Welcome! Like the book of the same name, this blog is an eclectic collection of Sherlockian scribblings based on more than a half-century of reading Sherlock Holmes. Please add your own thoughts. You can also follow me on Twitter @DanAndriacco and on my Facebook fan page at Dan Andriacco Mysteries. You might also be interested in my Amazon Author Page. My books are also available at Barnes & Noble and in all main electronic formats including Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks for the iPad.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Who's Really Who in the Canon

Trying to find the real-world personalities behind fictional characters is an old literary game, and the Canon provides a broad field upon which to play it.

Sherlock Holmes was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, one of Arthur Conan Doyle's medical professors at the University of Edinburgh. Of that there can be no doubt because we have A.C.D.'s repeated word for it.

Professor Moriarty is often said to be based on the master criminal Adam Worth and Irene Adler on Lilly Langtree. But Samuel Rosenberg, in his highly speculative 1974 book Naked Is the Best Disguise, suggests that Moriarty is an allegory of Friedrich Nietzsche and Irene Adler is really George Sand.

I'm tempted to say that one guess is as good as another, and equally simplistic.

An author creating a fictional character may start out with some elements of a real person, but then the character takes over. Although Holmes inherited his talent for induction from Dr. Bell, the tobacco, violin, and cocaine were all his own -- as were his history and his destiny.

Dr. Bell famously wrote to his former student that "you are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it." That was simplistic, too, but probably closer to the truth.

A couple of reviewers of my novel No Police Like Holmes thought they could identify who several of the Sherlockian characters really were. I take this as a compliment to my characters, only one of which -- a very minor two-page character -- was suggested by a real person. The rest of them started in my head, and then created themselves.

The next two books in my series include a Catholic religious sister who was formerly a counterspy in the army. I received some good technical advice in creating her from a friend of mine -- a Catholic religious sister who was a counterspy in the army. Are my character and my friend the same person? Indeed not! They have a bit of history in common, but that is all.

Speculating on who various dramatis personae in the Canon might have been inspired by may be fun, but there's more to a good character than that.


  1. Dan: it's 6:48 A.M. And I'm on a train back from Boston to New York. I hope I'm cogent.
    I enjoyed this immensely because to me, whose first Holmes novel is about to be published ( The Secret Journal of D. Watson), your words ring so true.
    It would seem to me that this should be an elementary (sorry) primer for someone like me. Or for us all.
    And that Catholic counter-spy sister friend- I want her to be my friend, too. Can't hurt.

  2. Thanks, Phil. You were entirely cogent! I look forward to reading your book. BTW, I told Sister Eileen that she was mentioned in my blog post and she said she was flattered. I should get her praying for all of us.