Sherlock Holmes – Method and Character
2.4. Origin of the Character
An outline of Sherlock Holmes’ actual historical roots as A.C.
fictional character – including sources and interpretation.
Paradoxically, the many passionate admirers of Sherlock Holmes
to be as eager to believe in him as a real person as they are to learn
about his possible counterparts in real life.
For all we know, the fictional genius is closely connected to two persons: A. Conan Doyle himself and Joseph Bell, his professor of medicine.
A doctor seems to a suitable model for a detective. Just like a detective, a doctor is confronted with the various problems of his ‘clients’, who know very little about his art, and has to collect all the information they can give him, evaluate its meaning and eventually suggest a solution. Prof. Dr. Joseph Bell obviously possessed many of the skills that were to be associated with Holmes to some degree. In a letter to his former lecturer, Doyle states:
I do not think that [the detective’s] analytical work is in the least an exaggeration of some effects which I’ve seen you produce in the out-patient ward. Round the centre of deduction […], which I’ve seen you inculcate, I tried to built a man who pushed the thing as far as it could go, [or even further]…
There are various documents to support the author's claim that Bell
– very much like Holmes – could
“tell them [i.e. the patients]
symptoms and even give them details of their past lives” – and that
“before they had even opened their mouths.” (1) We can, therefore, take it for granted that
Dr. Joe Bell had a decisive influence on the
World of Sherlock
Holmes, even if the fictional hero might indeed have
his [true] outlines” to some extent as a critic claims. (2)
And yet it is important to keep in mind that the detective originated form Conan Doyle’s own imagination and therefore the ties between those two are probably the strongest.
It is positively impossible for any writer to create a character
bearing features that are completely alien to his own personality, for
the obvious reason that the ideas for the story and its action must be
drawn from the author’s own experience. Because of this, Conan Doyle
agrees that in his own way he shared some of Holmes’ qualities – a view
which is supported by his own son, who points out
father’s gifts of deductive observation were unequalled in his
experience” and therefore most important to the Canon. (3)
In my opinion, it was a combination of these two sources of inspiration that brought about as fascinating a character as Sherlock Holmes, the embodiment of reason.