Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional character, Sherlock Holmes created a sensation when it was first released in 1887. With his keen observatory skills, Holmes easily became one of the greatest detectives of all time, not just in books but also in the real world. But much to everyone’s surprise, Sherlock Holmes in reality isn’t just a fictional character but inspired by a real person. Much like his fictional counterpart, Dr. Joseph Bell was a surgeon best known as an inspiration for the literary character. He was one of Conan Doyle’s medical school professors.
Conan Doyle’s fictional character Sherlock Holmes modeled after Dr. Joseph Bell:
Joseph Bell was born somewhere between 1813–1882 in Scotland. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and received an MD in 1859. As a student, he was also an active member of the Royal Medical Society and served as a personal surgeon to Queen Victoria as well. He always emphasized making a close observation in his diagnosis.
One of the most influential books written by Dr. Joseph Bell was ‘Manual of the Operations of Surgery’ published in 1866. He became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. Later, in 1887, he was elected as the president of the College. During his teaching period, he would often pick point complete strangers and observe them closely deducing what kind of occupation the person is engaged in, what he did recently, and where he would probably end up. Most of the time, his observation were correct. He was a part of several police investigations, mostly in Scotland.
One of the most famous involvements of Bell was in the case of Jack The Ripper, where he analyzed the murder mystery.
Doyle met Joseph Bell in 1877 when he served as his clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. When he first started writing Sherlock Holmes, the character loosely took inspiration from Bell. Joseph Bell was well aware of the inspiration. One of the letters written by Doyle to Bell states:
“It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes, and though in the stories I have the advantage of being able to place him in all sorts of dramatic positions I do not think that his analytical work is in the least an exaggeration of some effects which I have seen you produce in the out patient ward.”
On 4 October 1911, Joseph Bell took his last breath. He was buried at the Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh alongside his wife. A bronze plaque memorial was erected in the memory of Joseph Bell. The plaque was funded by the Japan Sherlock Holmes Club.
The Success of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, made the world emotional when he in 1893, shoved Sherlock Holmes off the cliff. But his legacy remains, as the world keeps on creating and recreating the formidable character of Sherlock Holmes, his sidekick Mr. Watson and obviously Mrs. Hudson, his housekeeper. Yet apart from this, the famous catchphrase used by Holmes was “Elementary, My Dear Watson”.
But do you know, much of these elements were not created by Doyle, especially the renowned catchphrase? It was first mentioned by P.G Woodhouse. So, how did Doyle’s character gain worldwide attention? Since Doyle first introduced the character in 1887, there have been thousands of adaptations of Holmes. From the era of stage adaptations to modern Cinema, made Holmes a global star. It is unusual for a fictional character to ever acclaim such recognition.
Maybe Doyle while writing about the Holmes death would have thought that its the end, however, it was much more than that. More than 20,000 Strand readers canceled their subscriptions, outraged by Holmes’ premature demise. Such were the fans of Holmes, and since the fandom is growing incessantly. Today more than 100 films are made on the novel with every person creating their own version of Holmes.
Perhaps it was his popularity that helped create the very modern practice of fandom. In other words, shoving Sherlock Holmes off the cliff haven’t really killed him. He’ll always come back, in this lifetime and the next.