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Who Inspired Sherlock Holmes?

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Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective created by author and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A London-based "consulting detective" whose abilities border on the fantastic, Holmes is famous for his astute logical reasoning, his ability to adopt almost any disguise, and his use of forensic science skills to solve difficult cases.
Creator(s): Arthur Conan Doyle
Type: Movies/TV/Stage
Genre(s): detective, mystery
Year Released: 1887

Arthur Conan Doyle said that the character of Sherlock Holmes was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, for whom Doyle had worked as a clerk at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Like Holmes, Bell was noted for drawing large conclusions from the smallest observations. However, some years later, Bell wrote in a letter to Conan Doyle: "you are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it.”[1]

Sir Henry Littlejohn, lecturer on Forensic Medicine and Public Health at the Royal College of Surgeons, is also cited as a source for Holmes. Littlejohn served as Police Surgeon and Medical Officer of Health of Edinburgh, providing for Doyle a link between medical investigation and the detection of crime.[2]

"The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone" 1921 is one of 12 Sherlock Holmes short stories (56 total) by Arthur Conan Doyle in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes first published Strand Magazine October 1921 - April 1927. "The Mazarin Stone" was written this way because it was adapted from a stage play, "The Crown Diamond", in which Watson hardly appeared. Its adaptation from the theatre also explains why the action in this story is confined to one room.[3]

In "His Last Bow," one of Sherlock Holmes short story of 56 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes' undercover name, Altamont, is also the middle name of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's father, Charles Altamont Doyle.[4]

"The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual", a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle featuring his fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, shares elements with Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Gold Bug".[5]

The Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Cask of Armadillo” released in 1846 has inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual” which featured Sherlock Holmes.[6]

The Valley of Fear is the fourth and final Sherlock Holmes novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is based on the real life exploits of the Molly Maguires, a 19th century secret society of mainly Irish-American coal miners,[7] and Pinkerton agent James McParland.[8]

A Pinkerton agent, James McParland, infiltrated the Molly Maguires using the alias James McKenna, leading to the downfall of the labor organization. The incident was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novel The Valley of Fear. A Pinkerton agent also appears in a small role in The Adventure of the Red Circle, another Holmes story.[9]

The legend of Richard Cabell is the major inspiration for the Arthur Conan Doyle’s Curse of the Baskervilles. Richard Cabell was a 17th century squire from West Buckfastleigh. According to the legend, Cabell was known to be a very violent individual. Purportedly, he accused his wife with adultery. Her wife fled, but Cabell recaptured and murdered her wife. Her wife’s hound avenged her death and killed Cabell by ripping out Cabell’s throat. In reality, Cabell’s wife wasn’t murdered and even outlived him by 14 years.[10]

Richard Lancelyn Green, the editor of the 1998 Oxford paperback edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, surmises that Doyle's source for the story appears to have been the article named "Called on by a Boa Constrictor. A West African Adventure" in Cassell's Saturday Journal, published in February 1891.[11]

The character of Charles Augustus Milverton was based on a real blackmailer, Charles Augustus Howell. He was an art dealer who preyed upon an unknown number of people, including the poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Doyle's literary inspiration often came from his natural interest in crime, and he had no tolerance for predators. Howell died in 1890 under circumstances as strange as any of Doyle's novels: His body was found near a Chelsea public house with his throat posthumously slit, with a ten-shilling coin in his mouth.[12]

Le Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin is a fictional detective created by Edgar Allan Poe. Dupin made his first appearance in Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841), widely considered the first detective fiction story. Poe created the Dupin character before the word detective had been coined. The character laid the groundwork for fictitious detectives to come, including Sherlock Holmes, and established most of the common elements of the detective fiction genre.[13]

Monsieur Lecoq is a novel by the nineteenth-century French detective fiction writer Émile Gaboriau, whom André Gide referred to as “the father of all current detective fiction.”.[1] The novel depicts the first case of Monsieur Lecoq, an energetic young policeman who appears in other novels by Gaboriau.[14] Lecoq is a fictional detective employed by the French Sûreté. The character is one of the pioneers of the genre and a major influence on Sherlock Holmes (who, in A Study in Scarlet, calls him "a miserable bungler"), laying the groundwork for the methodical, scientifically minded detective. In French, "Monsieur" is "Mister" and his surname literally means "The Rooster".[15]