Literature My Dear Watson

I just read a Doyle’s “The adventure of the Cardboard Box” in my English class, and it wasn’t like any other English experience I have ever had. I always think of the literature we read in English as being so much more than a story. Yes there is a plot, but I think the thing that sets English literature apart form a regular story is character development. A story will have a couple characters, but literature, tanks to its length, will be filled with an incredible complex of people who find new ways to interact in each chapter.

Now back to “The Adventures of the Cardboard Box”. It’s hard to spot a character that changes before our eyes in this story. There is no coming of age, or some sort of revelation that a character goes through when thinking about their relationship with the rest of the world. Yes, as always, we get to delve into Sherlock’s thought process, but that can only tell us so much. His thoughts don’t change as much as they develop, and there’s a difference. We find ourselves on this rollercoaster ride of “What is Sherlock going to do next?” rather than wondering “How has this character changed his or her relationship with this character and why?”.

However, I don’t think that this lack of character development is a product of Doyle’s insufficient abilities to produce worthy literature. I think it is a product of his story structure. Now, I haven’t read every Sherlock Holmes story, but I would be very comfortable guessing that a reader can find extraordinarily complex character development if they read each short case as a chapter of a larger story. Doyle limits himself with the structure of his stories. He simply doesn’t allow himself the adequate time or space to develop any type dynamic character in any particular story. But the again, when we look as each story as a chapter and not a novel, even the most highly regarded pieces of literature struggle to fit a lot of character development into each one of its chapters. At some point, it just becomes overwhelming.

I would argue that Doyle’s stories are short of being considered as literature. However, when we look at the compilation of these stories as a single piece of literary work, we will begin to uncover parallels to what we know as English literature. It may be easier to think of Doyle’s work as a TV series. Each episode doesn’t offer much to the overall storyline. Instead it focuses on resolving the sub-plot, the plot of each individual episode. But then there’s that day when you are sick and decide to binge watch that TV series on Netflix, and all of the sudden, you realize just how compatible and continuous each episode is with the next. It is almost like watching a movie. However in Doyle’s case, we are reading chapters that when read as part of a whole, take the shape of a novel.


One thought on “Literature My Dear Watson

  1. Chris,
    Your idea that the individual Sherlock Holmes stories are not worthy of being considered literature, but that if they were to be compiled into a longer chapter book, then it would resemble literary work, is very interesting. I agree that the story we read for class is too short on its own for strong dynamic character development, and that the characters would appear more realistic in their interactions and personal growth if there were more volume to the text. However, I think the point of Sherlock Holmes stories is the suspenseful plot, and therefore, lack of character development isn’t very important in the sense that the basic or archetypal characters don’t take away from the story as a whole. While literature makes the reader think deeper about the underlying “message,” stories such as these are simply meant to entertain the reader.
    Emily Enyedi


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