Sherlock Holmes Interesting Facts: The Real People
Want to know some Sherlock Holmes interesting facts? Sherlock Holmes is the fictional detective sleuth created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (shown at left) in a series of short stories that appeared in Britain’s The Strand Magazine between 1887 through 1927. Through the use of superior deduction, criminal forensics, disguise and martial arts, Holmes has come down through history as one of the most enduring detectives in literary history and led the way for others, such as: Hercule Poirot, Charlie Chan, and Sam Spade. However, while these characters are entirely fictional, Doyle based his characters on real life people. Here’s a look at some of the real life people from the Sherlock Holmes series.
Even though Irene Adler shows up quite a bit in the Sherlock Holmes movies and television series as a love interest to Sherlock Holmes, she actually was only featured in one Doyle story, A Scandal in Bohemia, which was published in July of 1891. Sorry Rachel McAdams (Robert Downey, Jr. movies) and Lara Pulver (BBC’s Sherlock). Doyle didn’t think you were that important. Still, she must have made an impact, because she is one of the most re-occurring characters in the derivative works of Sherlock Holmes. In the original Holmes’ story, Adler is an American opera singer performing with the Polish Imperial Opera. During her career she had a liaison with the King of Bohemia and a photo was taken that would compromise the king’s relations with his future bride. He hired Holmes to get the picture back. Holmes locates Adler, but she outwits the super-sleuth with a combination of seduction and cunning. In reality, the character of Irene Adler is just as enticing. She is a combination of the real life Lola Montez who was a dancer and the lover of Ludwig I of Bavaria. In their relationship, she was able to use her influence on national politics. Another possible source for Irene Adler is the real-life femme fatale, Lillie Langtry, who was born in New Jersey (same as Adler) and had an affair with Edward, the Prince of Wales between 1877 through 1880. She is my personal favorite for being the real-life Irene Adler.
INSPECTOR G. LESTRADE
The Scotland Yard inspector LeStrade appeared in thirteen Sherlock Holmes stories. We never learn his first name, though we know of his first initial: G. In the British television series, he is referred to as “Greg”, but that was never mentioned in the books. Dr. Watson never spoke kindly of Lestrade and stated that Holmes thought the man lacked imagination and was usually in over his head. Nonetheless, he’s supposed to be one of the best detectives at Scotland Yard, but out of his league with Holmes. In the movies, Lestrade is sometimes portrayed as a blundering buffoon, though Doyle made him seem more bull-headed and tenacious than a comic relief. There is no doubt where Doyle took the character idea for Lestrade. He’s named after Doule’s real-life friend and fellow medical student, Joseph Alexandre Lestrade, whom he attended with at the University of Edinburgh and Stoneyhurst.
PROFESSOR JAMES MORIARTY
This is Sherlock Holmes mortal enemy. Of the the cases that Sherlock Holmes solved, Moriarty is a criminal mastermind who is described as the “Napoleon of Crime”. Since we see Professor Moriarty so many times in movies and television shows, you would think he was a reoccurring character that antagonized Holmes at every turn. Sadly, this is not the case. Moriarty only shows up in ONE Sherlock Holmes story (though he’s mentioned in several others) and his primary goal is to kill the super sleuth. The story was, The Adventure of the Final Solution, in which both Holmes and Moriarty fall to their deaths over the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. The death of Holmes caused such a stir, Doyle was forced to bring back his star character for more. Did such a criminal mastermind ever live? You betcha! He wasn’t quite the super villain as Doyle made him out to be, but he was a pretty bad ass mastermind. The most likely inspiration for Moriarty was an American named, Adam Worth. Worth was a bank robber, con man, and thief. He had a criminal organization which spanned both sides of the Atlantic and was called the “Napoleon of the Criminal World” by Scotland Yard. His heyday was during the 1870s through 1900s, right at the time Doyle was writing the Holmes stories.
DR. JOHN H. WATSON
We know everything about Sherlock Holmes through his friend, Dr. John Watson. All but four of the Holmes mysteries are narrated by the doctor. A veteran Army doctor of Britain’s Second Afghan War in during the 1880s, Watson was wounded at the Battle of Maiwand when he returned to London. He would go on to be Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick and biographer throughout the series and is possibly the best-known character after Holmes. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have been familiar with Watson’s plight. Many people wounded in that battle in Afghanistan returned to England at Portsmouth where Doyle had set up his medical practice in 1882. Among those wounded was an army doctor, Surgeon-Major Alexander Francis Preston. He was one of the very few survivors of the battle and the famous retreat out of Afghanistan. It is possible that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have treated Dr. Preston when he returned to England. Unlike Dr. Watson, however, Preston went back into the Army, rose to the rank of Surgeon-General and was Edward VII’s honorary physician. He certainly was well-known in Britain at the time.
This leaves us with Sherlock Holmes. According to the stories, he is a consulting detective who is extraordinarily gifted with reason and logic. He is a master of disguise and excels in the use of forensic science to solve his mysteries. Where you might find this “normal” by today’s standards, when the Sherlock Holmes stories first began to appear in 1887, no one had even heard of forensic science. All of this was new, so the public was astounded by the character. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and 56 short stories on the detective between 1887 and 1927. According to Doyle, the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes was Dr. Joseph Bell. Doyle worked for Bell at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh when he was studying as a medical student. Like Holmes, Bell could draw large conclusions from observation. Joseph Bell was also an avid fan of athletics, bird watching and poetry. Dr. Bell denied the connection, believing that Doyle based Sherlock Holmes on himself. Yet another person who closely resembles the detective is Sir Henry Littlejohn. He was a lecturer on Forensic Medicine and Public Health at the Royal College of Surgeons. Littlejohn worked in Edinburgh about the same time that Doyle was there and was known for his medical investigation and help in crime solving. Other people have been mentioned as being inspirations for Holmes, as well, but Bell, Littlejohn, and Doyle’s fantasy figure of himself seem to be most likely suspects.