Graham Greene & Sherlock Holmes

Graham Greene’s private library contains various Victorian detective works. Of particular interest to Greene is the definitive Victorian detective, rather, the definitive detective, Sherlock Holmes. Greene possessed at least one copy of each case Holmes undertook with friend and biographer Dr. Watson. Greene’s fascination with these cases is evidenced by his annotations.


Greene’s index of annotations for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes PR4622. A7 1974 Greene’s Library, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Greene’s annotations are neatly organized: a passage of interest is marked in the margins of the text often accompanied by a note on a blank page of the book, an index for Greene’s thoughts. The only instance where Greene breaks this pattern is in his notes regarding “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”, with notes in the margins of the text not cataloged in the index.

Greene’s annotations cover various features of interest, such as the tradition of The Game. The Game is the endeavor of scholars who attempt to explain various discrepancies; author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was careless when it came to plot consistency, creating confusion over the stories’ timeline. In “The Red-Headed League”, published in August 1891, Holmes refers to a case involving Miss Mary Sutherland. Her case was featured in “A Case of Identity”, published a month later. In his notes, Greene remarks that this case must have preceded “The Red-Headed League”.

Greene saw other inconsistencies, like the identity of Holmes’s housekeeper. She is referred to as Mrs. Hudson in the several stories, but in the story “A Scandal in Bohemia” she is referred to as Mrs. Turner. This discrepancy is noticed by Greene in “The Blue Carbuncle”, where he wondered if this was the first time Mrs. Turner is Mrs. Hudson.


Greene’s note of Doyle’s mistaken use of the character name Mrs. Turner. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” PR4622. A7 1974 Greene’s Library, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Greene made various notes regarding Holmes’s deductions. Greene marks a section in “The Yellow Face” where Holmes stresses that bootlaces determine one’s character. Greene additionally noted a passage in “A Case of Identity” where bootlaces were integral to deducing the emotional state of a client. Another indicator of character is one’s sleeves, annotated by Greene in the same story. In the later story “The Crooked Man”, Greene marked the passage where Holmes observes a handkerchief in Watson’s sleeve, an indicator of Watson’s military past.

Greene annotated several passages that describe particulars of Victorian society. In “The Blue Carbuncle”, Greene marked a passage where Holmes lists newspapers, writing there were ‘more than 7 evening papers in London’. “The Noble Bachelor” mentions the price of an expensive hotel is eight shillings, sarcastically said by Greene to be ‘“select” prices’. In the opening passage of “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans”, Greene noted its description of ‘A London fog’.

Greene noticed passages concerning the great detective himself. Greene annotated a passage in “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” where Holmes laments violence’s prevalence in society. Greene wrote that the sentiment made Holmes more a ‘theologian’ than a detective. Greene marked a passage in A Study in Scarlet detailing Holmes’s lack of literary knowledge: Holmes does not know Thomas Carlyle, a famous Victorian author, which shocks Watson.

Greene’s notes highlighted the cleverness of the stories. Greene noted in “The Five Orange Pips” the ‘remarkable’ nature of the story’s premise, as it hinged on the British public lacking knowledge of the Ku Klux Klan. “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” is one of Holmes’s more exciting cases involving espionage. Greene annotates this story with a simple note, ‘Spies!’.

If you would like to read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous tales along with Graham Greene’s annotations, Greene’s library is open for research at the Burns Library Reading Room. Please email or call (617)-552-4861 if you have any questions.

  • Olivia Bono, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & Student in Morrissey College, Arts and Sciences, Class of 2018


  • Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. John Murray and Jonathan Cape: London, 1974.
  • Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. John Murray and Jonathan Cape: London, 1974.
  • Conan Doyle, Arthur. His Last Bow: Some Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes. John Murray and Jonathan Cape: London, 1974.
  • Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. John Murray and Jonathan Cape: London, 1974.
  • Conan Doyle, Arthur. The Return of Sherlock Holmes. John Murray and Jonathan Cape: London,1974.
  • Conan Doyle, Arthur. A Study in Scarlet. John Murray and Jonathan Cape: London, 1974


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