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Themes

Conan Doyle is an intensely self-conscious writer. Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes often squabble over the value of truth versus fiction and over the ways Watson represents Holmes's work. As a writer who makes his fictional characters say bad things about fiction, Conan Doyle brings ironic distance to a whole new level. We also have to wonder if his personal ambitions to be famous as a serious rather than a popular novelist might have influenced some of his nastier remarks about commercial fiction and its weak plotlines.

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. Why is Holmes so insistent that Watson leave human interest out of Holmes's chronicles? What assumptions does Holmes seem to be making about the relation between emotion and reason?
  2. Why does Conan Doyle include so many arguments against fiction in his fiction? Does he distinguish between different kinds of fiction?
  3. How would the Holmes stories be different if they were told from the perspective of a third-person narrator instead? What does Watson contribute, as both a narrator and a character, to these stories?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

By criticizing cheap novels and popular fiction within his Holmes stories, Conan Doyle is making an argument that his tales about Holmes belongs in a class apart from the commercial fiction of the day.

Holmes's frequent statements that truth is stranger than fiction is a strategy on the part of the author to make even these far-fetched mysteries appear realistic and logical to the reader.

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