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130 Years of A Study in Scarlet: A Tribute

To a great mind, nothing is little.

—-Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

130 years ago today, Beeton’s Christmas Annual took a chance on a story by new author, a doctor in his twenties who happened to be named Arthur Conan Doyle. A Study in Scarlet is a peculiar tale by modern standards, with its separated sections and unfortunate depictions of Mormonism. Even at the time, it didn’t create much of a splash at initial publication.

But there’s something about it.

It’s just as well for two fellows to know the worst of one another before they begin to live together

—-Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

There’s something about the youngest, sharpest incarnations of two people meeting for the first time. It’s impossible now to read the story without knowing the context of what is to come, but I believe that if you could, it would still have the power to whet your appetite and make you crave more of the interactions between Holmes and Watson, as the doctor takes you on the roller coaster journey of trying to understand his new flatmate.

It was easier to know it than to explain why I know it.

—-Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

There’s also something about the detection, the “attainable superpower,” as Benedict Cumberbatch once described it. Holmes is always ahead, but he’s not superhuman. This youngest, sharpest Holmes does what all of us do, but he does it better and more, and he makes us realize, or at least imagine, what it would be like to understand the world around us to a far fuller extent.

There is a mystery about this which stimulates the imagination; where there is no imagination, there is no horror.

—-Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet is filled with the sense of adventure and razor-edge plotting that would come to characterize Doyle’s short stories.   His ability to craft suspense, while perhaps not yet at its height, is certainly evident in the story’s most thrilling moments. Another Holmesian through-line is the question of vigilante versus traditional justice, the question of whether horrendous acts can be justified. The very young Doyle crafted an engaging mystery; but, characteristically, he couldn’t resist including the kind of moral dilemma that would pepper the pages of many of his greatest stories.

There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.

—-Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

Except it hadn’t been done before. Though few realized it at the time, when A Study in Scarlet burst onto the scene, it ushered in an era in which the world would be captivated by a detective who could be moody and kind, genius and ignorant, contemplative and frenetic. The Era of Holmes and Watson, when two men with disparate habits and personalities would forge one of the most engaging partnerships in literary history, came with more of a whimper than a bang.

I think that’s part of what makes today wonderful. I wish I could travel in time to tell Doyle that his manuscript isn’t going to linger in oblivion. Jokes related to his feelings about Holmes aside, I wish I could show him that the era he created would never end. Instead, I want to tell him, it will endure through changing tastes and mores, somehow remaining relevant and poignant no matter how much time elapses.

Happy 130 years to a story that started as nothing–and changed the world.

Amy Thomas is a book reviewer, freelance essayist, and author of The Detective and The Woman mystery novel series featuring Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler, published by MX Publishing. She holds a degree in professional communication and is an avid knitter, geek, and grammar nerd. Amy blogs about Sherlock Holmes at and can be reached for professional enquiries at Connect with her on Twitter @Pickwick12. Email her at

2 Responses to “130 Years of A Study in Scarlet: A Tribute”

  1. […] This piece was originally written for the Baker Street Babes and can be found on their website here. […]

  2. Capital! Affectionate, intelligent and perceptive. Thank you!

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