A Critic's Meta-Review: 4/5
The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
a review by Samir Arora ...
I’ve got a bone to pick with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is not about the quality of his writing, which is nothing short of superb. In fact, I would say that next to Ray Chandler, he is probably the greatest mystery writer of all time. But writing mysteries should be left at just that - writing mysteries. It should not venture into the realm of bullying.
Yes, I said it. Bullying. Sherlock Holmes was, in every sense of the word, a bully. I mean, just look at how he treated his poor assistant, Dr. John H. Watson. This was a man who Holmes, on many occasions, referred to as his “best friend” (his holm-ie, if you will...good lord, that was excruciating to read back). The two men lived in the same flat together (don’t get any ideas, though - they were likely just looking to split the cost of rent, which I imagine was quite steep in Victorian-era London, at least if the cost of rent in Boris Johnson era London is any indication). Furthermore, not only was Watson a war veteran - he was a frickin’ Royal Army surgeon! This is not one of those situations where the prefix “Dr.” is used when someone has not, in fact, obtained a medical degree or Ph.D. of some sort (I’m looking at you, Dr. Dre and Dr. Seuss); this is a man who is more than deserving of the title.
And yet, judging by the way his so-called “best friend” Sherlock routinely dismisses his efforts at assisting in various cases with taunts of “Elementary, my dear Watson!” (“dear”...how much more patronizing can you get?!?), it is as if he is nothing but a simpleton, an average Joe - possessing no more intelligence than any old dunce off the street.
Why is this? Why would a man treat his closest companion so poorly? Surely, there must be a reason for this.
Well, of course, there is and I will tell it to you - because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a sadistic little prick who hated the surname Watson. Maybe he had a really mean math teacher with the last name growing up - who knows? All I can say is that there exists no alternative explanation as to why a man would craft a relationship based on such routine displays of horrid cruelty towards another man.
As Maggie Thatcher would say, “there is no alternative!”
Sadistic Little Prick?
a response to Samir's review by Daniel Sanderson ...
My dear Samir, there is nothing patronizing in my use of "dear", I have an affection for your writing and as such, your 70+ posts on planksip have given us the privilege of developing a friendship. I give a shit about what you are doing, how you are developing as a writer, a thinker and a "Dude". Now, this is where I, wearing the editor hat have to take exception with the "sadistic little prick" comment about Doyle's personality, triggered, in part, by what you see as patronizing condescension.
As to Doyle's usage, I can't say for certain one way or another but I have to defend friendship as a starting point, however cliché this may seem. The balance of my response in this article (response) will attempt to explore the relationship between Watson and Holmes. BTW, you do realize that Watson is narrating these short stories, don't you?
Perhaps we are witnessing the problem with our quick-to-judge culture, putting thoughts in your head and words in your mouth that are not really yours but a reflection of society as a whole? Another equally viable hypothesis could be that the man at the grocery store made you pack your own groceries or your roommate finished the last bit of milk, for which the kitty cat will now suffer. Hey, I can't begin to imagine the triggers that may have contributed to the summation of Doyle's character as a perversion of sorts with an inferiority complex.
Let's examine two such instances where Doyle actually uses the, "my dear Watson", phrase in The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905). Again, I have to point out that Watson is the narrator of these short stories and as the narrator, we get a first-person account into the feelings of Watson towards Holmes's use of "Dear Watson" not to mention other engagements throughout the following thirteen short stories included in this book, which are;
- The Adventure of the Empty House
- The Adventure of the Norwood Builder
- The Adventure of the Dancing Men
- The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist
- The Adventure of the Priory School
- The Adventure of Black Peter.
- The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton
- The Adventure of the Six Napoleons
- The Adventure of the Three Students
- The Adventure of the Golden Pince-Nez
- The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter
- The Adventure of the Abbey Grange
- The Adventure of the Second Stain
D'oh! (ra,mi) #1 (a female dear)
The first instance of "Dear Watson" occurs in the first short story; The Adventure of the Empty House.
“My dear Watson,” said the well-remembered voice, “I owe you a thousand apologies. I had no idea that you would be so affected.”
This is an endearing response to Watson's reaction to seeing his best friend alive. Just prior, Watson fainted and this was the moment that Watson awoke to with the taste of brandy on his lips and the realization that the death of Sherlock Holmes was obviously false.
Examining the above quotation, "My dear" adds to the possibility of an affectionate derivative of beloved. To fully appreciate this perspective, you have to understand the context of what "beloved" meant to Victorian gentlemen of the era. The ideal feminine archetype was supportive to the lead character and in this case, Holmes is the lead and Watson is the supporting character.
Criticizing the leading and supporting roles in this fiction is nothing more than cultural commentary. Albeit, there is room for redefining these roles but criticizing Doyle's franchise is a perversion of sorts. Point made, let's not negate the value of this relationship, the value of the literature and the wisdom behind the words.
Does, "I owe you a thousand apologies", sound patronizing to you? Watson unequivocally represents a higher bar for the status quo. Be it a female population or an affection between men, roles are often defined as dominant and supportive. This goes to the heart of the feminist argument where the two possible trajectories are;
- Feminine as beta (ie. supporting character)
- Feminine as alpha
Now, I will be the first to admit that most real-life relationships are rarely absolute. For me, absolute characters punctuated by the odd deviant behaviour are essential for a Classic and that is what we are reading.
D'oh! (ra,mi) #2 (a female dear)
The second and third instances of "dear" is separated by the following paragraph described by Watson the image of his "dear chap";
He sat opposite to me and lit a cigarette in his old nonchalant manner. He was dressed in the seedy frock-coat of the book merchant, but the rest of that individual lay in a pile of white hair and old books upon the table. Holmes looked even thinner and keener than of old, but there was a dead-white tinge in his aquiline face which told me that his life recently had not been a healthy one.
Here is Watson;
"My dear chap, I’m overjoyed to see you."
And here is Holmes;
"... Now, my dear fellow, in the matter of these explanations we have, if I may ask for your co-operation, a hard and dangerous night's work in front of us. Perhaps it would be better if I gave you an account of the whole situation when that work is finished."
The former quote from Watson is clearly expressing affection, the latter from Holmes returns to the business at hand and moves the plot forward yet maintains the friendly, professional affectionate nature of these two partners examining the art of crimes.
In summary, check out this Classic, but try not to fall into the trap of dismissive quick judgements. There is value in all Classics, otherwise, they wouldn't be Classics. Challenge yourself to find this value, extrapolate and disseminate.