Author: SherlockExtra and Revati - Translator: Revati
Many people are flattered by the question whether the most famous detective of the world lived/lives in romantic relationship with his Baker Street flatmate, dr. John Watson. (Though the legendary British sleuth is a fictional character who never existed, out of respect we talk about him as if he was alive.). The opinion of the article’s author is that sex among two adults, may they be of the same gender or not, is absolutely allright if it is not based on violence or extortion – but the heroes of Doyle had no romantic feelings towards each other.
Guessing the sleuth’s sexual preference is not a novel thing, despite of the fact that in the original Canon dr. Watson is married three times, and even Holmes remarks in The Second Stain that his friend knows a lot about women („Now, Watson, the fair sex is your department.”).
The profession of a detective is perilous. Holmes has to be fast in thinking, excellent in combining and he also has to be fit enough not getting hurt. No wonder that he has no time for private relationships. For example Hercule Poirot or C. Auguste Dupin lived a lonesome life as well.
Roger Johnson, editor of the Sherlock Holmes Journal, observed that in Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories „Watson is something of a ladies’ man, Roger Johnson (The Sherlock Holmes Society of London Press and Publicity Officer and Hon Editor. He is the editor of the Sherlock Holmes Journal.), observed that in Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories, "Watson is something of a ladies' man, but a faithful husband to his wife. And Holmes is essentially asexual, with no erotic interest in women or men."
Some think playing with the sexuality of these fictional characters is nothing else but having fun, it does no harm, and fanfictions showing them as a couple prove talent and creative freedom. Yet these people forget that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never wanted them to be a homosexual couple. Sherlock Holmes is the symbol of logic, so imprisoning him into carnal desires is a very shallow and dangerous thing.
There are many kinds of fans, but no one wants to see their heroes lampooned or caricatured, may they be the Baker Street duo or the characters of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. And it is lampooning to say that Holmes and Watson were a gay couple for someone who likes the characters as they are depicted in the Canon. You have the right to your fictions or fantasies, but respect the opinion of others.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle accepted that there are people who are different, but he didn’t create Sherlock as one of them.
The world famous writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was heterosexual. He married twice. His first wife, Louise could no longer execute her matrimonial duties when she became seriously ill. Conan met another woman, Jean Leckie, who was young and healthy. The writer fell in love with her, but he did not want to make his wife sad and his promise was also sacred for him. So the relationship with Jean was platonic for some years, and they waited a year after the death of Louise - the usual period of mourning - and married then. Doyle fathered more children, so he obviously was sexually active, but he was responsible in his sexual life and he lived according to the moral norms of that time.
In Conan Doyle’s time homosexuality was a crime. Though there were some Victorian men who were openly homosexual, just like the fantastic Oscar Wilde, preferring someone’s own gender was not as common as nowadays, but no doubt people were interested in it. Doyle preferred women and he thought of homosexuality as a kind of illness. He had busy social life, he had some homosexual acquaintances and he was tolerant. The openly gay Roger Casement (the Irish nationalist, activist and poet) was one of his friends. Conan respected him and portrayed the character of Lord John Roxton in The Lost World after him. So we can say that Doyle could create homosexual figures, but he did not want neither Holmes nor Watson to be gay.
Conan Doyle's contemporary, Howard Carter was rumoured to be homosexual as well. Gossip started after he returned to London in 1932. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease (which is a cancer originating from white blood cells called lymphocytes) and a handsome young man looked after him. This was enough for some people to give the verdict that Carter was gay. (Recommended article: Howard Carter and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Doyle’s detective was not homosexual, and he did not changed this later, when he was rich and famous, though he could have written stories under a pen name. He was not too interested in erotic themes, but love between men and women often appears in his works. With the figure of Sherlock Holmes he wanted to focus on spiritual values. Some may think it odd that Holmes does not have any romantic relationships, but he explains in the Canon that thinking and his profession are the most appreciated things in his life, and he thinks emotions like love would only withdraw him from them.
Sexuality did not play a central part in the life of Victorian people. Alcoholism and carnal pleasures were more popular among the lower classes (just think of the Whitechapel, where Jack the Ripper killed prostitutes). Conan Doyle did not belong to these classes, he was a writer, a sportsman and a traveller, whose life was not centered round sexuality. In the Victorian era it was a popular belief that sex has the same effects to the body like hard work – this way who is not sexually active or does not overdo it, makes his/her life longer. In India this belief was also widespread – and we know that Mahatma Gandhi led an austere life. The fact that Sherlock Holmes did not look upon sexuality as an elemental part of life was more intelligible and acceptable in the Victorian era. At that time there was a kind of revival of doing sports – boxing, cricket and running for men, and walking in case of women. Excursions were very popular, and people liked to explore the beauties of nature.
