London in Literature: The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

The Baker Street Boys

Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson have been friends of mine since I was eight years old. I spent hours, days, weeks, probably even months of my life following a genius detective and a veteran army doctor through the streets of London.

In total, there are 56 short stories and four novels – most written from John Watson’s point of view – which showcase the adventures and escapades of one of the best-known crime-fighting duos in history. The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle contains the final 12 of these stories. In this case, I’m using it as a stand-in for the complete works. 

I’ve followed Holmes and Watson around the city, from the Langham Hotel to the Criterion at Piccadilly Circus, from researching at the British Museum to trying to one-up Inspector Lestrade at Scotland Yard, and crime scenes all over London to those in Baskerville and beyond. While the writing and expressions used may seem antiquated now – the stories were published between 1887 and 1927 after all – Sherlock Holmes was very much a man of his time and a progressive thinker. He used the latest available technology and even pioneered forensic methods. Holmes had an impact on real-life forensic sciences, as he began analysing things like fingerprints and soil samples long before this was commonplace for the actual police force. 

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson – those two seem like unlikely roommates at first. The arrogant and aloof drug addict who never misses a chance to prove that he is more clever than the whole of Scotland Yard combined, and the injured, sarcastic army doctor fresh back from the Anglo-Afghan war. And yet their friendship is legendary, even though Holmes canonically never says: “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Over the years, many readers have deemed John Watson somewhat naive, if not downright dumb, based on his narration of Sherlock’s deductions. What many fail to realise, however, is that this is a medical doctor who often gives Holmes the right impulses. Dr John Watson is smarter than people give him credit for and has his own areas of expertise. He is just not as clever as Sherlock Holmes when it comes to crime-solving. Though, personally, I’ve always loved Watson getting fed up with Holmes, which always boils down to (I’m paraphrasing here): “Holmes did something very clever which I didn’t quite understand, things happened, and now we’re here.”

Their fictional home is probably one of the best-known addresses in all of London: 221b Baker Street. It is now a physical address you can visit and which houses the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Hats off to Holmes and Watson’s landlady Mrs Hudson, who never gets enough credit. She not only keeps up with her two eccentric tenants and all their clients, she also cares deeply for them and makes sure that they are all right. The short stories set during the sleuth’s later years allege that their little Baker Street family still lives together well into retirement. As the Benedict Cumberbatch reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes succinctly proclaims: “Mrs Hudson leave Baker Street? England would fall.”

Written by Conny Kaufmann, IMLR  PhD Candidate

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