’s Influence On Twentieth Century Detective Literature Essay, Research Paper
There are many different books, in many different genres. There are
horror novels, love stories, suspenseful books, and detective stories. The
detective story’s evolution has been a long and eventful process. The man
responsible for the biggest leap in the detective story was Arthur Conan
Doyle. He gave the world Sherlock Holmes, who could be considered the
greatest investigator in detective story history. Holmes was unique in
detective story history. “… The reader’s interest is captivated not only by
the detective’s “unique methods,” but to perhaps to even a greater degree
by “the singular personality of this remarkable man” (Sayers 10). Doyle
also gave the world Dr. Watson, Holmes’ sidekick. Other authors could
have written about this pair, but none could match Doyle. “Doyle was a
master storyteller” (Snow, 8). Without Doyle the detective story would
never have been what it is now. Cresterton states, “With Conan Doyle, the
detective story at last came to full fruition” (Cresterton, 170). This
statement is true. All detective stories after Doyle’s had some of the
aspects of his stories. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle shaped the way detective
stories were written in the twentieth century by using a third person limited
perspective, using a structured plot line, and by having Holmes investigate
crimes other than murder.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the first detective story author to make
good use of the third person limited perspective. Holmes’ sidekick Watson
is a smart man, but he could not compare to the brilliance of Holmes.
When Holmes was figuring out a mystery, he often left Watson very
confused. Holmes would do things that, to Watson, would make no sense.
At the end of the story, however, Watson would see the logic behind
Holmes’ actions. This quote is Watson thinking about the case he and
Holmes were working on. “Here I had heard what he had heard, I had seen
what he had seen, and yet from his words it was evident that he saw clearly
not only what happened, but what was about to happen, while to me the
whole business was still confused and grotesque” (Doyle, 35). This displays
Watson’s confusion over the case of “The Red-Headed League.”
In “The Red-Headed League”, the case is so bizarre that most of the
readers, like Watson, don’t have a clue as to what is going on. It is
comforting to know that Watson is as confused as the readers are. In “The
Red-Headed League” there is a point in the story where Holmes and Watson
walk up to the pawn shop and talk to Mr. Wilson’s assistant. After he shuts
the door Watson asks Holmes why he wanted to see the assistant. Holmes
says that he wanted to see the knees of the assistants trousers (Doyle, 34).
It is obvious by Watson’s reaction that he has know idea why Holmes
wanted to see the assistants knees. At the same time the readers are left
pondering that very question.
The whole scene in front of the pawnshop also display another way
that Doyle uses the third person limited perspective well. At that point in
the story Holmes has pretty much figured out what happened. By telling
Watson where he was looking, Holmes was dropping a hint to Watson to see
if he could figure out what Holmes already had. During his stories Doyle
would leave hints as to who committed the crime. This made the story
more interesting for the readers.
Another way Doyle uses Holmes in his stories is as a teacher to
Watson. In the very beginning of “A Scandal in Bohemia” Holmes deduces,
from a quick glance, that Watson had gotten wet lately, and had a clumsy
servant girl. He deduced all of this by merely looking at Watson’s shoes.
He then asked Watson how many steps led up to his apartment. Watson
could not say, even though he had walked up those stairs countless times
(Doyle, 12). This is one of the examples of Holmes teaching Watson about
The only way that Holmes’ observations make sense in the story is if
the story has a structured plot line. Doyle made all of Holmes’ stories have
plots that follow a logical structure. “You have reasoned it out
beautifully…It is so long a chain, and yet every link rings true” (Doyle 40).
In the story Holmes figured out that Mr. Wilson’s assistant was using his
pawn shop to tunnel his way into a nearby bank and rob it. Holmes figured
out all of this just by looking at the assistants pants and pounding his
walking stick in front of the pawn shop (Doyle 26-40). If Holmes had not
done this during the story, both Watson and the readers would be left
having no idea as to how Holmes figured out who committed the felony. By
putting clues into the story, Doyle distanced him self from the other
detective story writers of the time.
In the story “A Scandal in Bohemia” Holmes did not rely as much on
his powers of deduction, as he did in “The Red-Headed League.” Instead
Holmes relied more on good old fashioned detective legwork. He also had
to rely on his brilliance. In the story the king told Holmes that Irene Adler
was blackmailing him and that he needed the pictures that she was
blackmailing him with. Holmes went to Irene Adler’s home and followed her
to a church. There she and her boyfriend got married. Holmes later asked
Watson to help him figure out where she was hiding the pictures. He asked
Watson to throw a smoke bomb into her house and he would to the rest
(Doyle 11-25). “When a woman thinks her house is on fire, her instinct is
at once to rush to the thing she values most” (Doyle 22). He used this to
find where Mrs. Adler was hiding the pictures. In both of these stories
Doyle used logical plot lines in which the reader could guess as to who
committed the crime. This made detective stories much more interesting.
Another way Doyle made his stories more interesting was by focusing
on crimes other than murder. “Some of the most interesting (of Holmes’
stories) do not treat of crime in the legal sense at all, but with human
perplexities outside the scope of the law” (Symons 20). This is most aptly
displayed in “The Red-Headed League.” In this story Holmes says “As far as
I have heard, it is impossible for me to say whether the present case is an
instance of crime or not, but the course of events is among the most
singular that I have listened to” (Doyle 27). This makes the story a lot
more interesting because if the crime was mundane, it would have been a
lot easier for Holmes to figure out who the criminal was. That’s why Doyle
used more structured plot lines then the rest of the detective stories of the
time. Those stories were more mundane and unexciting, and that is one
reason that Doyle’s stories stood out above the rest.
In the story “A Scandal in Bohemia” it was obvious that there was
actually being a crime committed, and that crime was blackmail. While
blackmail is a serious crime, it is not considered as severe as murder. This
time, however, it was very severe because it involved the King of Bohemia.
This was another way that Doyle interested the readers. He would use
uncommon crimes in his stories, and have them involve high ranking
officials. In “A Scandal in Bohemia” the King was being blackmailed by a
woman with whom he had an affair with many years earlier. She had
pictures of them together, and the King hired Holmes to retrieve those
pictures (Doyle 11-25). This is one of the more unusual setups that Doyle
has created. These unusual setups are one of the many things that has
made Doyle one of the most beloved authors of all time.
Detective stories today would be nothing without Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle’s influence. There is no doubt that he shaped the way detective
stories have been written in the twentieth century. As Murch said,
“…(Sherlock Holmes) became the ancestor of almost all the outstanding
twentieth-century detective heroes in English fiction” (Murch 167). All
detective heroes in the twentieth century have some aspect of Sherlock
Holmes in them. With Doyle, the detective story form was nearly perfected.
He Helped bring the detective story more respect as actual literature.
Without Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the detective story would still be considered
a lower form of literature and would be an unimportant part of the literary
Cresterton, G. K. “Sherlock Holmes.” A Handful of Authors: Essays
on Books and Writers. Ed. by Dorothy Collins. N.p.: Sheed and
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The Classic Illustrated Sherlock Holmes.
Stamford, CT: Longmeadow Press, 1987.
Murch, A. E. “Sherlock Holmes.” The Development of the Detective
Novel. N. p.: Philosophical Library Inc. ,1958. 167-91.
Sayers, Dorothy. “Introduction.” The Omnibus of Crime. N. P.:
Harcourt, 1961. 9-38. Discovering Authors. Vers. 1.1.
CD-ROM. Detroit: Gale, 1996.
Snow, C. P. The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. N.p.: Jonathan
Cape, 1974. 7-12.
Symons, Gulian. Portrait of an Artist: Conan Doyle. N.p.: Whizzard