Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One will not find philosophical themes in “The Greek Interpreter.” When Arthur Conan Doyle first wrote of Sherlock Holmes, he was interested only in giving the readers of Strand Magazine an exciting, well-written story. However, he soon found that he had created in Holmes something of a Frankenstein’s monster: The public took the detective to its collective heart. Perhaps it was the detective’s lucid intelligence: Through the power of the mind, the world could be seen to make sense. Holmes lives and moves among the most emotional of people, but his clear sight and keen study of detail allow him (almost always) to help reason to triumph.

Some of Holmes’s quirks became set pieces, little bits of introduction that the audience came to expect, such as the detective’s revelations about a client from details of the client’s appearance. However, even a good thing can be overdone, and Doyle must have felt a need from time to time to get Holmes and Watson out of their flat at Baker Street in order to expand the cast of continuing characters. Something like this may have been the motive behind “The Greek Interpreter.” The story’s main charm lies in its details about Holmes’s life, in particular about his fascinating older brother, Mycroft. Mycroft gives Doyle a chance for one of the set pieces of observation noted above, and the further chance to show in Mycroft someone who is even better at observation than Holmes is. The story furnishes a deeper, more detailed history for the detective. As one of the first continuing characters in short fiction, Holmes needed more depth, more solidity, than would normally be supplied for a character in a short story.

This was an entirely new method—to round out a fictional character through a number of works: One story might demonstrate Holmes’s love of music, another his moods of depression, and another his deep friendship with Watson. This story focuses on, one might say, his heredity, through the equally remarkable powers of his brother.