Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Afghanistan. Southwest Asian country over whose control Great Britain and Russia clashed in the nineteenth century and in which the novel’s narrator, Dr. John Watson, served as a British army physician in the late 1870’s, before the period in which his narrative proper begins. Only a few pages of his narrative discuss Afghanistan directly; however, these passages indicate how powerfully place shapes men. Watson’s time in Afghanistan transformed him. After he was shot, he contracted enteric fever and returned to London almost an invalid, forever marked by his military service.
The first thing Sherlock Holmes says to Watson when they meet is, “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” Able to recognize all types of soil at a glance, Holmes can instantly deduce where people have recently been. He can also recognize other signs of regional origin such as tattoos, spices, or dialects. Doyle based Holmes’s ability to make such judgments on the ability of one of his medical school professors, Dr. Joseph Bell, who made similar observations about his medical patients. This ability also shows Doyle’s uneasiness with Britain’s role as an imperial power, and his belief that Britain’s time in foreign lands would change all those who went, and would return to threaten Britain itself.
*London. Capital of the British Empire. The London in which Holmes and Watson live is a microcosm of the empire. It contains a population of British citizens who have lived in London their entire lives, peoples whose residential addresses immediately reveal their class origins. However, because of the strict class hierarchy in British society during the period in which the novel is set, London is also a place of separate and distinct cultures, where the poor...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Carr, John Dickson. The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Harper, 1949. Considered the definitive biography of Doyle because it is based on a thorough study of Doyle’s private papers by one of the masters of the mystery novel.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Annotated Sherlock Holmes. Edited by William S. Baring-Gould. 2 vols. 2d ed. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1967. A store of valuable information on Victorian England compiled by one of the leading Holmes scholars. The bibliography includes references to a number of articles from The Baker Street Journal, the official publication of the Baker Street Irregulars, an organization dedicated to the study of the cases of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. Memories and Adventures. Boston: Little, Brown, 1924. Leaves many matters untouched and questions unanswered but provides valuable insights into the life of the author toward the end of his career.
Jaffe, Jacqueline A. Arthur Conan Doyle. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Part of Twayne’s English Authors Series, this is an excellent brief introduction to Doyle’s life and in particular to his works. Two chapters, “The Beginnings of a Modern Hero: Sherlock Holmes” and “The Return of Holmes,” deal with Doyle’s detective fiction. Includes a short but useful bibliography.