Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective created by Scottish author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A brilliant London-based "consulting detective", Holmes is famous for his astute logical reasoning, his ability to take almost any disguise, and his use of forensic science skills to solve difficult cases.
Holmes, who first appeared in publication in 1887, was featured in four novels and 56 short stories. The first story, A Study in Scarlet, appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1887 and the second, The Sign of the Four, in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1890. The character grew tremendously in popularity with the beginning of the first series of short stories in Strand Magazine in 1891; further series of short stories and two novels published in serial form appeared between then and 1927. The stories cover a period from around 1880 up to 1914.
All but four stories are narrated by Holmes's friend and biographer, Dr. John H. Watson; two are narrated by Holmes himself ("The Blanched Soldier" and "The Lion's Mane") and two others are written in the third person ("The Mazarin Stone" and "His Last Bow"). In two stories ("The Musgrave Ritual" and "The Gloria Scott"), Holmes tells Watson the main story from his memories, while Watson becomes the narrator of the frame story. The first and fourth novels, A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear, each include a long interval of omniscient narration recounting events unknown both to Holmes and to Watson.
Explicit details about Sherlock Holmes's life outside of the adventures recorded by Dr. Watson are few and far between in Conan Doyle's original stories; nevertheless, incidental details about his early life and extended families portray a loose biographical picture of the detective.
An estimate of Holmes' age in the story "His Last Bow" places his birth in 1854; the story is set in August 1914 and he is described as being 60 years of age. Commonly, the date is cited as January 6. However, an argument for a later birthdate is posited by author Laurie R. King, based on two of Conan Doyle's stories: A Study in Scarlet and "The Gloria Scott" Adventure. Certain details in "The Gloria Scott" Adventure indicate Holmes finished his second and final year at university in either 1880 or 1885. Watson's own account of his wounding in the Second Afghan War and subsequent return to England in A Study in Scarlet place his moving in with Holmes in either early 1881 or 1882. Together, these suggest Holmes left university in 1880; if he began university at the age of 17, his birth year would likely be 1861.
Holmes states that he first developed his methods of deduction while an undergraduate. The author Dorothy L. Sayers suggested that, given details in two of the Adventures, Holmes must have been at Cambridge rather than Oxford and that "of all the Cambridge colleges, Sidney Sussex (College) perhaps offered the greatest number of advantages to a man in Holmes’ position and, in default of more exact information, we may tentatively place him there".
His earliest cases, which he pursued as an amateur, came from fellow university students. According to Holmes, it was an encounter with the father of one of his classmates that led him to take up detection as a profession, and he spent the six years following university working as a consulting detective, before financial difficulties led him to take Watson as a roommate, at which point the narrative of the stories begins.
From 1881, Holmes was described as having lodgings at 221B Baker Street, London, from where he runs his private detective agency. 221B is an apartment up 17 steps, stated in an early manuscript to be at the "upper end" of the road. Until the arrival of Dr. Watson, Holmes worked alone, only occasionally employing agents from the city's underclass, including a host of informants and a group of street children he calls "the Baker Street Irregulars". The Irregulars appear in three stories, "The Sign of the Four", "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Adventure of the Crooked Man".
Little is said of Holmes's family. His parents were unmentioned in the stories and he merely states that his ancestors were "country squires". In "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter", Holmes claims that his great-uncle was Vernet, the French artist. His brother, Mycroft, seven years his senior, is a government official who appears in three stories and is mentioned in one other story. Mycroft has a unique civil service position as a kind of memory-man or walking database for all aspects of government policy. Mycroft is described as even more gifted than Sherlock in matters of observation and deduction, but he lacks Sherlock's drive and energy, preferring to spend his time at ease in the Diogenes Club, described as "a club for the most un-clubbable men in London."
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