Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson
The relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson has been the subject of much interest since Arthur Conan Doyle's detective stories first appeared in the Victoria Era. What was it that kept these two partners together?
Who Was Dr. WatsonAs the Sherlock Holmes adventures first started, Dr. Watson was a room-mate who shared the apartment at 221 B. Baker Street, London, with his new acquaintance, Sherlock Holmes.
The two were introduced by a mutual acquaintance - a former high-school classmate of Watson's; and former college class-mate of Sherlock's. Since both needed living quarters but had to share the expense, the friend introduces the two and then disappears permanently from the scene.
The two do not hit it off immediately, though they converse and appear somewhat cordial. Dr. Watson has the inconvenience of being asked to leave the shared living-room when a variety of guests appear to speak to Holmes. The intrigue begins.
Of course, as we all know, Watson eventually becomes friends with the unsociable Holmes and begins to accompany him on some of his adventures. With time, he becomes an associate - never a full-fledged partner.
And of course, as all fans of the high aclaimed fictitious series know, Watson becomes the biographer who records the successful cases of the rising detective. A very effective literary technique, Sir Doyle!
Biography of Dr. John H. WatsonHere and there throughout the 58 stories, Dr. Watson drops a few little nuggets about himself. This is what we know:
It's Elementary, Watson
Relationship between Holmes and WatsonOf course, at the very least, we know that the presence of Watson was a literary technique used by Doyle to build suspense in his story. Through the eyes of Watson, the reader was like a fly on the wall - watching Holmes, pondering the trail of evidence, and surprised when the solution was announced.
But we may still ask, "Why Watson?"
Sure, the two became roommates and friends in the days when Watson was an invalid and Holmes just starting his unlikely career and money was short for both. But certainly the successful Holmes could have found another associate than to take one of London's medical doctors out of practice to accompany him on his trips.
Holmes: "Speaking of my old friend and biographer, I would take this opportunity to remark tht if I burden myself with a companion in my various little inquiries it is not done out of sentiment or caprice, but it is that Watson has some remarkable characteristics of his own to which in his modesty he has given small attention amid his exaggerated estimates of my own performances."
From The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier
Body GuardOne of the obvious reasons Holmes depended on Watson was his usefulness as a marksman. He was, you remember, a military man recently back from the war when they met. Frequently, Holmes would casually request that Watson take a weapon as they left their apartment on Baker Street.
In the Adventure of the Norwood Builder, Holmes remarked to Watson, "(There was) no prospect of danger, or I should not dream of stirring out without you."
Watson, of course, never bragged about his skills with a pistol, but often Holmes was depending on it.
Holmes: "Watson, I have some recollecgtion that you go armed upon these excursions of ours."
From The Problem of Thor Bridge
Medical DetectiveWatson never identified himself as a coroner, but the combination of his medical skills, military training, and detective skills would have been an assett to Sherlock. Murder was frequently the crime they set out to solve, so Watson's skills in this department would have been beneficial.
Sounding BoardIt is obvious that Holmes needed someone - and that someone was Watson - who he could discuss cases with. Too some extent it was a literary technique - Holmes giving the details to Watson as a train or carriage carried them to their destination. But in a realistic sense every detective needs to "think out loud" as they go over the details of a case to see if they have missed anything.
The relations between us in those latter days were peculiar. He was a man of habits, narrow and concentrated habits, and I had become one of them. As an institution I was like the violin, the shag tobacco, the old black pipe, the index books, and other perhaps less excusable. When it was a case of active work and a comrade was needed upon whose nerve he could place some reliance, my role was obvious. But aprt from this I had uses. I was a whetsone for his mind.
From The Adventure of the Creeping Man
In the early years, Holmes also had the "Baker Street Irregulars," a group of young Arab street boys who helped him with miscellaneous tasks. In the later years, Holmes employed other adults as his assistants. But it is obvious, that Watson was the assistant he valued the highest.
GamblingMost of the time, the relationship appeared to be one way - Watson helping Sherlock. In regards to Watson's gambling habit, Sherlock tried to help his friend by keeping his checkbook locked up to avoid temptation.
Holmes: "By the way, Watson, you know something of racing?" Watson: "I ought to. I pay for it with about half my wound pension."
From The Adventure of the Shoscombe Old Place
CompanionshipBoth men were fairly reserved, not particularly social or out-going, but were called upon to interact with the public constantly in their respective careers.
It is probable the two found each other's company amicable. They could talk to each other when the situation demanded, but otherwise were perfectly content to be left to their own books and thoughts.
Was Their More?In recent years, some have concluded that the two roommates were gay. For some, that seems a logical conclusion to two middle age bachelors rooming together for 20 years. After all, either could have afforded to buy a large country home once their careers became established.
Instead, they seemed to prefer the locale of Baker Street, and the cooking and cleaning of the trusted Mrs. Hudson.
And what might we think of Watson's statements about "my intimate friend?" Certainly today we would conclude that any such reference was to a romantic relationship.
Keep in mind that this WAS Victorian England. The phrase "intimate friend" was closer to "good buddy" and indicated a close friendship compared to a casual acquaintance. At the same time, Doyle's adoring fan base would likely have had a different reaction if they read that phrase the same way we would today.
Watson's marriage and his desire to see his friend in a relationship might also suggest nothing else existed between the two.
Ultimately, it is a FICTION series, and as such the men's orientation was no more or less than what their creator made them to be. Since he is not here to ask, each reader is free to draw their own conclusion.
Friends Until the EndOne of my favorite stories is The Last Bow. The two former associates are briefly reunited for a final case together. While waiting for their prisoner to be picked up by the authorities, Holmes and Watson converse quietly "for the last time."
They became acquainted when they were unknown and financially struggling; now they are acclaimed and economically independent. No longer is Watson the underling-detective. They are friends and equals.
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