“..Sherlock Holmes was standing smiling at me…I rose to my feet, stared at him for some seconds in utter amazement, and then it appears that I must have fainted for the first and the last time of my life. When it cleared I found my collar-ends undone and the tingling after-taste of brandy upon my lips. Holmes was bending over my chair, his flask in his hand.”
- John Watson, The Empty House (The Return of Sherlock Holmes)
Almost every child who loved reading and mystery movies raised in a culture with Western influence knows of the greatest detective of all time, Sherlock Holmes, and his partner Dr. John Watson. Together, they ravaged the streets of 19th century London to uncover puzzling murders and cryptic thefts. But is it all that the great detective and the experienced army doctor shared?
The creator of Sherlock Holmes is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, knighted for his great contributions to English writing and also the good acquaintance of Oscar Wilde, the controversial author of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde’s book explored themes of bisexuality and was a gateway to scandals revealing Wilde’s homosexual inclinations. Though not homosexual himself, Doyle’s inspiration from his friend’s suffrage becomes evident. Though there are hints of an intimate relation between Holmes and Watson from the earlier stories, through the trials and imprisonment Wilde suffered beginning in April 1895, Doyle’s Holmes stories set in 1895 begin to show startling connections and parallels between their behavior and those of the typical Victorian homosexual couple.
In ‘The Three Students’ Watson writes about being away in London and Sherlock’s temper due to their unusual leave to the countryside- a common practice of homosexual couples then who feared the government’s reproach in concurrence with Wilde’s trials and scandals due to his exposed relationship with aristocrat Lord Alfred Douglas, the Marquess of Queensberry’s son at the time. This ‘leave’ is once again seen in ‘Black Peter’ (also set in 1895) where Holmes states that he and Watson would be available for contact in Norway, with no mention of a case which would bring him so far away and out of the country.
Before all this, there were already numerous references through many original stories of Doyle’s about Watson and Holmes’ intimacy- ‘pleasant little dinner dates’, reservations at the opera for only the two of them, and emotional afternoons where they were ‘wrapped in the most perfect happiness’. Watson does marry a woman, Mary Morstan, though her presences are brief and her character short-lived, dying not long after their marriage for unknown reasons with no children.
In our current day, this relationship seems to have been more acknowledged and shown by the creators of BBC Sherlock, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. In an interview, Gatiss had revealed that he was openly gFay and was happily married to his husband, which could be an influence.
BBC Sherlock, a now famous hit show, is riddled with visible intimacy between Sherlock and John. From intense stare moments, open flirting and John’s prodding about Sherlock’s sexuality and relationship status, a ‘touchy’ stag night with no women involved to a moving speech with Sherlock proclaiming his only one has ‘always been you[Watson]’. That, in addition to Irene Adler and several other characters’ direct statement regarding John Watson being gay and supposedly having relations with Sherlock Holmes. Like Doyle’s canon, John Watson’s negative relationships with women are featured, with one ex-girlfriend complaining that she could not ‘compete with Sherlock Holmes’.
In the 21st century’s much more accepting and tolerant society where gay couples and relationships are mostly welcome and in some countries same sex marriage has been legalized; it would make sense that Gatiss and Moffat, with their personal influences, have found the audience of today perfect to showcase the more-than-platonic strong romance between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson to, a romance that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his day could have never dreamed of.
Maybe, to the fearful and hiding homosexuals of 1800s England, discouraged by Oscar Wilde’s hardships, it was already obvious. They knew how to look- how to read between the lines as a secret, subliminal audience of Doyle’s.
The end of 2015 brings forth a Victorian Era BBC Sherlock Holmes Special; if we narrow our eyes and truly observe and deduce- we might just see the clandestine love of the great detective and his dear army doctor, a sly mystery hiding in plain sight for nearly 120 years.
It’s elementary, my dear reader
Mark Gatiss on being out and in the public eye. n.d. Radio Times. 9 May, 2012. Web. Accessed 16 Sept., 2015.
Doyle, Arthur C. The Complete Sherlock Holmes. London: Simon & Schuster UK, 2012. Print.
Adams, Guy. Sherlock: The Casebook. London: Random House Group Ltd, 2012. Print.
Lancho, Melissa. “Holmes and Watson or Sherlock and John: A homoerotic reading of Conan Doyle’s Characters in BBC’s Sherlock.” MA Thesis. University of Barcelona, 2012. Print.
“Sherlock.” Gatiss, Mark and Moffat, Steven. Sherlock. BBC One. WGBH, United Kingdom, 25 July 2010. Television.
-The Musing Mestiza, 3rd Year