Victorian Popular Fictions 5.1 7 Del Grazia


Interpreting Issues of Heredity and Inheritance in Holmesian Children through Criminal Anthropology and Degeneration Theory

 Camilla Del Grazia

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This article focuses on the ways in which childhood in the Holmesian canon tends to epitomise pervasive Victorian anxieties connected with inheritance and heredity in their double economic and genetic significance. On the one hand, because children represent an earlier state of biological and social development, their growth and education are seen as potential paths to progress. On the other, they become the physical embodiment of previous stages of evolution that so plagued the Victorian imagination, and can exhibit signs of regression and degeneration. Simultaneously, children also carry socio-economic value, as the heirs to their parents’ property. Their helplessness in defending themselves and, as a result, this economic patrimony, adds to their liminal position: children in the canon become the expression of hope for the future and the progress of society, and at the same time, of the fear of impoverishment and regression. Finally, the article shows that the action of the detective, whose scientific approach incorporates criminal anthropology alongside hard sciences, ultimately strives to decode the unpredictable, uncontrollable offspring of Victorian society. His normalising action targets inheritance in its ambivalence, striving to restore order in the economic-juridical domain and investigating the transmittance of hereditary traits.



criminal anthropology; Victorian childhood; Sherlock Holmes; degeneration; heredity

Date of Acceptance: 27 June 2023

Date of Publication: 5 July 2023

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Del Grazia, Camilla. 2023. “Interpreting Issues of Heredity and Inheritance in Holmesian Children through Criminal Anthropology and Degeneration Theory.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 5.1: 91-109. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI:

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