Dec 7, 2014

Sherlock Holmes: Elementary

Signet Paget illustration, 1893
A recent article about Stacey Solomon, former Queen of the Jungle and English singer, who is a bookworm and fan of Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes. It struck me how a fictional character could have such fans after so long. Indeed, the character Indiana Jones may well be another immortalized character.
Sherlock Holmes has been a world renown figure, an English icon, popular in the United States for more than a century depicted on film by various actors; especially famously portrayed by Basil Rathbone. He was created by an imaginative Scottish author and physician, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh Medical School. Holmes is known for his logical reasoning, his talent for disguise, and the first use of forensic science in solving mysterious cases of crime. His nemesis, Moriarty, is also famous along with Holmes' companion and friend, Dr. John H. Watson who introduces the famous sleuth detective and narrates in all but four stories published as a series from 1887 to 1927. The stories take place from 1880 to 1914.
Sir Doyle stated he was inspired to write the character of Holmes by Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, which Doyle worked for as a clerk. Bell was noted for drawing conclusions from minute observations. Bell later wrote to Doyle and stated:
You are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it.
Doyle, full name Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was as interesting as his character. He was one of the first motorists in Britain, purchasing a vehicle in 1911 without ever driven one. Doyle was knighted in 1902 by King Edward VII, but it was not knighted for his fictional Sherlock Holmes stories, but for his work in a non-fiction pamphlet about the Boer War. He was the friend of the author of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie, a novelist and playwright. They played on the same cricket team.
Doyle also was a classmate with Bram Stoker and Robert Louis Stevenson at the University of Edinburgh.
Doyle in Switzerland
Doyle was a sports fan, liking cricket and football (English version), and he helped popularize the winter sport of skiing. He mastered skiing in Switzerland when he moved there in 1893 because of his wife's health and the mountain air was better for her. He fell in love with skiing as well as Switzerland.
Under a different name (AC Smith), Doyle was a goalkeeper for an amateur football club in Portsmouth.
Doyle ran for parliament two times, representing the Unionist Party, once in Edinburgh (1900) and once in Border Burghs (1906). He was never elected, although the vote count was close.
Doyle's Boer War pamphlet gained notice, and as aforementioned gained him knighthood, but he could not serve in the Boer War because he was overweight; so he volunteered to serve as a ship's doctor in Africa.
Doyle began writing extensively after his ophthalmology office in London went bust. In his autobiography he wrote that not one patient crossed his door.
Cottingley Fairies
Doyle was fascinated with the occult, which became popular in the Victorian Era and on into the 1900s. His character was skeptic, but because Doyle believed in mythical fairies, he was convinced that the Cottingley Fairies hoax photographs were real. He spent one million dollars to promote fairies and his book, The Coming of the Fairies (1921).
Doyle befriended the famous Harry Houdini, but lost that friendship when Doyle countered Houdini's pursuit to disprove the Spiritualist movement.
Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes that made him a lot of money in 1893; but after public demand, Holmes was resurrected ten years later. The reason Doyle did that was because he tired of the character.
Holmes and Moriarty in Struggle
After the RMS Titanic sank in 1912, Doyle and George Bernard Shaw had a public argument about the disaster. The playwright made bitter comments about the acts of heroism that took place aboard the ship, which enraged Doyle. Shaw as a peculiar fellow with a weird personality; but that did not stop him from winning a Nobel Prize in Literature (1925) and an Academy Award (1938). Shaw turned both down as well as the offer for knighthood. He was a Progressive Socialist, known for his affairs with married women.
In that final Holmes adventure, aforementioned, the location background as in the town of Meiringen, Switzerland. A statue of Sherlock Holmes is in the village square, now named Conan Doyle Place. Both the author and his fictional character are known through the world and both have official societies in their honor. The Arthur Conan Doyle Society and The Sherlock Holmes' Society of London.
The address of 221B Baker Street was fictional, but that did not stop fans creating an address and founding a museum with that address, opening in 1990. It was established at the actual address of 239 Baker Street, but the multitude of fan mail caused the Royal Mail to agreeing to deliver all letters addressed to 221B Baker Street to the museum at 239 Baker Street.
The museum includes a full-size replica of Homes' and Watson's flat (apartment) and the City of Westminster allowed the address of 221B be posted at the location. So as the Smithsonian Magazine article wrote:
A fictional flat in a real city has been made a reality at a fictional address in the real city near the real address of the fictional flat.
Click to enlarge
The museum includes Watson's bedroom on the second floor, other reconstructions only have the Holmes' sitting room. Much of the décor was taken from the illustrator Sidney Paget drawings used in early books about Sherlock Holmes. The rest of the décor is based upon the fashion and architecture of the Victorian Era.
Many except the die-hard fans know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not just write mysteries, he solved a few. For example, The Curious Case of Oscar Slater concerning the murder of Marion Gilchrist, a wealthy 82-year-old woman from Glasgow. Doyle published his research and findings to plea for a pardon for the falsely accused Slater. He wrote to politicians and funded Slater's legal fees. Finally when Slater was deemed innocent and released from prison, he received £6,000 compensation and never paid back Doyle for his lawyer's expense.
Doyle died on July 7, 1930, collapsing in his garden, clutching his heart with one hand and a flower in the other. His last words to his wife: You are wonderful.
After his death, a séance was conducted at the Royal Albert Hall, thousands attended including his wife and children. He did not appear, but many in the audience claimed they felt his presence.
Doyle did not invent forensic science, but his fictional character certainly propelled it toward its modern basics. It actually began in Europe in the 16th century with Ambroise Paré, a French army surgeon; but the foundation of modern pathology is the result of two Italian surgeons, Fortunato Fidelis and Paolo Zacchia and later by others concerning anthropometry and fingerprinting.
The characteristic traits of Holmes that attracts readers is his integrity, trustworthiness, rational decisiveness, replacing emotion with logic, as well as his intellectual superiority.
While several actors have portrayed Holmes throughout the decades on film, to include the American actor Robert Downey Jr (with Jude Law as Watson); I believe the all-time best was Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. Rathbone, with his hawk nose and tall, slender frame matched what was depicted in the original books by illustrator Sidney Paget. Physically, Doyle matched the likeness of Dr. Watson, the original not being as comical as Nigel Bruce portrayed in the Sherlock Holmes adventure series of films.
There are some famous quotes from the stories:
  • The Adventure of The Abbey Grange: 'Come, Watson, come!' he cried. 'The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!'
  • The Adventure of the Dancing Man: 'What one man can invent another can discover.'
  • The Sign of Four: 'The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.'
  • A Case of Identity: 'It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.'
While Holmes does use the word 'elementary' in his dialogue, the phrase most famously uttered by Basil Rathbone (and later Holmes actors) are: “Elementary, my dear Watson” - never written by the author, A. Conan Doyle has become the most popular and recognizable quotation never written by the original author.
The following film Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943), the Victorian character is propelled into WWII. The film provides us today the background of what it was like in the United Kingdom in the 1940s ... 

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