Whenever someone thinks of Sherlock Holmes, a sort of cliche comes to mind. He is a consummate example of the great detective, more than just an icon, but a template for all detectives in literature. With his trademark deerstalker hat, hooded duster, and smoking pipe, Holmes comes full with a sophisticated elocution and a highly intelligent, though often inarticulate, sidekick. This is a formula that has successfully been emulated time and time again from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. These characters are very intriguing and well drawn out in their own right, but there is something more to Holmes, as deliciously characterized by the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This character is raw, elemental, and, to put it best, strange.
The stories of Sherlock Holmes, whose plots are equally unusual but ingenious, are divulged in the first person by his esteemed partner, Dr. John Watson. It can be assumed that Watson is the person who is most familiar with Holmes. However, he provides little insight into his personality. Indeed, Watson is able to predict much of Holmes’ behavior and can even conjecture his morning routine or his mood, but this ability stems more from the time they’ve spent together and what must be Watson’s personal directive to expect nothing short of abnormal responses from the revered sleuth. Despite knowing how the man will react to situations, Watson continually feigns bewilderment by what exactly is driving him. One thing is clear, to both Watson and to all readers, Sherlock Holmes is definitely driven. When presented with a mystery, Holmes unleashes a beast that will not stop until everything is resolved to his satisfaction.
It is in the solving of a case that we begin to see the peculiarities of Sherlock Holmes and are given a hint of perception into his constitution. Holmes becomes so obsessed with deciphering a mystery that he almost becomes vulnerable. Though his mind must remain a systemized thinking machine, his external world usually turns disorganized. Notes and experiments will be scattered all over his room, his tobacco will be stored in a Persian slipper because it was convenient in the moment. He will forget to nourish himself, maybe even on purpose, when caught in the throes of an investigation.
More hints of his personality are made prominent by the lengths he is willing to go to further his probing. Sherlock Holmes has been known to bend the truth, break the law, lie to police, conceal evidence, and even steal or housebreak if it’s called for. These may not be unusual traits in the stories of private investigators. What is uncommon is the blatant casualness and disregard for authority with which he chooses to act. This is not to say he has a problem with authority. Another attribute of Holmes is his intense patriotism. No, his complex relationships with the many Scotland Yard detectives and law enforcement officers in general is just another aspect of his bohemianism. Other oddities include compulsively using drops of his own blood for chemical research or becoming engaged to be married simply to get information about a case.
His relationship with women is just as mysterious as the way he leads the rest of his life. Although he finds the motives of women ambiguous and seems to only gain joy from them because of the puzzles they bring him, he is drawn to the sultry contralto, Irene Adler. His feelings for her are never completely defined, but there is an attraction we can assume to have more depth than Holmes lets on. He is undoubtedly stimulated by her and the one time she was able to outwit him.
We never come to fully understand Sherlock Holmes, but he remains one of the most intriguing characters in literature who is both fresh and liberating. His eccentricities and erratic behavior continues to compel me to try and figure out what exactly is the force driving him. Did I forget to mention? Holmes occasionally dabs in addictive drugs, including morphine and cocaine, to help him through the drabness of existence when he isn’t vitalized by a mystery needing to be solved. Now that’s charisma, as strange and disturbing as the calmness in the eye of a hurricane.