What is the author trying to convey by making Watson and Holmes call each other by their last names?
Sherlock Holmes first appeared in 1887, coinciding with the late Victorian era in literature, and his adventures continued throughout the Edwardian era until 1927. The stories follow detective Sherlock Holmes and his companion Doctor Watson, who serves as the narrative voice.
It has been observed that although the two men are close friends, they address each other by their last names. The use of language emphasizes their class: thus, using the courteous appellation to address each other underlines the fact that they are, above all, companions and colleagues before friends. Moreover, it was a Victorian tradition that the higher classes show respect towards their peers by addressing them by their last names.
Some might argue that the idea of uniqueness can be seen in Holmes’ demeanor towards his surroundings and that the use of last names reveals his underlying personality. In the first short story published in 1891 A Scandal in Bohemia, Watson describes Holmes’ mind as “cold, precise but admirably balanced,” which would lead one to think of him as extremely focused in his work. This idea is furthered in the same short story, as he is said to be “deeply attracted by the study of crime” and “alternating week to week between cocaine and ambition.” Hence, Holmes is presented as a loner, who only follows his ambition, without allocating any time for emotional affectations.
Therefore, within his first moments, Sherlock Holmes is presented as an elusive, unreachable character. But he is also a product of his class; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle could like this have had no other intention than making the characters as realistic as possible within the given time frame.
“Social Rituals during the Victorian Era, Victorian Society, accessed March 20 2016, http://www.avictorian.com/social_rituals.html”
Brian A.Marsh, introduction to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Great Britain: The Folio Society,1958)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,”A Scandal In Bohemia” in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Great Britain: The Folio Society,1958), 1-2