Sherlock Holmes and His Followers

By Richard H. Williams

Most people are satisfied to think that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote the 60 Sherlock Holmes stories. They also would agree that Holmes's helper in detection was John Watson, M.D. Additionally, Holmes's arch-enemy was Professor James Moriarty, who discovered the binomial distribution. The secondary evil force was Colonel Sebastian Moran, the best heavy-game shot of the British Empire. Moriarty had two brothers, both named James, which brings to mind the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world, George Forman, who has five sons named George.

Moriarty's most prominent role was in the Conan Doyle story entitled "The Final Problem," where he and Holmes, in a death struggle, locked in each others' arms, plunged into the deadly caldron of Reichenbach Falls. Or so it seemed.1 In reality, Holmes survived. Colonel Moran observed this struggle and attempted to stone Holmes to death. Sherlock dodged the missiles and eventually escaped into the darkness. Moran continued to pursue Sherlock Holmes, but remained on the periphery of the action until the short story titled "The Adventure of the Empty House," where Moran welcomed Holmes to his return to sleuthing by trying to kill Sherlock with a super-powerful air gun which contained bullets that spread as they neared the target. Holmes tricked Moran,however, and the Colonel was captured by the minions of Scotland Yard. But there is a small contingent of Sherlockian scholars who insist that Watson wrote the stories and that Conan Doyle was at best Watson's literary agent. This is not so surprising, as the stories themselves give the impression that Watson was re- cording the cases. A number of years ago three of these scholars appeared on the Today Show, and the host's first question was to inquire about Arthur Conan Doyle and they replied, in chorus, "Who?" The interview went downhill from there. Some students seek out the forerunners of Sherlock Holmes. The detective that is the most prominent among these is Edgar Allen Poe's C. Auguste Dupin, who appeared in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The Purloined Letter." Although many view Poe as the Father of the Detective Story, Sherlock rated Dupin as "a very inferior fellow."2

There are those who write parodies and pastiches of Sherlock Holmes, his supporting characters in the 60 stories, and the author, Conan Doyle. A sampling from such stories is: "The Adventures of Picklock Holes," written by Cunnin Toil. Robert Barr created "Sherlaw Kombs," and Mark Twain himself produced a detective called "Fetlock Jones." Peter Todd's story dealt with "Herlock Sholmes and Jotson on the trail of 'The Bound of the Haskervilles.'"3

There are, of course, those Sherlockian scholars who insist that all writing related to Holmes refrain from straying beyond the canon, the canon being the 60 stories. This group of intellectuals is referred to as "The Fundamentalists." They frown upon writers who produce pastiches or parodies based on the original Sherlock Holmes stories. The literature produced by scholars who are willing to depart from the original stories and make inferences which might be untenable to The Fundamentalists is referred to as "The Higher Criticism."

When Holmes appeared to perish toward the end of "The Final Problem,"only three persons knew that he was still alive---his brother, Mycroft, his housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, and the evil Colonel Sebastian Moran. During the period that Sherlock was missing from the public and from the criminal world, i.e., in between "the Final Problem"and "The Empty House," many speculations were posited as to his whereabouts. This kind of thinking would be subsumed under "The Higher Criticism." and more will be said about this later on in the present paper.

At one time Sherlock Holmes had a mental collapse. Part of his problem was related to his addiction to cocaine, although he was in general a high strung character. If lithium had been available at that time, his friend and associate Dr. Watson might have pres- cribed it. Holmes had also sampled heroin while under the medical care of Watson. In "The Seven Per Cent Solution," Nicholas Meyer chronicled Holmes' relation with Freud.4 This book is pure Higher Criticism and is delightfully entertaining. Apparently, the psychoanalysis was successful, to a certain extent in alleviating Holmes'addiction problem.

