sherlock holmes

The Inspiration Behind the Character of Sherlock Holmes

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see the word “detective”? Let me take a wild guess. It’s Sherlock Holmes, am I right? You could say my deduction skills are on par with Holmes himself! But honestly, Holmes is such a famous character that his name has become synonymous deduction and detection.


The British cultural icon is over 130 years-old now. The character has so widely portrayed that his legacy has been immortalized and today, I want to take a look at the inspiration behind the character. 


Holmes is without doubt the most significant detective in literature, however, he was not the first. Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin was the first fictional detective, and Dupin’s adventures are often referred as the root of all mystery stories. Even Sir Conan Doyle himself said


Each [of Poe’s detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed… Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?


Émile Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq is also a strong driving force behind the famous detective’s peculiar dialogue and actions and Conan Doyle referred to both Dupin and Lecoq at the beginning of A Study in Scarlet.

There are many potential individuals who could have inspired the character of Sherlock Holmes, such as Francis “Tanky” Smith, a policeman and master of disguise who went on to become Leicester’s first private detective. 


However Conan Doyle always claimed to have based Holmes on one Joseph Bell, a surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Bell was infamous, just like Holmes, for drawing broad conclusions about a person from a glance. Holmes physical attributes and dress sense were also, according to Conan Doyle, inspired by Bell. Not hard to believe when you look at a photograph of the man in question! 


Image Via Pinterest

Image Via Pinterest


Doyle met Bell 1877 when he worked for him. This also explains why all of the Sherlock Holmes stories are told from the perspective of Dr Watson, Holmes’ close associate and roommate at Baker Street. When Conan Doyle confirmed that Joseph Bell was the inspiration behind the famous detective, he received a letter from Bell that read: 


You are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it. 



Featured Image Via BBC