Fiction, History, Literature, Novels, Short stories

Ten Facts about Sherlock Holmes

This post is the first part of a two-part bumper post featuring interesting facts about Sherlock Holmes. If you like these facts, have a read of the sequel to this post which gathers together further little-known facts about the great sleuth. For more great facts about popular fictional characters, check out our pick of the most interesting Harry Potter facts and our fascinating facts about Romeo and Juliet.

1. Sherlock Holmes was originally going to be called Sherrinford. The name was altered to Sherlock, possibly because of a cricketer who bore the name. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created Holmes (of course), was a fan of cricket and the name ‘Sherlock’ appears to have stuck in his memory. Doyle was also a keen cricketer himself, and between 1899 and 1907 he played ten first-class matches for the Marylebone Cricket Club – quite fitting, since Baker Street is situated in the Marylebone district of London. For more on the creation of Holmes, see the detailed ‘Introduction’ in The Uncollected Sherlock Holmes.

sherlock22. The first Sherlock Holmes novel was something of a flop. The detective made his debut in the novel A Study in Scarlet (1887), written by a twenty-seven-year-old Doyle in just three weeks. Famously, Doyle was inspired by a real-life lecturer of his at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Joseph Bell, who could diagnose patients simply by looking at them when they walked into his surgery; the other important influence on the creation of Sherlock Holmes was Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional detective, C. Auguste Dupin, two of whose adventures we include in our pick of Poe’s best short stories. Doyle wrote the book while he was running a struggling doctor’s surgery down in Portsmouth. The novel was rejected by many publishers and eventually published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual (named after the husband of Mrs Beeton, of the book of cookery and household management). It didn’t sell well, and more or less sank without trace.

3. The second Sherlock Holmes novel was the result of a dinner party with Oscar Wilde. One person who had admired the first novel was the editor Joseph Stoddart, who edited Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. He convinced Doyle, at a dinner party in 1889, to write a second novel featuring the detective, for serialisation in the magazine. Wilde, who was also present, also agreed to write a novel for the magazine – his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which appeared in 1890, the same year as The Sign of the Four, Doyle’s novel.

4. Sherlock Holmes didn’t wear a deerstalker. Much. The famous image of Holmes wearing a deerstalker hat is a product of the celebrated images which accompanied the short stories, which appeared in the Strand magazine from 1891 (beginning with the wonderful story ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’). It is when the stories began to appear that Sherlock Holmes became a worldwide sensation. Sidney Paget, who drew the illustrations, had Holmes wearing a deerstalker when the detective went into the country to investigate mysteries at country houses and in small rural villages, but most people think of the detective as always donning the hat when off to investigate a case.

5. Sherlock Holmes is the most-filmed fictional character. According to IMDb, Holmes has appeared in 226 films and been played by dozens of different actors since the advent of cinema in the late nineteenth century. It’s hardly surprising that the sleuth’s popularity inspired a raft of other writers to create rivals to Sherlock Holmes.

6. Sherlock Holmes is not the most-filmed fictional character. That is, not if you include non-humans (or partial humans). Dracula has been filmed more times than the great sleuth, at 239 times, but since Dracula is part-man, part-vampire, Holmes is the most-filmed fully human character.

sherlock17. Sherlock Holmes didn’t make deductions. At least, not most of the time. Instead, and if we want to be technically accurate, he used the logical process known as abduction. The difference between deductive and abductive reasoning is that the latter is based more on inference from observation, where the conclusion drawn may not always necessarily be true. However, in deduction, the conclusion drawn from the available data is always necessarily true. But then again, since Holmes’s reasoning always seems to be correct, perhaps it is deduction after all!

8. Holmes never says ‘Elementary, my dear Watson’. Not in the ‘canon’ of original Conan Doyle novels and stories. Holmes says ‘Elementary!’ and ‘my dear Watson’ at various points, but the idea of putting them together was a later meme, which possibly arose because it neatly conveys Holmes’s effortless superiority to his ‘dear’ friend and foil. The first recorded use of this exact phrase is actually in a P. G. Wodehouse novel of 1915, Psmith, Journalist.

9. The Sherlock Holmes Museum both is and isn’t at 221B Baker Street. Although the museum in London bears the official address ‘221B’, in line with the celebrated address from the stories, the museum’s building lies between 237 and 241 Baker Street, making it physically – if not officially – at number 239.

