Study Guide

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Semiotics

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

One of the best-known fictional detectives of all time, Sherlock Holmes has captivated readers since the nineteenth century. In fact, he’s as popular as ever today thanks to a bunch of hit TV series (Netflix-created and otherwise) and movies focusing on the adventures of Holmes and his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson. What’s most striking from a semiotics perspective, though, is Holmes’s ability to draw out details and associations that stun the officials working on the same cases and continue to amaze Watson.

The [original] Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a short story collection in which Holmes finds himself faced with an assortment of baffling mysteries and uses his freakily powerful deduction skillz to solve the crap outta them. In each case, a person turns up on Holmes’s doorstep having heard about said skillz and seeking help, usually in relation to someone who’s gone missing, been wrongly accused of a crime, or found themselves at the heart of some sort of bizarro situation.

Each case is chronicled by the trusty sidekick Watson, who also gives us a peek into Holmes’s character and almost savant-like skills. Most striking about many of these cases are the conjectures that Holmes is able to make from the simplest details. A famous example is the hat in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” which tells Holmes basically the whole thing behind the mystery, but there are plenty of other instances.

And these deductions aren’t always vital to the case itself: in “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” Holmes can tell where the window in Watson’s bathroom is located by observing that his shaving is uneven (meaning that Watson can see one side of his face better than the other).

Want another? In “The Red-headed League,” Holmes rightly concludes that his latest visitor has done manual labor, takes snuff (a kind of tobacco powder), is a Freemason, has been in China, and has done a lot of writing recently. The usual stuff you get just from looking at someone, right?

Fancy another example? Get a load of this:

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