Critics have stated that Sherlock Holmes became an icon among detective novel characters.  What factors made this true?

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Sherlock Holmes has many characteristics that distinguish him or even make him an icon among other detective novel characters.  Certainly Arthur Conan Doyle's portrayal of the detective's superb skill of observation and logic make him a fascinating character to read.  Holmes' ability to hone in on almost ridiculous minutia to solve a case is perhaps one of his best attributes; meanwhile the reader and poor Dr. Watson are wondering how he ever noticed these things to begin with, to which Holmes would dismissively respond "Elementary, my dear Watson!"   In many ways, Holmes' handling of the finer details of the case set in motion the popularity of 'crime scene investigation'-- zeroing in on evidence that might never be seen by the untrained eye.  He is the forefather of future forensic detectives. 

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Holmes became popular with male readers because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took care to give him an enviable lifestyle. Unlike his readers, Sherlock Holmes works only when he chooses. His clients usually come to him at 221B Baker Street. They bring him interesting puzzles to solve. Much of the time he lounges in a comfortable chair and smokes a pipe. Most of his readers have to go to work six days a week, rain or shine. They are mostly "armchair detectives" who enjoy solving mysteries, just like their idol Holmes. They enjoy sharing his adventures and his dangers--up to a point. They identify with him, but they realize that there is a certain "aesthetic distance" between themselves and the detective. They feel assured that he is competent to cope with any problem and any threat, even from Professor Moriarty. The early readers were very much like the great detective. They enjoyed lounging, smoking cigarettes, pipes, and cigars, reading, and meditating. Holmes is not married. He doesn't have to please a wife, and he can come and go as he pleases. Mrs. Hudson takes care of all his domestic needs. She is a patient, long-suffering woman who puts up with his bad habits. Holmes seems to many readers to have the perfect life. He can sleep as late as he likes and spend much of his time reading or wool-gathering. (Watson specifies in one story, "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," that Holmes likes to sleep late. The typical reader of the present day or Victorian times might have to get up as early as six in the morning.) Yet Sherlock Holmes' life would be too boring if he didn't have something to do. He often says this to Watson himself. He complains that he needs mental challenges, mysteries to solve. And this need is taken care of by the stream of visitors who seek his help. These visitors sometimes include the police. By accommodating them, Holmes can call on them for help if he needs it, and he can get involved in murder cases and other cases which would be off limits to any other private detective. Holmes never seems to need money. He can go to concerts and dine in restaurants whenever he feels like it. He can also travel to various parts of England, and Watson mentions that he has also had cases that took him to various countries in Europe. He is famous because he keeps solving cases, and he keeps getting cases because he is famous for solving them.


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