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The Living Image of Sherlock Holmes: The Cult of Celebrity in the Age of Disenchantment

The Living Image of Sherlock Holmes: The Cult of Celebrity in the Age of Disenchantment


My project, ‘The Living Image of Sherlock Holmes: The Cult of Celebrity in the Age of Disenchantment,’ aims to recast our understanding of nineteenth-century ideas and practices of celebrity, expertise and truth as well as the drive toward what U.S. historian James Cook calls ‘disenchantment’ in the realms of both science and magic alike (Arts of Deception 180). Anchored in William Gillette’s immensely successful 1899 production and performance of Sherlock Holmes, my project situates the late Victorian cult of celebrity in relation to competing models of inquiry and the wide array of edifying entertainments. Gillette’s Holmes – his twice over, as he both penned the adaptation and performed the role – was a staggering cultural phenomenon, played for decades across the globe. As a result, the performer/character offers a unique and critical means by which to understand these pivotal issues in the period. It is a timely project which will have a major impact on the fields of celebrity studies, theatre history, Victorian studies and the history of science, for it not only rethinks the most pressing concerns of the Victorian period but also illuminates our own. Because so many of the late nineteenth-century anxieties – the increasing importance of celebrity, the pace of technological development and the status of experts and the role of expertise, to name just a few – remain our anxieties, a thorough interrogation of their world enables us to better understand ours.

Keywords: theatricality, celebrity, detection, Sherlock Holmes, William Gillette, entertainment, science, nineteenth century, Victorian, melodrama
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Beacon House Queens Road
Bs8 1qu Bristol

United Kingdom

Activity type

Higher or Secondary Education Establishments

EU Contribution

€ 224 933,76

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 843672


Grant agreement signed

  • Start date

    1 October 2019

  • End date

    30 September 2021

Funded under:


  • Overall budget:

    € 224 933,76

  • EU contribution

    € 224 933,76

Coordinated by:


United Kingdom