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, July 15, 2015

Back to 1895

“It’s no mystery why we still love Sherlock,” said the headline in the USA Today insert of my morning newspaper yesterday.

But that’s nonsense. The popularity of Sherlock Holmes has always been a mystery, and there’s no single satisfactory solution to it.

I’ve always felt that a big part of his attraction is the way Holmes transports us to what Vincent Starrett called “a romantic chamber of the heart . . . a nostalgic country of the mind, where it is always 1895.”

“Sherlock Holmes reminds us always of the pleasant externals of nineteenth-century London,” T.S. Eliot said in his review of The Complete Sherlock Holmes Short Stories in 1929. “I believe he may continue to do so even for those who cannot remember the nineteenth century . . .”

As usual, Eliot was right.

William Bolitho summed it up in an epigram when he said of Holmes, “He is the spirit of a town and a time.”

Even Conan Doyle seemed to agree. He wrote five out of his nine volumes of Holmes stories and novels in the twentieth century, but set all but a handful back in the late Victorian era where Sherlock Holmes belongs.

Yes, 12 of the 14 Basil Rathbone – Nigel Bruce films were mid-century modern, set in the years in which they were produced. But that never weakened my belief that Holmes was a period piece.

Then along came the cult hit Sherlock from the BBC, followed by CBS’s Elementary. Both TV shows brought Holmes into the twenty-first century, more popular than ever. I began to question my certainty that time and space had so much to do with enduring appeal of Sherlock Holmes.

But wait! Now the BBC series is apparently going back to 1895 (or thereabouts) in a Christmas special. Maybe I had it right after all.

One thing I’m sure of: Ian McKellen’s statement (if accurately quoted by a reporter) that Holmes is popular “not because of the books, but because of the spinoffs and the very fine actors who have played him.” On the contrary, it’s only because of the original books that Sherlock Holmes has survived some truly dreadful pastiches and lame actors.

What do you think?



  1. I find enduring popularity - not just Holmes' but anything's or anyone's - an eternally interesting question. With Holmes, I think part of his endurance is because of his flexibility. Right from the beginning, people were tweaking and changing him to suit their own interpretations, and that's carried on ever since. It's not just dramatic reinterpretations, like Sherlock and Young Sherlock Holmes, but the fact that there are so many ways to play him. Some actors, like RDJ, play up his bohemian unkept side, while other actors, like Cumberbatch, play up his coldness and analytical brain. Even when reading the books, they lend themselves to such speculation and varied interpretations - Watson's wound, Holmes' past, Watson's wives, Watson's real character, Holmes' heart, Holmes' future. The possibilities are endless. If you don't like the idea of Holmes as an asexual, then there are passages in the canon that will support your theory of him being an extremely passionate romantic with iron self control. If you want to think of Watson as a shrewd writer rather than a boring bumbler, then there's nothing to stop you from making that your headcanon. Take Mycroft, for example - the differences between Charles Gray and Christopher Lee are striking.

    So, to get back to the actual question, I think it's a mixture of the stories themselves and their interpretations. The spinoffs allow there to be a Holmes for every generation. His fluidity allows him to be eternal and infinite, because things that are set in stone rarely survive the passage of time. With his mystery and multiple facets, he can change and adapt, and so he survives.