Themes in the Canon

Warning: Some minor plot spoilers. If you've not read the entire canon - be warned.

For the first time I've sat down and had a look at the underlying motives in each of the sixty canonical Sherlock Holmes stories.

I eventually managed to divide them into the following groups: 
  • Self-defence
  • Relationships (positive/noble ones rather than ones that have fallen apart)
  • Espionage
  • Accident
  • Greed
  • Revenge/jealousy

Now of course, some stories cut across more than one category but I’ve placed them under the heading that I consider to have been the greatest influence.

So let’s look at the smaller counts.


The Abbey Grange – The murder of Sir Eustace is deemed to be self-defence
The Three Gables – Isadora Klein seeks a manuscript in order to defend or preserve her (pretty battered) reputation.


The Noble Bachelor – Bride leaves Lord St Simon when she discovers her first husband is alive.
The Yellow Face – The hiding of a child of a former relationship

The Yellow Face

The Three Students – Student sees exam papers early but his father’s former butler convinces him not to benefit from his advanced knowledge
The Missing Three-quarter – Man goes missing to be with the (dying) wife he has hidden from his uncle.
The Creeping Man – Man experiments with drugs to improve his vitality and impress a younger woman
The Blanched Soldier – James Dodd goes in search of his missing friend Godfrey.

The Blanched Soldier

His Last Bow – Holmes’s pre WW1 service


The Lion’s Mane – death caused by jellyfish

The Lion's Mane
This accounts for ten of the sixty stories. All of the others (50) fall into the revenge/jealousy or greed categories (by my count - 21 and 29 respectively). An example of revenge would be The Sign of Four. Even though the treasure means that it touches on greed, the motivation for events is revenge against Major Sholto. An example of greed would be Charles Augustus Milverton where the proceeds of blackmail are the main motivation.

Charles Augustus Milverton

Try going through the stories yourself and see how closely (or not) your assessment tallies with mine.

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