In The Problem of Thor Bridge, Holmes begins running through the background of his latest case before telling Watson that he has a client:

"The fact is that the problem, though exceedingly sensational, appeared to present no difficulty. The interesting personality of the accused does not obscure the clearness of the evidence. That was the view taken by the coroner's jury and also in the police-court proceedings. It is now referred to the Assizes at Winchester. I fear it is a thankless business. I can discover facts, Watson, but I cannot change them. Unless some entirely new and unexpected ones come to light I do not see what my client can hope for."

"Your client?"

"Ah, I forgot I had not told you. I am getting into your involved habit, Watson, of telling a story backward. You had best read this first."

While Holmes often takes small jabs at the liberties Watson takes in chronicling his cases for the public, I don't totally understand this comment.

In what way did Holmes consider Watson to be telling some (or all?) of his stories "backward"?

  • Foreshadowing? He states the (presumed) outcome of the investigation in the beginning of the story. Jan 4, 2018 at 12:23

1 Answer 1


Let us first remember how a Sherlock Holmes story is often constructed: a client appears, talks to Sherlock, and he then moves into action and begins gathering clues. At some point, Sherlock forms a theory about the case, while everything still seems very mysterious to Watson and the reader. Perhaps Sherlock himself starts to act in a strange way. After some crisis, everything is explained and is usually seen to have been very logical all along, and Holmes strange acting turns out to have either been a way to gain confirmation or a way to position himself so as to better be able to catch the crook.

With this in mind, it is easy to see why Holmes thinks that the stories are told backwards. To him, the events usually goes: problem, gathering clues, deduction, seeking confirmation and conclusion, but the stories are instead told in an order so that the deduction is placed at the end. Considering how highly he values his methods, and in particular the deductive parts, this is to him an unnecessary distortion.

  • There are a lot of quotes to this effect in the stories, when Holmes criticises Watson's mode of storytelling, saying the stories are too much like entertainment for the masses and too little like a proper study of a scientific method. Unfortunately I'm having trouble finding any of these quotes, which would make good support for an answer.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 4, 2018 at 16:38
  • Indeed. I also tried to find something, but came up empty-handed.
    – andejons
    Jan 4, 2018 at 16:54
  • 2
    "I glanced over it. Honestly, I cannot congratulate you upon it. Detection is, or ought to be, an exact science and should be treated in the same cold and unemotional manner. You have attempted to tinge it with romanticism... The only point in the case which deserved mention was the curious analytical reasoning from effects to causes, by which I succeeded in unraveling it" Sign of the Four chapter 1. That's the closest quote I can come up with. Jan 8, 2018 at 12:05

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