author. In detective stories, the ending must be believable and corresponding to the previously pictured events, otherwise, a reader will be disappointed. However, Doyle’s explanation involves whistling as the way to summon the snake. In 1892, it was believed that snakes were deaf, so Doyle may have made a mistake. As a result, the zoological peculiarities can cloud the overall impression of a reader. Other facts and their interpretation seem to be more concise. Watson briefly describes what happened to Helen and to what conclusion the police arrived when they found Dr. Roylott dead. Only at the end of the story, Mr. Holmes gives a chance to monitor how he was developing his ideas. He presents the same information that a reader received earlier in such a way that all the facts finally make sense.
To sum up, the expressive power of detective short stories is considerable. Although writers sometimes go against the conventional particulars of the genre, they still serve as the necessary elements that help readers orientate themselves within the story and identify its genre. “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is a good example of the classical detective story. The author operates the critical components of the story, namely, characters, setting, plot, problem, and solution. His choices agree with what modern scholars consider to be the characteristics of the detective story genre. The only exception is the solution because it is hardly believable in the zoological context. Nevertheless, the majority of the genre characteristics are confirmed, and it makes this story is a classic example of a detective locked-room mystery.
The Role of the Family in Conan Doyle’s Fiction
Sherlock Holmes can be defined as a special character in all the aspect; he is loved by the readers due to the outstanding personal features and intelligence. The plots of the short stories about him can be defined as the extremely attractive due to the way how Doyle understood people and their relations. The role of the family cannot be determined as a central one in the short stories devoted to the detective activity of Sherlock Holmes in London. At the same time, it can provide a lot of additional information both about the personality of the main character and about the specificity of people of the particular epoch. Despite the fact that each story is individual in the aspect of characters, ties, and plot, it is possible to define the tendency in the way how the author introduced the family ties in his fiction. The way how Holmes perceived the notion of family might be contrasted with the common one, and this contrast was the other way to emphasize the uniqueness of this character.
A typical way of perceiving a family as the indispensable attribute of the happy life did not work for Sherlock Holmes, and it made him different even from his best friend. At the same time, the author did not detract the role and importance of the family in general, for instance, Watson was happy in his marriage. To begin with, it is necessary to take into consideration the particular role of family for the main character to understand the contrast. The readers do not have a lot of information regarding the parents of the great detective, and it is possible to define that the emotional attachment to the close relatives is extrinsic for Holmes. He did not have the wife and children; moreover, he insisted that he had not ever been in love. Even Irene Adler was not able to melt his heart enough to make the great detective think about family life, there was a rather accurate observation of doctor Watson in the story “I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind.” (Doyle). Lack of romantic ties and lack of desire to have a family can be regarded as the result of the special intellect of the great detective, the attitude to life and other people was based on the rational analytic approach, while the emotional attachment implied irrational background.
The great detective perceived the family ties apprehensively. The author demonstrates that they were not in priority for him, as the Sherlock Holmes substantially estimated his skills and abilities “”Love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things. I should never marry myself, lest I bias my judgment.” (Doyle 173). Moreover, even the relations with the best friend and companion became worse because Watson was happy in his marriage. The men moved away from each other completely, and the author was able to emphasize their difference using this fact. In some sense, Holmes was the prisoner of his intelligence to admire the family life in the same way as Watson did. It is also possible to consider the other aspect of the issue, Holmes had a chance to investigate so many cases of the murders within a family that it might have destroyed his faith in it and might have provided him with the idea that even being tied by affinity people are able to betray each other.
To the contrast, the family ties for the minor characters were rather meaningful in the ambivalent sense of this word. From one point of view, as it had already been stated, relation to the same family did not prevent people from committing crimes against each other, like in the story “A Case of Identity” (Doyle). From one point of view, the typical respectful Victorian attitude to the family and the parents is demonstrated in the story by the main character, Mary Sutherland. The young girl demonstrated the elevated attitude to the institution of marriage. From the other point of view, she was betrayed by her stepfather who did not estimate the family ties at all. The same can also be defined in the story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” (Doyle) in which the girl was killed by the stepfather. It is possible to find the stories that demonstrate the positive aspect of the family relations, the author did not concentrate exclusively on the dark side of them.
Conan Doyle probably understood the controversies of the human nature in an accurate way, and he was able to demonstrate that people are able to act against each other even being closely connected. He also defined that Sherlock Holmes understood that the presence of family and emotional attachment to it makes a person weak, and that is why the great detective preferred to avoid it. It made him different from the other people and it was the author’s way to demonstrate his uniqueness.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. Sherlock Holmes–The Ultimate Collection. 1st ed., LA, Enhanced Media, 2016,.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes. 1st ed., Sai Epublications, 2016,.
