Sherlock Holmes
and His Victorian Milieu

Where It Is Always 1895

The Canon, an Introduction

Sherlock Holmes and his close friend and Boswell, Doctor John H. Watson. M.D. are among the best known characters in literature. Students of the Wizard of Baker Street regard sixty tales as "Canonical."

Before we discuss the Canon, a word about "The Game." Monsignor Ronald Knox was among the first to suggest that we could study the Canon using the tools of the "higher criticism." His original paper, entitled Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes is available online at The Diogenes Club. Other early contributors included Christopher Morley and Dorothy L. Sayers, whose work was published in Unpopular Opinions (1947).

According to the "rules" of The Game, players are to treat Holmes, Watson and their adventures as true stories. With that assumption, we search the Canon for clues about dates, places and people. Hundreds of scholarly essays (and just as many humorous pieces) have been written about the most amazing minutiae gleaned from the words penned by Doyle. Of course, there are disagreements, often heated, among the scholars but almost all realize that this is, after all, a Game.

The best pastiche writers strive to add the same verisimilitude to their work, occasionally shoe-horning their works within the calendar of the Canon or taking their inspiration from adventures mentioned in passing within the Canon. Others add, or even focus on, historical characters offering Holmes the opportunity to "solve" real cases. This genre of works, often referred to as The Apocrypha, will be discussed in the gallery of that name.

And now onto The Canon.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned sixty stories about Holmes.
There are four novels:
  • A Study in Scarlet (published 1887)
  • The Sign of the Four (published 1890)
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (serialised 19011902 in The Strand)
  • The Valley of Fear (serialised 19141915)
and fifty-six short stories, which have been collected into five volumes:
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
  • The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894)
  • The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
  • His Last Bow (1917)
  • The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)
In order to make discussion and citation of the stories a little easier, we will use the standard abbreviations first proposed by J. Finley Christ in his seminal work, An Irregular Guide to Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street. The complete list would, of course, occupy sixty lines here, so we will introduce the list as we discuss each of the volumes. For those who wish to have the list at hand, you may look here. (This page will open in a new tab or window.)

As the site develops, we will provide an analysis and exegesis of each of the elements of The Canon. We will strive to add some new insights into the vast literature about The Master, The Doctor and their world. As always, your comments and contributions are welcome.

For now, I remain your obedient servant,
Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Earl Roberts

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