It was a common thing among men to walk arm-in-arm, it did not mean romantic relationship between them, it was simply comfortable and elegant. In the Victorian era people did not dress provocatively, clothes were not sexually enticing. People were not hit by so many visual stimuli in connection with sexuality like today, through the media. At that time erotic scenes would have caused public outcry. In the world of movies a touch meant not the same as it does nowadays. When Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes or Albert Finney’s Hercule Poirot touched the shoulder of a man or a woman it was not the expression of sex urge. Detectives showed their sympathy and willingness of help this way. It was an honest and humane gesture which was devoid of any coaxing. It seems unusual today, because we got used to that if two people look into each other’s eyes for more than three seconds, the following will be a sexual scene. Media realized that sexuality has a huge power of seduction and almost everything can be sold when connected to it. Not just movies, but also commercials are often about sex. We have to take into consideration the fact that for generations people live experiencing the daily visual effects of sex-related media, so their brains are more susceptible to it and they are reminded to it more often. The modern Sherlock Holmes adaptations fall into this category too – they are media products sold by propagating sexuality and brutality.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never wanted this. He created artworks with moral with the Holmes stories. He started to write about him to expel boredom and he did not like the fact that other fictional detectives needed luck to solve mysteries. While at university, Doyle got acquainted with Professor Joseph Bell, whose observing and deducing skills astonished him. He learned a lot from him and tried to make the best from what he acquired. Bell and Oliver Wendell Holmes, who were the models to create Sherlock, were married men with children, living a conventional life. It is worth to mention that Bell’s colleague and friend, dr. Patrick Heron Watson – who later became the private surgeon of kings – was a widely known true gentleman with elegant style. Doyle portrayed dr. Watson after him. As the example of dr. Bell and dr. Patrick Heron Watson shows, in the Victorian era real friendships still existed – they are more and more singular these days.
Legendary Sherlock Holmes actor Jeremy Brett, who lived together with a male partner for a while, said that there was a genuine friendship between Holmes and Watson, but nothing more. Sadly in the modern age relationships changed so enormously that most people simply cannot understand how such kind of friendship can exist. Jeremy Brett had a humane and fair attitude to the topic. It was clear to him that Doyle did not want gay characters, and he respected this. In his interviews he always emphasized that the relationship of the duo was devoid of any romance, what they felt for each other was honest friendship. He could have given misleading answers, but he was not lurid. Media was already at those years a great manipulator, and the Canon was unknown for many people – so it would have been easy for Brett to tell something false for more popularity. He never did this, because as a true artist he could respect the work and ideas of another artist, the gift what he gave to the fans of the detective. Salvador Dalí wrote: „A true artists creates himself again and again, while at the same time he transcends himself and becomes consonant with the Universe, he thinks things over, he frees his mind, he attains enlightenment, he cures and inspires others.” Brett knew this, because he was an artist. A talented person doesn’t need to destroy the work of another gifted man, because he/she can prevail through his/her own abilities. The British actor believed that the legacy of Doyle must be treasured with respect, so he did not want to start debates around the topic of homosexuality. Till his condition allowed, he insisted on scripts faithful to the original Canon. Time proved Brett right. He became the definitive Sherlock Holmes for many, and he didn’t need any scandals for this. It is also true that the makers of Granada series did not crack gay jokes and dubious comments - both is common in BBC’s Sherlock, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. When someone mentioned the homosexuality of Holmes, Jeremy Brett rather corrected them. Instead of debates his acting persuaded the viewers. He is still very popular and is able to isnpire others. We would like to follow the elegant style of Brett, hoping that this way we are worthy of the memory of him and Conan Doyle.
Profession and Sherlock Holmes
Conan Doyle, Jeremy Brett and even the fictional sleuth of Baker Street became acclaimed and appreciated because of the professions they chose. It is very important to speak about work in connection with homosexuality and sexuality. Simply and solely because media suggests that your gender, your looks, your sexuality are the most important things. A famous thinker – it is a shame that I can’t remember his name – told in a documentary: „Media tries to sell that you are a man, or that you are a woman. It tends to screen the real point that we are all humans, with wonderful abilities. You have to be neat, but we should not judge only by the looks – abilities are much more important. We know that racism is harmful, so we have to realize that judging by sexual preferences is harmful as well.„ Here he stressed that he does not support pedophilia or any other perverted sexual habits (like necrophilia). Then he continued: „Judging upon the fact whether someone has sex twice a day or not is a serious mistake. Doing so we can throw away the maidenlike Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and the oversexed John F. Kennedy as well. Neither of them would meet the criteria, yet they both did a lot for the world. So it is important to judge people by their achievements. That is why wages or pensions are paid for work, because it has the power of creating values.”
