Sherlock Holmes - Background to a Phenomenon (Header)
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2. Sherlock Holmes – Method and Character

2.2. Characteristic Traits of Holmes

A characterisation of Sherlock Holmes as an exemplary protagonist and investigator. With examples from selected original stories by A.C. Doyle.

The detective and his Method are, in fact, almost inseparably linked: It naturally takes an extraordinary character to meet the many demands of the Method itself and apply it correctly all through an investigation.
From a critic's point of view, one might even go one step further: Without his method, Sherlock Holmes, devoid of his eccentric traits, would hardly qualify for a 'round' character. The method, on the other hand, would merely appear to be the exaggerated invention of some writer or other, had it not been presented through a charismatic genius as the detective. (1).

Because of this interdependence, Sherlock Holmes is first and foremost characterised by his intellectual skills. In the very first texts of the Canon(2), it is said that Holmes was above all an extremely scientific kind of person, insensitive to most emotions, a man who  "was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover […] would have placed himself in a false position."(Watson): Machinelike he is, indeed, in his deliberateness, accurateness and reliability - also in his regular habits and his effectiveness. To succeed in a case, Holmes is even able to minimise basic human needs unknown to automates, like eating or sleeping(3) - just like an enthusiastic artist, he is completely devoted to his work in itself (4). His eminent gift restricts his views in many respects, guiding him thus through the complex process of detection. (5)

This characteristic concentration on one aim places him in a very special position: As a rule, his contemporaries trust him to handle their affairs while at the same time, they are sceptical about this freak, whose ways are so very different from their own and who - on the top of all- seems to posses supernatural powers. (6) The detective - in turn- feels frequently bored by his surroundings: Life apparently has little to offer for a mastermind like him (7) and, at times, he feels nothing but contempt for his comparably slow-witted fellowmen (8)

Nonetheless, in the Canon Holmes is far more then just the "observing machine", he is commonly known to be: He is very dynamic in his actions, has his own personal likes and dislikes and - above all - expresses a slightly arrogant sense of humour. Most important to critics and fans is the fact that he is anything but a cold nihilist: Moreover, he can be most gentlemen-like and empathetic towards his clients and proves highly responsible with most of his decisions (9) . The intellectual genius has definitely very human features as well, which makes the 'man' become alive - in the imagination of devoted readers

As it is beyond this essay to provide a full characterisation of Holmes, I will only mention the detective’s most extraordinary features. [Text]
Naturally, there are brilliant characterisations in the first short story “A Scandal in Bohemia” and the first novel A Study in Scarlet I repeatedly quote. [Text]
Sherlock Holmes was a man, however, who, when he had an unsolved problem upon his mind, would go for days, […] without rest, turning it over, […] looking at it from every point of view until he had [taken some kind of decision]. It was soon evident to me that he was now preparing for an all-night sitting.(from: “The Man with the Twisted Lip”).
Holmes, however, like all great artists, lived for his art's sake […]. So unworldly was he[…] that he frequently refused his help to the powerful and wealthy […], while he would devote weeks of most intense application to the affairs of some humble client whose case presented those strange and dramatic qualities which […] challenged his ingenuity.(exemplification from: “The Adventure of the Black Peter”)
“[…]‘ It is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must look at everything with reference to my own special subject. […]’ [remarked Holmes gravely] - ‘Good heavens!’ I cried. ‘Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads [we're just passing]?’” (exemplification from: “The Adventure of the Copper Breaches”) [Text]
“I don’t think you need alarm yourself,” said I. “I have usually found that there was method in his madness.” – “Some folk might say there was madness in his method,” muttered the inspector. (from: “The Reigate Puzzle”).
“[…] The days of the great cases are past. Man, or at least criminal man, has lost all enterprise and originality. […]”(from: “The Adventure of the Copper Breaches”)
“Pshaw, my dear fellow, what do the public, the great unobservant public, who could hardly tell a weaver by his tooth […] care about the finer shades of analysis and deduction! […]” (Ibid.) [Text]
See also: Chapter 3.2. on the Issue of Justice. [Text]
Author's Logo · Author: Paul - Christoph Trüper, 2004  - 2006.
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