The short story that really put Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the road to literary immortality was "A Scandal In Bohemia." In this story, one of his most memorable characters, Irene Adler, made her appearance. At the time, Holmes was not interested in women in a romantic way. He felt they were too emotional and that a close relation with a woman would interfere with his logical deductive methods in solving criminal cases. He was polite and kindly with women but purposely kept his distance. There may have existed, too, a lack of intellectual respect for women on his part. Well, Irene Adler changed all of that. She was a world class opera singer from Hoboken, New Jersey, and at the time was retired (Note: Another well known singer was born in Hoboken.5) She married a London lawyer, Godfrey Norton, in 1887. She left him two years after they were married and, for financial reasons, came out of retirement. But in the story, "A Scandal In Bohemia," Irene outfoxed Holmes. He employed several somewhat subtle mechanisms to trick her, but Irene saw through the web he spun and triumphed in the end.Was Sherlock jealous, or envious, or angry? No! He was impressed and respectful of this beautiful woman, and thereafter he always referred to her as THE WOMAN and carried a photograph of her. This suggests that something further could develop in their relation, and it did, but not within the confines of the canon. After the Reichenbach Falls incident, Holmes wished to be incognito, fearing that Colonel Moran or other criminals would be pursuing him. He visited a number of cities in Europe and Asia as a travelling violinist, under the name Eric Sigerson. Holmes was a violinist of the first order, but he had many other skills, some of which may be surprising. According to the Higher Critics,as a child he made his acting debut with Henry Irving. Recall that Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, was Irving's manager. Holmes made his first appearance on the London stage playing Horatio in "Hamlet."6 Then, on Sunday, November 23, 1879, he sailed for America with the Sasanoff Shakespearean Company beginning an eight month tour of the United States. At this point in time, Sherlock was 25 years of age. Sherlock Holmes' acting ability, including his use of disguises, is dis- played in a number of the stories in the canon. In addition to being an actor, a musician, and a detective, Sherlock was a musical composer, a boxer, a swordsman, a singlestick player, and a Baritsu expert. Baritsu is the ancient Japanese art of wrestling.7 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who eventually grew tired of writing about Sherlock Holmes, thinking his other literary work was more important, killed off Sherlock in the story entitled, "The Final Problem."

According to the Higher Critics, Sherlock Holmes was very much alive during this period. He went to Paris and became a violinist in the Paris Opera.8 The opera being performed was Carmen. Then, by chance, Irene Adler, who had come out of retirement for financial reasons, traveled to Paris and obtained the part of Carmen in that opera. Irene was an operatic contralto. Although Holmes tried to disguise his identity, Irene soon discovered that he was Sigerson.

After the performances of Carmen were concluded, Irene's destination was Monte- negro, in Eastern Europe, and soon Holmes followed her. In this country, they had a full-blown affair and twins were conceived. [At this point, The Fundamentalists are shrieking, "foul."] Holmes sent her to the safety of Trenton, New Jersey, where the baby boys were born in 1893. Holmes was still trying to keep his identify from the public and from criminal elements, so he insisted on naming one of the babies Nero Wolfe and his twin brother Marko Wolfe. Irene agreed to these names. In the early 1900s, Irene re- turned to Europe. By this time, Nero was a teenager and had grown rather corpulent. He was already showing signs of applying deductive logic to problem solution and was becoming a gastronome with a taste for fine foods and wine. He was also interested in raising orchids. Nero Wolfe served a stint in the Montenegran Army and then moved to New York City where he purchased a brownstone on West Thirty -Fifth Street and stablished a detective practice. He hired an assistant, Archie Goodwin, to work with him in his sleuthing.9

The connoisseur of the Sherlock Holmes stories, perhaps from reading the story which describes Holmes' supposed demise, and the one which describes his return, may wish to further account for all of the Holmesian activities from 1891 to1893. In the words of the great detective himself, "I travelled for two years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhasa and spending some days with the head Lama. You may have read of the remarkable explorations of a Norwegian Sigerson, but I am sure that it never occurred to you that it was me."10 Readers of "The Greek Interpreter," will recall that Sherlock's brother, Mycroft, was also corpulent and was strong on deductive reasoning, actually stronger than Sherlock. In fact, Holmes would sometimes consult with Mycroft on particularly difficult cases. Why, then, could Mycroft not become a great detective? Because he was physically lazy and didn't like to move around a lot. For example, if he constructed hypotheses to be tested, he would not be willing to go out to check the predictions made from the hypotheses. He spent almost all of his time in the Diogenes Club or in his apartment, which was across the street from the Club. This Diogenes Club, of which Mycroft was one of the founders, contained the most unsociable and unclubable men in London. No member was permitted to take notice of any other one. Talking was not allowed except in the Stranger's Room. Mycroft Holmes closely resembled Nero Wolfe in both physical characteristics, temperament, and interest patterns. Since Nero was himself relatively immoble and lazy how could he be a successful detective? The answer is that Nero Wolfe had Archie Goodwin to perform many tasks that Nero avoided. As Wolfe once said: "I do nothing without Mr. Goodwin. ..He is inquisitive, impetuous, alert, skeptical, pertinacious, and resourceful."11 Wolfe's reason for disliking physical activity was in large part due to the fact that he weighed one-seventh of a ton. The same sort of thing can be said of Mycroft.

