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Sherlock the outsider

Ever since I heard, as a teenager, the BBC radio serialization of “Hound of the Baskervilles”, I have been a fan of Conan Doyle’s creation of Sherlock Holmes. I even co-authored with my colleague, Eamonn Butler, “The Sherlock Holmes IQ Book.” It is, I suppose, our fascination with the detached analytical thinking of the man that contributes to his eternal appeal.

Writing about Holmes in the current issue of the (always readable) Prospect magazine, Edward Docx takes it a stage further, presenting Holmes as a great outsider:

Consider: Holmes is not of the ruling class, the lower class or the middle class. He is an insider, but also an outsider. We know nothing of his education, next to nothing of his childhood, very little of his views or experiences or feelings concerning the dozen or so ordinarily staple subjects by which a writer creates character. Holmes isn’t of any profession save the one that he has founded. He is not an employee of business, or of the state, and frequently disdains the laws and precepts of both. He forms no attachments but he interacts with the same equanimity whether he is with urchins or kings. Though he concerns himself with crime, he does not concern himself with the causes of crime… He is asexual, remote, aloof, analytical but enduringly lovable—the loyalty and regard of Watson is our witness to this and as important in the creation of the fiction as Holmes himself.

I think he has a point. Holmes is not one of us. He leads a life completely unlike any of our lives. He stands outside and, as onlookers do, sees more. Therein lies a large part of his appeal.


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