Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot Comparative Analysis

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Editorial ContributionsEnglish Literature Notes


By – Puja Chakraborty (Editorial Contributions)

Published in Ashvamegh: Issue XI: December 2015


ABSTRACT: Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie are master spinsters of crime fiction. Till date, their most memorable characters Holmes and Poirot, reign over the hearts of readers all over the world. The present paper endeavours to dwell upon the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies of the two most beloved detectives of London, so as to make a comparative analysis between the two finest crime solvers of all time, and judge them by their own measure. This however, should not be mistaken to believe that the two characters rival each other in any way, as both the characters are distinctly drawn and near immaculately concepted (they also belong to different timelines), so that drawing parallels between them would be a gross error and folly.

KEY WORDS: Holmes, Poirot, idiosyncrasies, analysis, immaculately, timelines, parallels

INTRODUCTION: Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle(1859-1930) and Agatha Christie(1890-1976) are names synonymous with crime fiction. Every child and adult alike read them with equal pleasure, enjoy immersing themselves in their diverse mysteries and wrack their brains trying to conjecture the source of the trouble, i.e. the culprit. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a physician and writer, had the knowledge and imagination, critical and creative ability to prune and craft the choicest mystery fictions in the form of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Agatha Christie, a short-story writer, novelist and playwright, who is best remembered for her crime fictions, did have the skills of weaving mystery fiction, but she lacked novelty. The preceding paper purports to draw a comparative analysis between the two characters, study their characteristics and explore their methods concerning deductive logic. A sort of mind mapping has been done, for this end, so as to put forth the writers’ hits and misses.


“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius.” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

To embark primarily upon the character, Sherlock Holmes, one has to go back in the Victorian times, as that is where the character originated. Conan Doyle was a man ahead of his times. He was the first crime fiction writer to exploit science and forensic science in his novels and short stories. He was also a man of clear sense and logic and built his character as such (the character Sherlock was especially inspired by his teacher, Joseph Bell). Holmes is a tall, pale-looking, sharply featured man with grey eyes. When confronted with Dr. Watson, he is shown to be solving cases most of the time or else playing the violin, experimenting with chemicals and amusing himself with “artificial stimulants”[1] he calls cocaine. He loathes passivity and inactivity, and not being able to work his wits anytime. In his own words: “My mind”, he said, rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession- or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world.”[2]

Holmes is a queer creature. He would sometimes go without food and sleep for days or a full week, when preoccupied with a case. He nurtures a unique opinion in this regard. In a dialogue with Dr. Watson, his close friend and associate, he affirms: “….the faculties become refined when you starve them.”[3] He is also an incorrigible smoker and puffs upon a great many, when working on cases: “Having gathered these facts, Watson, I smoked several pipes upon them, trying to separate those which were crucial from others which were merely incidental.”[4]

Holmes is a man of disarray and disorder. He is also an ignorant man when it comes to acknowledging basic things of everyday life. He prefers to remain in oblivion of the general know-how and believes the mind to be an old attic, where a workman ought to infuse with things he finds beneficial to his craft and discard all the rest that does not concern it, for it only overcrowds and messes the essential things with the unessential, making it difficult to reach, when needed (See A Study in Scarlet). In his words: “A man should keep his little brain attic stocked with all the furniture that he is likely to use, and the rest he can put away in the lumber-room of his library where he can get it if he wants.” [5] Similarly, Holmes disregards and discards all things that obstruct him from paying attention to his profession and religiously manifests his brain with all the necessary things that do.

He is a man characteristically obsessed with his work and would go to any length for solving a case. As Watson observes: “Nothing could exceed his energy when the working fit was upon him; but now and again a reaction would seize him, and for days on end he would lie on the sofa in the sitting room, hardly uttering a word or moving a muscle from morning to night.”[6] His features, while solving a crime strike a semblance with the native bloodhound as Dr. Watson concurs, and for a moment he is glad that Holmes is on the good side and not the evil: “So silent and furtive were his movements, like those of a trained bloodhound picking out a scent, that I could not but think what a terrible criminal he would have made had he turned his energy and sagacity against the law instead of exerting them in its defence.”[7]

Holmes is devoid of any emotion, especially for the opposite sex. In fact, according to him, “The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.”[8] The only woman for whom Holmes feels a genuine admiration and attraction is the impeccable Irene Adler who outwits him in one of the cases. Holmes is also an extremely detached and lonely man, and takes consolation in the fact that he is so: “alone is all I have; alone is what protects me.”[9]