Reading Dracula as Twisted Victorian Detective Fiction: Van Helsing and Seward vs. Homes and Watson
“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact” — Conan Doyle
The fin de siècle was an era wrought with anxieties brought about by emerging modernity — vast technological innovation paired with new scientific knowledge. New enlightenment understandings prompted an existential crisis as to what extent the scientific method and modernity can result in empirical “certainty” and “truth” — a classic question we still grapple with to this day. The emergence of Victorian detective fiction in the 19th century has been attributed to this “Victorian desire for social and epistemological order.” (Pittard 1). In “We Must Have Certainty” J. K. Van Dover writes “The detective story implies, as part of its essential generic contract with the reader, that in the world of the narrative there will be baffling appearances, and that, in the end, these bafflements will be exorcized.” (Dover 2). In essence, the detective story is supposed to alleviate gothic fears. A detective restores justice and order using modern empirical scientific understanding as a positive good, creating optimism for a modern future and eschewing ignorance and uncertainty.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula contains many elements of Victorian detective fiction in the context of the fin de siècle as a gritty crime thriller, and like Victorian Holmesian detective fiction, it contains many elements of the gothic. However, Dracula intentionally perverts and distorts the classical Holmesian detective story – Abraham Van Helsing and John Seward function as a twisted Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson. Rather than exposit pure cold modernity in their forensic deduction, they undermine modernity by seeking truth in a way which allows the horrors of the gothic to exist and seep into reality, demonstrating accrediting these uncertainties’ existence is necessary to overcome them. This contrasts Holmes and Watson, who alleviate gothic fears by proving such horrors exist only in the realm of temporary misunderstanding of modern empirical science.
When reading Dracula as a work of detective fiction, the Helsing and Seward dynamic functions as a warped Holmes and Watson archetype. Parallels between Holmes and Helsing abound. Both are the eccentric loner as a separate “other,” both are bachelors, academics, and revered scientific experts commanding the leadership role. In their detective work, as Theresa Jamieson describes in “Working for the Empire” both are masculine, as is required in such a dangerous profession, and both serve morality in truth and justice. Both even employ similar middle-class fluidity in their personal interactions. However, Van Helsing clearly differs from Homes in his motivations, strong emotions, and detective methods (view and use of modern science and technology). In Dracula’s larger narrative, Helsing differs in his existence in a warped gothic version of the very real world. Dracula is filled with “baffling appearances” which are not in fact ever fully resolved or understood by science and modernity.
Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and John H. Watson are the quintessential public epitome of Victorian detective fiction. “The Great Detective” himself is world renowned as the ultimate denizen of cold, logical, modern scientific deduction. In The Hound of the Baskervilles Holmes is “the hero-detective acting specifically as the champion of empirical science, facing its crucial challenge, the challenge of the seemingly supernatural… to dispel magic and mystery, to make everything explicit, accountable, subject to scientific analysis.” (Clausson 62). Holmes represents that Victorian-era search for certainty amidst chaos. “A character like Holmes could grow to full stature,” says Christopher Clausen, “only in a time when [. . .] science was viewed by its enthusiasts as a new force crusading for progress against ignorance and unreason.” (Clausson 62). Holmes actively prevents emotion from marring his work. “whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things…Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science…and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner.” (Doyle 116).
In the Sherlock Holmes stories, Watson is an ironic apprentice to Holmes. Not only is Watson older, but being a university educated combat medic he should have the same if not more forensic police detective acumen than Holmes. However, the duo’s dynamic is very much novice seeking to emulate master. Holmes teases Watson to use his cold, logical intuition – and free himself of his emotions. Holmes implores Watson to lose his functional fixedness and expectations of what is possible to solve puzzles Holmes already has completed due to his mastery of said tactics. “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” (Doyle 83). But vitally, it’s never outside the modern empirical scientific method Holmes thinks, and thus, constrains Watson to think inside of. These detective stories reward this way of thinking by proving following the scientific method to pierce through superstition is the single, correct path to unraveling even the most baffling, inexplicable, and seemingly unnatural of crimes. Finally, all the Holmesian detective stories serve to uphold the scientific status quo. “Holmes is not only the voice of scientific detection but also the preserver of the political and social status quo: Holmes is rarely or never threatening […] because his potentially corrosive intellect never questions the basic assumptions of his society.” (Clausson 62).
