by Arthur Conan Doyle
“…life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of a man could invent.”
‘A Case of Identity’
Having read A Study in Scarlet (1887) and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) in quick succession over two years ago, I felt the time was right to return to 221B Baker Street, the London home of fictional private detective Sherlock Holmes. I opted, therefore, to tick another title off The Classics Club list and indulge in an evening of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1892 short story collection: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
The twelve stories making up this compilation were originally serialised in The Strand Magazine between 1891 and 1892 and were hand-picked for inclusion by Conan Doyle because he felt they were the very best of his Holmes writings – ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’ (the eighth tale in the book) apparently being his overall favourite.
Delivered without exception in the first-person narrative (from the point of view of his staunch friend and disciple, Dr John Watson), the stories are entertaining and highly readable, evoking in me a cosy nostalgia for evenings spent sitting in front of the TV set with my family watching Basil Rathbone play Holmes in old black and white film reruns from the 1930s.
In these short pieces we are again treated to Holmes’ acute observational powers aided by forensic science and logical reasoning, all of which he employs to investigate cases for Scotland Yard and a cast of clients ranging from businessmen and bankers to pawnbrokers, royalty and several sniffling ladies in fear of their lives or fortunes – the great detective, of course, being less than enamoured by the opposite sex (or as he once famously described himself: “not a whole-souled admirer of womankind”).
Perhaps partly because of this, my personal favourite from the collection is ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ – in which the notorious adventuress and opera singer Irene Adler features. On this occasion, the “best plans of Mr Sherlock Holmes [are] beaten by a woman’s wit” and, according to Watson, he forever after refers to her as “the woman”.
Conan Doyle wrote a total of four novels and 56 short stories about his eccentric detective, all published between 1891 and 1927, but of those I have read, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes has appealed to me the most. These sensational tales suit the short form and the famous Holmesian deduction techniques are at their most compelling.
“Holmes […] loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul.”
‘A Scandal in Bohemia’
This is my ninth choice for The Classics Club.
I daresay most fans would claim “A Scandal in Bohemia” as their favorite. You’re in good company. 🙂
Thank you, Emily. It’s a great pity Conan Doyle didn’t feature Irene Adler in other stories. She seemed like fun! 😉
I used to wonder why he didn’t, but a close reading of the text when she’s introduced states that she’s dead by the time Watson wrote this up. Missed opportunity, I agree.
Ahh yes, of course. Well spotted!
I must have read that story 100 times before I realized it. lol
Ah, I love me a good Holmes story.
I thoroughly enjoy these stories. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I once again delve into the Holmesian canon. 🧐
There’s a certain enjoyment in revisiting favs such as Holmes.
Jeremy Brett is the archetypal Holmes for me, though I’m not averse to a Cumberbatch version 😉 As for the books, my partner is a massive Holmes fan and perhaps that’s put me off reading any of the stories: I’ve been told so often how amazing they are I’m surely destined for disappointment 😀 That said, maybe I’ll try again with some of the short stories. I do feel that I’m missing out!
Yes, I agree, Jeremy Brett was splendid in the role. Also, when I think of Watson I almost always picture Edward Hardwicke’s face. It took me a while to come round to the Benedict Cumberbatch version but I do think he’s very good. I’m sure you would enjoy the short stories, Sandra, you can read them in fits and starts if you’re short of time. I certainly enjoyed this collection. 🕵️♀️
Oh yes, Edward Hardwicke is really the only Watson 🙂 I do have the short stories on my kindle – somewhere very far back! Perhaps I’ll tweak the Classics Club list yet again 😉
Be a devil! 😈
I read this a few years ago and A Scandal in Bohemia was my favourite as well!
Conan Doyle declared A Scandal in Bohemia his fifth favourite Holmes story of all time! 😊
I don’t recall A Scandal in Bohemia but am very keen on The Speckled Band maybe because it was the first one I read…
I enjoyed all twelve stories. I can appreciate why Conan Doyle thought them his best up to that point.
I’m delighted to hear that ACD liked The Speckled Band best because that’s one of my favourites too. Is The Red-Headed League in this collection, if memory serves me right? I think it was the story that started my lifelong love affair with Holmes and Watson – my ten-year-old self loved the idea of the man pulling all the applicants’ hair to see if they were wearing wigs…
Yes it’s there – the second story in the collection! 🤣
Yay for Sherlock Holmes! I read these as a kid – time for a re-read, perhaps? 🙂
They are eminently re-readable stories. Hope you enjoy them the second time around, Ola. 😊
For me, my two favourites from this collection are the Red Headed League and the Blue Carbuncle. Of the adaptations, love the Jeremy Brett ones the best.
Yes, I agree, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle was good! 😊
Is there something inherently conservative about the genre of detective fiction? A trace of misogyny seems apparent in your excellent unpacking of the classic, whilst catching ‘criminals’ preserves law and order. There is also the confusion about the rational and the illogical, where the author juxtaposes examples of ‘clear thinking’ with implausible narratives- in a world that shouldn’t make sense, neat endings can be viewed as an ideological comfort blankets?
All very true. One certainly needs to suspend disbelief to some extent when reading these mysteries!
I’m another who agrees that Brett was perfect as Holmes! And I think the short stories are best, much as I love “Hound” – it just seems to be the format that suits Doyle, Holmes and Watson best!