Psychologists, Andre and Fernand contend that Sherlock Holmes has a superior gift of perception. He recognizes things, which others do not: “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”[10] In this sense, he is above from the lowbrows and middlebrows. His cognitive expertise is primarily rooted in the fact that he not only exercises his mental faculties to acquire knowledge, but also properly stocks and organizes it in his brain’s library. The analogy of the chess player and his sagacity is a good example to show the working of an expert’s mind. (Andre & Fernand, 2008)

Holmes is proud and conceited. He knows that he has a superior intellect and is the best in his profession, so much so that he does not flinch from making it known to others, who surround him: “I am the last and highest court of appeal in detection.”[11] Holmes is partial to the brain, he disregards the rest of the body. This becomes clear in his analogy of the brain and himself: “…what your digestion gains in the way of blood supply is so much lost to the brain. I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix. Therefore, it is the brain I must consider.”[12] Holmes is also a master of disguise and a great fencer.

Holmes’ method of investigation depends on three pillars-observational: “You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles”[13], evidential: “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts”[14], and deduction: ”From a drop of water a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it. Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired, by long and patient study….”[15] Holmes’ method of approach is objective and logical.

Moving on to Hercule Poirot, he appears to be the complete anti-thesis of Sherlock Holmes. Poirot is widely different from his ancestor both in manner and methods. While Holmes represented the quintessential Victorian times detective, Poirot symbolized the Edwardian age private eye. Unlike Holmes who wears a frocksuit and a hunter’s cap, Poirot is dressed quite in the modern attire of a coat, trousers and a hat. Their nationalities also vary; while Holmes is British, Poirot is Belgian. When Poirot is first described by Captain Hastings, he is shown to have a head that looked exactly like an egg, which he would sometimes cock to one side. He also has green eyes. It should be noted here that Christie had herself drawn upon Sherlock Holmes’ fictions in her earlier versions and although, she is nowhere near the great master of crime fiction (Arthur Conan Doyle), her adventures of Poirot are no less agreeable, and stand today as one of the finest works in the crime and detective fiction genre.

Poirot, unlike Holmes does not foster any bad habits like cocaine or morphine. He is a connoisseur of all the finer things in life: “…exotic drinks (he loves sirop de cassis), exotic locales, excellent served food, the theatre and other arts, and very comfortable hotel rooms” (Hobbes, 2015). He is also a lover of classical music, especially Mozart and Bach. Unlike Holmes, who is obsessed with his work and disregards all skills and objects that do not directly serve his profession, Poirot gives all things their due value.

Poirot is shown to be a cleanliness freak. This becomes apparent from Captain Hastings’ elementary description of Poirot: “The neatness of his attire was almost incredible. I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.” [16] He also suffers from seasickness. Poirot is a staunch believer of “order, method and symmetry.”(Hobbes). Whether it was solving crimes or simply or simply the arrangement of everyday essentials, everything had to fit in its proper place to achieve perfection. The two points of his upturned moustache, the same size of his sideburns, all relayed an obsession for symmetry and perfection.

Poirot’s method of investigation is also different from that of Holmes. He slights circumstantial evidence as the only avenue for establishing a crime or criminal: “One does not, you know, employ merely the muscles. I do not need to bend and measure the footprints and pick up the cigarette ends and examine the bent blades of grass. It is enough for me to sit back in my chair and think. It is this”-he tapped his egg-shaped head-“this, that functions!”[17] He is also scornful of the popular notion of a detective and clarifies his stance in a dialogue with Captain Hastings: “You have mistaken the idea implanted in your head that a detective is necessarily a man who puts on a false beard and hides behind a pillar. The false beard, it is vieux jeu, and shadowing is only done by the lowest branch of my profession. The Hercule Poirot, my friend, need only to sit back in a chair and think.”[18] His nature of solving crimes is psychological. He is palpably interested in the nature of the criminal, an acute study of their character and disorders, so as to deduce their motive behind actions, and diagnose them accordingly. But it would be wrong to assume that can be the end of the matter, for he does snoop around searching through people’ private stuff, eavesdropping at keyholes and hiding behind curtains. Poirot seems to act as a mediator (Panek, 1979) between the two generations Victorian and Edwardian, and seems to compare, contrast and judge by his own standards. In this sense, he appears to serve as a spokesperson for Christie for bridging the gaps between the old and the new. It is important to note that Poirot doesn’t introduce anything new to the table.

