The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Appearances Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Story.Paragraph)
It was close upon four before the door opened, and a drunken-looking groom, ill-kempt and side-whiskered, with an inflamed face and disreputable clothes walked into the room. Accustomed as I was to my friend's amazing powers in the use of disguises, I had to look three times before I was certain that it was indeed he (Scandal.2.2).
Holmes makes his living looking at other people and figuring out who they are from their clothes, their manners, what have you. And that works for him, like, 99.9% of the time (with notable exceptions Irene Adler and Neville St. Clair). But if everybody else is like an open book to Holmes, nobody can read Holmes himself. And it's not just the disguises, which make Watson look "three times" before he's sure that "it was indeed" Holmes. Watson also often can't figure out what Holmes is thinking even during the best of times. So why is Holmes so opaque to everyone around him? What gives him such skill at impersonating other classes and groups of people?
We had reached Baker Street and had topped at the door. He was searching his pockets for the key when someone passing said: "Good-night, Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
There were several people on the pavement at the time, but the greeting appeared to come from a slim youth in an ulster who had hurried by.
"I've heard that voice before," said Holmes, staring down the dimly lit street. "Now I wonder who the deuce that could have been" (Scandal.2.92-4).
Here's Holmes's most careless mistake in all the twelve Adventures: Irene Adler passes him in men's clothing, greets him by name, and he doesn't figure out it's her until she tells him so directly. Adler is the only character who shares Holmes's real freedom with disguises (after all, Neville St. Clair isn't looking for liberty, he's looking for cash as that beggar). Why does Adler, like Holmes, get to go around pretending to be something she's not? What do these two have in common that make their appearances deceptive?
As [Jabez Wilson] glanced down the advertisement column, with his head thrust forward and the paper flattened out upon his knee, I took a good look at the man and endeavoured, after the fashion of my companion, to read the indications which might be presented by his dress or appearance.
I did not gain very much, however, by my inspection. Our visitor bore every mark of being an average commonplace British tradesman, obese, pompous and slow (League.13).
Watson has observed Holmes's techniques time and time again. So he knows that appearances figure into Holmes's work. But he still can't reproduce Holmes's effects. This is proof that making personal judgments ("average commonplace British tradesman" – harsh!) is not what Holmes does, or at least, not only. Holmes's work is intuitive and can't seem to be imitated by Watson or, by extension, by the ordinary reader. Have you ever solved a Holmes case before he's good and ready to tell you whodunit and how? Does Conan Doyle give you enough information, even if just small clues, to find his conclusions on your own?