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Friday, March 22, 2013

A Master Humorist Takes on Sherlock Holmes

The great humorist P.G. Wodehouse, creator of the immortal Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, was a friend and admirer of Arthur Conan Doyle. But that didn't stop him from satirizing Sherlock Holmes -- quite the contrary.

Shortly before his long life came to an end in 1975, Wodehouse wrote an introduction to a Ballantine Mystery Classic paperback edition of The Sign of Four. In it, Wodehouse recorded that ACD often invited him to the Conan Doyle home in the country for cricket weekends. At the end of a day of sport, they would talk about literature over dinner.
The odd thing was that though he could be expansive about his least known short stories -- those in Round the Red Lamp, for instance -- I could never get him to talk of Sherlock Holmes. I think the legend that he disliked Holmes must be true. It is with the feeling that he would not object that I have sometimes amused myself by throwing custard pies at that great man.
He throws a rather large such pie in the introduction. After examining Holmes's finances in a cursory way (and ignoring several big fees), he reaches the conclusion that Holmes didn't make any money from detecting and didn't care because he already had a lot of it. "Where is the big money?" Wodehouse asks. "Where it has always been, in crime. Bags of it and no income tax."
If you want to salt a few million away for a rainy day, you don't spring into 9:30 trains to go and talk to governesses, you become a Master Criminal, sitting like a spider in the center of its web and egging your corps of assistants on to steal jewels and Naval Treaties . . . Holmes was Professor Moriarty.
That kind of makes the claim that Watson was woman look like small beer, doesn't it?


  1. That is a swell theory. Do you know if there have been any stories written around it?

  2. "Watson Was a Woman" was a very famous satirical talk given by Rex Stout at a meeting of the Baker Street Irregulars in 1941. He later made it into an essay, which has made its way into several books. If you use the search engine on this blog you should be able to find other references to the talk. A couple of movies and the new TV show "Elementary" have offered female Watsons.

  3. Sorry, I meant the theory of Holmes being Moriarty. Watson/Holmes as a woman I'm familiar with, although it's more amusing than anything I'd take seriously.

  4. It seems inevitable, but I can't find a Holmes-as-Moriarty pastiche in my library, nor do I remember ever reading one.