The database of Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes and the Victorian media condition
Gillam, Todd S.
Literature has an almost unwavering devotion to information flow--while authors drive plot development by releasing crucial data, the 'means ' by which this information is communicated figures just as prominently within the stories. The methods that characters use to gather information reflect their various socio-political environments, and frequently reveal the authors' own concerns about media. More than any other genre, the detective story holds data above all else: intriguing crimes may inspire the tale, but data processing and communication issues dominate the narrative itself. In the Sherlock Holmes stories, for instance, murder weapons and ransom notes offer only the most obvious clues. To the trained eye, however, a particular kind of tobacco ash and a peculiar typeface can provide startling revelations. Each clue brings the hero one step closer to solving the mystery, and helps to distinguish the case from others in the series. Holmes is the preeminent literary detective, and his relentless struggle for information revolves around the hidden potential of common media technologies. This thesis examines the importance of data processing in the Holmes Canon from three perspectives: the role of media technologies in the stories themselves; the more general attitudes towards media and their use; and the multifaceted textual experience that Conan Doyle offers. Sherlock Holmes represents the author's artistic response to an increasingly technological England at the turn of the century. By having Holmes reestablish identity at every turn, the Canon posits that individuality is inextinguishable, and that a mystery's solution is available to the shrewd mind able to 'read' the data sources at hand.