Faithful readers of the canon sometimes peruse the pages of the 60 stories trying to learn more about Holmes' background. One item of interest is whether or not Holmes attended college.12 The answer is "Yes!" Here again we delve into the realm of Higher Criticism. In October, 1872 he entered Christ Church College at Oxford and in October 1874 he entered Caius College, Cambridge. It may be of interest to note that in the summer of 1872, Sherlock Holmes was tutored by Professor James Moriarty. The disciplines considered at that time under Moriarty's direction were mathematics and astronomy. Rex Stout (1896-1975) was presumably the creater of Nero Wolfe. He was given credit for writing the 73 Wolfian mysteries. It should be mentioned, however, that some scholars contend that the mysteries were written by Archie Goodwin and Stout was merely the literary agent. Rex Stout neither confirmed nor denied that Nero Wolfe's father was Sherlock Holmes.13 Stout did write a very controversial story entitled "Watson Was A Woman," which was published in The Baker Street Journal, which is the official publication of The Baker Street Irregulars. Rex Stout was a member of the Irregulars. So were some others that one might not anticipate---e.g., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, former President of the United States and Gene Tunney, who at one time held the heavyweight boxing championship of the world. In Stout's story, the "Woman" is implied to be the beautiful Irene Adler. But one radical interpretation of the story is that Holmes and Watson were lovers. Holmesian fans were horrified at this possibility. If this were the case, could Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin also be lovers? Like Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe was a detective and he was often consulted by the regular police personnel. Both men had established residences which served them as both home and office.Wolfe's was the famous brownstone on West Thirty-Fifth Street in New York City and Holmes'was in London at 221B Baker Street. Like Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe was assisted by a man of action----Watson assisted the former and Goodwin the latter. If Nero is instead compared to Mycroft, they are similar in that the art of detection begins and ends in reasoning from the armchair.14

After an illustrious career as a consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes retired toSussex Downs in October of 1903 and became a honeybee keeper. He eventually wrote a book entitled, "Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations Upon the Segregation of the Queen." Holmes called it "the fruit" of his "leisured ease," the "magnum opus" of his ".latter years."

Mr. Sherlock Holmes died on Sunday January 6, 1957 at the age of 103.15 His other writings were16: "Upon the Dating of Documents"; "Upon Tattoo Marks"; "Upon the Tracing of Footsteps"; "Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos"; "The Book of Life"; "A Study of the Influence of A Trade upon the Form of The Hand"; "Malingering"; "On the Variability of Human Ears"; "The Typewriter and its Relation to Crime"; "Secret Writings"; "Upon the Polyphonic Motets of Lassus"; "A Study of the Chaldean Roots in the Ancient Cornish Language"; "The Use of Dogs in the Work of the Detective"; "The Whole Art of Detection," forthcoming, to be published in four volumes.; "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier"; "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane." The last two stories belong to the canon, whereas all of the other titles listed above except the treatise on bees come from the fertile brains of the members of the Higher Criticism.

Genuine followers of Holmes, Watson, Moriarty and the other characters tend to reminisce about the 60 adventures and wish there were more stories coming from the pen of Conan Doyle/Watson. Unfortunately, Holmes and his very helpful assistant, Dr. Watson, are no longer with us.

"But there can be no grave for Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Watson.. Shall they not always live in Baker Street? Are they not there this moment, as one writes?. Outside, the hansoms rattle through the rain, and Moriarty plans his latest devilry. Within, the sea coal flames upon the hearth and Holmes and Watson take their well-won ease.. So they still live for all that love them well; in a romantic chamber of the heart, in a nostalgic country of the mind, where it is always 1895."17


1. Vincent Starrett, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (Revised and Enlarged), (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 31-32.

2."A Study in Scarlet," 14, In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (with a preface by Christopher Morley), "The Complete Sherlock Holmes," Volume I (NewYork: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1930).

3.Peter Haining (Editor), "A Sherlock Holmes Companion" (New York:Barnes and Noble Books)120-129.

4. Nicholas Meyer, "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution"(New York: E.P. Dutton and Company, (Inc., 1974).

5. Nicholas Meyer, "The Canary Trainer" (New York: W.W. Norton, 1993), 66.

6. William S. Baring-Gould, "Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street: A Life of theWorld's First Consulting Detective"(New York: Bramhall House, 1962), 296.

7. Meyer, "The Canary Trainer," 111. Meyer, Ibid., 61 ff . William S. Baring-Gould, "Nero Wolfe of West Thirty-Fifth Street: The Life and Times of America's Largest Private Detective" (New York: Bantam Books, 1970), 23-34.

10. Baring-Gould, "Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street," 213.

11. Baring-Gould, "Nero Wolfe of West Thirty Fifth Street," 23.

12. Baring-Gould, "Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street," 295.

13. Baring-Gould, Ibid., 212.

14. Baring-Gould, Ibid., 210-212.

15. Baring-Gould, Ibid., 287-292.

16. Baring-Gould, Ibid., 326-327.

17. Starrett, 62.

[The reader interested in locating additional pastiches or parodies of the 60 adventures can find them on the internet as well as in the publications of Sherlockian scholars such as William S. Baring-Gould, Adrian Conan Doyle, John Dickson Carr, and Michael Harrison, and Peter Haining.]

Copyright 2006 Richard H. Williams

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