In Dracula, detection is flipped nearly on its head in the Helsing-Seward duo dynamic. Again, mirroring Watson, Seward is the ironic apprentice – Seward is a well-respected psychologist and denizen of science; he should have everything well in hand. Seward is even akin to Holmes in his tactics, he never thinks outside of empirical science, as Helsing points out “Seward cannot recognize the evidence of vampirism because he is “prejudiced” about what can be true.” (Jann 274). Seward even does drugs, a nod to Holmes’ cocaine use. Yet, the problem of occult Dracula leaves Seward helpless. In Dracula Seward is the apprentice learning from Helsing “a scientist, philosopher, metaphysician…one of the most advanced scientists of his day.” (Jann 274). Like Holmes, Helsing implores Seward to follow his methods. Yet crucially, Helsing’s methods are nearly the exact opposite of Holmes — he teaches with tools that are superstitious and unscientific, but which work just the same.
Unlike Holmes, Helsing battles the status quo – from breaking into property, traveling abroad, and being one who accepts vampires’ existence (and much more) in the face of disbelief. Helsing’s Dutch heritage ties into his connection with the supernatural foreign East. Contrarily, Holmes’ deeply British roots prove no threat to modern British empire or status quo scientific institutions. As a detective, Helsing delves into what modernity cannot tackle. Helsing attacks the science Holmes’s methods are founded on and encourages his fellow detective to do so. “It is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it can explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain.” (Stoker 272). Helsing implies men like Holmes would fail miserably to combat threats like Dracula. “In this enlightened age, when men believe not even what they see, the doubting of wise men would be Dracula’s greatest strength.” (Stoker 348). Indeed, “What Dracula’s implacable enemy Professor Van Helsing teaches is that the confidence of modern empirical science and rational skepticism is misplaced, that Victorian naturalism has blinded itself to the continuing terrible powers of the supernal and the supernatural worlds. Beliefs dismissed as primitive superstitions carry vital truths we have forgotten, and this is a core element of the gothic’s constantly restated criticism of modernity.” (Luckhurst xiii). Yet, Helsing does not eschew modernity entirely. He ensures the group utilizes modern tools; pistols, time measurement, typewriters, cameras, phonographs, and much more. “We have on our side power of combination – a power denied to the vampire kind; we have resources of science” (Stoker 222). Seward presents a hybridized view of modernity which undermines the absolute version Holmes lives by. Helsing criticizes modernity for missing crucial aspects of our world because modernity ignores them out of an ironic ignorance of certainty, rather than to explore or combat such uncertainties as needed.
Ultimately, while Helsing and Seward mirror Holmes and Watson in that by the end they still “solve the crime” of Dracula, the way they accomplish this feat of detection is far from the optimistic positivist method made famous by Homes and Watson. In his detective methods, Helsing invokes emotion — like Holmes Helsing’s detective quest to defeat Dracula comes from his motivation he is in the right. But while Holmes sense of righteousness stems from his prided infallible logic, Helsing’s comes from supernal divinity: God. “For if we fail…to us forever the gates of heaven shut; for who shall open them to us again? We go on for all time abhorred by all; a blot on the face of gods sunshine; an arrow in the side of him who died for man.” (Stoker 221). In addition to his emotive to protect those he cares about. “my true friend…I swear it” (Stoker 151). Helsing’s motives are for the good of all. “We have self-devotion in a cause, and an end to achieve which is not a selfish one.” (Stoker 222.) This attacks Holmes atheist, selfish simple motive “I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession.” (Doyle 67).
Beyond motivations, in his work Van Helsing uses archaic, unscientific methods – ironically the only methods which can solve the problem of Dracula. “these things – tradition and superstition – are everything.” (Stoker 222). Garlic, crucifixes, and holy wafers are required for a gothic monster like Dracula, methods that defy scientific logic – but align with the logic of superstitious lore. Helsing uniquely presents these gothic horrors and archaic detection methods as a part of modernity. “A year ago, which of us would have received such a possibility, in the midst of our scientific, skeptical, matter of fact 19th century?” (Stoker 222). Helsing and Seward existing in a world where such gothic monsters like Dracula exist and threaten our modern world in itself mocks the Holmesian detective story, which never contain any such threats it is necessary for Homes and Watson to overcome. “The phantasmagoric imagination of the gothic actually begins to provide many of the metaphors for how we conceive of our modern subjectivity.” (Luckhurst xiii). Dracula’s larger narrative aligns with yet actively undermines the Victorian idea of the detective story grounded in uncovering the unknowable undesirables of the world (crime) using modern methods and non-modern methods.
