In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories of Detective Sherlock Holmes, the city of London itself is an important character and has a very active role. The city interferes constantly with the story and places itself dominantly in the novels. It is important to note how the city of London is represented and what kind of role it plays in the tales of Detective Holmes. Looking into how the city not only seems to create its own crime, but how Holmes uses the city to solve its own wrongs is a crucial element behind Doyle’s creation.
Understanding dynamic relationship between the thriving port city of London as well as the dark, foggy, and mysterious London is how Sherlock Holmes solves his crimes. By recognizing the vital role the city of London itself plays in the stories, a true comprehension of why Arthur Conan Doyle chose to make London the home base for the world’s most famous detective is evident. The stories of Detective Sherlock Holmes are set in the Victorian Era, which lasted from 1837 till 1901. It was one of the most flourishing periods of the British Empire, especially for the capital city of London.
The Victorian period brought the city a lot of prosperity, and it became the world’s largest city. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, London’s population was one million people and by the end of the century, that number had increased to almost five million (Rosen). It is impossible to deal with Victorian London without mentioning the one aspect notoriously associated with the city: its fog. Due to the thick and damp fog, all the sounds of the street were muffled and people seemed to disappear like ghosts through its grey curtain.
This aspect of Victorian London is of great importance in recognizing the way in which the city created a setting within which crime could flourish. Within the veil of the mist and fog, theft, rape and often murder could occur on an unprecedented scale (Rosen). In the tales of Sherlock Holmes, the infamous London fog is an important aspect of most of the stories and is portrayed as a very negative aspect of the city. In the novels of Sherlock Holmes, crime takes place in the dark side streets of the city and it seems as if the city itself enables the crime.
The detective, who lives in the well-to-do area of Baker Street, solves the city’s most perplexing crimes. With the dark, criminal side on the one hand and the civil world and safe haven of Baker Street on the other, Sherlock Holmes serves as the perfect waypoint between those two worlds; this is, in part, what helps him to solve crimes whose truths often evade other investigators. As previously stated, the city itself plays a major role in the stories of Sherlock Holmes, especially in the tale The Five Orange Pips. In the story, London serves as both a tool in the actual murder but also as the key to discovering the perpetrator.
Before John Openshaw even appears, Arthur Conan Doyle paints a bleak and dreary picture of the London weather: It was in the latter days of September, and the equinoctial gales had set in with exceptional violence. All day the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows…like untamed beasts in a cage. (Doyle) The ominous weather continues to rage on outside the windows as Openshaw lays out his troubles for Detective Holmes. After Sherlock has heard all the necessary details, he sends John Openshaw away to set his affairs straight while Holmes works out the details of the case.
As Openshaw leaves, Watson compares the appearance of Openshaw to the weather, “blown in upon [them] like a sheet of sea-weed in a gale- and now to have been absorbed by it once more. ” The next day, much to the dismay of Holmes, it is discovered that John Openshaw was killed on his way to catch the train. In the police report, it is said that the investigating officer assumed due to the terrible weather that evening, that Openshaw had tripped and fell in the darkness and fallen into the raging river; that he had been no more than “the victim of an unfortunate accident. In this way, London’s weather is a crucial element of the story: the killers used the weather to make Openshaw’s death appear an accident. Of course, Sherlock Holmes sees right through this and, in turn, uses the city to solve its own crime. By comparing clues from the case and shipping log books where the killer had traveled based on postage stamps on Openshaw’s letters. This reference to London’s historical prominence as a port city is a detail that helped crack the case for Holmes. He used small clues from the city itself to bring a murderer to justice.
In essence, the city of London in and of itself plays a major role in The Five Orange Pips as well as many other of Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of Sherlock Holmes. Through his unique investigative skills and his vast knowledge of the city he loved, Holmes could come to fantastic conclusions that would be missed by most others. In such a massive metropolis, he would notice the smallest details to find truth and bring justice. This is what, I believe, makes the stories of Detective Sherlock Holmes so fascinating; that personification of the city of London brings a whole new set of mystery to the cases solved by Holmes.