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A thread to discuss the relationship of Holmes and Watson.

It can include theories propounded elsewhere, 'clues' from these Adventures and reference other Holmes short and full-length stories as needed.

 

Holmes' (Doyle's?) attitude to women - as in the following post - could be part of this discussion.

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originally posted by cherrypie in the thread on “A Case of Identity”

 


One thing I would mention here regarding Holmes' treatment of women is that over the years I am sure that it has been suggested that there could be homosexual overtones to the Holmes and Watson relationship and although I have never really thought of it in these terms this could be another reason for Holmes' treatment of women in general.  When considering the relationship from this point of view I have never considered Watson to be gay, he is married by now and often refers to a number of females as stunning etc..  Holmes does not seem to see women in this way but I am not sure that he sees men in this way either.  

 
Wonder if anyone else has considered this while reading the stories?

 

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I think it unlikely that any homosexual overtones were intended by Conan Doyle. Watson is simply Holmes's biggest fan and his amanuensis, as well as being remarkably tolerant of his friend's eccentricities.

 

He's a useful device for Conan Doyle in order to provide a human element to the stories. To see inside Holmes's remorselessly logical mind would be alienating to most readers, I believe. The character of Watson also provides someone to whom Holmes can explain his deductions for our benefit as readers. 

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I agree that part of the reason that Watson is there is to provide a sounding board for Holmes' brilliance and as a means of presenting his ideas to the reader.  Also agree that Watson brings a human element to the partnership. 

 

The idea of a homosexual relationship is one that was suggested to me by my daughter who is teaching The Hound of the Baskervilles for GCSE English, although this is an idea that I have previously heard or read of concerning the pair.  The Hound of the Baskervilles although considered crime writing is thought to have gothic overtones i.e.  the far flung and remote location of much of the action, the suggestion of the supernatural, the villain etc..  Gothic novels usually have a sexual theme to them albeit not always overtly.  It is not unusual for them to have a homosexual element to them either. 

 

I have never really seen the relationship between the two as anything but that of two friends, but just wondered if any other readers had ever come across this suggestion. 

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Was just reading a short biography of Doyle on Google and note that he was married twice and fathered five children. I wonder if Doyle meant for any suggestion of any relationship between Holmes and Watson to be other than the use of Watson as a sounding board or a good friend as suggested by previous posts. Am only on the second of the "Adventures" so will be on the lookout for anything suggesting hankypanky . :) I have to confess that I find Holmes a bit of an annoying 'know-it-all" but I guess that's what makes him a great detective.

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The new Sherlock show with Benedict Cumberbatch has a lot of allusions to a possible homosexual relationship, but I don't think it comes out (so to speak) in favor of Holmes and Watson being a couple.  

 

I think that modern sensibilities have a hard time with same-sex friendships from a time when it was accepted that such friendships would be intense and long-lasting.  Dan and I ran into the same thing with Angle of Repose--the intense relationship of two women seems almost romantic to modern ears, but I think that says more about us and modern life than it does about them.

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I would have to agree that it is very easy to look at relationships portrayed in novels or stories of years gone by using our modern day thinking.  I like to think of the relationship between Holmes and Watson as that of good and lasting friends with shared interests and nothing more.  From the novels and stories I have read so far I would have to say that I find Holmes a bit of a cold fish and imagine him completely unaware half the time of peoples emotions.  It seems that he is completely wrapped up in solving each case and does not really consider peoples feelings to any great extent.  Watson I imagine to be very different and see him as a supportive and understanding friend.

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A bit off topic but didn't know where else to post - just a bit of an irrelevance anyway. Discovered we had an unopened DVD of Sherlock Holmes stories and was excited thinking the Adventures would be on it. No such luck - 19 episodes none of which are the ones in the book. The actors are Ronald Howard and H. Marion Crawford. Drat!

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Just finished the Five Orange pips in which Holmes states to Watson that he is his only friend and that he tries to avoid society.  This I think rather does suggest that Holmes is a very aloof character.  It also suggests I think that although for Holmes the friendship is unusual he values it.  It is unlike Holmes to mention anything remotely personal and the fact that he refers to Watson as his only friend is rather telling.

