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. Many years ago while visiting Switzerland, I believe it was Lucens, we came across a fun Sherlock Holme s museum. Loved the post, interesting blog.

    • Thanks! Apparently Conan Doyle took holidays in Switzerland and even helped to popularise skiing in the Alps. So it makes sense (especially with the Reichenbach Falls, too) that there’d be a museum there, though I must confess I didn’t know this. Great fact!

  2. Very interesting, I love the Sherlock Holmes canon.

  3. Knowledge of history always enhances the enjoyment of literature.

  4. Pingback: The Best Anecdotes about Oscar Wilde | Interesting Literature

  5. Pingback: Rivals of Sherlock Holmes: Dust and Shadow | Blueagain: Film and Lit.

  6. Very interesting post. I love learning new things!

  7. With a resurgence of interest in the character of Sherlock Holmes (both on cable and the big-screen), both my husband and I talked about how much we thoroughly loved reading Doyle as kids. In fact, “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” was my first taste of real literature. Doyle certainly created a memorable character, in addition to stories I want to re-read. Thanks for your post!

  8. Intresting blog ! It was nice to know about #SH

  9. Thank you for liking my latest post and following my blog. I used to love reading Sherlock Holmes books when I was at school. This post is fascinating and taught me a lot of things I didn’t know. It is great to know Conan Doyle wrote A Study in Scarlet in just 3 weeks. It gives me hope that I may still manage to get my novel written before the end of the month. :-)

  10. Great blog ! I am humbled that you saw mine . I look forward to more of your posts :)

  11. Sherlock Holmes intrigues me; I love it that he plays violin, to think! Thanks for liking and following my blog, I follow yours from now on; look forward to reading you, cheers!

  12. Pingback: Friday 5: Recommendations for Your Weekend Reading | April Yamasaki

  13. i love being informed on writers especially, so thank you for that…and thanks for following me too

  14. Thanks for stopping by my blog :) I am intrigued by yours. I confess, I’m loving both the UK Sherlock and US Elementary series! Looking forward to reading more of your writing!

  15. Pingback: Reading Sherlock Holmes | Discover English Blog

  16. Reblogueó esto en Trópico de cáncery comentado:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  17. Reblogueó esto en pilar221b.

  18. Are you familiar with C. Auguste Dupin?

  19. One of my favorite guilty pleasures was a Saturday morning watching Sherlock and Watson, eating bagels with lox and cream cheese. Those were the days.

  20. Reblogged this on sigurlaugs.

  21. Great post, as always! Thanks for liking my little Neil/Nigel, leonardcohensushi post. I’m really honored because I think your blog is tops. :-)

  22. Absolutely fascinating and entertaining and thank you for liking my blogs. I learned so much here. The Doyle and Wilde connection, just one example. Recovering from two computer viruses or I could see spending the day here. Peace and GREAT work-works.

  23. I had no idea that the Jurassic Park movie was based off of a Doyle work.

  24. Pingback: Holmes never did say “Elemantary, my dear watson!” | myseluch

  25. Well, you got me on #6 and #7. Never heard of abduction.

  26. Oh to have been at that dinner party with oscar wilde and doyle

  27. 226 times? Wow!!! Think Cumberbatch is the best till date though have not seen much adaptations of Sherlock Holmes

  28. Pingback: Ten Facts (and 10 more) about Sherlock Holmes | Rational Panic

  29. Reblogged this on MorgEn Bailey's Writing Blog and commented:
    Having read (or rather listened to) Julian Barnes’ Arthur & George (which I only half-liked; the George parts!), I knew part of no.10 but the others had escaped my radar. I’d be useless in a literary quiz. :)

  30. I enjoyed this. Sherlock Holmes is a character which has fascinated people for many years and the films and TV programmes portraying him have been many and varied. I live quite near to Undershaw, in Haslemere, Surrey in England where Arthur Conan Doyle lived. He wrote THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES in this house. They lived here because of the health benefits which could be derived from living in an area such as this as his wife had health problems.
    Unfortunately, UNDERSHAW is now in need of assistance as it is slowly and sadly deteriorating. This splendid old house must have memories of Sherlock Holmes deep within its walls. The house was used as a restaurant for several years, but it is now up for sale. It would be such a pity for this famous old house to disappear into obscurity. There are plans to buy the house and turn it into three town houses. Please support THE UNDERSHAW PRESERVATION TRUST, it needs YOU. Sign a petition on : http://www.saveundershaw.com if you would like to see it survive and become a centre for all things ‘SHERLOCK’!

  31. Pingback: Sherlock Holmes: The Timeless Detective

  32. Very interesting.. Nice work

  33. Pingback: A Study in Grumpiness | readingalphabetically

  34. Thanks for visiting and following! I love this! I not just a Sherlock Holmes fan, but a Cumberbatch (Cumberbitch??) fan as well. Wish there were more than 3 episodes per season! Gail

  35. Thank you for liking my blog. Yours is interesting .I never knew things like that with Sherlock Holmes. Thanks:)

  36. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post!
    It is the little changes that produce the most significant changes.
    Thanks a lot for sharing!

  37. Congratulations on earning a prestigious award!

    Please follow the link for rules that come along with the Very Inspirational Blogger Award:
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  38. Pingback: 10 Famous Quotations That Are Literary Misquotations | Interesting Literature

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  42. Here’s some stuff, from a handout I made for a logic course, on abduction.

    Abduction, in the sense at issue (which owes to C. S. Peirce, who believed he found it in Aristotle) is ‘inference to the best explanation’, defined by Mautner’s Dictionary of Philosophy (Penguin, 2000, p. 1) thus: ‘(1) D is a collection of data; (2) H (a hypothesis) would, if true, explain D; (3) no other hypothesis can explain D as well as H does. (4) Therefore, H is probably true.’ Peirce ‘used the example of arriving at a Turkish seaport and observing a man on horseback surrounded by horsemen holding a canopy over his head. He [Peirce, presumably] inferred that this was the governor of the province since he could think of no other figure who would be so greatly honoured’ (Oxford Companion to Philosophy, ed. Honderich, new edition, Oxford University Press, p. 1)

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