The Development of The Medical Specialist in The Moonstone and The Sherlock Holmes Canon

Open Access
Bober, Timothy Michael
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Emily Harrington, Thesis Supervisor
  • Lisa Ruth Sternlieb, Honors Advisor
  • Robert Lougy, Faculty Reader
  • Wilkie Collins
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Moonstone
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Foucault
  • Specialist
  • Resident Patient
  • Speckled Band
  • Creeping Man
The expansion of colonial empires in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries exposed European minds and bodies to many new pathological threats. Although they had previously considered themselves superior to colonial peoples in all ways, Westerners watched helplessly as their bodies withered in tropical climes with unknown conditions. Firmly ensconced in their societal role as healers and conquerors of disease, European doctors found that their techniques were useless against these new threats. The weakening of the medical canon, once a symbol of progress for all of Western civilization, instilled doubt in the body politic of colonial powers like Great Britain. First gaining popularity in the mid-nineteenth century, detective fiction introduced a new type of specialist character who can overcome foreign threats using new types of knowledge. This new brand of character uses methods that mirror the medical practices of pathologization and diagnosis chronicled by Michel Foucault in The Birth of the Clinic. Highlighting Foucauldian concepts and instances of medical anthropology, this paper seeks to track the development of the specialist in detective fiction from the mid- to late-nineteenth century. Beginning with The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, specialists in detective fiction emerge from the societal periphery to surpass their traditional counterparts using advanced knowledge to solve crimes. Despite their acumen, mid-century specialists cannot explain all aspects of their world, which generates doubt about their supposedly-superior ideas. By the end of the century, the specialist was firmly engrained in society as an equal to traditional doctors; however, the expansion of this knowledge inspired some to use it for nefarious purposes and become threats themselves, as seen in Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. In these stories, Holmes functions both as a specialist as well as a countervailing force to challenge threatening forms of specialized knowledge at home and abroad.