Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Apologies to Sherlock Holmes

I recently saw Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey, Jr., and Jude Law, twice; once with Andrew in Jan. and once with Sara last month at the $3 theater. It was entertaining, but I commented often on the liberties the movie took with Holmes’s character. Sure he was brilliant and deductive, as in Doyle’s stories, but he seemed to be portrayed as a modern (or postmodern) detective with his foibles and his flaws. For instance, he enjoyed boxing, his apartment was a mess, he frequently shot his pistol at the wall of his apartment, and he languished in a sort of depression between cases, keeping the curtains drawn for days at a time and refusing to go out.

Now I by no means have read all the Sherlock Holmes stories, and perhaps I have been more influenced in my conception of the famous detective by the few movies I have seen than by the stories I read years ago, because I discovered recently I owe the director of the movie an apology. P. D. James, in her Talking about Detective Fiction, explains that in fact Holmes was “an expert boxer and swordsman,” that he was quite active while working on a case but otherwise “often spent days lying on a sofa without uttering a word,” that he sometimes injected cocaine into his system, and that he led an “erratic lifestyle,” habitually shooting holes “to pattern the wall” (37).

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