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Saturday, 25 February 2012

The age of reason

All of the Sherlock Holmes material on the Archive lately has left me pondering on how much of the appeal of Holmes comes from his Victorian era. It wouldn't seem that important to the character since there have been many versions set in the present day that have been successful - the latest being the BBC's excellent Sherlock, but no matter how good the various incarnations of Holmes have been his true haunts are the Victorian mean streets... or are they?

The first Holmes story came out in 1887 but Doyle would continue writing about the character well into the Edwardian age. And in many ways it was this period in which the modern age started - the 1890's saw great scientific and cultural changes and Holmes was there, riding on the wave of the new fangled age. By the 1890's Queen Victoria was a recluse and it was the Prince of Wales and his Princess who were the public face of the Royals - bustles were out and having a good time with frivolity was in. That was if you had the money  and at the other end of the spectrum the working classes were facing great upheaval and change themselves. The Labour party started in 1893 and for the first time the working man had a political voice, it's a pity the Labour Party of today don't hold the same values. It was also during 1893 that Ghandi started his first civil disobedience protests in India and women were given the vote in New Zealand.

The original Sherlock Holmes, that is Doyle's Holmes lived in a fast changing world - in 1892 Thomas Edison produced his two way telegraph and during the previous year he had started showing moving pictures and in 1893 he would open his first movie studio in New Jersey. 1891 also saw the invention  of the diesel engine and the first escalator was installed at Coney Island. Coca Cola was first sold in bottles in 1894.  In 1890 Francis Galton published his book Finger Prints which was undoubtedly of interest to Conan Doyle and the world's first fingerprint bureau was established during this decade.

By the time Doyle wrote his last Sherlock Holmes story in 1927 we were firmly in the modern world, striving to put a world war behind us and still thinking of it as, the war to end all wars. How wrong we were. Holmes however continues to thrive and it doesn't matter where he is placed, what era for when done well he still retains the elements that made Doyle such a genius of populist entertainment.

Long live Sherlock Holmes

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