In Victorian crime novels, the city of London is portrayed in many different ways. In this thesis I will investigate the representation of this city in the detective novels of Sherlock Holmes, written by Arthur Conan Doyle. Because the stories of Sherlock Holmes were published between 1887 and 1927, I will examine the shift from Victorian London to the modern city as portrayed in the novels of Sherlock Holmes. To quote G.K. Chesterton from his article “A Defence of Detective Stories”: “Of this realization of a great city itself as something wild and obvious the detective story is certainly the Iliad”.1 The stories of Sherlock Holmes provide us with many examples of the mystery of the big city and the problems of metropolitan life.
The central research question I will answer is: how is the city of London represented and what role does this play in the stories of Sherlock Holmes? My aim is to contribute to the contemporary discussion of the perception of the modern city, specifically of Conan Doyle.
I will also investigate if the way the modern city is portrayed in the novels is characteristic for that period. The general point of view on the modern city is that a fragmented environment shaped a new type of urban consciousness and gave rise to “an interrelated concern with the observation and understanding of the city”.2 Today’s scholars believe this point of view to be too general and rather look at each city separately; they believe that looking at a city rather than looking at the city in general is the correct way to fully understand a specific modern city.3 In this thesis I will look at the city of London as the specific modern city.
The sub question to the central research question is: how is the contrast between the civilized Victorian London on one hand and the dark, foggy,
1 reprinted in Haycraft, Howard (Ed.). 1983 The Art of the Mystery Story. New York: Carroll & Graf: p. 4.
2 Parsons, D.L. 2002 “Paris is not Rome, or Madrid: Locating the City of Modernity”. Critical Quarterly vol 44, no. 2: p. 22.
3 Parsons: p. 17-19.