The Sign of the Four and Sherlock Holmes:  From the Novel to the WWW


The purpose of the following lesson is to facilitate a discussion of the novel and its larger connections to culture, Doyle's and our own.  The discussion will pick up where we left off on Day One, with a question and answer session about the "reading" that we elaborated together.  Next, we'll spend some time discussing the novel from others' perspectives--first, by soliciting students' responses and, second, by considering the three critical essays on Holmes.  Finally, we will explore some images of Holmes in contemporary popular culture; more specifically, we'll sample manifestations of Holmes on the Internet.  The progress of the lesson, then, will be from text of the novel, to intellectual or "legitimate" responses,  to the many "illegitimate" uses (Holmes as commodity and marketing gimmick, pastiches and comic books, and others) that continue to proliferate in culture.  Ultimately, we should have considered the question "What is the cultural work done by 'Holmes'?" from several angles.


The novel; a brief quiz; essays (excerpts) by Jann, Moretti, and Priestman; printouts from several webpages devoted to things Sherlockian

Activities and Procedures


1)  Pass out five questions and give 5-7 minutes for completion.  To be used in discussion below.

Review of Thursday's Discussion

 2)  Ask for responses to last week's analysis of the "domestic" and the "exotic."

Other Readings of the Novel and/or Holmes

3)  Look at quiz together.  Solicit answers for the significance of the items and refer to passages in the novel where those characters/items appear. What are the ideological subtexts to these elements of the book?

4)  Ask for other details of novel that are suggestive or problematic.  How are these connected to larger issues of representation?  If no response, give example of city scenes--Watson on crowded streets (19), Holmes on the sweet morning air (58), Holmes on crowd of dock-workers (84).

5)  Impressions of whole novel?  Was this first Holmes narrative you've read?  Did it meet expectations or surprise you?  Does the character of Holmes have the impact you expect?

6)  How do the three critics you read for today read Holmes?

Holmes on the Net

7)  Do you think Holmes still means the same things in contemporary popular that our critics detect inVictorian society?  Perhaps we can find some "clues" on that fast-growing outlet for popular culture and/or commercial interests, the Internet. 8)  Pass out samples gathered from "top" (or first) 30 webpages--one sample for every two students.

9)  Spend five minutes analyzing in pairs what was handed out (allowing students to exchange once from pile of extras if they don't like what they got).  Key questions to consider:  What does "Sherlock Holmes" signify in the representation you have?  How does this text use Holmes?  How does it relate the "Victorian" world of "Holmes" to the present?