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Life's Sherlock Homes Detective

Explicit details about Sherlock Holmes's life outside of the adventures recorded by Dr. Watson are few and far between in Conan Doyle's original stories; nevertheless, incidental details about his early life and extended families portray a loose biographical picture of the detective. Early life

Explicit details about Sherlock Holmes's life outside of the adventures recorded by Dr. Watson are few and far between in Conan Doyle's original stories; nevertheless, incidental details about his early life and extended families portray a loose biographical picture of the detective.

An estimate of Holmes' age in the story "His Last Bow" places his birth in 1854; the story is set in August 1914 and he is described as being 60 years of age. Commonly, the date is cited as 6 January. However, an extensive argument for a later birthdate is posited by award-winning author Laurie R. King using specific information from two of Conan Doyle's stories: A Study in Scarlet and "The Gloria Scott" Adventure. Internal evidence in "The Gloria Scott" Adventure has Holmes finishing his second (and last) year at university in either 1880 or 1885. Watson's story of his own wounding in the Second Afghan War (in the battle of Maiwand in late July 1880) and subsequent return to England (as told in A Study in Scarlet) place his moving in with Holmes in either early 1881 or 1882. This works best with a date of 1880 for Gloria Scott and, if Holmes began university at the age of 17, a reasonable age for that time, his birth year would be 1861. The full discussion of Ms. King's assertion can be found on her website, under the heading "A Holmes Chronology".

Holmes states that he first developed his methods of deduction while an undergraduate. The author Dorothy L. Sayers suggested that, given details in two of the Adventures, Holmes must have been at Cambridge rather than Oxford and that "of all the Cambridge colleges, Sidney Sussex [College] perhaps offered the greatest number of advantages to a man in Holmes’ position and, in default of more exact information, we may tentatively place him there".

His earliest cases, which he pursued as an amateur, came from fellow university students. According to Holmes, it was an encounter with the father of one of his classmates that led him to take up detection as a profession, and he spent the six years following university working as a consulting detective, before financial difficulties led him to take Watson as a roommate, at which point the narrative of the stories begins.

From 1881, Holmes was described as having lodgings at 221B Baker Street, London, from where he runs his private detective agency. 221B is an apartment up 17 steps, stated in an early manuscript to be at the "upper end" of the road. Until the arrival of Dr. Watson, Holmes worked alone, only occasionally employing agents from the city's underclass, including a host of informants and a group of street children he calls "the Baker Street Irregulars". The Irregulars appear in three stories, "The Sign of the Four", "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Adventure of the Crooked Man".

Little is said of Holmes's family. His parents were unmentioned in the stories and he merely states that his ancestors were "country squires". In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", Holmes claims that his great-uncle was Vernet, the French artist. His brother, Mycroft, seven years his senior, is a government official who appears in three stories: he is also mentioned in one other story. Mycroft has a unique civil service position as a kind of memory-man or walking database for all aspects of government policy. Mycroft is described as even more gifted than Sherlock in matters of observation and deduction, but he lacks Sherlock's drive and energy, preferring to spend his time at ease in the Diogenes Club, described as "a club for the most un-clubbable men in London."

It's unclear whether Holmes has any other siblings. In "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches", Holmes says, "I confess that it is not the situation which I should like to see a sister of mine apply for", leading some to suppose the existence of same. But as he mentions this only in context of warning the woman in a case, taking her as his sister, this may well be merely a figure of speech.

Life with Dr. Watson

Holmes shares the majority of his professional years with his good friend and chronicler Dr. John H. Watson, who lives with Holmes for some time before his marriage in 1887, and again after his wife's death; his residence is maintained by his landlady, Mrs. Hudson.

Watson has two roles in Holmes's life. First, he gives practical assistance in the conduct of his cases; he is the detective's right-hand man, acting variously as look-out, decoy, accomplice and messenger. Second, he is Holmes's chronicler (his "Boswell" as Holmes refers to him). Most of the Holmes stories are frame narratives, written from Watson's point of view as summaries of the detective's most interesting cases. Holmes is often described as criticising Watson's writings as sensational and populist, suggesting that they neglect to accurately and objectively report the pure calculating "science" of his craft.

Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it "[A Study in Scarlet]" with romanticism, which produces much the same effect as if you worked a love-story ... Some facts should be suppressed, or, at least, a just sense of proportion should be observed in treating them. The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which I succeeded in unravelling it.

—Sherlock Holmes on John Watson's "pamphlet", "A Study in Scarlet".

Nevertheless, Holmes's friendship with Watson is his most significant relationship. In several stories, Holmes's fondness for Watson—often hidden beneath his cold, intellectual exterior—is revealed. For instance, in "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs", Watson is wounded in a confrontation with a villain; although the bullet wound proves to be "quite superficial", Watson is moved by Holmes's reaction:

It was worth a wound; it was worth many wounds; to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.

In all, Holmes is described as being in active practice for 23 years, with Watson documenting his cases for 17 of them.

 


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