4. Sherlock Holmes – Cult Hero
4.2. Emotional Roots of the Cult – Conjectures and Ideas
An inquiry into the relationship between the author/ narrator, Sherlock Holmes and the reader, and the emotional connections underpinning these special attractions and the Sherlock Holmes Cult. An critical, speculative interpretation at various levels with examples from A.C. Doyle’s original stories.
"Sherlock Holmes is still the most inspiring personality to me."
These words from an authentic entry in an online guest-book (1) speak of deep admiration for a
person that never took one step outside a book.
What, then, is so very fascinating and attractive about the World of Sherlock Holmes? Judging by my own experience, I believe that we accept the invitation to integrate the detective into our lives, because the stories reflect some of our basic needs and desires.
Among them, the desire to escape from our everyday-lives and look at things from a different ankle is of vital importance to the Canon. To those who enjoy reading, books are some kind of vehicles that carry them into alternative worlds – there are various reasons why, in this case, readers are especially willing to believe in the world that emerges from the tales:
First of all, Holmes is a complex and fascinating character with a
wide range of features, that convinces the public of his existence. In
fact, the texts themselves suggest that they were accounts of actual
events, as the narrator takes the role of a faithful chronicler, who
writes about his private memories from the past and clearly states his
own involvement in the cases:
I had seen little of Holmes lately. My marriage had drifted us away from each other.(from: A Scandal in Bohemia)
I feel that no memoir of him [Holmes] would be complete without some little sketch of this remarkable episode.(from: The Nobel Bachelor)
[One of these cases] , however, deals with interests of such importance and implicates so many of the first families in the kingdom that for many years it will be impossible to make it public.(from: The Naval Treaty)
Statements such as these, as well as many allusions to real-life
incidences of the time, make the readers believe that Holmes and Watson
lived, indeed, in Victorian London - even more so in an époque when
people usually trusted in what they read: There is, after all, little
more to a man than his biography and his unique traits of character.
Accordingly, the Victorian setting itself plays an important role in the Canon: The stories conjure the romantic image of a world, where
English servant brings you tea and muffins" to your comfortable
armchair in the sitting room, where rattling hansom cabs and the
mysterious London fog are common place and where people are well-known
"elaborate dress" and their
Many Victorian readers recognised, I imagine, their own dreams in this fictional world: Maybe, Sherlock Holmes held a social status they wanted to obtain, maybe some of his clients resembled them in a way - or maybe the stories held an entirely different promise for some.
Needless to say, the modern reader still falls in to the charm of the tales, but, for him, they speak of a glorious past, when life apparently was less complex and pleasantly different from his own.
And yet, there are two far more powerful forces that draw the
readers into the stories: The desire to investigate into the various
secretes surrounding us and the essential wish for order and justice,
both of which become evident in a babies behaviour: Using all his
senses, a small child gradually discovers the world and struggles to
come to terms with what it finds out there - when it feels disturbed or
even threatened, it begins to cry.
"rationalist in an irrational world" (P.A.
Shreffler)(3) , Sherlock Holmes
responds to both of them: In most of his cases, he explains the mystery
at hand logically and provides a solution. Following his line of
thought , the reader may step by step satisfy his curiosity and see how
the disturbing element is eventually eliminated from a client's life.
However complex, confusing or even realistic the Word of Sherlock
Holmes may appear to be on the surface, at the heart of it, there is
always an imperturbable order, constituted by intelligible laws.(4) This has a strong effect on the
reader: He may choose to identify with Sherlock Holmes and hope to
learn from his cases, he may seek shelter from his own upsetting
problems in the better world of the stories giving in to the illusion
that some of them might be solved in a similar fashion- or he may,
after all, simply enjoy the prickling tension in some of the
A great deal of the fascination for Sherlock Holmes might therefore
originate from a combination of these two factors: The stories conjure
the image of a better world that appears to be realistic despite its
many advantages. In this realm, Sherlock Holmes is the mediator between
good and evil forces, an outstanding and exemplary character we may
admire and adore. It was undoubtedly Conan Doyle's personal achievement
to create such a place in the imagination of innumerable readers.
However, all this may only be part of the truth. It is said that love can't be explained. Perhaps such deep emotional commitment as many readers feel for Sherlock Holmes can never be analysed adequately, either.