Sherlock Holmes as Icon
The Hound of the Baskervilles was Arthur Conan Doyle's 26th Sherlock Holmes story. A struggling young doctor who invented Holmes to wile away unfilled office hours, Conan Doyle published the first Holmes story in 1887. His innovation in creating a character who would appear over and over in a series of self-contained stories meant that Holmes's popularity grew with each installment. Soon the character was so beloved that people refused to believe he wasn't a real person; letters addressed to "Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective" arrived daily at Baker Street and Scotland Yard, each begging him to take on a real case.
Conan Doyle, meanwhile, was growing weary of Holmes and his popularity, and often threatened to kill the character off so that he could write "serious" fiction instead. In 1893, Conan Doyle published The Final Problem, in which Holmes's nemesis, Professor Moriarty, sends him to his death over the Reichenbach Falls. In the days that followed, there was such an outcry that newspapers actually ran headlines about Holmes's death, and his fans wore mourning garb in the streets. Conan Doyle was forced to resurrect Holmes. The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first new Holmes story to appear after this, although Conan Doyle set the novel retrospectively so that he could avoid the problem of bringing Holmes back to life.
Based in part on the work of Dr. Joseph Bell, a teacher of Conan Doyle's at the University of Edinburgh who could draw medical conclusions about his patients simply from observing the mud on their shoes, Holmes's "method" is perhaps the best-known thing about him. In The Red headed League he famously sums up what he has gleaned from merely looking at a visitor: "Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing."
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