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The View from the East End (58)

By Inspector Hopkins

February 11 , 2007

Thoughts on Mrs. Hudson

 by Inspector Hopkins 

Good old Mrs. Hudson!

Where would Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Watson have been without her? She was the glue that held the Baker Street rooms together in spite of Mr. Holmes’s revolver practice and malodorous experiments. She trudged untiringly up and down those seventeen steps carrying food and beverages to our heroes. She showed visitors in. She ran the house and oversaw all the operations. In short, she took care of all their background needs and thus allowed the focus of each story to center on the actual mystery at hand.

Much has been written and speculated about this woman, and for this week’s column, I will add my own thoughts to the ever-growing pile of Sherlockian writing and commentary.

First of all (in spite of my opening line), was Mrs. Hudson really old?  The newer reader will notice that absolutely no description of her given is given anywhere in the Canon.  He or she should then further note that this is in sharp contrast to the detailed descriptions that Watson gives us of just about all Canonical characters. 

Was Mrs. Hudson married?  If she was, then where was Mr. Hudson? Again, in spite of Watson’s copious descriptions of the surroundings, people, buildings, and weather in each of the stories, he mentions nothing about him. Thus, Mrs. Hudson is left as a blank canvas for the reader to paint their own picture upon.

After reading through the Canon as many times as I have, I consistently seem to come away with the following feelings:

  • Mrs. Hudson was a widow, and inherited the house at 221B from her husband.
  • She had no other relatives.
  • She had no particular skills or education.
  • She did not want to sell her house.
  • She therefore needed lodgers to help make ends meet and to pay the bills.

Without doing any research or scanning through the last 50 years of the Baker Street Journal (which I often do), I could be completely wrong about all that and I invite comment from my readers. It seems that most Sherlockians, including myself, are comfortable with Mrs. Hudson being presented as a middle-aged (50-60 years old) woman with grayish hair.  This concept was accepted and fostered by Granada Films in their landmark series of the Sherlock Holmes stories starring Jeremy Brett.  Rosalie Williams did an admirable job in portraying Mrs. Hudson in some 26 of the 41 filmed episodes. This percentage is far higher than the number of times that Mrs. Hudson actually appeared in the Canon (14 of the 60 stories), and she was used to a great extent by Granada to help fill-in and make better continuity in the series. Why was that so?

My own thoughts are that a middle-aged woman provides some stability, and lends some guidance to younger men. I think there is a subtle sense of these qualities in Mrs. Hudson. We often have Holmes running off in pursuit of a fresh lead in a case. Sometimes Watson is left behind at Baker Street, sometimes not.  But Mrs. Hudson is always there, and in the case of “The Man with the Twisted Lip” for example, Holmes knows that she will have breakfast ready for them upon their return. In his one simple remark at the end of that story, one could read into it his sense of relief and gratitude that he and Watson will be taken care of and fed a hot breakfast.  After all, who would want to do any cooking after being up all night smoking his brains out?

Good old Mrs. Hudson.

No wonder we give a toast to her at Sherlockian meetings.

Until next time, and thanking you for your attention, I indeed remain,

Yours Faithfully,