Posted by: labbott12 | October 5, 2010

Holmes and Watson Dynamic on the page and on screen

With the arrival of Guy Ritchie’s 2009 film adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, much hubub was made about the possibility for homoerotic tension between Watson and Holmes. Again, with the BBC’s modern day mini-series, Sherlock , bloggers and columnists went to work on the new take on hinting at a romantic relationship between Watson and Holmes. Notorious gay celebrity blogger, Perez Hilton posted on Ritchie’s first film speculating on the idea of having a “gay Sherlock Holmes”:

“This ain’t going to be your Grandpa’s version of Sherlock Holmes. In the flick due out on Christmas Day, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes will have the famed detective and his side-kick sharing more than just a love of mysteries. They’ll be sharing a bed!”

Ritchie’s film hinted at flirting between the mates and conflict of jealousy surrounding Watson’s marriage. Watson seemed to have an understanding of Holmes that only a partner would have of their significant other. In Ritchie’s film, Holmes and Watson to share the same realm of understanding and mutual love as Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Two single men share their time and living space, with no interest in women, until one decides to settle down and marry, leaving the other seemingly depressed and heartbroken…makes sense doesn’t it? However, I do think that this take on the famous sleuths is a purely modern invention. After reading the stories and coming to understand the characters as very different from Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, there seems to be no evidence of textual support in this interpretation of the characters. The two don’t share as much intimacy or understanding in the text as they seem to in Ritchie’s or other contemporary adaptations. The temptation toward dubbing Sherlock Holmes as homosexual most likely stems from the sex-symbol-actors who play their modern interpretations and the budding trends of homosexuality in the media. There is also a trend of outing men and women from previous eras as gay and lesbian to promote identification with a younger audience (“…did you know Socrates was gay?”). However, with a basic knowledge of Gender studies, one must note that “being gay” didn’t exist until much much later; people had same sex relationships and had no sense of identity tied to them. Therefore, the idea of trying to figure out whether or not Conan Doyle meant Holmes and Watson to be homosexual is pointless. In addition, the woman in charge of the Conan Doyle literary estate was recently quoted by Perez Hilton in reference to the consideration of a sequel to Guy Ritchie’s adaptation:

“It would be drastic, but I would withdraw permission for more films to be made if they feel that is a theme they wish to bring out in the future. I am not hostile to homosexuals, but I am to anyone who is not true to the spirit of the books,”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would most likely cringe at Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of his stories in Sherlock Holmes, yet let’s not deprive ourselves of a few hunky gay detectives for the adherence to accuracy alone!

Sources:

Perez Hilton: http://perezhilton.com/2009-08-05-sherlock-homo

http://perezhilton.com/2010-01-04-sherlock-and-holmes-a-little-too-close-for-comfort-for-some


Responses

  1. I saw Guy Ritchie’s film adaptation and when I read Conan Doyle’s original stories I thought the film had done a really good job adapting the character dynamic we see between Watson and Holmes. I pointed this out to two friends of mine who had both seen the current movie and read the original stories. They both disagreed with me, saying they thought the movie’s characters were a poor adaptation of the original stories’ characters. However, I think the character’s personalities in the movie seemed very true to the original works. Holmes is characterized as quick, sharp, witty, and bit eccentric and Watson as a faithful companion with whom the audience relates in both the new movie and the original Doyle stories. Also worth noting is that the notion of Holmes and Watson having a homoerotic tension never crossed my mind. That doesn’t strike me as feasible at all, though I am not surprised Hollywood gossip would come up with such an idea.

  2. As I’ve been working on my final I’ve come across a lot of Holmes Lit. Crit. and while the idea of Gay Holmes/Watson is apparently as old as the canon itself, some awkward 20th century scholars found a new theory theory: That Watson was a woman.

    At the Baker Street Irregulars Club, Rabid Holmes fans can dine and argue about where Watson’s wound really was. They begin every meal with the same four toasts, “The Woman,” “Mrs. Hudson,” “The Professor,” and, “The Second Mrs. Watson.” However Rex Stout (author of the Nero Wolfe novels) once refused to toast the second Mrs. Watson saying there were no Mrs. Watson’s at all.

    Stout then gave an speech (about 80% sarcasm) laying out why Watson had to be a woman. The same things that led to Watson’s portrayal as a bumbling fool could just have easily been proof of a hapless spouse along for the ride.

    For Example “The reader may set me down as a hopeless busybody when I confess how much this man stimulated my curiosity,” “Often I endeavored to break through the reticence which he showed on all that concerned himself. How when Holmes returns from the dead after an Odysseus-like journey Watson faints in sheer amazement. Or my personal favorite, “I believe I am one of the most long-suffering of mortals.” Watson might as well have stepped out of a Jane Austen novel here.

