What can I say about The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes that hasn’t been said already? Not much, I’m guessing. It’s one of the seminal classics—and not just of mystery/crime fiction, but literature in general. The stories of Sherlock Holmes are the bedrock on which the modern mystery is built, and it has been dissected and analyzed over and over again by literary minds a lot more brilliant than mine. But this is me we’re talking about here. I can’t pass up an opportunity to pontificate on literary matters. What I’ve got to say is probably as original as a Def Leppard cover band, but I’ve got to at least give it a shot, right?
Right. And since everyone and their mother has already heard about Sherlock Holmes, if not The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I’m going to skip the plot exposition, the character introductions, and author profiling. You already know all about Holmes and Watson and Doyle, so I’m not to waste my breath… or my keystrokes. And even if you did happen to crawl out from under a rock yesterday, Wikipedia is your friend. So with that being said, let’s talk about this here book.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the third book in the original Sherlock Holmes series. Prior to that came A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four, both of which were full-fledged novels. Adventures differs from its predecessors in that it’s a collection of twelve short stories that were originally published between July 1891 and June 1892 (that’s one story a month, if you’re keeping count at home) in The Strand magazine. They were later anthologized into the volume we have today. Included are the following Holmes short stories:
I enjoyed reading it—I mean, I did give it four stars and all—but I had to take it slow. Some aspects of Doyle’s fiction grated on my nerves like a fork in a garbage disposal. For one, Holmes’ analytical methods are inductive rather than deductive (I think I mentioned that before in relation to The Mystery of the Yellow Room, which could be viewed as a French imitation of Doyle’s novels, so the similarity makes sense). In a nutshell, that means he builds his conclusions using observations that only suggest a certain outcome rather than ensuring it. For instance, because a man’s fingers are smudged with ink and his cuffs are worn, Holmes says that he must be a clerk typist. But those conditions could exist if the man was a starving novelist who liked to read shoddily printed newspapers, or if he, I dunno, recently voted in an Iraqi election. You get what I mean. The individual details don’t guarantee the accuracy of his conclusion—which isn’t bad in and of itself, but Holmes is never wrong, and that’s just annoying as hell.
|Sir Arthur Conan Doyle|
Other than those two gripes, I really don’t have anything else to complain about. Sherlock Holmes is Sherlock Holmes. These are timeless stories that continue to entertain more than a hundred years after they were written. Of course, some people aren’t going to like them (I could name an ex-girlfriend, for one), but no work of art is ever universally liked.
Oh, but I do have a general observation about the text. Two observations, really—a couple gems of feminist and colonial literary criticism that I would be remiss not to mention (‘cos then you wouldn’t get to see how amazingly smart I am). First, several of the stories involve women being deprived of their monetary rights by their relatives—father, brother, uncle, what have you. This alone could be seen as an early appearance of feminist activism in literature. Doyle seems to be genuinely concerned about the state of women’s property rights in Victorian England; however, at the same time he inserts comments about women’s irrationality and “women’s intuition”—as if women are incapable of rational thought and any correct conclusions they might have must be based upon an ethereal sixth sense rather than any sort of deductive logic. Therefore in some ways Doyle appears to simultaneously be feministically progressive on some issues and chauvinistic on others—quite an interesting dichotomy, if you think about it.
Secondly (and this is the Colonial bit), half of the stories here, as well as the earlier novels A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four, deal with foreigners as the cause of trouble. Americans, Indians, Germans—their nationalities run the gamut. But this high instance of foreigners as perpetrators indicates an overall distrust of those who are not properly “English bred,” which has survived in some respects to this very day. Doyle expresses the very English, very colonial viewpoint that the colonial machine is necessary in order to “protect the savages from themselves.” After all, if it wasn’t for English law and order they’d just be killing and raping indiscriminately, right? That’s the thinking, at least. Of course, this viewpoint has been severely diluted (if not gone the way of the dinosaurs entirely) in our day and age, but it’s an interesting observation about the literature of the era. Interesting to me, anyway.
With that said, I’ll spare you any further literary analysis (for now) and cut to the chase. I give The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes four out of five stars. I’d recommend you read it for yourself, but I have a feeling most of you already have. If you haven't, you can get every one of Doyle's classics absolutely free on Project Gutenberg--and free is good.