We have to mention HBO’s own documentary on being different, entitled „The out list”. Lupe Valdez, a female sheriff who has Spanish roots appears in it, who tells when she candidated for the sheriff’s position for the first time people always spoke about her as the lesbian Spanish woman. Naturally she felt not too great because of that. Then a woman told her: „Why do you let it be the main topic? Bring to their attention that you have the right to candidate. Highlight your professional success.” Lupe did so and she won the position several times. It is clear that judging others by their sexual preferences is not good, neither for heterosexuals, nor for homosexuals. Everybody wants to succeed through his/her knowledge, talent and abilities. Accepting and respecting that there are people who are different is a great thing, but it is not right to regard it as someone’s only merit. By the same token we should value fraternal twins more than identical twins, though they are the same, they are people. Valuation shouldn’t depend on circumstances, achievements are the only important things. Degrading Sherlock Holmes to a sexual symbol is dangerous because this way he is deprived from Conan Doyle’s greatest heritage what he could give the readers – namely that Sherlock is a man full of hope, who becomes successful using his brain, he understands the world and controls his own life through his profession. Being a detective gives him security, he has self-recognition and self-control, he has morals and attitude of life. He is a man who can be a hero, a role model. This outstanding feature is ruined when the great detective is shown as an unhappy caveman.
Sherlock Holmes would also be thrown out because of his asexuality. With solving crimes he clears society from violence and makes the lives of others better. This beneficial ability of his is damaged together with the power of thinking when he is degraded to a simple sexual idol. Instead of being thrown out some try to draw a false sexual mask on him. They say this is tolerance, but that’s not true. Tolerance is when we accept and respect that the detective is not a sex maniac. He has the right to have a sexual life or not, until he does not hurt others with it. This is not only his private matter. How can we await the next generations to live a humane and empathic life when they cannot accept the truth about a fictional character? How will they handle the facts about real persons? How will they respect themselves, the artists and the future generations when they are unable to respect the legacy of their predecessors? I know many people blame the teenage fans for the countless erotic Johnlock stories and for some sadistic illustrations that can be found in the virtual world. But we have to take into consideration that the media often disfigured and still disfigures the values of Sherlock Holmes, and some young people might be solely familiar with the untrue things, so they could not shape a real opinion. A long time ago it was a beloved activity of a family to listen to the stories of Sherlock Holmes in the radio or talking about them after a family member read them out loud. Unfotunately nowadays these family programs are very seldom or even do not exist any more, which is a great problem, because they help to build relationships and also help in pass over knowledge. For generations the media „educates” many young people, and sadly nowadays there are only a very few amazing artists like Jeremy Brett whom they could look upon and from whom they could learn some respect. Brett knew that what he transmits will have an effect on future generations as well, so he acted very humanely.
Nowadays people can have debates on Sherlock’s sexual identity or they can popularize his gay image instead of appreciating his world-saving effect. In the virtual world Sherlock Holmes is no longer a genius thinker who means security and who inspired many people to choose being a police officer or forensics scientist. Now we can see his face on nails or even on G-strings. He is just like a Playboy bunny or an underwear model. It is sadly forgotten that studying and hard work made him an excellent detective, and he will be still successful when old. We have to bear in mind such wonderful characteristics of his like steadfastness, empathy, morality, discipline, that he is able to learn from his mistakes and he can correct his deeds. It is much easier to show Holmes as a nervous drug addict who pursues the pleasures of life and yet he is purposeless than to stress that he is a calm and successful thinker who really has something to live, who is moderate and whose main aim is to help the world.
The famous detective had no sexual interest in men. That is why it is an excellent joke in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes when he says he is gay, just to escape a date with an obtrusive woman. She tries to persuade Holmes to be the father of her child, hoping the baby will be a genius this way. His lie will be inconvenient for dr. Watson too.
It is not derogatory for homosexuals when we state that Sherlock Holmes was not one of them. Many artists can create their own characters with optional sexual preferences. But Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did not create either Holmes or Watson gay. Sherlock is asexual, and the doctor is heterosexual. One should not condemn Watson's heterosexuality, because every people were born from heterosexual relationships. You can imagine them as you want, but you don’t need to adulterate a literary work for this.