In the end of any detective story in Holmes’ modern selfish, cold, and calculating search of truth, he eventually reveals to investigators the correct explanation for a crime, using empirical facts and data investigators were unable to logically align. Such an ending is the opposite of Helsing’s conclusive solving of Dracula. “We want no proofs. We ask none to believe us!” (Stoker 351). Helsing doesn’t require a burden of proof from anyone. In fact, Helsing seeks truth in a way which doesn’t require the backing of modern empirical science. Helsing uses the methods necessary to get the job done, modern or archaic and unscientific. The narrative of Dracula itself is not a clear-cut narrative told by a certain detective as a linear timeline, instead it is a subjective pastiche of documents filled with uncertainties; missing events, time, and objectivity. Like Helsing’s detective methods, the narrative is full of emotion and uncertainty.
Stoker’s employment of detective fiction in Dracula is crooked in that empiricism and the scientific method never solves or understands the crime of the Dracula in the modern world. Dracula suggests the limits of scientific deduction and, thereby, the optimistic view of modernity. Helsing and Seward as detectives in Dracula suggests we need to keep an open mind and indulge in uncertainty, not cast it away as nonsense – ironically the opposite of what empirical science seeks to do in the first place. “It is that the chief proof of man’s real greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness.” (Doyle 90).
Clausson, Nils. “Degeneration, ‘Fin-De-Siècle’ Gothic, and the Science of Detection: Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ and the Emergence of the Modern Detective Story.” Vol. 35, no. 1, 2005, pp. 60–87.
Cottom, Daniel. “Sherlock Holmes Meets Dracula.” Elh, vol. 79, no. 3, 2012, pp. 537-567.
Hendrickson, Timothy M. “Still Adventurous: Genre Shifts, Narrative Experiments, and the Legacy of the Late-Victorian Adventure Story.” Northern Illinois U, 2013. ProQuest, http://login.ezproxy.lib.umn.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezp1.lib.umn.edu/docview/1610745724?accountid=14586.
Hogle, Jerrold E. “The Gothic at our Turn of the Century: Our Culture of Simulation and the Return of the Body.” The Gothic. Edited by Fred Botting. Brewer, 2001.
Jamieson, Theresa. “Working for the Empire: Professions of Masculinity in H. G. Wells’s the Time Machine and R. L. Stevenson’s the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” Victorian Network, vol. 1, no. 1, 2009, pp. 72-91.
Jann, Rosemary. “Saved by Science? the Mixed Messages of Stoker’s Dracula. “Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 31, no. 2, 1989, pp. 273-287.
Page, Jeremy, et al. The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume I. Oxford University Press, 2014. Pittard, Christopher. “Victorian Detective Fiction: An Introduction.” Crimeculture, University of Newcastle, 2003, www.crimeculture.com/?page_id=135.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Oxford University Press, 2011.
Van Dover, J.K. We must have Certainty: Four Essays on the Detective Story. Susquehanna UP, 2005. ProQuest, http://login.ezproxy.lib.umn.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezp1.lib.umn.edu/docview/43184271?accountid=14586.
Detective Fiction: An Almost Realistic Fantasy in “The Blue Carbuncle”
As detective fiction became more popular, people began speculating what the role of the detective was. In one perspective, many believed that the detective served as an explanation for the chaotic, modern world. The detective also gave society a simple way to approach situations using reason and logic. However, many argued that the detective represented an unrealistic character, and a fantasy solely for society’s entertainment. Some even argue that it could distract readers from real problems by simplifying the unique situations the characters face. This idea is often explored using stories from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. One of the stories, “The Blue Carbuncle,” follows Holmes and his partner Watson as they figure out who stole a valuable diamond found in a goose’s throat by first figuring out who the goose belonged to. Holmes’ only clues were the name Henry Baker, and the hat that he left in the street with his goose. However, Holmes is able to theorize who this man might be and lure him to his apartment. Although it turns out he is not involved in the crime, Watson and Holmes use Baker to trace the diamond thief. While Holmes’ method is the ideal way to approach problems, and it is clear how Holmes came to this conclusion, it required an unrealistic amount of knowledge. Despite his claim that everyone has the ability to reason the way he does, it is clear that it is a unique talent. This idea is prevalent throughout many pieces of detective fiction, and it supports the claim that detective fiction offers a fantasy, and Holmes’ methods fail to address real problems.
