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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sherlock Holmes's Mother

Mother's Day has me thinking about Sherlock Holmes's mother. What do we know about her?

According to William S. Baring-Gould, in Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street, her maiden name was Violet Sherrinford and her mother was a sister of the French artist Emile Jean Horace Vernet. But, of course, he made that up, or he adopted the theories of other writers who made it up.

It's true that Violet is an uncommonly common name among Holmes clients, and perhaps there's a reason for that. But when I was young I peeked into the "little black book" of an older relative and found that an amazing number of his girlfriends -- let's say a third or so -- had the same first name. But it wasn't his mother's name.

It's also true that Holmes tells us in "The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter" that "my grandmother . . . was the sister of Vernet, the French artist." But we don't know which grandmother, paternal or maternal, and we don't know which member of the talented Vernet family.

This should raise no eyebrows. Aside from the Hardy Boys and other juvenile sleuths, the mothers of detectives seldom appear in mystery fiction. (The 1895 Murder is somewhat unusual in that Jeff Cody's mother and mother-in-law both make surprise appearances.) Nero Wolfe's mother was still alive in the early stories, but far off stage in Montenegro.

The only thing we can say for sure is that Sherlock Holmes did have a mother, and that she had to have been an extraordinary woman indeed. After all, presuming that Sherlock and Mycroft were full brothers, she gave birth to two amazing men.    

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