10. There’s more to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle than Sherlock Holmes. Much more, in fact. Among other achievements, his legal campaigning led to the establishment of the Court of Criminal Appeal. He was knighted for his journalistic work during the Second Boer War, not for his achievements in fiction, law, or medicine. We owe the word ‘grimpen’ to him (from Grimpen Mire, in The Hound of the Baskervilles). He wrote historical novels (such as The White Company and Sir Nigel, set during the fourteenth century) which he prized more highly than his detective fiction. Winston Churchill agreed, and was a devoted fan of the historical novels. Doyle also wrote science fiction romances, such as The Lost World (1912), which would inspire Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, and, subsequently, Steven Spielberg’s film (the sequel to the novel and film being named, in homage to Doyle, The Lost World). Doyle also took up legal causes himself: read Julian Barnes’s novel Arthur and George for his most famous real-life case. We’ve detailed some of Conan Doyle’s other extraordinary achievements in this post all about Doyle and his writing.

If this post has whetted your appetite, why not get hold of some of the greatest detective stories ever written? We recommend Sherlock Holmes Boxset (containing 10 Titles), which includes all five volumes of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short stories, the four full-length novels, and a collection of other Sherlock-inspired fun. In other words, the entire Sherlock Holmes ‘canon’. Well worth reading. We also have more about Sherlock Holmes, and a host of other literary curiosities, in our book The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History.

Fans of detective fiction might also enjoy our fascinating Agatha Christie facts, featuring an interesting anecdote involving a hedgehog.

Images: Top: ‘Sherlock Holmes’, © 1904 Sidney Paget, public domain. Bottom: ‘Benedict Cumberbatch filming Sherlock’, © 2011 Fat Les, free licence.

244 Comments

  1. Pingback: Ten Facts about Sherlock Holmes | Cozy Books

  2. Fascinating. I enjoy reading about the backgrounds of literary works and their characters. Thank you for sharing, and for liking and following my blog.

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  4. Glad to see a pic here of the modernised BBC Holmes! :-)

  5. Fascinating. I didn’t know about the museum. Living in London I will be sure to visit. My favourite novel is The Hound of The Baskervilles, it is very atmospheric, particularly the descriptions of the moors.

    • For me, The Hound of the Baskervilles is the only one of the four SH novels in the canon which fully works as a novel – the other three are really slightly longer short stories with a long back story appended. (Still great, but I’m always put in mind of Franco Moretti’s remark that a detective novel can be as long as it wants, it’s still essentially a short story…) Thanks for the comment – glad you enjoyed the post.

  6. Wow. That is fascinating. :) The Sherlock Holmes series were the first “real” books I read. Before that, I was more of a Tin Tin and Archie comic type of girl. :D

  7. Been a dedicated Sherlockian since I was 10. Love all the books. Seen many, many movies. I have a thing for adaptations of “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. Am a devoted fan of “Sherlock” One thing I love is the fact that “Sherlock” could not be filmed actually on Baker Street. Too many tourists and too much Sherlock Holmes. It’s filmed up the road a bit on North Gower Street.

    • Ooh thanks for that extra Sherlock fact! Lovely stuff. I can imagine if film crews tried to film any Sherlock Holmes adaptation on Baker Street itself they’d be swamped by fans… Makes sense I suppose :)

  8. Really good stuff! I like Doyle even more now.

  9. Now, that’s really neat!

  10. So HE wrote the Lost World! i saw the film once, a sort of king Kong effort if I remember rightly, and quite scary, to me! Thank you also for telling me about abductive reasoning, I hadn’t heard of that.

    • I know, that’s a nice little fact, isn’t it? I originally had it as ‘inductive’, but having looked into it more, he definitely uses abductive reasoning. But I suppose if Watson were always talking about ‘Holmes’s abductions’, people would think he’d turned into a kidnapper!

  11. Fascinating! Thank you for the article. I agree that A Study in Scarlet isn’t the best Conan Doyle story, but thank God for Moffat for changing that. :D

  12. Oh now this is a blog I can get into. Fascinating stuff! Thanks for stopping by and I look forward to reading more here!

  13. As entertaining as the Robert Downey series is, I do hope people realize the series is designed for modern tastes and strays from the Doyle versions. I have always appreciated Jeremy Brett’s interpretation the most.

    • Yes, the Brett ones set the standard for producing faithful adaptations of the Holmes canon. Brett was superb – though the role didn’t do the poor fellow a lot of good in the end, health-wise…

  14. Thank you for the informative and entertaining article!

  15. Awesome. I’m a total fan of Sherlock. Always neat to hear details like those :) Thanks!

  16. Fascinating. The Oscar Wilde connection to the second Holmes novel was especially interesting

  17. Fascinating read! Had no idea about most of the list. . .And thank you for following my blog, and for celebrating my book release (Global Mom: A Memoir) with me. Very kind of you.–Melissa

  18. I have read every Sherlock book and I cannot wait for the TV series to come back on!

  19. You should be a part of a contest for one of the best sites online.
    I most certainly will highly recommend this blog!

