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Sherlock Holmes Cocaine

Why Did Conan Doyle Slowly Wean Sherlock Holmes from Using Cocaine?

Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While Holmes may have been a fictitious character, he was based on a real man, Dr. Joseph Bell who was a popular forensic scientist at the Edinburgh University. Doyle was under Bell’s tutelage. In the series, Holmes is known for using cocaine, but Doyle decided to wean his character off it. But why?

In the original series, Sherlock Holmes was addicted to cocaine. When Conan Doyle found out about the dangers of cocaine, he slowly weaned his character off it with the help of Watson, another character in his book.

Sherlock Holmes and His Cocaine Addiction

It is implausible that Sherlock Holmes might have been a cocaine addict. However, there were clues that Sherlock Holmes might have been using narcotics already in A Study in Scarlet, the earliest work of Conan Doyle featuring Holmes.

For days on end he would lie upon the sofa in the sitting room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night. On these occasions, I have noticed such a dreamy, vacant expression in his eyes, that I might have suspected him of being addicted to the use of some narcotic, had not the temperance and cleanliness of his whole life forbidden such a notion.

Conan Doyle in A Study In Scarlet

It was later revealed that Sherlock Holmes was indeed on narcotics and was addicted to it. The book The Sign of Four starts with a terrifying scene:

Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantelpiece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case.   With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle and rolled back his left shirt cuff. For some little time, his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture marks.  Finally, he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined armchair with a long sigh of satisfaction.

Conan Doyle in The Sign of Four

Later in the story Homes declared that the substance is cocaine and is of a 70% solution. (Source: Conan Doyle Info)

What Inspired Conan Doyle to Write the Second Sherlock Holmes Novel? 

The first installation of the novel wasn’t that much of a success. Doyle wrote it while he was working as a doctor in Portsmouth. Many publishers turned down the novel, but it was eventually published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual. It didn’t sell well and sank almost entirely without a trace.

At a dinner party with Oscar Wilde, Doyle was inspired to write the second Sherlock Holmes novel. Joseph Stoddart, an editor who worked at Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, was one of several who admired Doyle’s first novel. In 1889, he persuaded Doyle to create a second detective tale for serialization in the magazine at a dinner party. (Source: Conan Doyle Info)

Who is Conan Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes? 

Conan Doyle stated several times that Holmes was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, a forensic scientist at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. He met Bell in 1877 and worked with him as a clerk. Bell, like Holmes, was known for drawing significant inferences from minor details.

Dr. Joseph Bell was also a surgeon, he could diagnose patients simply by looking at them. Edgar Allan Poe’s fictitious investigator, C.J. Watson, also significantly influenced Sherlock Holmes’s creation. Two of Auguste Dupin’s adventures are included in our selection of Poe’s finest short stories. (Source: Conan Doyle Info)

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