“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.
The order in which I present these Quintessential Quotes is arbitrary and without significance. Therefore, I am not holding out this quote as the second most famous or important. I will leave the order ranking to others. However, this is certainly one of the most familiar dialogue exchanges in Canon, cited frequently in mystery fiction – and outside of it.
In mysteries, the context is often the sleuth pointing out a negative clue, something significant by its absence. More often than not, by the way, the passage is inaccurately described as occurring between Holmes and Watson. Do you remember who actually asked the question at the beginning of the exchange? It was a character who does not appear in any other story.
Monsignor Ronald A. Knox, in his seminal essay “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes,” cited this dialogue as an example of “a special kind of epigram style known as the Sherlockismus.” The most extended literary allusion to this quote comes in a wonderful novel by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, told from the point of view of a 15-year-old autistic boy. Haddon’s narrator uses the methods of his hero, Sherlock Holmes, to investigate the killing of a dog.
My favorite reference, though, is a “Peanuts” comic strip from January 28, 1994, two days after Holmes’ birthday, which I keep posted to a file cabinet in my home office. Charlie Brown is reading aloud to Snoopy from “Silver Blaze.” After he hears “the dog did nothing in the night-time,” Snoopy thinks to himself, “My favorite part.”
What is your favorite part of Sherlock Holmes?