Sherlock Holmes the greatest detective - analysis on the personality
Author: SherlockExtra - Translator: Revati
„ I need freedom of mind. (…) I do not now in the least desire to live longer unless I can go on with what I consider to be my proper business. ”
- wrote about himself the English writer H. G. Wells, and the greatest detective of the world, Sherlock Holmes felt the same.
Roger Kastel (the artist of the legendary movie poster for JAWS) and
Allan Phillips gave their permission to use their pictures on our website. We are very grateful.
Hearing the name Sherlock Holmes the peculiar cap, the long, loose coat, the pipe, the magnifying glass, logic and investigating comes into one’s mind. Those who read the Holmes novels of Conan Doyle, know that the popular figure cannot be revived only by these epithets and objects, because he is so much more than these. Sherlock Holmes is an extraordinary personality and the first real modern hero.
The appearance of Holmes
Regarding his energy Holmes is similar to a giant feline – a black panther, for example. He is taller than six feet (around 183 cms). He is lean, his gait is easy and energetic. He is very athletic and has exceptional brawn. He moves fast and noiseless, like a hunter following the prey. His senses are peculiarly refined, his smell is unbelievably developed. His hair is originally raven black, but in some adaptations his hair colour changes.
Personal cleanliness is very important for him, he is always elegantly dressed. Citation from The Hound of the Baskervilles: „In his tweed suit and cloth cap he looked like any other tourist upon the moor, and he had contrived, with that catlike love of personal cleanliness which was one of his characteristics, that his chin should be as smooth and his linen as perfect as if he were in Baker Street.”
His grey, gimlet eyes, fine nose and angular chin give his face a determined expression. He is pale, his brow is wide, with thick, dark eyebrows. His lips are thin. His speech is fast, his voice is high and shrill.
The great detective usually wears a tweed suit or a frock-coat. At home sometimes he dons a loose dressing-gown and a banian. While investigating in the country his outfit consists of a long, grey coat and a practical deerstalker cap. (Originally the deerstalker was grey, but in some cartoon and movie adaptations it has different colours and is even checked). The character of Sherlock Holmes was modelled after Doyle’s university professor, dr. Joseph Bell.
In the city Sherlock wears an elegant top hat. He always has his pipe and magnifying glass with him, and sometimes there is a chalk or a tape measure in his pocket. When he does not find another place to take notes, he uses the cuff of his shirt.
The mentality of Sherlock Holmes
In order to fully understand the character of Holmes we have to know that he suffered from a mental illness – he was workaholic. Workaholics are addicted to their jobs just like drug addicts. Success gained in the job plays down social relationships and private life, because work becomes the one and only meaning of life.
Many people think that being workaholic is an illness of the modern age, but it already existed in earlier times. The writer Gustave Flaubert published his observations on people digged in their job as soon as in 1852. It is the undoubted merit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that his pipe-smoking hero reflects the signs of being workaholic, though the illness itself was discovered later.
Holmes scarcely eats or sleeps while his mind is occupied with investigation. He tends to work through days, or even a whole week without food. He says about eating in The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone: „…the faculties become refined when you starve them. Why, surely, as a doctor, my dear Watson, you must admit that what your digestion gains in the way of blood supply is so much lost to the brain. I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix. Therefore, it is the brain I must consider.”
When he has no new case, Sherlock barely steps out of his Baker Street home. That is the reason why he is so pale (Jeremy Brett asked for maximum paleness while shooting the Granada series.). He is unbelievably energetic when he practices his profession, he concentrates strongly, makes hypothesises and feels himself mentally balanced. As his greatest wish is to be a perfect detective, he investigated thoroughly the ashes of cigars, the techniques of following footprints, the identification of fingerprints, the distinction of bicycle tyres - so he became an expert in these areas. He is interested in every method of identification that can help him solving a case. He has a perfect sense of locality – he knows London as the back of his hand. He is a master of disguise. He has a registry of crimes and criminals of the past. He is very up-to-date, he follows the interesting events of the city through the newspapers. Danger is part of his profession, so he trained himself to be an excellent fencer, boxer and runner. He is the master of baritsu, a Japanese art of self-defense. Naturally when it is necessary, he knows how to use a pistol.
Holmes lives so solely for his job that he barely has any acquaintances. Sometimes he leaves the scene without saying goodbye when he finds out something significant, because he already has the next step in his mind. He has only one friend: dr. Watson. But he asks the good doctor to leave him alone when he has to think deep. He is in touch with The Baker Street Irregulars – the street urchins collect information for him, and they get some payment for their services. Holmes is very sloppy – this puts a strain on his relationship with his landlady, Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock is not bothered by the chaos he creates, the only important thing for him is to find what he is looking for. He has much more serious things to do, and he agrees with what the proverb says: „only a fool keeps his things in order, the genius reigns over chaos”. Sometimes he needs help to find something – his priceless friend, Watson is always there to lend a hand.
Holmes lives a very sequestered life, but his brother, Mycroft is even more solitary than him – and he lives for his job, just like his sibling. Their common characteristic is that they are both successful in their profession, what they created for themselves. „That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, - or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world." – says Sherlock proudly in The Sign of Four.
Though many people love the British sleuth for being such a genius, we have to remember that it was also a brilliant thing to create the profession of the consulting detective – he loves it, he can deploy his special skills in it and has a considerable income from this job.
