Want to understand Sherlock? - Try understanding his creator

It is common knowledge that Sherlock Holmes has lots more fans than the man who created him. The world contains a considerable number of Sherlockians (be they traditional Sherlockians or Sherlock Sherlockians) who know everything there is to know about Sherlock Holmes and next to nothing about his creator.

It is therefore rather amusing (and a tad depressing) when you hear Sherlockians pondering questions concerning the Great Detective. Why did Holmes refuse a knighthood?, why did he use the spy name Altamont? and so on….

Holmes aka Altamont overpowers Von Bork in His Last Bow
The work of most authors is, to a certain extent, biographical or auto-biographical. In other words their characters are almost always based, to some extent or other, on themselves or people they know. Sir Arthur’s youngest son – Adrian – suggested that Holmes’s personality was largely based on Conan Doyle and that, as we know, the method of deduction was based on a system he had seen demonstrated by his teacher Dr Joe Bell.

Holmes’s spy name of Altamont was drawn from the middle name of Conan Doyle’s father. Holmes’s refusal of a knighthood reflects Conan Doyle’s own frustration at having accepted one many years earlier largely due to the wishes of his family (he did not want to accept it).

The point I am trying to make is this. If you are a Sherlockian and you have a question about an aspect of Sherlock’s character or motivations, you would do well to start your search for an answer by looking at the life of his creator – the much overlooked Arthur Conan Doyle.

Arthur Conan Doyle in 1893 - the year of The Final Problem

So we have the three words for Sherlock Series 3

After much speculation (my Twitter timeline was pretty much devoted to the subject such is my follower demographic) we now have the magic three words from the powers that be.....

They are:

rat, wedding, bow

We look forward to seeing you in due course chaps.

The Swiss Booklet of the SHSL

Hot off the press and "modelled" by Carrie Chandler (the book's mastermind) we have the Sherlock Holmes Society of London's booklet to accompany this year's Swiss Pilgrimage.

Charles Altamont Doyle - the accidental hero

The life of Charles Altamont Doyle is one that, although tragic, we should be grateful for. He was the youngest of his generation and, it would appear, was a little spoilt and lazy. The Doyle family were carving out quite a reputation for themselves in London society so when Charles became (in the family's eyes) a risk to that reputation, it was decided to, effectively, exile him to Edinburgh.

Charles Doyle when Arthur was a very small boy
This was the first step on the road to the creation of Sherlock Holmes. If Charles had not been sent to Edinburgh he would not have met Mary Foley who was to become his wife and Arthur Conan Doyle would never have been born. However, this alone was not enough. Bored and frustrated by the job his family had arranged for him, Charles increasingly turned to drink. He was retired early and consistently spent more money than was coming in. It was a struggle for the highly capable Mary Doyle to keep the family off the streets. The financial straights that Charles Doyle's drinking caused led to Mary taking in a lodger.

This lodger was Dr Bryan Charles Waller. He was step two on the road to Sherlock Holmes. The young Arthur deeply resented Waller's presence and saw him as usurping his father's role as head of the family. In Arthur's eyes, if his father could not look after the family, it was his personal duty to do so. Of course he was not yet capable of doing so which added to his sense of impotence.

Young Arthur swiftly realised that money was the only thing that could keep the family out of the gutter so he put his own artistic leanings to one side and looked instead for a career that would bring in the necessary income. Perhaps ironically it was the lodger, Dr Waller, who suggested that Arthur seek a career in medicine. This was step three.

Arthur duly entered Edinburgh University to study medicine. It was during this time that he met Dr Joe Bell who later inspired the deductive traits of Holmes - step four.

The rest, as is often said, is history. However, it seems pretty unarguable that the failings of Charles Altamont Doyle are what led to the creation of Sherlock Holmes. A tragic figure who suffered from alcoholism, epilepsy and later dementia ultimately triggered the creation of the most self-controlled and logical character in literary history.

Charles Doyle - you suffered a lot. Some of it was through your own doing and some was not but you contributed to the creation of a character I love. For that I thank you.

NBC - further programmes

Following on from the post below re NBC footage connected to the Olympics....Scott Swan has mentioned that there will be a dedicated Sherlock Holmes programme. Apparently it airs in the US next week. Hopefully it will also be on the web for those of us in the rest of the world.