Good-night Mister Sherlock Holmes

March 21, 2009

“… but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position.”

So what was the deal with Sherlock Holmes and women? Was he a misogynist? Was he a homosexual? What?

He was not a homosexual.  In The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot, he specifically tells Watson:

“I have never loved, Watson, but if I did and if the woman I loved had met such an end, I might act even as our lawless lion- hunter has done.” [emphasis added]

In the Valley of Fear, Holmes makes a similar statement.  Speaking to Watson:

“Should I ever marry, Watson, I should hope to inspire my wife with some feeling which would prevent her from being walked off by a housekeeper when my corpse was lying within a few yards of her.” [emphasis added]

I think we can as easily rule-out Holmes as a misogynist too.  In  The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, Holmes is contemplating burgling Milverton’s home in order to retrieve some letters that compromise his female client.  Watson is quarrying him on the risks and Holmes counters with:

“Since it is morally justifiable, I have only to consider the question of personal risk. Surely a gentleman should not lay much stress upon this, when a lady is in most desperate need of his help?”

So there is no evidence that Holmes was a homosexual. There exists no real evidence that he was a  misogynist either. I think it more likely that Holmes was simply asexual.

Holmes did indeed enjoy the company of men over than women. Most of his professional contacts were men which was the norm for that era but even off-the-clock he preferred the company of men.  Watson was only able to cajole Holmes to visit Colonel Hayter – one of Watson’s patients from his service in Afghanistan – when he (Watson) assured Holmes there would be no women present.

“A little diplomacy was needed, but when Holmes understood that the establishment was a bachelor one, and that he would be allowed the fullest freedom, he fell in with my plans and a week after our return from Lyons we were under the Colonel’s roof.”

In The Sign of the Four, Holmes describes the lovely Mary Morstan – the woman Watson subsequently married – as a “unit”.

“What a very attractive woman!” I exclaimed, turning to my companion. He had lit his pipe again and was leaning back with drooping eyelids. “Is she?” he said languidly; “I did not observe.”

“You really are an automaton — a calculating machine,” I cried. “There is something positively inhuman in you at times.”

He smiled gently. “It is of the first importance,” he cried, “not to allow your judgment to be biased by personal qualities. A client is to me a mere unit, a factor in a problem. The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.

In fairness, Holmes reffered to all clients as “units”.

Mary Morstan was a unit and Violet Hunter was quickly forgotten after a successful conclusion to the Adventure of the Cooper Beaches and this was after Holmes took an initial interest in her:

I could see that Holmes was favourably impressed by the manner and speech of his new client.

Though after Holmes closed the case, he completely dismisses her:

As to Miss Violet Hunter, my friend Holmes, rather to my disappointment, manifested no further interest in her when once she had ceased to be the centre of one of his problems.

One has to wonder, was Watson hopeful that Holmes and Miss Hunter would have something in common?

There’s really no mystery concerning Holmes’ attitude toward women and Watson succinctly sums in up in the very first short story; A Scandal in Bohemia:

It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer — excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his.

And this from The Greek Interpreter:

His aversion to women, and his disinclination to form new friendships, were both typical of his unemotional character…

Sherlock Holmes is exactly what you think he is: Sherlock Holmes.

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