Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Influence On Twentieth Century Detective Literature 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 observation. 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 world. Bibliography Cresterton, G. K. Sherlock Holmes. A Handful of Authors: Essays on Books and Writers. Ed. by Dorothy Collins.
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