We have to note that though Holmes is a fictional character, there was no real detective before him to use forensic science and other disciplines to solve crimes. Holmes is a one-man police station. He does such things alone that were done by whole groups before. His character was a great inspiration for criminology.
A workaholic is in love with his profession – Holmes is no exception, his heart is never touched by women. He sees them as criminals or causes of comitting crimes. Dr. Watson, who does not recognize Sherlock’s passion for his job, hopes in vain that his friend will have romantic feelings towards the fair sex. But there is only one woman, who has a special place in the detective’s life: Irene Adler.
He comes into contact with her while working on a case, but she outwits him. For this craftiness Holmes thinks about Irene with sincere appreciation and great respect. He counts both his triumphs and his defeats – the latter for a lesson for himself. Irene symbolises a lesson, so he cannot forget her. A good example for how he keeps his failures in his mind is the citation from The Five Orange Pips: „I have been beaten four times – three times by men and once by a woman.” As Irene beats him, she becomes a positive female figure who is worth to respect. That is why he cherishes her photograph.
He appreciates the darkest figure threatening his life, the Napoleon of crime, Professor James Moriarty even more than Irene Adler. Moriarty is not only the personification of the greatest danger, but thinking up the smartest crimes he forces Sherlock into an encounter of wits. The final confrontation between them is unescapable. Workaholics not only see their profession as a way of making a living, they are also pleased that they act for the common good. Holmes thinks that the incidential destruction of Moriarty is a kind of service – even if he has to die with his arch-enemy. The dialogue in this video illustrates his views:
“If I were assured of the former eventuality I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept the latter.”
The situation between Holmes and Moriarty intensifies. Before their encounter Sherlock travels abroad – it does not mean that he is coward, he just does not surrender himself easily. In Switzerland, at the Reichenbach Falls he tosses his enemy into the depth. But Moriarty still remains dangerous after his death – Holmes has to escape from his confederates. He can only appear again at Baker Street after years of hiding.
The essence of Sherlock’s working method is the deduction based on observation and the brilliant use of clear logic and cause and effect. „From a drop of water a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it. Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highest possible perfection in it.” Accordingly, Holmes is always ready to learn when it is necessary for his job. He is open to all new things that can help him catch the criminals. And if you doubt the logic of the water drop deduction, just remember that Albert Einstein solved many mysteries of the universe sitting at his desk.
Holmes tends to miss every information that is not useful during crime solving. An excellent example for this is the dialogue between him and Watson in A Study in Scarlet:
„My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.
"You appear to be astonished," he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. "Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it."
"To forget it!"
"You see," he explained, "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."
"But the Solar System!" I protested.
"What the deuce is it to me?" he interrupted impatiently; "you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work."
Holmes is so much devoted to his profession, that he takes cases free of charge if they are interesting. He does not care about money, because his work is its own reward. H. G. Wells writes about it as follows: „In art, in pure science, in literature, for instance, many people find sustaining series of interests and incentives which have come at last to have a greater value for them than any primary needs and satisfactions. These primary needs are taken for granted. The everyday things of life become subordinate to these wider interests which have taken hold of them, and they continue to value everyday things, personal affections and material profit and loss, only in so far as they are ancillary to the newer ruling system of effort, and to evade or disregard them in so far as they are antagonistic or obstructive to that. And the desire to live as fully as possible within the ruling system of effort becomes increasingly conscious and defined. The originative intellectual worker is not a normal human being and does not lead nor desire to lead a normal human life. He wants to lead a supernormal life.”
One of Sherlock’s greatest moments is when his rival, Inspector Lestrade accolades him after solving the mystery of The Six Napoleons. The makers of the Granada series, who understood the great detective’s enthusiasm towards his work, placed some modification into that scene – upon the request of Jeremy Brett. The actor does not turn away from the camera covering that he is touched, as it is in the original novel. Instead of this, Jeremy Brett says thank you stalwartly, but he has tears in his eyes. (László Tahi Tóth, the Hungarian voice of Jeremy Brett gives a wonderful performance in the dubbed version.)
Modern medical research proved that work generates a feeling of pleasure similar to the effects of drugs, and lack of work causes symptoms of tapering off. In the Victorian era using drugs was a great business and it was fashionable too. Though doctors were already aware of the harmful effects of drugs, its real dangers were revealed much later. Conan Doyle never wanted to promote drug use with Sherlock Holmes, on the contrary, he emphasizes its hazards for the readers and the detective himself through the words of Watson. Showing that Holmes uses drugs is a good example for Doyle’s thoroughness – he had observations on being workaholic and using drugs that exceeded the medical experience of the era.
Sherlock’s drug use originates from his devotion to his job. When he has no new case, he tries to occupy himself in different ways: he eats, sleeps, makes chemical experiments, sets out his criminal registry. But when he is done with these possibilities, passivity begins to torture him, so he substitutes the pleasure of work with a seven-per-cent solution of cocaine. But a new case is enough to forget this bad habit. Practicing his profession pleases Holmes the most – having no cases is a torment for him.
„My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants.” (The Sign of Four)
When Sherlock works his heart is happy, his soul flies, his spirit soars. The video tries to present this. Jeremy Brett was fantastic Sherlock Holmes.