Often the interpretation of Holmes’s cocaine habit is that it demonstrates his “counter-cultural” status and his Bohemian nature, the detective’s blithe cocainism representative of a colonial contamination of his body and corruption of the British homeland. This article offers background on cocaine use in the 1890s and argues instead that cocaine symbolizes Holmes’s dedication to and his ascendancy within the profession of detective and the acute modernity of his professional existence. In Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four Holmes makes use of the modernity and ingenuity implicit in the drug’s reputation to subvert many of the then current narratives of addiction and dependency. Holmes’s cocaine use is uniquely framed not as an addiction, but as a defiance of addiction. Holmes masters the drug as he masters the demands of his work. [131 words]


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pp. 341-360
Launched on MUSE
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Ceased Publication
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