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In recent years there has been quite a lot of interest in the psychology of Sherlock Holmes, and there are plenty of places on the 'net where it is discussed.

A favourite explanation for his single-mindedness and lack of emotional engagement is that he had Aspergers Syndrome.

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Grasshopper and Binker touched on this subject in  "what is everyone doing". I have copied relevant extracts from their conversation here.

 

grasshopper, on 21 Nov 2013 - 12:42 AM, said:

   Have to quickly express shock and horror that anyone should imply homosexual relationship between Holmes and Watson. :o  Come on folks,  these are Ripping Yarns and Watson is renowned for having an eye for the ladies, both now and in the future.   Holmes is such an arrogant, pernickety perfectionist no ordinary female could possibly come up to his expectations - except the only one who can outwit him - Irene Adler

    Binker, on 21 Nov 2013 - 01:07 AM, said:

    I think we are all a little put off by that possible interpretation of their relationship...

...It's sad that we can't see close friendships as anything other than romantic.

 



    grasshopper, on 21 Nov 2013 - 01:59 AM, said:

    I suspect modern generations do not realise or understand that a lot of this earlier writing was at times when wars were being fought all over the British Empire, as well as the First World War and men formed strong friendships to help them through all the adversity - the trenches, the prison of war camps, the massacres and atrocities they witnessed and indeed had to take part in.  These things were never ever reported fully, could never be discussed or even admitted to the women at home, and were seldom discussed between the men themselves, but they knew that their male friends  understood. It was a bond of a shared terrible history in many cases and at a time when the stiff upper lip was all the rule, these friendships were probably sometimes  a saving grace to counter what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress.

    Clearly that does not actually apply to Holmes and Watson, as although Watson had been such a soldier and came home wounded , Holmes was probably off successfully achieving amazing undercover exploits for Mycroft in his usual unemotional  and efficient way.

 

 


    Binker, on 21 Nov 2013 - 02:24 AM, said:
 I think it says something sad about modern society that we have assume that any intense close relationship between adults is sexual.  It's as if the idea of an intense non-romantic love just does not compute.

 

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Just finished the Five Orange pips in which Holmes states to Watson that he is his only friend and that he tries to avoid society. [...]  It is unlike Holmes to mention anything remotely personal and the fact that he refers to Watson as his only friend is rather telling.

I noticed that, too. In fact, I wondered why he even mentioned it ... It made me feel rather sad.

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I cannot say that it made me feel sad as I really do not think that Holmes is unhappy about the situation himself.  As long as he has Watson as a friend and listener I think that he is perfectly happy.  Also has working relationships with a number of policemen i.e. Lestrade so feel that as long as he has his work to do he is happy.  I do not feel that he is looking for anything more in a relationship beyond what he has with Watson.  I also think that he really is very fond of Watson in his own way but that he is not a demonstrative person.

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In recent years there has been quite a lot of interest in the psychology of Sherlock Holmes, and there are plenty of places on the 'net where it is discussed.

A favourite explanation for his single-mindedness and lack of emotional engagement is that he had Aspergers Syndrome.

[i'm not sure why the 'quote' button is not working properly for me.] Edit - it did in the end!

 

I recently watched a couple of 'Elementary' (Series 2) programmes on Sky Living. This may be old news for some of you, but I hadn't heard of the series (1 or 2). Holmes is characterized as having a touch of Asperger’s Syndrome, not in a greatly debilitating way, but in the same way as it has been suggested is needed to be a great mathematician or similar (Mark Haddon, being a mathematician, talked about this being part of why he wrote ‘The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Night-time’). My family has more scientists and mathematicians than most and they can be rather single minded, but I see that as good.

 

The characterization seems to work quite well on the screen. When I mentioned this to my husband, he said that he'd always thought of Holmes like that anyway, but I think it only came home to me when seeing it in a modern context.

