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Friday, June 21, 2013

How Holmes Plays the Press

“The Press, Watson, is a most valuable institution, if only you know how to use it.”

When Sherlock Holmes says that, in “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons,” he isn’t just delivering a throw-away line for effect. He is revealing one of the secrets of his success as a sleuth. Throughout his career, as I noted recently in my talk at A Scintillation of Scions, Holmes effectively uses the Press in a number of different ways.

In “The Six Napoleons,” you will recall that Holmes has Lestrade tell Horace Harker “that I have quite made up my mind, and that it is certain that a dangerous homicidal maniac, with Napoleonic delusions, was in his house last night.” The hapless Harker publishes this bunk, which achieves Holmes’s aim of lulling the killer and thief Beppo into a false sense of security.

Holmes does something similar in “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.” Having been the victim of a murderous assault, Holmes wants the villain behind the attacks to believe that he has achieved his goal. “The first thing is to exaggerate my injuries,” Holmes tells Watson. “They’ll come to you for news. Put it on thick, Watson. Lucky if I live the week out – concussion – delirium – what you like! You can’t overdo it.”
Watson does his job: “For six days the public were under the impression that Holmes was at the door of death.” In fact, the detective’s head is bandaged and his face drawn and white, but has recovered enough to engage in a spot of burglary at the home of Baron Gruner.

These instances of Holmes using the Press for disinformation are rare. Most often he uses the newspapers, and sometimes journalists, for information. I’ll talk about all the many ways he does that in later posts.

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