(Otherwise known as 221b):<br /> Sherlock Holmes and His World
Sherlock Holmes is perhaps the most recognizable literary character ever created. The Holmes stories have spawned innumerable adaptations for the stage, radio, television, and film. The fame of detective himself has long since outstripped that of his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes’s iconic image with deerstalker hat and pipe appears in advertisements, neighborhood watch signs, political cartoons, and the tiles of the Baker Street stop on the London Underground. Many people continue to believe he was real.
Holmes's London was capital of the world's first industrial society, heart of a vast empire, and arguably the first instance of an environment in which even the weather was a product of human action. The great detective emerged at a time when the bounds between nature and culture, human and animal, science and religion were being challenged, and that the changes wrought upon the physical environment by industrial modernity were becoming increasingly clear. Holmes’s cases deal explicitly with the dazzling new complexities of modern existence: dark secrets are brought home from distant lands, strange animals and foreign substances are loosed upon the metropolis, technological inventions from the telegraph to the military submarine to the automobile make their appearances alongside Holmes’s invariably “malodorous” chemical experiments. Above all, the Holmes stories reveal the city of London itself––its teeming millions, its secrets, “outré” occurrences, its opaque complexities, shrouded in the “dun-coloured fogs” curling at the windows of 221b Baker Street.
Reading all the major Holmes stories alongside a selection of theoretical and contextual materials and a sampling of related fiction, this course will the late-Victorian era in which Holmes emerged as well as his ongoing relevance and appeal. In the process, this course will help us think about the way literary studies rubs against an array of fields, from urban studies to the history of science and technology, empire, postcolonial studies, and cosmopolitanism. Reading detective fiction in this context is particularly productive because the cases not only reveal so many of the cultural anxieties prevalent in the late-Victorian era, but also dramatize Holmes’s “reading” of the situation and weighing of evidence. Thus, they offer a paradigm for the methods of literary and historical inquiry.