The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Literature and Writing Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Story.Paragraph)
"I think that I had better go, Holmes."
"Not a bit, doctor. Stay where you are. I am lost without my Boswell" (Scandal.1.36-7).
(James Boswell was the famous biographer and friend of eighteenth-century English writer Samuel Johnson.) Holmes is always razzing Watson for romanticizing him and his work. Holmes wants to see his adventures logged like police reports or something, listing his deductive achievements without any of the emotion or color Watson brings to these tales. But at the same time, Holmes needs Watson to make his name known at all. Holmes would literally be lost without Watson, without his particular special friend/narrator.
"You will remember that I remarked the other day, just before we went into the very simple problem presented by Miss Mary Sutherland, that for strange effects and extraordinary combinations we must go to life itself, which is always far more daring than any effort of the imagination."
"A proposition which I took the liberty of doubting."
"You did, Doctor, but none the less you must come round to my view, for otherwise I shall keep on piling fact upon fact on you until your reason breaks down under them and acknowledges me to be right" (League.8-12).
Honestly, this exchange is kind of weird to us: so, Holmes is saying that life is always stranger than fiction. But this is a fictional story. So why is Holmes busy talking smack about fiction? The thing is, given what we know of Holmes's character – his fascination with science and the rational, and his love of puzzles – it makes total sense that he would prefer life to fiction. But we the readers, who may admire Holmes from afar but who do not possess his degree of logic or precision – we want the color and glamour of fiction, Conan Doyle's fiction, to be exact. So there's a kind of meta-commentary (in other words, a commentary about commentary) going on here. Holmes may be the kind of logical guy who prefers fact to fiction, but it's his logic (strangely) that makes him a great fictional hero for us to enjoy.
"My dear fellow," said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, "life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outré results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable" (Identity.1).
Again, Conan Doyle's fictions are anything but "conventional" or filled with "foreseen conclusions," so Conan Doyle seems to be funning with us a bit. But something we like about this passage is this image of "this great city" "working through generations." So much of Holmes's world depends on a bunch of different people conducting entirely independent lives right next to one another – like the strange chain of events linking Henry Baker to James Ryder in "The Blue Carbuncle." And those chains only appear plausible to the reader because Holmes's stories are set in a diverse, cosmopolitan marvel like London. Can you imagine Holmes setting up shop in a small English country village? Would he even be able to find enough cases to fill one story collection?