Often, in a large novel, a character would have a character development arc, which is considered an integral part of writing.

But Sherlock Holmes canon consists mostly of smaller stories.

Was there a cross-story character development arc for Holmes?

2 Answers 2


One possible case of character development is in "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" when Holmes, for the first and only time in all the canon, is shown to care for his fellow man. This may be more revealing the character that's always been hidden beneath, rather than a change in character, but from an out-of-universe point of view at least, I think it counts as character development:

"You're not hurt, Watson? For God's sake, say that you are not hurt!"

It was worth a wound - it was worth many wounds - to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.

This is quite a change from the utterly cold, logical, even ruthless man we've seen in Holmes in all the other stories - the man who disdains any distraction from the pursuit of pure reason.

  • And, of course, The Woman.
    – muru
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 3:37
  • @muru Irene Adler? I don't think that was really an exception to Holmes's adherence to pure logic. He respected her as a formidable opponent; there was never anything romantic or even affectionate in it.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 3:39
  • He also respected Moriarty's intellect, but Moriarty wasn't The Man. Even if there wasn't anything romantic or affectionate, that he had a specific euphemism for her indicates she was something emotionally special for him.
    – muru
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 3:41
  • 1
    @Torisuda (He's not ashamed to admit that Mycroft is above his own level.) There's a quote, in either "A Scandal in Bohemia" or "The Five Orange Pips" IIRC, which goes something like, "I am not infallible. In the course of my career I have been defeated by four men and one woman."
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 17:57
  • 2
    @Randal'Thor The Five Orange Pips, and the quote is “I have been beaten four times – three times by men, and once by a woman.”
    – b_jonas
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 13:50

There wasn't much development. Most of the stories are short stories, and they rely upon the relationships established for the series - Holmes as the genius, Watson as the storyteller and the person to whom Holmes explains. And occasionally Lestrade as the failing regular police, to show why Holmes is needed in the setting.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did try to get rid of the character; having Holmes murdered by Moriarty, and by telling us that Holmes retired to become a beekeeper in "His Last Bow".

The preface to The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes is telling:

I fear that Mr. Sherlock Holmes may become like one of those popular tenors who, having outlived their time, are still tempted to make repeated farewell bows to their indulgent audiences. This must cease and he must go the way of all flesh, material or imaginary.

So, the main character became stuck in his role early on, to the point that the writer himself considered it monotonous. If Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could have broken this "monotony" by adding character development, he probably would have.

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