From the above analysis it becomes perceptibly clear that Conan Doyle is undoubtedly the better crime fictionist of the two. Although Christie has perfect skills for storytelling, she lacks innovation and novelty, something surpassed by Conan Doyle. Weighing the shallowness of Christie’s works of Poirot, Panek opines: “Not one to be exempt from popular tendencies, Christie caused Poirot to devote himself to psychology in the thirties. Ostensibly this is because she felt the need to explain why people acted as they did- to remove the detective novel from the realm of the thriller in which people act the way they do because they are simply good or bad. Thus Poirot finds it necessary to diagnose specific mental illnesses for the culprits in the later books so that these will seem more like fashionable detective novels. He is by no means a subtle diagnostician…. The psychology also becomes a ready and easy way of drawing subsidiary characters by showing them as deviant types-and it helps, of course, to fill out the middle of the book.”[19]

Compared to this Arthur Conan Doyle rightfully enjoys the upper hand in this matter, as Laven notes: “Holmes’ science combines the methodologies of criminal detection with those of medical diagnosis and forensic analysis, which profile an individual body by reading its symptoms or reconstructing its physical details based on material clues and signs. Indeed, Conan Doyle can be credited with popularising an imaginative analogy between the between the technologies of the detective’s magnifying glass and the scientist’s microscope, one of the few central elements of the Holmes stories that was not anticipated in the work of earlier writers…”(Laven, 2013)

CONCLUSION: As characters of detective fiction, both Holmes and Poirot continue to captivate its readers. Both the characters enjoy unprecedented fame. This becomes conspicuous in Hubbs’ depiction of Sherlock’s popularity: “…that Holmes and his exploits live on can often be demonstrated quite simply by referring to maps of many American cities. For example, in the Twin Cities, there are streets named Holmes, Watson, Hudson, Doyle, and even Baker-though not Moriarty! One library has a stained glass window dedicated to Holmes, and just outside the city there is a pub named for him.”(Hubbs, 1995) Even the great Belgian detective Poirot has been the first-ever fictional detective to receive an obituary in the New York Times[20]. Altogether, both works of fiction are agreeable and enjoyable to its readers, with Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes at the zenith of crime fiction glory and by far ruling the game.


[1] See Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four

[2] Ibid 

[3] The Adventure of the Mazarine Stone

[4] The Crooked Man 

[5] The Five Orange Pips

[6] A Study in Scarlet

[7] See Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four

[8] Ibid

[9] The Falls of Reichenbach

[10] See Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia

[11] Conan Doyle, op. cit., Chapter-1: The Science of Deduction

[12] The Adventure of the Mazarine Stone

[13] The Bascombe Valley Mystery

[14] Conan Doyle, op. cit.

[15] Conan Doyle, op. cit., Chapter-2 The Science of Deduction

[16] See Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles

[17] Five Little Pigs

[18] Poirot Loses a Client

[19] See LeRoy Panek. P. 60

[20] See Thomas Lask. Aug 6, 1975 The New York Times. P.1


Andre, Didierjean and Fernand, Gobet. “Sherlock Holmes-An expert’s view of expertise.” British Journal of Psychology, 2008. vol. 99(1),109-125

Christie, Agatha. Hercule Porot: A Complete Collection. LOL(Liberation of Literature) Publication, 2008.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories: Vol. I. New York: Random House Publishing, 1986a.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories: Vol. II. New York: Random House Publishing, 1986b.

Hubbs, George. Yes, Virginia, Sherlock Holmes Lives. U.S.A: The Norwegian Explorers of Minnesota, 1995.

Hobbes, James. Hercule Poirot Central, 2015. Retrieved from:

Laven, Eleni. Detection, Desire and Contamination: The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes, 2013. Retrieved from:

Lask, Thomas. “Hercule Poirot Is Dead; Famed Belgian Detective; Hercule Poirot, The Detective, Dies”. The New York Times, 1975. Retrieved from:

Panek, Leroy. Watteau’s Shepherds: The Detective Novel in Britain, 1914-1940. Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1979.

Introduction to the Author:

Puja ChakrabortyPuja Chakraborty taught literature in higher education, before moving on to editing and freelance. She has authored a number of research papers, articles and academic works published in national and international journals worldwide. She is also the author of a number of academic books, Understanding William Skaespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and Hamlet: A Parapsychological Reading to name a few.

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