Good-night Mister Sherlock Holmes

March 9, 2009

Shoulder or Leg?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mark Loper @ 3:06 pm
Tags: , , ,

In what might be called the Mother of All Blunders (MOAB), we have to wonder: was Watson wounded in the shoulder, the leg, or both?

A Study in Scarlet — the first Sherlock Holmes story — opens with Watson recounting his wartime service in Afghanistan:

“I was removed from my brigade and attached to the Berkshires, with whom I served at the fatal battle of Maiwand. There I was struck on the shoulder by a Jezail bullet, which shattered the bone and grazed the subclavian artery.”

He was struck on the shoulder by a Jazail bullet. Pretty unequivocal.

Why then, in the very next Sherlock Holmes installment, The Sign of the Four — published just three years later — does Watson say he was wounded in the leg?

“I made no remark, however, but sat nursing my wounded leg. I had a Jezail bullet through it some time before, and, though it did not prevent me from walking, it ached wearily at every change of the weather.”

And, later in the same story:

“I sprang from my chair and limped impatiently about the room with considerable bitterness in my heart.”

There are some explanations that could fit the facts but the whole thing is a bit suspect.

We know Watson cannot have confused his shoulder and his leg because both had physical manifestations. In the case of the shoulder, Holmes specifically notices Watson’s unnatural way of holding his arm.

“Here is a gentleman of a medical type, but with the air of a military man. Clearly an army doctor, then. He has just come from the tropics, for his face is dark, and that is not the natural tint of his skin, for his wrists are fair. He has undergone hardship and sickness, as his haggard face says clearly. His left arm has been injured. He holds it in a stiff and unnatural manner. Where in the tropics could an English army doctor have seen much hardship and got his arm wounded? Clearly in Afghanistan.” [emphasis added]

In the case of the leg, Watson himself describes nursing his wounded leg and he has an actual limp.

These have to be two separate wounds.

What causes all the consternation is that the two stories were written so close together; A Study in Scarlet was written in 1887 and The Sign of the Four was written in 1890. You may argue that three years is long enough for an author to forget some of specifics from his first book but would not Doyle have referred to his original story before writing the second? And even if he didn’t, was not the second story edited before being released?

No, these are two separate wounds. They have to be.  Isn’t that what Sherlock Holmes would have deduced?

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” [emphasis added]

But wouldn’t Holmes have noticed two separate wounds?

Watson notes his leg “ached wearily at every change of the weather”. Can we not assume London was enjoying particularly nice weather when Watson first met Holmes? If that was the case — and we have no reason to think it wasn’t — Watson would not have been limping and Holmes would have only observed the unnatural way Watson carried his injured arm.

If Watson was indeed wounded in the shoulder and the leg, then there is no other explanation other than he was wounded twice — both times by a Jezail bullet.  Hey, stranger things have happened.

It’s a little suspect Mr. Doyle but we’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt.



  1. I think you’ve analyzed the situation perfectly. As Winston Churchill once said ” It is sometimes useful to recognize the obvious”

    Comment by Ralph Rodway — March 10, 2009 @ 2:34 pm | Reply

  2. Yeah, I read somewhere that Watson had just “forgotten” exactly where he had been wounded but I’m like you, that’s a bit much.

    Comment by Jimmy Mack — March 11, 2009 @ 10:14 am | Reply

  3. […] The post “Shoulder or Leg?” over on “Good-Night Mister Sherlock Holmes” spea… […]

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