“Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details.” The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
T.S. Eliot said once “Every writer owes something to Holmes”, but is Holmes in debt to anyone? Let’s go back to the origins of the detective genre. Who hit on the winning formula of this successful genre? There is only a name needed to answer this question: Edgar Allan Poe. He is the undisputed ‘Father’ of the modern version of one of the most acclaimed and enduring literary genres: the detective one. It could be argued that he created the template for all the detective fiction which has come afterwards.
What supposed the turning point? The writing of the short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, and its sequels “The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter”, represented the milestone of this genre. In just three stories, Poe created the amateur detective and his narrator friend, and a key feature of the detective genre: the recurring character. Even though mysteries were not a new literary form, Poe was the first to introduce a character who solved the mystery by analyzing the facts of the case. Poe’s fictional detective the Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin is a reclusive man who is contacted by the police when they are unable to solve a crime. Together with Dupin’s keen powers of observation, Poe made clues available throughout the story offering the reader an opportunity to solve the mystery.
“Let him talk,” said Dupin, who had not thought it necessary to reply. “Let him discourse; it will ease his conscience, I am satisfied with having defeated him in his own castle.” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Other Tales” by Edgar Allan Poe.
What happened next? After Poe introduced to the genre the concept of a single detective whose cases span several stories, Wilkie Collins furthered the genre with his serials. Nearly forty-five years after Poe’s death, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle popularized the detective story when he gave life to Sherlock Holmes, a character with peculiarities similar to Poe’s Dupin. In addition to Dupin’s excellence, Holmes included science as a part of his investigation. Doyle himself recognised Poe’s influence when he stated that Poe’s stories were “a model for all time.”
Are you Sherlock Holmes? Elementary, my dear Watson. Let’s delve into this alluring character and his author. Among the curiosities surrounding Mr Holmes it should be pointed out that he is the most filmed fictional character after Dracula. His name was chosen in honour of Nottingham cricketers Sherwin and Shacklock. Originally it was Sherringford Holmes, and more surprising, not once in any of Doyle’s stories did Holmes ever utter the exact words “Elementary, my dear Watson.” He said, “Elementary” or “My dear Watson”, but never together! Now, it is Doyle’s time. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and wrote stories during study breaks. After graduating from medical school, he served for a while as a ship’s doctor. He was also a boxer, Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey and a first-class cricketer playing under a pseudonym. Likewise, he was responsible for popularising skiing in Switzerland and also an amateur sleuth who, like Holmes, once helped free two men who were wrongly charged with murder.
“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people do not know.” The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle.
After Doyle created Sherlock Holmes in 1887, Agatha Christie followed with her Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and Raymond Chandler came with Philip Marlowe and thereby the detective genre kept growing and is still going strong nowadays. Moreover, the genre has spawned other subgenres, with police officers, forensic scientists, FBI agents and a long etcetera which have given rise to television shows, films, and even video games. It goes without saying that Poe’s imagination eventually has united literature and television and entertained and captured the interest of generations of readers trying to solve the mysteries right alongside their heroes.
“As a poet and as a mathematician, he would reason well; as a mere mathematician, he could not have reasoned at all.” “The Purloined Letter” by Edgar Allan Poe.