  20. Interestingly, I’ve noticed several pub/cafe/restaurants here in Switzerland are named for Sherlock Holmes. Not (yet) being an avid reader of the canon, I’ve just assumed that perhaps one or more novels might feature a Swiss location/connection – but I’m sure YOU, dear interestingliterature would know. And here’s a reciprocal “follow” – the info-maniac in me loves your style

    • That is interesting – I assume it’s because Holmes ‘died’ (yet didn’t die because Conan Doyle brought him back) by falling over the Reichenbach Falls with Professor Moriarty. The Falls have become a sort of tourist site for Holmes fans now – though I’m not sure how many fans make a pilgrimage there! And thanks for the nice comment :)

  21. This was incredible :)
    Amazing. Specially when I have been trying to put something on literature myself

  22. Love all this historial information and research. I have to say that love a mystery as I do, Sherlock Holmes always left out some key clue that blocked me from solving the cases. Enjoyed your post.

  23. I’ve always been a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle and, of course, Sherlock Holmes, but never knew of his connection to one of my other favorites, Oscar Wilde. Simply amazing. What a wonderful site you’ve created here for lit buffs who also crave nifty factoids. I love it.

    • Thanks, Sarah! Love your blog too – couldn’t agree more with your most recent post. I could never give up traditional books – no matter how much space they take up! Glad you enjoyed the Doyle-Wilde connection. Surprising connections like that are what I try to make this blog all about :)

  24. Reblogged this on Cabinet of Curiosities and commented:
    Reblogged from Interesting Literature. Some interesting facts about one of my favorites…Sherlock.

  25. This is amazing and very informative. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve done several list blog posts and know how much work goes into making one. This is very well done.

  26. I love this! I’m an English teacher and I do a unit on Sherlock Holmes for my 6th grade class. I’ll use this entry next time and I’ll follow because I’m sure you have a lot that I could use in my teaching! And thanks for following me!

    • Thanks! It’s a very high compliment when teachers find things I’ve posted on this blog useful in their teaching. Do let me know how you get on using these facts in your class :)

  27. Great post! A topic after my own heart!

  28. Fantastic list! I love details like this (although peoples use of #8 drives me batty)

  29. Thanks for checking out writelikerowling.com! I’m a Sherlock Holmes fan as well and thought your facts were very interesting – I love hearing about the story behind the story. Keep it up!

  30. Very interesting! I’ve been reading through the Sherlock Holmes stories & enjoying them :)

  31. I have always loved reading and watching sherlock holmes but never knew these facts. Just loved to read them.

  32. I loved reading the Sherlock Holmes stories and am very excited to discover the Oscar Wilde connection! I’ve read The Lost World and after reading this post am very excited to read more of Doyle’s other works! Also, he was a legal campaigner? Be still, my beating heart!!:)

  33. Love it, love it, loved it!!!!!!!!!!! :D

  34. Reblogged this on misplaced smiles and commented:
    My kind of post! :D

  35. If you are looking for a way to make literary research interesting this is it! Love your blog and this post. Thank you for sharing this. I’m wondering if some of my Holmes fans will know some of these – all I knew was the location of the museum and the phrase – elementary my dear Watson – not being together in any books.

    • Thanks for the comment, Patty! I’d be interested to hear if these facts/questions stump any of your Sherlockian friends – I found some of them surprising when I first came across them. Let me know their reactions! :)

  36. Hey, thanks for liking my post, and for the enlightenment on Sherlock Holmes, a favorite of mine when I was a child.

  37. This is my first visit to your site. Enjoyed “new” information. I’m a follower. And thank you for stopping by my blog!

  38. Wow, I love these facts! Never knew any of this. Just goes to show, we are never too old to learn…

  39. Great article and great concept for a blog. Thank you also for liking and following mine, I appreciate it.

  40. Great post! I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes but didn’t know any of these facts

  41. amazing facts man love it! very interesting! lolholmes!xoxoxoxoxohehehehhohoho xoxo

  42. Excellent post! It’s interesting that there are currently two “fan fic” versions of Sherlock airing on television today. And they differ vastly from each other. I enjoy watching both, but am a wee bit more partial to the U. S. version, “Elementary.” I think that runs on CBS. Holmes tried to kill Sherlock off, but he refuses to die~

  43. Ah, let’s make that Doyle tried to kill Sherlock off. (Heading to the kitchen for a second cup of coffee!)

  44. Wow what a treat….thank you

  45. Love articles like this! The first fact will even become my fb update :)

  46. really helpful with my homework thx!!!

  47. You could write a whole book about what characters were originally named: Frodo Baggins was originally named Bingo. Really. (According to an excellent biography of Tolkien.)

  48. I was interested to read in The Guardian that a small number of the Sherlock Holmes stories remain in copyright in America and that this has provoked a court case. Until very recently I blithely assumed that all the stories where out of copyright throughout the world.

  49. Pingback: The Sign of the Four and the Picture of Dorian Gray were commissioned at same lunch | Matter Of Facts

  50. Pingback: Ten Facts about Sherlock Holmes | bluewhimsywriting