 

Interestingly, with regard to the above posts, Watson is female, played by Lucy Liu. From the couple of episodes I have seen, there seems to be a magnetic attraction between her and Holmes, Johnny Lee Miller, best friends who care deeply for and protect each other but do not cross the line. Such a friendship can be a precarious tight rope to walk and there will probably be some who think there cannot be a platonic friendship between a man and a woman, just as some have doubted that two men can have such a relationship.

 

Having written this, I should really get down to reading the Sherlock stories. I confess that I haven’t started yet. I made the mistake of starting ‘Umbrella’ after reading the BGO thread and don’t want to stop, but I will.

Edited by angel

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I finished the story of The Adventure of the Engineers Thumb a couple of days ago and came away with a new view of the friendship between Holmes and Watson and even to a certain extent a new view of Holmes.

 

At the beginning of the story Watson states that he had not long since married and that he had left Holmes living alone at Baker Street.  He also states that on occasion he had managed to prevail upon Holmes to dine with him and his wife.  I have never viewed Holmes as a character willing to fulfil social engagements or wanting to spend time with friends just being friends. The friendship between the pair has always surrounded Watsons' interest in the work of Holmes and if anything Watson calling in on Holmes from time to time once married.   Although this may sound a bit daft, this seemingly innocuous event has the effect for me of making Holmes seem far more human.  It almost introduces an element of sentiment into his character which had previously been less than apparent.  The friendship of Watson was of such importance to him that he was willing to dine in Watson's home in a situation where one of his cases would not necessarily be the prime subject of conversation.

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Having finished The Beryl Coronet today I find myself being a little put off by Holmes' reaction to the shortfalls of others.  He is extremely dismissal of the effect on the culprit of one mistake.  His obvious lack of understanding of human nature at times leads me to like him a little less which is a shame as he and Watson are two of my favourite fictional characters and I do not want to doubt him too much.  I can only hope that the last story of the collection will lift my spirits a bit where Holmes is concerned.

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I am very much persuaded by the view that Holmes had some level of Asperger's Syndrome.  Knowing people who also have it, I can see the central thinking of the man and the selflessness of him as an individual.  In the same way I can appreciate how Watson, as a doctor, is fully aware of Holmes condition/medical situation, and realises that he is perhaps the only way for Holmes to vent his thoughts and 'emotions' over his work. 

 

Then again, Doyle had to find a way to explore both characters and tell the stories. Using Watson as the medium is a good mix imo.  The two are so diverse it's like ying to yang - it works for me because they are opposite or unalike.

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I don't believe Asperger's Syndrome was identified as a distinct disorder until after World War II, so Conan Doyle would not have been aware of it. Nevertheless, in modern times a character like Holmes might well be described as such. In an era of increasing mechanization, a mind as ruthlessly logical as Holmes's must also have attracted readers' attention.  

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I don't think that Holmes has Asperger's or any other syndrome. He behaves the way he chooses to and just doesn't care about social conventions which he clearly doesn't find important enough to waste his valuable time on, IMHO. He can do it if he chooses - he communicates with Watson, for example, perfectly well - and I think Conan Doyle wrote him deliberately that different because of the strict, to us, social conventions of the day.

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I have now finished the Adventures and find that Sherlock Holmes' character is not at all consistent in the "relationship with people" department. It seems  there is an underlying inability to 'read' people. His reading of clues on and about people is, of course, excellent. But his lack of ability to respond naturally to the person per se is noticeably lacking. I had a very, very good friend with a similar problem. He was a truly wonderful person, but hopeless at 'reading' people. He was, however, an internationally recognised authority on ornithology. What he couldn't relate to in people, he could certainly relate to in birds. Unfortunately, he 'disappeared in mysterious circumstances' from his home in Lusaka in 1995, presumed murdered. (This sounds like a case for Sherlock Holmes.)

Dear Dr Watson is quite another character and I would have liked there to be more about him, his "wooing" and his wife. There can't be, of course, because he's the narrator.

Together they make a whole being: the head (Holmes) and the heart (Watson). Good.

