Sherlock Holmes: Books, Characters & Author

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  • 0:01 Holmes/ His Personality
  • 1:57 Characters
  • 3:25 Books
  • 4:18 The Great Hiatus
  • 4:55 Influence of the Series
  • 5:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Francesca Marinaro

Francesca M. Marinaro has a PhD in English from the University of Florida and has been teaching English composition and Literature since 2007.

In this lesson, you'll learn about Sherlock Holmes, the brilliant, iconic sleuth created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and featured in many of his novels and short stories. You'll also get an introduction to Holmes's crime-solving associate.

Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is the fictional detective created by Scottish Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle during the late 19th century. One of the most recognizable figures in English literature, Sherlock Holmes is a consulting detective who lives at 221 B Baker Street in Victorian London and assists clients privately with the help of his friend and roommate, Dr. John H. Watson. Whenever the police have difficulty solving a case, they come seeking Holmes's advice.

Conan Doyle based the character of Sherlock Holmes on Dr. Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, under whom Conan Doyle had worked as a clerk, though Bell is often quoted as having written to Conan Doyle that, 'You are yourself Sherlock Holmes, and well you know it.' Conan Doyle also drew inspiration from Sir Henry Littlejohn of the University of Edinburgh Medical School. As a police surgeon, Littlejohn created for Conan Doyle a link between the study of medicine and the study of crime. We know very little biographically about the character Sherlock Holmes other than the fact that he became interested in detective work during his college years, when most of his cases involved helping his fellow university students.

Holmes's Personality

Watson describes Holmes's personality as eccentric. He lives for his cases, and when he is working he will sometimes go for days without rest or food and drink. When not working on a case, he lapses into a state of depression, calming himself with drugs like cocaine. He sometimes goes for days without speaking, has a habit of storing tobacco in his slippers, and plays the violin.

He organizes knowledge in his own mind so efficiently that he claims ignorance of anything that does little to help him in his work. In fact, Watson famously expresses shock that Holmes appears not even to know that the earth orbits the sun because he argues that such details take up unnecessary space in his brain.


The most significant character in the Sherlock Holmes stories is his friend and colleague, Dr. Watson. Watson is a former army doctor who has been sent home from the Anglo-Afghan War after being wounded in the shoulder. When Holmes and Watson meet in A Study in Scarlet, Holmes is looking for someone to share his Baker Street apartment because he cannot afford it on his own.

Watson lives with Holmes until he meets Mary Morstan, Holmes's client in The Sign of the Four. The two fall in love and get married, but Watson continues to assist Holmes in his work and returns to Baker Street after Mary's death. Watson serves as the narrator of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Some of the other major characters include:

  • Mrs. Hudson: Holmes and Watson's landlady
  • Inspector Lestrade: a Scotland Yard detective who Holmes regularly criticizes and makes fun of
  • Mycroft Holmes: Sherlock's mysterious older brother, who has a position in the British government and occasionally calls on Sherlock's assistance in top-secret work.

Holmes also occasionally employs a team of homeless street boys he calls the Baker Street Irregulars. The boys act as a team of spies for Holmes, running around London and gathering information while he's off pursuing other angles of a case. The most significant villain of the Sherlock Holmes stories is Professor James Moriarty, a brilliant foil for Holmes who turns his keen mind and deductive skill to committing crimes that are never traced back to him.


The Sherlock Holmes stories consist of four novels:

  • A Study in Scarlet (1887)
  • The Sign of the Four (1890)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (serialized in The Strand Magazine from 1901 to 1902)
  • The Valley of Fear (serialized in The Strand Magazine from 1914 to 1915)

Conan Doyle also penned 56 short stories: that were originally published in periodical form and were later collected into five books:

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