|Irene Adler - romantic interest? I think not!|
When I gave a talk on “Sherlock Holmes and the Development of Detective Fiction” to a group of retired men last week, I was really impressed with their questions. Here are a few of them, along with my answers – with which you may or may not agree:
Why did Conan Doyle make Sherlock Holmes a cocaine addict?
Whether or not Holmes was an addict has been debated, but he was certainly a user. That famous seven percent solution was legal at the time, but Watson warned Holmes of its danger to his health and eventually weaned him away from it.
But why did Conan Doyle choose to give the Great Detective this vice? Maybe he didn’t. Some characters just show up and report for duty without the author having much to do with it. Rex Stout described Nero Wolfe that way, while he said his Tecumseh Fox character was made up by him (Stout) and therefore “never worth a damn.”
Watson suspected Holmes of drug use in A Study in Scarlet but that wasn’t confirmed – and vividly so – until the first chapter of The Sign of Four. Perhaps it wasn’t until the second book that Conan Doyle realized that Watson had been right all along!
To whatever extent the cocaine use was an authorial invention, however, it emphasizes Holmes’s eccentricity and a key character trait: The absolute necessity to him of his life’s work. His mind “rebels at stagnation” so strongly that without a problem to work on he must artificial stimulus.
Was Dr. Watson the alter ego of Conan Doyle?
There’s certainly a good argument for that. They were both physicians but also men of action and adventure. Dr. Watson was never knighted, but his blade was every bit as straight and his steel as true as that of his creator. Some people would say, however, that Conan Doyle’s reflection in fiction was Holmes, not Watson.
Was Sherlock Holmes romantically involved with Irene Adler?
Dr. Watson tells us in the first paragraph of the first short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” that he was not. Why is the good doctor so widely disbelieved on this point? Admittedly, if Holmes put one over on Watson it wouldn’t be the first time. But Holmes’s recorded attitude toward the adventuress seems more one of deep respect than love: She beat him and he gives the devil her due for that. There is not the slightest hint in the Canon that he ever saw the woman again after her wedding day. I suspect that if he had it might have been a disappointing rematch for both of them. (But I do enjoy some of the Holmes-Adler pastiches, especially those by Amy Thomas.)
What do you think of “Elementary”?
I don’t think of it. I’ve only seen the pilot. I don’t watch a lot of television, which may be one reason that I can write two books a year. My favorite pastimes are reading and writing. I don’t read enough – and maybe I write too much!