3. Sherlock Holmes – Rooted in Reality
3.1. The Historical Background – an Outline
An outline of the historical background of A.C. Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes narratives. A quick review of Holme’s time, accompanied by a critical reading of selected sources.
Although it is rather irritating to refer to Holmes and Watson as
eminent Victorians” (1),
the Canon is deeply rooted in that ‘Golden Age of British History’.
A clearer view of the époque will therefore open up many new ways to look at the Canon as it reveals the origin of many details the modern reader subconsciously registers as unusual. What can, in short, be said about the historical frame of the stories?
A vivid age of rapid change (2),
the Victorian Age - and especially its flourishing big cities (3) – provided an ideal
for all kinds of mysteries .(4)
With his own biography full of curious twists and turns, Conan Doyle
could easily capitalise on that in his stories. In addition, many
details about Victorian lifestyle added greatly to the beauty of the
setting – in the eyes of contemporaries as well as for the modern
reader (5) .
The trust in progress and science is by far not only Victorian attitude that had a formative influence on the Canon. In various ways, but mainly through the character of their two famous protagonists, the texts advocate typical values of the époque (6) such as
‘duty’, ‘will’, ‘earnestness’, ‘hard work’,
respectable comportment […] and thrift.” – values, indeed, of
Holmes even combines two positive male stereotypes: as he created a unique profession for himself (8), he is undoubtedly a ‘self-made man’, while his comportment renders him an exemplary gentleman. By all accounts, Conan Doyle upheld these values not only in his works but also in his own live.
Furthermore, Victorian class distinctions are essential to the Canon. In an ‘individualistic’ society like our own, even a genius like Holmes might not have been able to read a person's appearance accurately enough to come to profound conclusion: the reliability of his method would inevitably decrease (9).
Paradoxically, a certain sense of assurance is a last important
factor to the Canon: Holmes and Watson inhibit a
“universe in which
certainty is a commonplace: the motivations of criminals […] are
certain; Sherlock himself is certain of his powers and of moral values.”
Victorians felt relatively save – despite all the epochal upheavals –
because they could rely on
“various kinds of balance” as the Encyclopaedia
states. Because of all these factors, the World of Sherlock
Holmes owes some of its fascinating features to the dubious
glamour of the time when it originated.