    I’ve found numerous published articles that reference it with no irony, despite the fact that the speech descends into the ridiculous. Stout starts with the number 7, adds in the rules of dice, multiplies and divides by ages and titles and pulls out the anagram “Irene Watson”. While Stout intended this as a joke, people have taken to it with gusto. Holmes and Watson for those who want their homoerotica with some heterosexuality…

    Sources:

    Text of the Speech: http://www.nerowolfe.org/htm/stout/Watson_was_a_woman.htm

    Holmes Quotes from: A Study in Scarlet & The Valley of Fear

  3. Also, the “woman in charge of the Conan Doyle literary estate” is not really in charge of it – she’s styled herself as the one in charge of the few Conan Doyle works still purported to be under copyright in the U.S., but this is a shallow money-making scheme being credibly challenged by the current “Free Sherlock Holmes” movement. I would take any comments by her (and, needless to say, Perez Hilton!) with a HUGE grain of salt. She doesn’t have the authority to “withdraw permission” for works that are in the public domain.

  4. Since there is more than enough discussion and even fighting over whether Holmes and Watson are gay, bi, straight or even (in Sherlock’s case) asexual, I’ll leave that debate to others, interesting as I find it.

    However, I’d like to weigh in on this quote:

    “…one must note that “being gay” didn’t exist until much much later; people had same sex relationships and had no sense of identity tied to them. Therefore, the idea of trying to figure out whether or not Conan Doyle meant Holmes and Watson to be homosexual is pointless.”

    This patently untrue! Though the knowledge of the existence of gay men or women and their relationships was more limited, especially among women, the existence of homosexuality was quite real and had a variety of opinions thrown at it over the years, culminating in the jailing of (especially) male homosexuals, often seen in Edwardian England.

    Not only was it known about, but discussed among the intelligentsia and artistic, such as writers like E M Forster. In his wonderful novel “Maurice”, which deals quite frankly and compassionately with the romantic entanglement and later, the sexual affair of a young Oxford student, Maurice Hall. He falls in love with his college friend, aristocrat Clive Durham, who insists that they can love but never have it be physical. During a visit to Clive’s country house, he meets the rugged and straightforward gamekeeper, Alec Scudder, who completely lacks the upper-class prejudice and repression of his own attraction to and eventual love for Maurice.

    Unlike Forster’s rather labyrinthine “Howard’s End”, this novel is far more straightforward, with Alec and Maurice painted very clearly as the romantic heroes, who choose to fulfill their desires rather than hide, as Clive does.

    And let’s not forget D H Lawrence’s “Women in Love”, in which the two main male characters lust after each other and one of them tells his girlfriend that he sees no reason why he can’t have both her and his male friend as lovers!

    If the writers of “Sherlock” could manage an arrangement like the one in “Maurice” (minus the threat of prison!), then the show could really break new ground. I’ll watch it either way but let’s not pretend that there isn’t a “methinks he doth protest too much” element in John’s repeated shouts that “I’m not gay!”.

  5. Since there is more than enough discussion and even fighting over whether Holmes and Watson are gay, bi, straight or even (in Sherlock’s case) asexual, I’ll leave that debate to others, interesting as I find it.

    However, I’d like to weigh in on this quote:

    “…one must note that “being gay” didn’t exist until much much later; people had same sex relationships and had no sense of identity tied to them. Therefore, the idea of trying to figure out whether or not Conan Doyle meant Holmes and Watson to be homosexual is pointless.”

    This patently untrue! Though the knowledge of the existence of gay men or women and their relationships was more limited, especially among women, the existence of homosexuality was quite real, was regarded much as we do today (regarding the “mechanics” of it) and had a variety of opinions thrown at it over the years, culminating in the jailing of (especially) male homosexuals, often seen in Edwardian England.

    Not only was it known about, but discussed among the intelligentsia and artistic, such as writers like E M Forster. In his wonderful novel “Maurice”, which deals quite frankly and compassionately with the romantic entanglement and later, the sexual affair of a young Oxford student, Maurice Hall. He falls in love with his college friend, aristocrat Clive Durham, who insists that they can love but never have it be physical. During a visit to Clive’s country house, he meets the rugged and straightforward gamekeeper, Alec Scudder, who completely lacks the upper-class prejudice and repression of his own attraction to and eventual love for Maurice.

    Unlike Forster’s rather labyrinthine “Howard’s End”, this novel is far more straightforward, with Alec and Maurice painted very clearly as the romantic heroes, who choose to fulfill their desires rather than hide, as Clive does.

    And let’s not forget D H Lawrence’s “Women in Love”, in which the two main male characters lust after each other and one of them tells his girlfriend that he sees no reason why he can’t have both her and his male friend as lovers!

    If the writers of “Sherlock” could manage an arrangement like the one in “Maurice” (minus the threat of prison!), then the show could really break new ground. I’ll watch it either way but let’s not pretend that there isn’t a “methinks he doth protest too much” element in John’s repeated shouts that “I’m not gay!”. And as for Sherlock, he never protests about that at all, but calls it “fine”!

  6. Sorry for the double post! How do I delete it?


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