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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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.

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