After Holmes explains his process to Watson, his process seems simple enough. However, his conclusion requires a unique knowledge of insignificant facts that the general public would not know. Holmes creates an extremely detailed hypothesis about Henry Baker’s life based on a few characteristics on his hat. When Watson asks him to explain how he deduced a complex theory with little evidence, Holmes begins by explaining that “‘this hat is three years old. These flat brims curled at the edge came in then. It is a hat of the very best quality’” (Doyle, 153). Holmes was able to figure this out by simply looking at the style of the hat while others would have had to do extensive research in order to come to that conclusion. Holmes was able to reach this conclusion without research and technology, which reveals a distinct knowledge of fashion that Watson did not have. Although his approach was simple, it required detailed knowledge of fashion patterns. The idea that Holmes’ method is effective but unrealistic is portrayed in his analysis of the dust on Baker’s hat. He suggested that Henry Baker spends most of his time indoors because “‘the dust… is not the gritty, grey dust of the street, but the fluffy brown dust of the house’” (Doyle, 153). This adds to the idea that Holmes’ method is unrealistic. While some of his conclusions were simple to understand, such as wax stains suggesting one uses candles rather than gas, it would be extremely unlikely that one would be able to easily tell the difference between indoor and outdoor dust. This revelation would require experiments and great amounts of research and information that was often not readily available to the general public, and yet Holmes was able to deduce this with one look.
Holmes’ companion, Dr. Watson, serves as a representation of the general public and emphasizes that, while his method works and his talents are desirable, reason and logic are not the only factors that are involved in problem solving. Holmes believes that anyone could infer what he did through reason and logic. Holmes explains that “‘you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see’” (Doyle, 152). He clarifies that he does not have any abilities that Watson does not, and therefore Watson can make the same connections that he has. Contrary to his beliefs, his talent takes a unique amount of knowledge and intelligence. Although it is possible to make some of the inferences that Holmes makes, others take skills that the public cannot access as easily as Holmes. Watson explains this idea to Holmes by articulating “I have no doubt that I am very stupid; but I must confess that I am unable to follow you’” (Doyle, 152). Although Holmes’ discovery seems simple enough that an average person could have suggested what he did through his method, Watson, an intelligent army doctor, is unable to use reason and logic to his advantage despite his best efforts. Watson shows Holmes that it is unrealistic to expect an average person to connect clues as quickly and the way that Holmes does.
The claim that the detective is a mere representation of the desirable way to solve problems is further supported in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.” The detective, Dupin, wants to solve the murders of two women when the police fail to figure it out. The police cannot figure out how they were murdered because it seemed impossible for anyone to enter the room. Dupin is able to hypothesize that the criminal was not a human based on its ability to climb into the room, a hair sample, the nail that broke away from the window and the indescribable voice witnesses reported. This led him in the right direction, and knowing what to look for, he was able to track down the type of exotic animal and the possible owner. When Dupin explains this process to his companion, the colleague explains that although he tried to understand Dupin, he only “seemed to be upon the verge of comprehension, without the power to comprehend” (Poe, 25). Much like Dr. Watson, the narrator serves as a representation of the average person, which emphasizes the detective’s talent. Dupin blames that police’s shortcomings on a lack of methods and reason. However, even his colleague describes his inability to understand the process despite Dupin explaining it. This moment exposes the unfortunate truth of detective fiction: the methods suggested by the brilliant detectives in so many novels is only an idealistic approach to solving problems. The talents that these detectives possess out of reach of the general public. While it is easy to believe how they came to their conclusions, people would not be able to draw these conclusions as effortlessly as the detectives. These methods would only be closely reproduced in real-life, but it would require a greater amount of effort, technology, research and knowledge. However, it provides society with a great source of entertainment and a momentary distraction from the inability to solve trivial, real-life problems.
Holmes exhibits the ideal way to problem-solve that was unavailable to the public during modernization. However, both “The Blue Carbuncle” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” portray an overly simplified way to solve problems. In order to solve problems as quickly and effectively as those represented in detective fiction, they would have needed the technology we have today. The closest method to the problem-solving reflected in detective fiction is by gaining instant access to detailed information through the power of technology and internet. Now, people have access to the amount of knowledge that the detectives’ method requires right under their fingertips. While during its time, these novels presented an unrealistic but ideal way to view the chaotic world, now the average person has the ability to mimic their methods with the use of technology. Unlike those during modernization, the detectives had readily available access to information that not everybody has, therefore creating an escape from an unpredictable and unexplainable world.