Jody Baker: Rex Stout's Thoughts On Sherlock Holmes

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - by Jody Baker

It has long been a favorite past time of Sherlockians to seek to identify those characteristics or factors of the Sherlock Holmes tales which give them their universal appeal and which engage the attention and devotion of first one generation and then the next.  What is the magic quality that accounts for their enduring popularity?  One of the early, and more prominent, of our Sherlockian predecessors was Rex Stout (1886-1975). He once presented his thoughts on this subject.

Rex Stout wrote in many fields, but he is best known as the creator of private detective Nero Wolfe and sidekick-biographer, Archie Goodwin. Stout has impeccable credentials in the detective-story genre, and we may gain insight by a consideration of his thoughts. Stout's analysis, entitled " Crime in Fiction," appeared in *The Saturday Review of Literature* (c. 1951). In this article Stout recognized Holmes's premier position, and then he asks rhetorically: 

“People say that Sherlock Holmes is the most widely known fictional character in all the literature of the world, and there is impressive evidence that they are right. Usually, having said it, they go on to ask why, and have no answer. They are puzzled and not a little irritated. What right has this

fantastic bloodhound to the top of a peak whence he can look down upon Achilles, Medea, Don Quixote, Hamlet, Pere Goriot, Anna Karenina, Karamazov, Scrooge, Tom Sawyer, Tarzan, and Scarlett O'Hara?” 

 

Stout continues. He answers his question:  "I have thought it over and I think I know. You have the answer as soon as you reflect not on what man is, but on what he likes to think he is. He calls himself homo but, not satisfied with that, makes it homo sapiens. His best-liked and best-known definition of himself is not the virtuous animal, or the passionate animal, or the handsome animal, or the just or merciful animal, but the  reasoning animal.”

Sherlock Holmes, he suggests, is the embodiment of reason. And Sherlock Holmes is that person which man, in his heart of hearts, aspires to be --- the cold, unemotional, perfectly-reasoning machine.  Rex Stout put it this way: “Sherlock Holmes is the embodiment of man's greatest pride and greatest weakness: his reason. I have heard it said by sneerers that he isn't even human. Certainly he isn't; but he is human aspiration. He is what our ancestors had in mind when in wistful braggadocio they tacked the sapiens onto the homo.”

Rex Stout acknowledges that the detective story, as an art form, may not rank among the great literary works of mankind. But in the conclusion to his excellent essay, Stout does give first rank to Sherlock Holmes. 

“As homo sapiens we resent --- with a resentment usually too deep for awareness, let alone expression --- being constantly  bullied by our emotions, not only into action or decision but also into a frantic search for excuses for them. 

“We enjoy reading about people in the same fix. We enjoy reading about people who love and hate and covet--- about gluttons and martyrs, misers, sadists, whores and saints, brave men and cowards. But also, demonstrably, we enjoy reading about  man who gloriously acts and decides, with no exception and no compunction, not as his emotions brutally command, but as his reason instructs. So, Sherlock Holmes is on his peak.” 

That's good enough for me. 

Respectfully,
Inspector Baynes


Please Give A Teacher The Pat On The Back They Deserve

   I'd like to start off by introducing myself to my District 1 constituents. I'm Jason Moses, and I would love to earn your vote. I hope you feel, like so many others, that I'm the best candidate to replace our current school board representative. There are currently three of us running for District 1 school board representative. I'm the best choice to to represent us ... (click for more)

Gays, Transgenders, And The Bible

I was baptized as a young child in the Universalist Church,  now the Unitarian. My family, both sides, are Methodist going back to the 1800's. I was married in the Episcopal Church. I thought seriously about becoming a Catholic or even a Jew but felt too old to go through all the training. The religious intolerance I heard and read seems to reside mostly in the South. ... (click for more)

Cleveland City Schools Announces 5 Finalists For Director Of Schools

The Cleveland City Schools Board of Education announced the five finalists for the director of schools position.   The community is invited to attend the Board of Education interview session each day 6-8 p.m. at Mayfield Elementary School, 501 20 th Street NE, Cleveland. A complete schedule is attached.   Candidates:   Wednesday, ... (click for more)

Expansion By Developers Of McCallie Commons Would Raze 3 Old Houses On Oak Street

Developers of the McCallie Commons student housing at McCallie and Central are wanting to expand the project, but it would involve tearing down three old homes on Oak Street. The proposal from developer David Hudson would be an expansion of the four-story apartment building and separate parking garage with 300 parking spaces proposed that was approved earlier. The original ... (click for more)

Chattanooga FC Hosts Inter-Squad Scrimmage Saturday

Chattanooga FC will hold an Inter-squad match Saturday, May 7th, 7:00pm at Finley Stadium. The event is open to the public and free for all who attend.  The 2016 roster is set! The Inter-squad match will be the first chance for fans to see their CFC team in action. After the game, everyone will have the opportunity to get autographs, take photos, and talk with players, ... (click for more)

Baylor's Kayla Hughes Named FCA Christian Athlete Of The Year

Baylor School softball star, Kayla Hughes, was named the Greater Chattanooga FCA’s Christian Athlete of the Year at the ministry’s annual Day of Champions Sunday afternoon at Ridgedale Baptist Church.  Hughes, who will continue her softball career at Tennessee Tech, was chosen from among twelve high school FCA senior leaders nominated by area schools.  This is the 53rd ... (click for more)