Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I have just finished The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes which actually went pretty fast compared to the four novels I read earlier. This collection of short stories was a fun fast read which satisfied my need to read but I did not feel committed to an entire long novel however after the first five short stories I found myself wondering if I was simply re-reading the same story over and over again?

Every short story seemed to follow the same pattern, a client came to see Holmes, he enlisted Watson’s help, Holmes found some small detail in the client’s story that no one else could and made it look easy and eventually he solved the case.

Holmes does have his moments of humor but overall his character seems a little underdeveloped for me. Perhaps when I finish the entire book series he will develop more but really he seems flat.

The one question I kept coming back to throughout this collection was it’s lack of unoriginality. I am sure for most Victorian era readers this was considered very very very fantastic writing and very visionary so I tried to keep that in mind as I read….for the period it was SHOCKINGLY good and different. So I suppose one must not look too far into the essence of the characters and plot line as it much of it is period related but it does get old after a while….I suppose that is why these were published in magazines etc.

Watson starts almost every story with some sort of preface like ‘blah blah blah of all the cases Holmes and I worked together none amazes me more than blah blah blah (I’m paraphrasing horribly here)’ and then he launches into the case. Watson must not get out much or else he has a very bad memory because to him EVERYTHING is amazing!

This leads me to the one question not answered by the books yet…..why DOES Watson start documenting their adventures in the first place?

Because Holmes’ character is underdeveloped at this point in the series, his relationships with all other characters are a little off. For instance, in the first short story of the collection called A Scandal in Bohemia, we meet Irene Adler for the first and only time in this collection. Watson says this is the woman who pretty much stole Holmes’ heart….she was always ‘the woman’ to him but yet she is absent for the entire series.

The trouble with short stories is they are often published as a collection only AFTER they first appear in print. Lots of times the story originated in a magazine or something and later was complied into a collection meaning lots of things get lost in translation with the editor being left holding the bag so to speak….trying to sort out the order of the stories etc. So maybe this is what happened with this series…..who knows!

Anyway, as to Irene Adler….so Holmes’ thinks the world of this woman but it never really says why. It is implied that this is the woman who he was so smitten with but it is not clear if he loves her or if he is just mad she out smarted him and became ‘the one who got away’? And again, she’s not mentioned really in the collection again except that she was the only person Holmes’ was not able to bring to justice.

There is not relationship implied between the two except this so that leads me to believe there is either A. more to come or B. the only reason he is obsessed with her is because he couldn’t catch her. Either way this seems out of place in the series.

The relationship between Adler and Holmes is not the only area where we see Holmes lacks relationship skills. The friendship between Holmes and Inspector Lestrade is also a little more convoluted and strange to me. In the other stories Lestrade is more of a background character nothing more than a messenger or a means to stimulate a plot etc. However in the short story The Noble Bachelor, how Holmes interacts with Lestrade seems a little out of place to me, almost like a jealous overkill.

In the very first novel A Study in Scarlet, Lestrade is a friend of both Holmes and Watson  but in this story he almost seems more like an acquaintance than anything. Holmes also seems to have some kind of superiority complex when it comes to Lestrade. The Inspector is described an ‘ferret like’ and Holmes seems to think he is pretty incompetent and stupid. I get what Doyle is trying to do here with his stories….he is trying to demonstrate how superior logic and science are to the simple minds of people who choose to ignore the obvious however the obvious in this case is Holmes seems rather jealous of the Inspector.

I am still trying to figure out what it is the Holmes actually does in the books….he is obviously a forensic consultant/ private investigator of sorts and by todays standards he would be a special FBI agent or something but in the books he doesn’t do much except sit around, use cocaine, and do nothing but remain trapped in his own madness waiting for a new case. In the short story The Nobel Bachelor, Lestrade and Holmes are working the case of a missing bride. Lestrade thinks she has been killed by the groom’s lover but Holmes’ is sure that the bride has ran off with her lover (and in this case, as always, he is right). Lestrade shares his theory with Holmes and Watson and explains he is stumped with the case and Holmes antagonistically mocks him and begs Lestrade to share his theory on the case and when he does Holmes continues to mock him and poke holes in his theories.

He seems to be boasting about his abilities more than anything and what it comes off as is jealousy. Even though they are portrayed as rivals, they each have what the other desires. Holmes has the logical and know-how that Lestrade lacks while Lestrade has a legit job that Holmes doesn’t…..not to mention Lestrade isn’t trapped in his own genius like Holmes is.

For a character that is really wanting in the development section, the possibility of growth is there. Holmes is clearly a complicated character but Doyle hasn’t seemed capable of bringing that out and playing it up. Perhaps it is because psychology was an up and coming field then and character psychology (up until that point anyway) was really more about plot and story than character? Really think about it….most stories are not really psychologically developed in the same way they are post Victorian era.

In the last short story of the collection, The Copper Beeches, we can really see that Holmes understands he’s more or less nuts when he is talking to Watson at the end of their case.

Do you know Watson…that is one of the curses of a mind with a turn like mine that I must looks at everything with reference to my own special subjects. You look at tehse scattered houses and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them and the only though which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there.

Sadly Holmes recognizes that he is different and acknowledges that he does not think like others but ironically the Doctor doesn’t really know what to say expect “Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads?” (760). I about died laughing when I read that LOL. As a modern reader I expected some long conversation, dissection, or explanation of Holmes’ comment but really there was nothing but a witty comment from Watson and that was it…..what does this say about the writer and society?

For me this was important, it says a lot about Holmes and his overall character and how society understands his character (at the time anyway). Clearly he knows he is different but no one really knows how to deal with ‘different’ people so they just ignore it or sweep it aside as a joke rather than really addressing it which is especially true of Victorian era society. Anything different or out of place was considered ‘other’ or ‘suspect’, ‘dangerous’. But clearly society WANTED to try and understand the ‘why’ of people and their logic and Holmes makes a good subject. Why is he like that? Why does he think in that way? What makes him tick? Here he explains it in his own words but society (AKA Watson) doesn’t really know what to do now so he follows social acceptance and changes the subject.

Holmes as a character takes the reader right to the edge of modern character development and the psychological understanding of characters but just doesn’t quite cross the threshold completely.

I am hoping Doyle develops Holmes’ character in later short story collections and I hope to God they are a little more original….I was really tired of the formula Doyle used in the last story…..I just couldn’t take it anymore! Always the same plot, climax, and structure… got old quick! So much so that I had to go on to another book rather than complete ALL the Sherlock Holmes collections. I think there are three more to go….The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, and His Last Bow.

I will pick them up again and start reading them eventually but I just had to start reading something else.

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  • Kindle Edition
  • Published (first published 1892)

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 3.50 out of 5

Genre: British Literature, Victorian Literature, Gothic Literature, Mystery

Memorable lines/quotes: 

There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact

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