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I have now finished the Adventures and find that Sherlock Holmes' character is not at all consistent in the "relationship with people" department. It seems  there is an underlying inability to 'read' people. His reading of clues on and about people is, of course, excellent. But his lack of ability to respond naturally to the person per se is noticeably lacking. I had a very, very good friend with a similar problem. He was a truly wonderful person, but hopeless at 'reading' people. He was, however, an internationally recognised authority on ornithology. What he couldn't relate to in people, he could certainly relate to in birds. Unfortunately, he 'disappeared in mysterious circumstances' from his home in Lusaka in 1995, presumed murdered. (This sounds like a case for Sherlock Holmes.)

Dear Dr Watson is quite another character and I would have liked there to be more about him, his "wooing" and his wife. There can't be, of course, because he's the narrator.

Together they make a whole being: the head (Holmes) and the heart (Watson). Good.

 

I like the idea of Holmes being the head and Watson the heart and I know what you mean when you say that you would like to know more about Watson.  By the end of the stories I felt as if I was quite attached to Watson.  The stories would not work without Watson as there would be no human side at all.

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Having finished the Moonstone I decided that I might read one or two more of your familyof the Conan Doyle stories so read the first from the memoirs collection. One thing that did strike me was that Holmes is always insistent that Watson accompany him on any investigations if at all possible. I wonder if we are to assume that it is merely to show off to his one friend or if he feels in need of support? Although he seems to be portrayed as a strong and self reliant character I wonder if this is really so. Having seen a number of the TV productions he is often pictured as quite shy.

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At the beginning of the story Watson states that he had not long since married and that he had left Holmes living alone at Baker Street.  He also states that on occasion he had managed to prevail upon Holmes to dine with him and his wife.  I have never viewed Holmes as a character willing to fulfil social engagements or wanting to spend time with friends just being friends. The friendship between the pair has always surrounded Watsons' interest in the work of Holmes and if anything Watson calling in on Holmes from time to time once married.   Although this may sound a bit daft, this seemingly innocuous event has the effect for me of making Holmes seem far more human.  It almost introduces an element of sentiment into his character which had previously been less than apparent.  The friendship of Watson was of such importance to him that he was willing to dine in Watson's home in a situation where one of his cases would not necessarily be the prime subject of conversation.

According to the Radio Times, Mrs Watson will be appearing as a character in the new (3 episode) series of Sherlock, starting on New Year's Day

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I am really looking forward to the Sherlock series and had heard that Watson had a love interest in this one. I will be very interested to see how Sherlock deals with this. In the modern production he seems to have even less awareness of the feelings of others than in the older productions as can be seen by his treatment of Molly who is so obviously in love with him.

 

I have read another of the stories contained in The Memoirs collection. At the end Holmes' explanations are proved to be incorrect and he asks Watson to remind him of the case if he ever seems to forget that he is not always right. I felt that this showed an unusual humility for Holmes as well as a belief in Watson's support. The more stories I read the more complex the character of Holmes seems to become while Watson seems to remain much the same - a strong steadying support. The more I read the more that I feel that I would like a friend like Watson.

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Yesterday afternoon RG and I watched an episode of Elementry, a modern American twist on the Sherlock Holmes stories in which Watson is female. We have been following the programe for some time and although the cases bear no reference to the books I found the portrayal of the two characters to be quite good at times. At the end of yesterdays episode Holmes tells Watson that he is not a nice person and that there was no better side of him to be discovered. Upon Watson disagreeing and stating that he was often kind and supportive to her Holmes stated that his behaviour towards her was a one off and that it would not always be consistant.

 

As a result of my reading of the novels and stories of Holmes and Watson I have become quite attached to the two characters and have often been pleased to find passages that present a more human side to Holmes. Maybe I am looking for something that simply is not there and Holmes is really only the cold and detatched character which is usually portrayed. I wonder if the hidden depths to the Holmes personality which I have been looking for do not exist.

 

Although I do not have to like the characters I read about I do like to admire them or even thoroughly dislike them with real feeling. I have to admit that thinking of Holmes as an emotionless person does not appeal!

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