The Unusual Sherlock Holmes

Holmes’s eccentricity did not go unnoticed, but for the most part, gained readers’ interest.  Holmes’s eccentricity is shown through his behavior, his odd personal habits, and his comprehensive knowledge of chemistry and sensational literature (Delamater and Prigozy 75).  As a boy, Holmes received an education at home rather than in public school, which had “enormous consequences of the development of [his] unusual personality and curious range of intellectual interests” (Rennison 16).  His unusual sources of knowledge become evident early in the case when Holmes examines the paper upon which the mysterious letter was written, and becomes conscious of a faint smell of the scent known as white Jessamine.  According to Holmes, “there are seventy-five perfumes, which it is very necessary that a criminal expert should be able to distinguish from each other, and cases have more than once within my own experience depended upon their prompt recognition” (Doyle 897).  It is this knowledge of seemingly trivial information that sets apart detectives, and especially Sherlock Holmes, from the ordinary policeman.  H. R. F. Keating asserts, “Holmes’s immense knowledge of such apparently trivial writings shows him as seeking not only the modus operandi but also the human motive in every sort of crime, analyzing and classifying” (31).  In order to understand crime, a detective had to first understand people.  Holmes should not be likened to a robot; underneath his outward “scientific detective” persona was a man concerned with humanity.

As a boy, Holmes was caught up in loneliness and isolation that ultimately made him incredibly independent and self-contained as an adult (Rennison 12).  Although he was very independent, he did rely on his sidekick Dr. Watson to help him with every case and keep him company.  Holmes took great interest in the violin as a boy and its appeal was not primarily to his rational self, but to “the powerful emotions that lurked beneath Holmes’s surface of severe intellectualism” (Rennison 19).  The special “character” of Holmes allowed him to be a more reassuring figure while remaining intimidating; intellectual but not pretentious; eccentric yet concerned with humanity (Priestman 49).  Holmes did not just have a vast knowledge of science; he was also able to interpret human thoughts and emotions, which contributed greatly to his ability to solve crime.  According to Ousby, “his [Holmes’s] moral zeal and passion for justice complete Holmes’s assimilation into the standards of gentility: he is the perfect gentleman hero, the embodiment of the values and aspirations of the contemporary middle-class public” (163).  Holmes represented everything that a respectable man in society should be.  He was even, in some ways, a fantasy version of Doyle himself, who constantly strived toward perfect gentility (Ousby 163).  Many people would argue that where Doyle fell short, Holmes excelled in embodying Victorian ideals.

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