The Presentation of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes is obviously a very important character in The Sign of the Four. When revising his character, however, you must think carefully about the different sides of his character and how he matches to different key themes in the novel.

Here are some ideas you might want to consider when revising:

  1. Sherlock Holmes is central to the theme of duality. He fluctuates between states of extreme depression and listlessness, which he uses to justify his drug use, to states of extreme action and obsession when working on a case.
  2. He is central to theme of emotion vs. rationality. Unlike Watson, he is totally rational and does not indulge in any emotional response to his clients or their problems.
  3. He is a unique detective – the only ‘consulting detective’ and has developed his own method of detection, focussing on deductive reasoning and inference.
  4. He is an interesting and eccentric individual. He is able to take on elaborate disguises, can play the violin and was a talented amateur boxer. He also uses unusual methods to aid his investigations, such as The Baker Street Irregulars and Toby the dog.

Writing about Sherlock Holmes:

All of the ideas above could be incorporated into an essay about Sherlock Holmes. Remember, though we can’t guess what the essay question will be, you need to be confident in adapting your existing knowledge to whatever question you are given.

Here are some possible questions you may be asked (remember, you will be given an extract as a starting point).

  • Sherlock Holmes is a brilliant example of an early fictional detective. To what extent do you agree?
  • Explore how Conan Doyle presents Sherlock Holmes as an interesting character.
  • Sherlock Holmes is a great detective, but not a perfect person. To what extent do you agree?
  • Explore how Conan Doyle presents Sherlock Holmes as a dedicated and interesting detective character.

Key Quotes:

Ch. 1. Trying to justify his drug use to Watson: ‘I abhor the dull routine of existence’
Ch. 2. When listening to Mary’s case: ‘He leaned forward in his chair with an expression of extraordinary concentration upon his clear-cut, hawklike features’
Ch. 1. Watson talking to Holmes: ‘You really are an automaton,—a calculating-machine!”
Ch. 12. After Watson announces his wedding: “He gave a most dismal groan. “I feared as much,” said he.”
Ch. 1. Describing his method to Watson: “eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.”
Ch. 6. Examining the crime scene: He whipped out his lens and a tape measure, and hurried about the room on his knees, measuring, comparing, examining,
Ch. 5. When McMurdo grants them entrance to Pondicherry Lodge: “Ah, you’re one that has wasted your gifts, you have! You might have aimed high.”
Ch. 9. When Holmes fools Watson and Jones with his disguise: “Ah, you rogue!” cried Jones, highly delighted. “You would have made an actor, and a rare one.”

Some useful documents:

The presentation of Sherlock Holmes (revision)

Paper 1 Past Paper



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