Holmes, One in 4.7 Million


1780 – London Population 750,000

1801 – London Population 1.1 M

1881 – London Population 4.7 Million when Holmes and Watson take 221b

1896 – London Population 6.7 Million during The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans, wherein secret submarine blueprints are found in a murdered engineer’s pocket.

1920 – London Population is 7.4 Million when Holmes is 66 and The Dangerous Drugs Act is enacted… Sherlock Holmes and the Remaining Improbable takes place.

from The Strand Magazine, January 1891

In 1860, when the six year old Holmes was still home in Yorkshire (about 322 km and or 200 miles away) London was already one quarter larger than the world’s second largest city, Beijing; two thirds larger than the Paris; five times as big as NYC. By 1881, Holmes had moved to London. Rents were high. The population was young, a little more female than male. He was on the lookout for a fellow to share the rent.

The Criminal Investigation Department had recently been created, naming 250 detectives, including Lestrade, in a police department that numbered 10,000.


Electropathic Belts and Gizmos to Doom Covid 19

HOLMES’ 1895 Newspaper:

If Electricity Prevents Cholera and Restores Health (at once!)

Advertisement London Illustrated New December 1895

… then why couldn’t the Society for Psychical Research, with members such as Sir Oliver Lodge, writers Jane Barlow and Arthur Conan Doyle, MP Arthur Balfour, and William James, introduce you to your long ago buried great, great grandmother? After all, this was a scientific breakthrough and these late Victorians thought of themselves as citizens of a brave new world.

Are we so different? I heard on a normally sound podcast report that a pint of apple cider vinegar a day will prevent Covid 19. Why suffer unnecessarily, as the the ad says? Good ol’ aspirin has been another claimant. Or you may simply purchase the handy dandy (glowing!) electrical device that sizzles those invisible virus baddies from your door knobs and cells phones. Forget the sprays and wipes. Belt this gizmo to your wrist and have at it!

What is it About Holmes?


And I don’t mean Benedict Cumberbatch, though he’s a fine actor. I mean the whole thing. The address on Baker Street, the brother at the Diogenes Club, the archvillain, the lesser villains, the pipe, the violin, the needle. I’m asking myself because I’ve been working at a Holmes story, myself, and almost in spite of myself.

I have taken my work to my gang of wonderful critical readers at U Penn’s Kelly Writers House. The first thing I heard was, “I don’t read this kind of stuff.” Then, as they began to read some of it, several said, “I actually downloaded one of the real stories.” Now they wonder aloud if  Watson would really do what I’m proposing, and why isn’t Holmes in more of the scenes–and “Isn’t he supposed to be doing morphine, too?”

My reasons for writing about Holmes:

1) A chance to participate in a legend, contribute my own runt-of-the-litter imaginings. In some quarters this is called fan fiction and seen as a low order of creative expression. On the other hand, I’m in good company. Though other-than-Conan Doyle-Holmes stories run the gamut, I think some are better than Doyle’s: Julian Symons’ A Three Pipe Problem or Nicholas Meyer’s Seven Percent Solution, for instance. The best don’t’ simply give the reader another mystery, but contribute something that engages us even more fuller in the world of 221B.

2) The challenge of historical fiction. I like the research and meeting new people as I ask questions pertaining to my storyline. I am  currently reading, How to Be a Victorian: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide  to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman. I now know how they dressed from the skin out, how they went to the privy, how they exercised, ate or didn’t eat, had sex or didn’t. It’s a wonderful, readable book with ephemera a writer might miss–and stumble over, otherwise.

3)  The dynamic relationship between Holmes and Watson. I find them equally attractive as characters. Exploring the energy in their friendship leads to all kinds of questions. I ask myself if I’ve ever witnessed such friendship between men. The answer is no. Even what we call “buddy” films or stories don’t quite capture it. Perhaps it’s a thing of the past. Or unAmerican. An informal poll amongst guys has shown that such friendships do exist in the military.

4) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s allegiance to the Queen. It’s just sweet. I’m sure if I were living under that long and mighty reign (63 years, 7 months, 2 days) I’d be squirming, but the fiction that there could be such an all good and powerful government is comforting. If they’d just had penicillin . . .

5) I’m wondering if  Holmes and Watson together are a duel protagonist. Together they serve as a target for a more completely human, and yet preeminent, detective. He’d be both mysterious and accessible. Holmes has a special relationship to evil that allows him to understand and overcome it. Though he has a good excuse, he is sly in his many disguises. He can’t be trusted when he lets Watson believe he is dead. He is mean when he encourages the housemaid to develop a crush on him in order to get into the villain’s home. Watson fits into all the places that Holmes doesn’t take up. He is open, good natured, long-suffering, honest, and kind. Watson defaults to the stolidly traditional, but he can be convinced to “stretch.” Together they make a sphere. Other characters “bounce off” by the end of each story. Lestrade. Morstan. Mycroft. The Woman.

I see more as I go. My new motto is, Scriptora facit Scriptor. (The writing makes the writer.)

photo credit: N00/4645260687″>DSC_0638 via photopin (license)