Sherlock Holmes is introduced later on in ‘A Study in Scarlet’ as a detective, this is after he has demonstrated his skill to Watson and to the reader and firmly established himself as an intelligent man. Sherlock Holmes’ nature as a detective is important as at the time it was written London was growing and with it crime was growing too, people didn’t feel safe. The Sherlock Holmes stories gave a sense of morality. Sherlock Holmes showed that there was still some good in the world looking out for the reader and that even in this growing London full of bad things there was still good, this idea gave the stories a lot of popularity.
Sherlock Holmes’ scientific background is also very important in terms of how the stories gained their popularity. Victorian society was a society whose faith in religion had been shaken; Charles Darwin had just written his book outlining his discoveries and theories, ‘The Origin of the Species’. This had left a hole in people’s lives where God used to be a good force protecting them. Sherlock Holmes could fill that hole. Science had over taken religion and had apparently taken over the goodness of God that was looking after everybody but Sherlock Holmes was another good force, one powered by science.
He was working for the greater good and he was protecting the people of Victorian society, who where also his readers, he was by all accounts filling the God shaped hole. Sherlock Holmes made Darwin’s theories easier to accept as he showed science in a good light, as something not to be feared but as something that could help people. It was because of Sherlock Holmes’ usefulness in doing this that he gained a lot of his popularity. ‘He has his own little methods, which are, if he won’t mind my saying so, just a little too theoretical and fantastic..’
The inadequacy of London’s police force in the Victorian times was a worry for the reader of Sherlock Holmes. The police couldn’t be trusted and as such when they say this it helps the reader believe in Sherlock Holmes and his ability, helping them to enjoy the story and helping them feel secure while reading it. The police where inadequate in Victorian times so obviously the readers of Victorian times enjoyed reading about a fictional detective who was using these fantastic techniques.
Police in Victorian times where lacking in numbers, there where only 10 detectives in the whole of London and these weren’t very good, crimes where often left unsolved or only solved by the extracting of a confession. The people of London had to fear crime and had to fear the police because of these extracted confession. The police where unorganised and not very intelligent, unlike Sherlock Holmes who was intelligent, organised and scientific which was basically what the people where looking for in the almost non-existent police force. Holmes was like a machine, and he was what the readers wanted which helped him to gain even more popularity.
The character of Holmes himself is one of the reasons the stories have gained so much popularity. Holmes is a complex character and he is reflected in some of the views at the time. Holmes’ scientific nature is reflected in the advances of science of the time and his personality is a more interesting factor. Sigmund Freud had just invented modern psychology and his mental iceberg and many writers of the time had tried to explore his ideas. Sherlock Holmes is an interesting representation of these ideas. Freud’s mental iceberg consisted of 3 layers, the ego, the id and the super ego. The id is the seat of all our primitive desires, if it was left in control we would act out our deepest darkest desires. The ego is set to reason with the id so that we do not go out of control and then after the negotiation is done the superego surveys the results.
Sherlock could be described as an actual representation of these 3 things, for example Sherlock Holmes often indulges himself in things he likes halfway through a case, such as a concert or opium, this is the id in action but he always works towards the greater good again afterwards, never fully stopping just to indulge himself and letting a case go, this is the ego negotiating with the id, then at the end of each story when he is pleased with the results he surveys them and that is the superego in action. There are examples of this in the ‘Man with the Twisted Lip’ when Holmes is found by Watson in an opium den, this shows Holmes in a less invincible light and less like a superhero with amazing powers to solve crimes but more as a person with an incredible talent, this makes him easier to relate to.
The language and structure used in the stories would have added greatly to their popularity in Victorian times. The structure was like a police report, the facts where presented and everything was worked out scientifically with a good solid explanation, it was predictable and this gave the reader a sense of comfort. The language used by Watson is well ordered and Victorian, it is to the point and clear; this also helps give the reader a sense of security, they want to read something steady with no surprises and they are reading for entertainment and don’t want anything to change so there are no drastic changes in the structures of the stories.
There is also occasionally some language that strays away from the predictable and dull nature of the police report style in which Conan Doyle adds a more human element to the story with flashes of description. This can be seen in ‘The Man with Twisted Lip’: “Folk who were in grief came to my wife like birds to a lighthouse.” These memorable descriptive snippets add a more interesting and human side to the stories and stop them from becoming monotonous.
There are elements of humour present in the ‘Red Headed League’ for example when Holmes says “A sandwich, and a cup of coffee, and then off to violin land, where all is sweetness, and delicacy, and harmony, and there are no red-headed clients to vex us with their conundrums.” The very nature of the ‘Red Headed League’ is humorous and once again this adds more to the entertainment value of the stories, giving them a comic relief factor. It is also a credit to Conan Doyle as he shows his wit and use of literary techniques such as irony to create humour.
The modern reader can enjoy Sherlock Holmes as the stories are still entertaining even today, the stories are inter-active and many readers may enjoy guessing the results to the cases or pretending to be Sherlock Holmes themselves, these are just two reasons Sherlock Holmes is still popular today. In conclusion Sherlock Holmes is a very influential character that had an impact on Victorian England the results of which can still be seen today, as his popularity is still strong.