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The View from the East End (47)

By Inspector Hopkins

September 10, 2006

Holmes and Sexuality

by Inspector Hopkins 

Sooner or later the newer Sherlockian is bound to come across this topic. More specifically: was Holmes a homosexual and/or did he and Watson have a homosexual relationship?

I have heard some mention of this possibility here and there over the past few years, but I never got into a serious discussion over it. That is, until a few days ago when I got an e-mail from a newcomer asking me about this very subject.

My short answer was “absolutely not”.

A more complete answer to this question required me to speak both inside and outside the Game so I thought I’d give it a go right here for this week’s column. First of all, we would need to consider why this question would be brought up in the first place. The answer to that one is that Holmes was single and living alone as a Bohemian bachelor. There was no mention of a lady friend, wife, past wife, etc. and we know almost nothing of Holmes’ past personal life until we get to The Greek Interpreter when we meet his brother Mycroft.

But so what? 

Well, Watson went through a great deal of trouble to describe Holmes’s personality to us. (Put the other way, ACD was developing Holmes’s character as the series of stories progressed).  In the Sign of Four, Watson told us himself that he fell in love with Mary Morstan and married her presumably shortly afterward. The seed of the idea that Holmes was not interested in women (and mistrusted them) was also planted in this same story. By the time that the following story occurred, Watson was already out of Baker Street as a married man, and remained so for the rest of the Adventures series.

As even the newest of Sherlockians will note, the number of wives and the number of times that Watson was away from the rooms at Baker Street is a subject of almost infinite speculation! In my opinion (again thinking outside the Game), ACD was making it abundantly clear that Watson was married, never mind exactly to whom or even exactly when the ceremony occurred.I believe that in the Victorian era, the question of homosexual relationships was a definite taboo, especially in the popular press of the day. ACD was trying to establish that Watson was definitely not interested in Holmes in any other way than in being a roommate. He also did this through a number of statements that Watson made throughout the Canon in describing different women. For example, reading about Watson’s appreciation of the fine female forms of such women as Beryl Stapleton (HOUN) and Mrs. Neville St. Clair (TWIS) leaves little doubt in anyone’s mind where his sexual orientation lay.  Thus, ACD was ensuring that the readers of his blossoming Canonical tales (both present and future) would not mistake the relationship between Holmes and Watson as anything other than pure business.

But what then, are we to make of Holmes’s seeming disinterest in women?

Recall that in A Scandal in Bohemia and in The Solitary Cyclist, we are given a fleeting glimpse into Holmes’s begrudging appreciation of women. Although he would not openly admit it, Holmes was definitely impressed and affected by Irene Adler. That is the reason why we give those “Toasts to the Woman” today!  ;-)  And his deduction of Violet Smith’s occupation hinted of his appreciation for her beauty. Thus, Holmes was not quite the “machine” that Watson often described him to be.

Instead, I believe that ACD deliberately developed Holmes’s character into that machine-like persona in order to make him more fantastic and impervious to the reader. If Sherlock Holmes were to fall in love, that would make him vulnerable, something which would be counter-productive to the image that ACD was trying to create. By keeping him a single man, Holmes’s innermost thoughts and emotions (that we associate with being in love) would be forever hidden from the reader. The overall impression would be that of a relentless, unstoppable entity . . . one which could not be defeated, and one which would befit the world’s greatest consulting detective.

Of course, in Sherlockiana, everything is an opinion, but my answer does indeed account for all the facts.

Until next time, and thanking you for your attention, I am indeed as always,

Yours faithfully,