Friday, April 11, 2014

"How Old Is Sherlock Holmes?"

Sherlockians (a.k.a. Holmesians) have debated the age of the Sage of Baker Street for, well, centuries. A critic writing in THE BOOKMAN had a go at it (and this was while Doyle was still publishing Holmes's adventures). The article begins:
IT was many years ago that Conan Doyle, for the moment grown weary of his most widely known creation, sent Sherlock Holmes to apparent death in an Alpine pass, only to bring him back for a series of new adventures.
In many cases the exact period of these adventures was indefinite, but "His Last Bow" established the fact that Holmes was alive and in the full vigor of his powers as late as August, 1914.
It is to be assumed that he is still of the earth today, and that, as the brains and energy of the British secret service, he was a conspicuous factor in bringing the Great War to a victorious conclusion.
It is to be hoped that eventually the story of these exploits will be told. In the meantime an obvious question is: "How old is Sherlock Holmes?"
Here and there in the course of the forty-odd tales involving the eminent practitioner of the science of deduction there is a vast amount of personal information, but on the point of his exact age there is a certain latitude for conjecture. . . . — Beverly Stark, "How Old Is Sherlock Holmes?", THE BOOKMAN (July 1920)
Stark also takes time for some observations about how Holmes was being treated—mistreated might be a better word—in other parts of the world, particularly Spain,
Spanish-America, and Russia:
Barcelona is the birthplace of an Iberian Sherlock Holmes . . . The fabrication of his adventures is an industry of the city, employing the imaginations of a score of hack writers.
. . . The nature of these lurid tales of Spanish fabrication may be indicated by a translation of some of the titles: for example, "Blackwell, the Pirate of the Thames," "The Seller of Corpses," "Jack the Ripper," "The Bloody Hammer," "The Red Widow of Paris," "In the Pittsburgh School of Crime," and "Sherlock Holmes and the Opium Smugglers."
Russia, as well as Spain and the lands of Spanish influence and tradition, has had its transplanted, adopted, and adapted Sherlock Holmes. . . . Among the titles of the tales of the Doyle hero told with a Slavonic twist were "The Stranglers," "The Hanged," "The Expropriators," and "The Disinterred Corpse."
. . . The then new craze [in Russia] for Sherlock Holmes stories, a critic thought, foreshadowed a complete change in the Russian reader, the decay of the literature of passivity, and the rise of a new literature of action and revolt. — Beverly Stark, op. cit.
So do we have here at least an inkling that, unwittingly on Doyle's part, Sherlock Holmes's adventures might have helped cause the Russian Revolution?

To return briefly to the matter of Holmes's age:
Explicit details about Sherlock Holmes's life outside of the adventures recorded by Dr. Watson are few and far between in Conan Doyle's original stories; nevertheless, incidental details about his early life and extended families portray a loose biographical picture of the detective. An estimate of Holmes's age in the story "His Last Bow" places his birth in 1854; the story is set in August 1914 and he is described as being 60 years of age. Leslie Klinger cites the date as 6 January. — Wikipedia, "Sherlock Holmes"

Category: Detective fiction

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