Detection, Desire and Contamination: The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes
Laven, E. (2013). Detection, Desire and Contamination: The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8466
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8466
Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, is often viewed as a fictional embodiment of justice and order in nineteenth-century Britain, a fantasy of epistemological mastery precisely calibrated against the social flux and uncertainty of the fin-de-siècle. Holmes solves perplexing crimes through logic and reason, and affirms a positivist conservative ideology that upholds the status quo. This thesis will challenge this comforting reading of Holmes by arguing, firstly, that he is in fact a highly ambivalent figure - morally problematic, culturally marginalised and sexually ambiguous. Secondly, it will demonstrate how Holmes should be situated within the context of various historical and contemporary discourses, including inquisitorial modes of punishment and surveillance, the discourse of atavism, contemporary anxieties about degeneracy in the upper classes and the cultural problematics of bachelorhood and bohemia in Victorian society. Finally, it will trace a continuum in which Holmes, as an archetype in a discourse of detection extending back to the work of earlier writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, sets the pattern for the legion of brilliant, eccentric and ambiguous detectives who have followed in his wake. Understood in terms of this genealogy, the detective’s characteristic flaws, traits, eccentricities and methodologies can be seen to have a specific relation to their historical moment: indeed, part of the lingering appeal of the eccentric detective lies in the fit between their eccentricities, the nature of the crimes they solve, and their ability to restore order. This thesis will demonstrate the fit in the case of Sherlock Holmes, but will also demonstrate that he is more ambiguous, ambivalent and even subversive than his consoling conservative appeal might suggest.
University of Waikato
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